Agrecol networking points
Information management and networking
on ecological farming by the Agrecol networking points
Two Agrecol networking points emerged from the decentralisation of the Agrecol Documentation Centre in Langenbruck, Switzerland, in the 1990s. They promote the ecologisation of small-scale farming in West Africa and in the Andes of South America. Their aim is to help farmers, agricultural advisors and researchers in farmer organisations, nongovernmental development organisations and government services to develop, test and disseminate agricultural concepts and methods that are adapted to local ecological conditions, make economic sense, and are socially and culturally sound.
Both Agrecol–Afrique and Agrecol–Andes are independent organisations.
Targets and tasks
Several factors must come together to ensure that this goal can be achieved. Agrecol and its networking points have a very particular contribution to make in this regard: they encourage independent learning processes within which the existing knowledge of farmers and field workers about ecological agriculture is further developed and diffused. Information, knowledge and experiences are exchanged between the different actors within the partnership of an emancipated South-South-North network of relations. Within this network, joint concepts and implementation strategies are developed. The impulse for this learning process comes from the lively interest of the parties involved. For us, it is important that both male and female farmers are empowered to further develop their agriculture in a manner that they determine and for which they are responsible. In detail, this involves:
- collecting and documenting farmers' knowledge, i.e. concrete experiences and practices; the documentation should be carried out in such a way as to ensure that practical tools emerge that are useful either for agricultural advisory services or for the farmers themselves.
- testing and evaluating ecological crop and animal husbandry methods and techniques to be carried out as a common learning process by all the actors. It is not enough to offer information and to make it accessible. It must also be evaluated and selected by the farmers. As the flood of information becomes larger and increasingly unmanageable, also seiving of the information by advisory services, in consultation with small-scale farmers, becomes increasingly important.
- diffusion of farmers' knowledge. The value of the knowledge processed and of its impact on farming is closely linked to the manner and quality of the media used to transmit it. In this sense, dissemination of information within the context of Agrecol has two aspects: i) the work of Agrecol should contribute to the development of useful advisory tools and materials; and ii) support is also needed with regard to handling the information and the methods used for its dissemination. For this, communication and exchange of experience are important keywords.
Decentralisation is a very important concern in all the steps taken in information management. Appropriate information should be readily available, especially at the grassroots level.
Collecting, documenting, processing. AGRECOL-Afrique collects documents and materials that are specifically related to practice, particularly in the region of West Africa, that refer to actual concrete examples and experiences made in the use of ecological cultivation methods. This often includes grey, unpublished information which can however be of immense value to farmers and extension workers.
AGRECOL Afrique supports the documentation of local knowledge of indigenous trees, while simultaneously testing different methods of documentation.
AGRECOL Andes maintains a library on specific themes concerning ecological cultivation and participatory extension in Latin America, with over 90% of the material in Spanish. Additionally, they run a small book shop offering an interesting range of didactic material (including audio-visual materials, videos and publications) that would otherwise be very difficult to obtain.
AGRECOL Andes supports local organisations by processing knowledge gathered through experience (sistematización), whether it concerns themes for technical production (e.g. soil conservation on hillsides), methodological questions (e.g. the development of local and regional networks to promote the exchange of experience), or institutional development (e.g. the history of Bolivian association of organic farmers).
Evaluating, selecting, recommending. AGRECOL-Afrique is currently establishing an independent information service in Senegal.
AGRECOL Andes promotes the diffusion of participatory methods, particularly the "Campesino a Campesino" and other similar approaches. This aims at supporting the horizontal exchange of information at the base, between farmers groups and also between extension workers. Exchange Meetings are organised and promoters trained, always working together with other (multiplier) organisations. Recently an inter-institutional commission has been established, which further develops approaches on a conceptual level and carries out both awareness raising activities within the farmers union movement and lobbying activities towards state authorities with regard to this theme.
Informing, diffusing, consulting, training. Both AGRECOL Networks act as hubs of information for everything concerning ecological cultivation. They do not only provide documents, but also establish contacts to resource people who have specific experience and knowledge (either technical or methodological). A connection is therefore made between farmers groups and technicians.
AGRECOL Afrique publishes the periodical ACACIA three times a year. This newsletter addresses current themes within ecological agriculture in Africa, and is published in both French and English.
AGRECOL Andes is publishing a bulletin (both in printed and electronic format) on ecological agriculture for small farmers in the Andean region. Additionally, courses and workshops are offered for grassroots organisations and NGO's with international experts from the agrar-ecological movement.
The AGRECOL Networks have their "own projects". Also, they promote other initiatives and schemes in the above mentioned areas, in which local initiatives are identified and are supported through the processing and diffusion of information, communication, an exchange of experiences with others and training.
The work of the Networks are founded on working in partnership with others. Information, experiences and knowledge are not simply handed down "from top to bottom", but are seen rather as part of a back and forth exchange in both horizontal and vertical directions. Horizontal flows of information refer to the exchange that occur between farmers, or between technicians and researchers, while vertical excahnges refer to exchanges between the farmer, the technician and researcher. The AGRECOL Networks see themselves as both a catalyst and a part of the learning process. This leads to the further development of their own working methods with all the associated possibilities, challenges and difficulties.
Fundamentals of the work
The unity of the learning process. We understand the learning to process to be one of give and take, and something which all participants in an activity should embrace. Not only the farmer, but also the extension worker and employees of the AGRECOL Network are both teacher and pupil in any common activity the undertake. In the best case, these learning processes include all participants, from the farmer to the people responsible at the financial organisations. In this respect, the relations which develop between the participants and the pleasure the get from working together are of particular importance.
Emancipation. Any interventions made by the AGRECOL Networks should not lead to the development of any new dependencies. Through the strengthening of local and regional information services, we aim to make ourselves superfluous.
Working in partnership. Integrated learning processes and emancipation can best be promoted through working relations based on partnership. We are therefore against hierarchical and directive working practices.
Subsidiarity. We do not wish to dedicate our time to activities that are already being performed by other organisations. Rather, we see our task to be that of closing any holes that may exist in the area of information management for agrar-ecology by supporting and accelerating both learning and implementation processes. Our work is therefore both complimentary and supplementary to other initiatives in agrar-ecology.
Selectivity. As a small service provider we cannot our work cannot cover a wide area. Instead, we co-operate with other actors to undertake pilot activities within clear geographical boundaries.
Internationality. We nurture both North-South and South-South co-operation. The connection between the two different Network is maintained through AGRECOL itself. This results in the possibility of common activities and product to develop through North-South co-operation.