AGRECOL Networking sites
Information management and Networking
for Ecological Agriculture
Targets and Tasks
The AGRECOL Network promotes ecological farming practices among farmers with small holdings in west Africa, and in the Andes of South America. With this, the aim is to contribute to the development, of agricultural concepts and methods that are economically feasible, socially and culturally compatible and adapted to the local ecological conditions. These concepts should be developed, tested and disseminated by farmers, extension workers and researchers within farmers organisations of both governmental and non-governmental organisations.
Several factors must come together to ensure that this goal can be achieved. The AGRECOL Network has a very particular contribution to make in this regard: It encourages independent learning processes within which the existing knowledge of farmers and extension workers with respect to ecological agriculture is further developed and diffused. Exchanges of information, knowledge and experiences occur 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:
- the collection and processing of farmers knowledge, i.e. concrete experiences and practices, as the knowledge and experiences of technicians and extension workers is inadequately documented and processed. In so doing, the documentation should be carried out in such a way as to ensure that practical tools emerge that are useful either for extension services or for the farmers themselves.
- the testing and evaluation of ecological cultivation methods and techniques to be carried out as a common learning process for all the actors. It is not enough to offer information and to make it accessible. It must also be evaluated, selected and recommended. As the flood of information becomes larger and increasingly unmanageable, this function becomes increasingly important.
- the diffusion and transmission of farmers' knowledge. The value of the knowledge processed, and its subsequent effects, is closely associated to the manner and quality of the media used to transmit it. In this sense, extension within the context of AGRECOL, has two aspects. On the one hand, the work of AGRECOL should contribute to the development of extension tools and materials. On the other, extension is also necessary with regard to the handling of information and the methods used for its distribution. For this, communication and exchange of experience are important keywords.
Decentralisation is a very important concern for all the steps taken in information management. Appropriate information should be readily available, especially at the most basic 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.