Sustainable Agriculture Project Sangthong

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Throughout project activities there have been some lessons learned, both through failures and successes. Any project is limited by the quality of the implementing staff. Project activities have, on the whole, benefited greatly from an invaluable group of staff from the DAFEO office, who have shown themselves to be exemplary in their technical ability and their willingness to engage and work together with local farmers. Amongst DAFEO staff there is a general feeling that there is a need for updated training. DAFEO Sangthong would benefit from a more rigorous plan for updated staff training through outside agencies, study tours, and internal seminars, which could be facilitated by the project. During this year, the project has sought out such opportunities but not, perhaps, as much as it could.

In terms of topic selection for farmer trainings, there are some limitations of the techniques heretofore employed. At present, at the close of each village training, project staff ask farmers what topics they would be interested in learning in future. It is not unlikely that this method elicits the response of the more senior or more vocal farmers in the group, but may exclude younger members, women, or those less likely to answer directly in a group setting if there idea is contrary to the ‘leaders.’ In addition, such a technique would exclude those farmers who did not come to the training in the first place as the topic did not interest them, were not informed, or were unable to come for some other reason. In the future, other techniques could be employed which would quantify a more balanced group response, alongside focused questioning of potentially-marginalised groups.

At the outside of the project, initial training topics were decided primarily by the project with involvement by Sangthong DAFEO. Admittedly, this was an outdated (though all-too-common) method for project initiation. In particular, the project felt that a focus on improved food security through the development of family-gardens was of highest priority. Accordingly, the project focused on teaching techniques relating to subsistence-level agricultural production. Through the course of the year, the project began to be aware of an overriding interest on the part of the farmers to develop cash crops and agribusiness. While many techniques are applicable both of family-consumption gardens and in market-oriented agriculture, there are some fundamental difference. In particular, the project focused on a minimum of cash inputs, discouraging the use of purchased synthetic fertilizers (or even purchased natural fertilizers, such as bat guano), or of other purchased (though perhaps cost-effective) tools, etc. In future, this needs to be explored further along two lines of inquiry. First, is this concern for the market-oriented products representative of the whole community? Conventional wisdom suggests that women are more concerned with family food security, where men may be more concerned about marketable products. Secondly, how can the aims and objectives of the project (namely, supporting sustainable agriculture with particular reference to the disadvantaged members of the community) be worked out through an agribusiness approach? Likely, such a solution would involve greater work in the area of micro-lending, without which those community members with capital inputs would continue to advance beyond poorer neighbours as a result of project activities.

Finally, there is a greater need for the co-operation between the project and other organizations, projects, and offices. Communication (particularly vertical) is often irregular and non-participatory. Lack of communication is a pervasive problem at all levels of work, both within and without the District, which impedes project implementation and efficiency.


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