Stories of Change
The CSA project in Malawi is now entering a crucial phase: farmers started to grow their crops, trees and home gardens at the beginning of the rainy season in late 2014 - using newly acquired permaculture skills from our partners, Kusamala.
The big question is: HAS IT WORKED?
Then a whole lot more:
Can they grow their staple crops and home gardens without artificial fertiliser?
Did they manage to apply animal manure or compost?
Is the project having an impact on food security or climate change mitigation?
Have farmers had successful harvests and higher diversity of food crops?
Do they understand the importance of planting more trees to mitigate climate change?
As we faced those important questions as a team, we began with our monitoring and evaluation process to find answers, suggestions and possibly more challenges to overcome.
There are different ways to go about monitoring and evaluating a project of this scale. After all, the project partner, Kusamala, has trained about 1500 farmers and we hope to gather enough results for a thorough analysis of the project.
Often attempts in M&E tend to be exercises in data collection and number crunching. The real effects, the true stories of people's life changes are often untold – maybe even to hide possible negative outcomes. That's why we looked for a different way to analyse the impact of our project.
We wanted to hear personal stories and find out what our beneficiaries are really thinking about the changes in their lives that we hoped to spark with the CSA programme! We opened ourselves up for criticism because we believe that this is the only way to improve in the future.
We are combining the number crunching part (baseline surveys) with an approach in participatory story telling that makes use of the Most Significant Change technique.
During the first year of CSA, groups of farmers have learnt the rudimentaries of video in workshops - how to make films, create stories and work together in small groups.
Now we've engaged the farmers in ‘story of change’ workshops, where those skills are put to good use again. In each workshop, every farmer writes their own personal story of change by answering one very particular research question. The farmers tell whatever stories are most important to them (with help in writing from our coordinators, if this is difficult for them).
In small sub groups the stories get presented and then voted for by a secret voting system. This way each story circle determines their Most Significant Change story, that resonates with the majority of the group. We divided our first workshop group of 22 farmers into 3 story circles, thus ending up with 3 Most Significant Change stories.
Because those stories have won the selection process, they get to be turned into short films! The afternoon is all about creating a storyboard and filming simple sequences that bring the stories to life for a wider audience.
The three stories differed from each other: one enthusiastically showed how to make manure with animal droppings; another showed the difficulties of farming with a few tools and how to improve yields. In the end, all participants come together to vote yet again for the Most Significant Change story. The second voting round narrows it down to one.
But we are not only looking at the winner stories, each and every story has something to tell. This helps us with our evaluation. We categorised stories into 'domains of change'. Food security and financial security came up time and again when talking about selling the harvest surplus. Aquiring new skills was mentioned frequently too. We hope this means project training has had a lasting impact on farmers.
Conversely, some stories reported of issues and problems, such as the destruction of gardens by goats or burning mulch [crop cover] by kids for mouse hunting! These issues now need to be addressed and already some solutions have been discussed in story circles. Some issues will be brought up for discussion at a higher level, with the village authority.
We are confident our stories of change process will not only help us evaluate training impact, but also engage farmers to continue to find solutions to their problems. We learn best from each other when we open up about what is affecting our lives.
Throughout the summer we are going to listen to those stories, find answers for the challenges and continue to engage with farming communities to become more resilient and prepared for a changing climate. Some of those stories you will get to see here!
Posted by: Sabine
Pictures by: Iga