Establishment and evolution of partnership in PAIIP, AguiƩ Project, Niger

by Guéro Chaibou, Adam Toudou and Alessandro Meschinelli


Introduction

The work supported by IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) in the Aguié region of Niger between 1992 and 2003 has been characterised by three more or less distinct stages, which reflect an evolution in the approach to rural development. The partnership developed in each stage drew lessons from the previous one. This helped to improve the quality of project implementation, as a methodological approach was gradually developed that took account of the real needs of the farmers and led to their taking increasing responsibility for the activities. A new form of partnership was developed that strengthened capacities and promoted farmers’ initiative and innovation, and which fundamentally modified the relations between farmers and their partners in development.

Three stages in evolution of partnership

1. PDRAA period (1992–2002)

In the “Aguié Region Rural Development Project” (known by the French acronym PDRAA), researchers established a partnership with the Project for the farmers as recipients of technologies.

2. VIPAF period (1998–2000) 

In the project “Enhancing the Value of Farmers’ Initiatives in Agroforestry” (known by the French acronym VIPAF), the focus was shifted from needs assessments to identification of local resources. Researchers established partnerships with farmers as actors that organised themselves spontaneously in committees managing natural regeneration of woody species.

3. PAIPP/CT/PIIP (2001 to date)

In the “Project to Support Farmer Initiatives and Innovations” (known by the French acronym PAIPP) and the “Technical Cell for Promotion of Farmer Initiative and Innovation” (CT/PIIP), triangular letters of agreement were drawn up for researchers and extension agents to work with farmers in analysing and documenting farmers’ innovations. The purpose of involving researchers from the University of Niamey is twofold:

  • to help improve farmers’ practices through practical theses on local innovations; and
  • to strengthen teaching approaches within the University.

Qualitative results

The evolution in the form of partnership between farmers, research and extension led to greater commitment and ownership of activities by farmers, as their self-awareness and confidence increased. A new leadership style (more democratic) emerged within the villages, and the local capacities for joint planning, learning, decision-making and analytical thinking were strengthened.

The top-down system of planning within the project was replaced by bottom-up planning mechanisms, through which the villagers determined the content, timing and place of the joint work. Within the research and extension institutions, rules and norms were changed, the hierarchy was reduced and the communication improved. Researchers and extension agents became more aware of farmers’ capacities, and became committed to farmers in a new logic of their being facilitators of their own experiments. A change also became evident in the quality of the research and extension services: they became more responsive to farmers’ demands and collaborated better with each other.

University teaching became more closely linked to field realities and opened up to topics and methods of participatory research, such as co-validation of trial results on the basis of both scientific knowledge and farmers’ criteria.

The partnership between farmers, research and extension was transformed towards enhanced transparency, directness, sincerity and mutual respect. Through self-evaluation exercises, the researchers and extension agents clearly identified their new roles and the necessity to be accountable to farmers.

Factors that encouraged change

Numerous factors were conducive to the transformation in farmer-research-extension partnership:

  • the incentive and support for undertaking change provided by the donor through grant resources
  • the decision to start building partnerships on a small scale (initially in only six villages) with an NGO providing methodological support, backstopping and follow-up
  • the focus on process rather than on immediate products
  • the dimension of experimentation supported by fine-tuned university research
  • the openness for radical questioning of conventional approaches and the previous strategy of providing hand-outs
  • the freedom allowed for dynamics in the gradual evolution of change.

Challenges

Nevertheless, the project still faces some major challenges. Value systems, capacities, attitudes and skills of all partners are difficult to change if the key actors are not involved in an intensive, hands-on process and joint undertaking in the field. It is difficult to involve and therefore to reach partners at the higher levels in the research and extension organisations.

Frequent staff turnover and poor communication beyond the immediate reach of the project have made it difficult to keep newcomers in the institutions informed about the approach and the achievements.

The pace of decision-making differs between farmer groups and research and extension organisations.

New research methodologies (e.g. co-validation) and new pedagogical approaches are required to conduct joint trials that incorporate both farmers’ and researchers’ criteria and are therefore socially, economically and scientifically relevant.

Lessons

The major lessons that have been gained over the past decade of this IFAD-supported work in Niger are the following:

  • Organisational change, including change in the organisation and modus operandi of R&D partnerships, is fundamental to be able to achieve sustainable technical change.
  • Farmers can be active managers of partnership agreements that place them at the centre and give them the leading role from the very beginning in defining objectives, modalities of work and budget.
  • Innovations in the approach of project and research staff to their work with farmers trigger innovations within the institutions in the way that the staff members relate to each other. The changes are closely inter-related: balanced relationships in the external sphere of the project transform the relationships within the institutions involved.
  • The process of farmers’ empowerment, linked to the support of farmer innovation, sparks off spontaneous inter-village dynamics in farmer-to-farmer diffusion of knowledge.
  • External facilitation, mediation and methodological backstopping, as well as material and non-material incentives, are key for unleashing forces of change.
  • Balanced partnerships between research, extension and farmers provide enabling environments for building the capacities of all the actors involved.