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Farmer-centred learning platforms as pathways towards more inclusive and relational learning: a study on multi-stakeholder platforms with tree-crop farmers in Ghana
Edith van Ewijk
(University of Amsterdam)
Mirjam Ros-Tonen (University of Amsterdam)
Anna Laven (KIT Royal Tropical Institute)
Mercy Derkyi (University of Energy and Natural Resources )
Martha Ataa-Asantewaa (University of Amsterdam)
Paper long abstract:
In response to persistent challenges related to poverty, food insecurity, unsustainable farming, and climate change, knowledge co-creation in multi-stakeholder platforms receives growing attention. This paper discusses farmer centered learning platforms: an approach towards peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange with smallholder cocoa and oil palm farmers in Ghana as well as practitioners and researchers, organised around specific themes at district level. The paper asks how and under what conditions farmer-centered learning platforms provide safe spaces for smallholders to voice their concerns, bring in their knowledge and innovation capacity, and learn from the interactions. A farmer-centered and relational approach to learning is embedded in inclusive development theory, which foregrounds marginalized people, sectors and countries in social, political and economic processes for increased human well-being, social and environmental sustainability, and empowerment. It considers agricultural learning processes in value-chain contexts as being key to building trans-formative capacities of intended beneficiaries. This approach differs from conventional extension services and one-way learning processes that focus primarily on externally set goals to improve agricultural productivity and uptake of technologies developed by 'experts'. Instead, a farmer centered approach considers learning as being potentially inclusive when (i) knowledge exchange effectively aligns with farmers' varied livelihood orientations, knowledge, experiences, capabilities and innovation capacity, (ii) they achieve more equitable outcomes and self-determination for farmers; and (iii) take sustainability and landscape concerns into account. Findings obtained from action research, observations, interviews and focus group discussions, revealed that, first, providing a safe space for farmers to share knowledge with peers and other actors makes them feel included and empowered. Second, farmers adopted 'innovations-from-below' shared by their peers during platform meetings, like the use of organic manure and new collaboration arrangement for food crop production. Third, organizing the platforms at district level enhanced the engagement of actors working closely with farmers. Fourth, farmers developed a common understanding of landscape changes and consequences for production and livelihoods. Fifth, several local actors took ownership of the platform principles, which created opportunities for their manifestation in future collaborations between local actors and farmers. Key challenges of this approach include the restricted participation of crucial actors at higher scale levels, the limited number of learning platforms and their participants and interactions in between meetings due to financial constraints. Overall, we conclude that farmer-centered learning platforms can contribute to inclusive and relational learning, provided that value chain and other actors are willing to foreground farmers' knowledge and innovation capacity.
Multiplicity of learning events: the relationality of learning in Africa and beyond