If you can peek into the minds of smallholder farmers, what will you see?
More researchers are acknowledging the importance of involving stakeholders in their studies. For one, the stakeholders usually know more about the conditions in the project sites. They also have experience in what has worked in the past, and therefore would have an idea of what might work. Focus group discussions (FGDs) and in-depth interviews are usually used to learn more about the insights of the people in the communities.
The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Philippines largely works with smallholding farmers in upland communities and protected areas. One of our projects is the Climate-smart, tree-based, co-investment in adaptation and mitigation in Asia (Smart Tree-Invest). It has different sites in Indonesia, Viet Nam and the Philippines, and has been ongoing from March 2013 up to March 2017. In the Philippines, the main site is the municipality of Lantapan, Bukidnon province in the southern part of the country. Lantapan sits on the foot slopes of Mount Kitanglad, one of the protected areas in the country.
The development of local tree-based solutions for adapting to climate change in Lantapan is the main aim of the project. To establish which practices would suit the community and landscape, the researchers first quantitatively assessed the vulnerability of the community. They also assessed the local knowledge of the farmers using FGDs and key informant interviews. To supplement these activities, we used a participatory technique called ‘Photovoice’ to further assess the needs of the community.
Farmers and photos
Photovoice provides farmers a creative way for expressing their perspectives, and at the same time helps them better understand their vulnerabilities and capacities. While the farmers were showing their farm areas, they were able to talk openly about their issues. They actively identified aspects to photograph, as opposed to passively sitting down for an interview. Researchers also got baseline photographs of the landscape in the process, as the Photovoice was conducted in the first year of the project.
Thirty smallholding farmers from Lantapan were chosen to take six photos of their farms, two each of their resources, vulnerable areas and their actions and responses to adapt to the problem areas. The participants also gave one-sentence descriptions for each photograph they took.
Most of the farmers photographed their vegetable crops for their resources. These crops are sold and provide the farmers with their incomes. The sloping and low-lying areas were identified as vulnerable areas, for these were affected by soil erosion and floods that wash away their crops. Practices based on conservation agriculture with trees, like establishing canals, contouring and using trees as windbreaks and boundaries, were some of the adaptation strategies the farmers used.
After taking the photos, the farmers joined an FGD with other farmers from their village who did not participate in the Photovoice activity, to confirm whether or not the others would also pick the same aspects of their farm to photograph. Most of them agreed with what the Photovoice participants photographed and described.
Looking at the bigger picture
Photovoice provides an initial glimpse of the vulnerabilities of the farmers. While it is not enough to give a complete measure of vulnerability, it is an effective way to start the discussion. The farmers analyse and express their perceptions, while the researchers draw evidence from the photos and discussions with the farmers. Literature review and quantitative methods of vulnerability assessment could then be used to validate these findings.
The Smart Tree-Invest researchers will also use the Photovoice results to develop local solutions for climate change adaptation, in collaboration with the community, governments, development agencies and the private sector. In the next two years, the project will train and support farmers in employing climate-smart, tree-based farming systems which also maintain ecosystem services. These would improve the farmers’ livelihoods and their capabilities of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Smart Tree-Invest will use the Photovoice activity to establish the practices that would suit the conditions the participants noted.
Technology has developed a lot throughout the years. We have cellphones, cameras and the internet, which we can easily access and use in our researches. Photos have a huge potential to supplement environmental researches, by recording not only the characteristics of the landscapes, but also presenting the views of the people in the communities. Let us therefore be creative, and take a look at the bigger picture through such media.
Smart Tree-Invest is supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (CRP-FTA).
Blogpost and photos submitted by Amy Cruz (World Agroforestry Centre – Philippines) – A.c.Cruz(at)cgiar.org
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
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