Giving voice to the farmers with Photovoice

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Ryan Tulusan, a smallholding farmer from Barangay Bantuanon in Lantapan, poses in front of his farm while showing which areas get flooded during the rainy season

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.

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The view of Mount Kitanglad from one of the farms on which we conducted the Photovoice.

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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9 thoughts on “Giving voice to the farmers with Photovoice

  1. Photovoice is an innovative, creative way of extracting important and down-the-ground situation and experiences of farmers in a genuinely participatory manner. Not scripted, no frills, very base, thus, for me, this could indeed be an effective and simple approach to communicate important environmental and climate-related issues and options for other farmers to see, and for key stakeholders and decision makers to appreciate and act upon. Nice piece of work Amy!

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  2. Photo voice has been used extensively in qualitative research as a tool to generate responses in questions not easily obtained using traditional methods like surveys and the like. In determining threats and in reducing them at the village level for conservation purposes, we did photo voice also. The result of the pre-work for MPA management in 12 sites across the country (rare.org) was very impressive. I believe it is also applicable in other ecosystems. Thanks for sharing your insights on photo voice. More power!

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    • Hi Ruby, thanks! We’ve found that only a few studies have used Photovoice for environmental issues (as compared to the number of health and empowerment studies). Or maybe we’re just not looking too deep enough? Haha. I’m quite interested in your study. Have you published any articles on it or at least done any write-ups for it?

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  3. Since at first we only thought this would be a good baseline, we modified the approach. The next step would be (and this would be one recommendation) to take the photos to a larger forum with policymakers and other stakeholders like private companies in the area so that the farmers could really discuss these issues with them. It could then lead to more discussions on how farmers with these stakeholders develop a localized strategy for climate change adaptation (and even mitigation).

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  4. I believe that the Photovoice approach is a tool that will not just aid in analysing small holder farmers’ perspective, but more of it allowing small holder farmers to be well rooted in the research program. This will make their engagement more personal and a learning experience. Can’t wait for the results and recommendations to improve the approach. Congratulations, Amy!

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  5. It is an interesting tool. Not only does it take into account local perceptions but I think it can also be an effective tool in igniting the minds of the farmers in assessing their landscape on their own. Good job!

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  6. This is a very novel approach to assessing farmers’ vulnerability and adaptation. I’ve seen how some farmers get tired of long surveys and interviews, this is a great way of making data gathering more proactive. I would also love to see how information from this approach can be used further, for example in designing adaptation strategies.

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  7. Thank you! We are trying to convince other programs and projects to use this approach as well, whether modified to their context or not. We also have used videos to complement other approaches for baseline and monitoring.

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  8. I find this approach (Photovoice) very relevant to development work, especially since the photos represent the farmers’ perspectives. I look forward to learning more about how to apply this in other contexts. Great work!

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