|Sunset from our porch (very corner of porch standing on|
tippy-toes and holding camera above my head)
I have been an official Peace Corps Volunteer since mid-May and have lived in my little corner of Jamaica for a little over four months. My focus thus far has been integrating into my community and identifying needs and assets. The last few weeks, however, have been more specifically about getting the priorities straight.
I work with a great group of ambitious and optimistic producers and processors of organic food. Their aspirations inspire me and I am committed to doing what I can to empower them to realize their goals. The thing that I worry about most is the lack of systematic, long-term planning. I certainly do not blame them for this; there is a litany of socioeconomic causes for this that I cannot cover in a blog post. Thanks to an exercise in Participatory Analysis for Community Action (a.k.a. Participatory Rural Appraisal or Participatory Learning and Action) I facilitated with the farmers and recently completing Program Design & Management training with one of my counterparts, I think we are ready to move forward with a clearer purpose.
|Needs Assessment / Priority Ranking|
The activity I facilitated with the Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society (WOFS) this month was a combination of needs assessment and priority ranking. It started as a typical meeting: a 4:00pm start time and people trickling in during the first hour. At about 4:30 we felt we had enough participants to begin. The society consists of two main cohorts, the producers and processors. So, I started by asking the group to divide itself into these groups. The processors (who call what they do “home economics”) were a group of about 10 women and the producers (farmers) were nine men and one woman. Using flip chart paper and markers, the groups were instructed to make a list of attainable needs that they would like the organization to focus on. The next step was to sort these needs into a four quadrant matrix based on urgency and profitability. None of the identified needs were viewed as unprofitable. In the final phase of the exercise, a pair-wise ranking matrix was drawn on a piece of flip chart for each group. The participants compared each need to another and voted by show of hands for which was a higher priority. When all items had been compared, a tally of the results was made and an example can be viewed below.
|Pair-wise Ranking Matrix for Farmer Needs|
Production Farmers’ Needs: In descending order, the most important needs for the production farmers were water, seeds, and fencing/sheds. What the farmers termed as water issues can also be described as a lack of irrigation. Given the humid tropical climate in Bluefields, the farmers recognize the potential to expand to two growing seasons per year. Currently, farmers are limited to a single “rainy season”; though they report these rains have become less dependable in recent years. Improved irrigation or water management could potentially double productivity and reduce risk against irregular rainfall. Farmers, especially organic farmers, struggle to acquire certified or improved seeds and currently rely on seed saving. Improved access to high value certified organic seeds would be a boon for the farmers in WOFS. The fencing/sheds issue is related to problems with praedial larceny, livestock management, and protecting equipment from theft. Farmers are aware of the long-term benefits of formalized land-tenure. However, many of the farmers occupy government owned land and feel no pressure to enter an agreement that would require paying rent when they can continue farming rent-free. The farmers do recognize that informal tenure reduces the availability of financing and disqualifies them from agricultural development grants from donors.
Economics Needs: For home economics, the top two priorities were potable
water and a kitchen space, with utensils, trainers, and a refrigerator all
tying with one vote. Currently, WOFS rents kitchen space locally to produce jams.
This rented space is adequate for the current production of a few hundred
bottles of jam per year, but offers no opportunity for expansion and is a
shared space. When processing the jams, the group borrows non-commercial grade
blenders from its own members to puree many pounds of fresh sorrel, apple, and
june plum. WOFS will need commercial-grade appliances to avoid the risk of
breaking personal equipment and to increase efficiency. The group also
recognizes the importance of training to improve the quality, consistency, and
appearance of the products. Refrigeration will also allow for flexibility and
longer storage times for inputs; the men and women who contribute to the processing
have busy schedules.
|Morning from the porch|
|Washing my clothes|
The timing of this exercise worked well, because it came just two weeks before one of the WOFS members and I attended Project Design & Management (PDM) training through Peace Corps Jamaica. The training covered project life-cycle and the process of visioning, setting goals and objectives, establishing an action plan and tasks, budgeting, and proposal writing. It was probably too much for my counterpart to absorb in such a short time, but his exposure to the process will help him to help me introduce the method with WOFS.
I feel like I am having a “typical” Peace Corps experience. I devoted the first four months primarily to learning my community and culture. I avoided getting wrapped up in initiating projects or the temptation of jumping onto ongoing activities without fully understanding. My counterpart and I came to the PDM training with a project idea that is directly tied to the needs expressed by the group. The next 20 months will be devoted to the diffusion of innovation and behavior change for me and my counterparts. I don’t mean behavior change in a manipulative sense, but in the context of taking new approaches to problem solving and improving the capacity of WOFS through adopting new techniques.
|Ahhh, the humor of a farmer|
It has been a rewarding first four months at my site. Having studied and practiced international development, I was wary of repeating here the mistakes of people and organizations in development around the world. Peace Corps is not an NGO, donor agency, or faith-based organization, which makes us unique in the context of international development organizations. This unique status sets PCVs apart from other development workers and provides the freedom to integrate with communities, incorporate and build upon indigenous knowledge, and provide grassroots capacity building based on locally identified needs. Living on similar wages and in similar conditions has made me more empathetic and hopefully more effective, despite the limited resources available. I look forward to whatever comes next and hope I will find the time to get a Master’s thesis written in the mean time.
|We may live in a wooden cabin...but the internet works |
great on football Saturday
|Linnae checking out a bamboo stand|