|Bachmann, Lorenz B. R.: Review of the Agricultural Knowledge System in Fiji - Opportunities and Limitations of Participatory Methods and Platforms to promote Innovation Development - |
The research findings and recommendations are structured according to the main lines of inquiry. First, the main findings for each line of enquiry are summarised. Then, necessary conclusions are derived and a set of recommendations is discussed.
The initial expectation that in a small island country like Fiji, the range of farmers‘ problems might be rather limited and thus easier to assess and structure, proved a wrong assumption. Due to the mountainous topography, the country is divided in a range of agro-ecological zones. The multi-ethnic composition of the population leads to an additional differentiation of socio-economic factors that further increases the diversity of farming systems.
To structure farming problems, a draft farm classification system that distinguishes two agro-ecological zones (upland and lowland) and two types of progressiveness of farmers (average and advanced), was elaborated. These criteria could provide a starting frame for a farm classification system. The draft set of criteria may not yet cover the existing diversity of farms sufficiently well, but further criteria may be added to the system, as more information becomes available. However, the limited size of the countries research and extension system calls for a simple, rather than a very complex and detailed solution. Further research will be necessary to validate the choice of criteria.
The analysis of actual farmers‘ problems revealed that unlike many other developing countries, Fijian farmers do not have major problems to sustain their livelihood. In this respect, farmers do not face a need for urgent change. Problems raised were very diverse, sometimes interrelated. Comparing problems with solutions showed that at times, a number of different options for addressing problems were possible. The comparison of different projects revealed that farmers are particularly interested in solutions that also result in economic advantages. Concluding, an intervention strategy can not be as simple as: here is the problem and there is the solution. Problems and solutions need to be viewed together.
A discussion and ranking process of problems and solutions is thus necessary at a farm level, and in addition, on a national level to determine extension and research priorities.
A model of such a structured problem and solution identification process was presented in chapter 5.5.4. Therefore, it shall not be repeated here again. The focus of the following section will be on a series of aspects that may be of importance for the introduction of the model in practice.
A multi-divisional task force could be responsible for the implementation the model at MAFF. This group could comprise of the RD, ED and EP&S<157>. To reduce additional
184workload, staff that already had similar tasks in the past should be seconded for this purpose. Within EP&S the new working group that co-ordinates the CDF might be the best choice.
To gain experiences, it seems rational to begin on a smaller scale. The fieldwork could be started in one division, and if completed successfully, the work should be expanded to the other divisions of the country. For the initial start, the farming systems criteria identified above should be used. To limit the scope in the beginning, it might be useful to examine only cropping problems and if the approach worked out well, livestock problems could be dealt with in a second round.
It would need to be clarified if additional training for participating staff is necessary. Given that several training courses on participatory methods were conducted, this might not be necessary. The fieldwork would provide the opportunity to further practice participatory methods. To facilitate the process, external technical assistance might be helpful. This could provide a better supervision of the process. This could also enable a better scientific follow-up of the process and could provide an opportunity for MAFF staff to engage in further education.
The analysis of the field results would be another responsibility of the task force. In this respect, it might be necessary that the group seek assistance from the Ministry‘s statistical section or other qualified sources (e.g. USP, experts).
For the compilation of solutions, the existing recommendations produced by research should be screened in detail. In addition a detailed world literature review would be necessary. This task could be shared among researchers and subject matter specialists. This regular up dating with developments outside Fiji should become a routine that is carried out in at least yearly or two yearly intervals. It is an important aspect to raise the ’borrowing capacity‘ of the AKIS. The results of the compilation process of problems and potential solutions should be documented in a draft report.
The task force would then have to organise a national Council to determine the new research and extension priorities. It would be important that staff of all management levels participate in the meeting. This should ensure that competence from a grass roots level to a policy level is represented. The priority areas of problems might also give an indication in which areas co-operation with the private sector (e.g. exporters, processing industries) might be interesting. These private sector actors could then be invited to the Council meeting. The Council would then discuss the draft report presented by the task force. To achieve a good discussion process, external moderation of the process would be useful.
The new priorities should be integrated gradually into the system. A radical break with ongoing activities should be avoided. Old priorities should be phased out over a reasonable transition period.
185This model could lead to a systematic integration of farmers‘ problems into the AKIS, and would enable the participation of all major actors in the process of determining priorities. Considering that the existing policy driven system, with limited transparency and focusing on transfer of technology, has not achieved any major success in the diversification of agricultural production in Fiji. A reorientation of the AKIS towards farmers‘ problems and meaningful solutions appears as urgently required.
Participatory methods as tools to bridge the interface between farmers and researchers and extensionists, proved very useful. The methods permitted the addressing of information deficiency problems quickly, and further provided good learning opportunities for all parties involved.
The process of introducing participatory methods in the Ministry showed a number of important points that may be recalled:
For staff that begin learning participatory methods, sufficient time and practice were required before participatory methods were fully mastered. The training course on participatory methods revealed a number of strengths and weaknesses of the trainees. The following aspects were learned easily and could be rated as strengths: organising a survey, field use of tools, practical implementation, presentation and visualisation of findings.
Conceptual thinking, analytical skills, interpretation and report writing skills were identified as weaknesses that limited the overall training success. Participatory methods require a rather high level of these more general abilities. The main reason can be seen in the fact that participatory methods focus on problem solving, which requires the ability of adopting tools and consequently limits the scope for standardising procedures. The Ministry hierarchy, with the strong bias for standardising and regulating procedures, represented rather unfavourable conditions for learning participatory methods. Used to rules and regulations, staff had considerable initial difficulties to deal with complex problems that require creative and unconventional approaches to solving matters.
The better overall abilities are, the faster participatory methods will be understood and mastered. Repeated practice with the tools also leads to better learning success. Thus, creating practice opportunities, is an important factor in consolidating training efforts. It should be noted, however, that repeated training could not compensate a low level of general abilities. In terms of basic qualifications it would be ideal, if all MAFF staff had a Bachelor or Masters qualification<158>. These qualifications ensure a better training in self determined work and encourage problem-solving capacities. Thus, in the short term, the focus should lie on increasing practice, in the medium to long term on raising the general qualification levels of staff. This could be achieved, for example, by reviewing the curricula at FCA and USP and including participatory methods as own new subjects. In
186addition curricula could be revised in order to increase their relevance for training problem solving capacities and reduce the amount of factual knowledge taught<159>.
Another important aspect of the training programme was the provision of backup training support after the initial training. This service was provided through the PRAP P11. This support helped staff to solve problems that were encountered while making the first steps in trying out participatory methods at work<160>.
Participatory methods should be applied on a wider scale in the Ministry. For this purpose more opportunities for applying participatory methods could be created. Introducing the model for farmer problem assessment, discussed above, could be one of those opportunities. But the methods could also be used very well in the context of technology generation and technology consolidation, for extension as well as for monitoring or evaluation<161> purposes.
Given the fact that the process of institutionalising participatory methods in MAFF has only reached limited levels so far, it will be necessary to allocate official attention to this important issue. More top management support will be necessary to achieve a sound institutionalisation within the Ministry.
To strengthen this process, the set-up of a new unit for participatory methods would be the right measure. The functions of such a unit were already highlighted in chapter 6.1.2. Such a unit could also facilitate the function (or equally resume the role) of the multi-divisional task force suggested in the last section to set up the national farmer problem assessment. In this respect, synergy effects could be used. The unit could also provide the necessary back up training support for participatory methods. To fulfil all these tasks it may be necessary that the Ministry seek external support from experts. Existing staff at the Ministry are probably still too weak to resume these important tasks independently<162>.
Since the original start of the training measures in 1994 six years have passed. Considering that the degree of institutionalisation of participatory methods is still only
187limited, a reasonable assumption would be to allow at least another equally long period to ensure a sound institutionalisation within the Ministry.
The two workshops on linkages and information flow in the Ministry showed that a number of problems existed in this area. Co-ordination problems between all divisions of MAFF relating to all functions of a knowledge system in the development and diffusion of innovations were identified. The Ministry hierarchy was seen as an impediment to the direct information exchange between divisions. The strategy of promoting participatory methods and encouraging informal linkages between staff of all divisions to solve these problems, achieved only limited progress.
The main overall problem that hampered the performance of the Ministry was identified in the low level of formal staff qualifications. In all divisions, in particular extension, the majority of staff, including senior positions, only held the technical diploma of FCA. Thus, their staff are largely under-qualified for the tasks they have to perform.
The financial situation of the Ministry was relatively stable. The research division managed to expand its budget, while the extension division was exposed to strong fluctuations in its budget. Assisted through project funding, the facilities and equipment of the Ministry were sufficient and in good condition. Altogether finances, facilities and equipment could not be rated as major limiting factors for the output of the Ministry.
The research division‘s mission statement and its priorities were largely influenced by periodic ISNAR reviews. Extension lacked a clear mission and goals, and their priorities were perceived as determined through Government policies. Actual farmers‘ problems only played a minor role in the priority setting for both divisions. At the beginning of the research phase, methodologies used at research consisted mainly of traditional on-station research. Donor intervention led to the introduction of more on-farm research and participatory field tools. In the same period, working approaches at extension developed from a strict transfer of technology thinking similar to the T&V system to a somewhat more farmer oriented approach. However, at the end of the research phase these new methods were only partly institutionalised within both divisions.
The analysis of information usage showed that researchers make too little use of available international literature. Extension staff largely relies on experience only, as little relevant information is published locally. They equally search too little for relevant new information. As practically all staff come from FCA, they have a very similar knowledge base and could be rated as generalists. Even between divisions, staff do not have well specialised own knowledge profiles (e.g. plant breeder, entomologist, crop specialist). As the differences in knowledge between staff are limited, less knowledge can be shared in working activities. This also reduces the potential output of interdisciplinary working teams.
These findings lead to a number of recommendations to improve the above situation:
As the strategy to improve linkages by promoting participatory methods and informal linkages between staff showed no satisfactory improvement, a strong linkage unit appears necessary. The main functions of such a unit were already discussed in chapter 6.1.2. Some additional aspects shall be discussed here. To enable good co-ordination and a better information flow, it would be best to attach the unit to middle management level. The unit would link the various divisions (RD, ED, EP&S, TC&S) on this level. Staff could be seconded from each division and the position of the head of division could rotate between the divisions. This should ensure better co-ordination between all divisions rather than creating a new completely independent section or attaching it to only one of the main divisions. The exact role and decision power of the unit would need to be negotiated in detail between the various divisions.
To fulfil its function as a new information hub for all innovations and diffusion relevant information, it would be useful if the unit could assist in the documentation of appropriate information. The training course in participatory methods showed that staff at extension and research had considerable difficulties in report writing. A service to assist in the documentation of findings could thus contribute significantly in increasing the output of relevant information. For this purpose, the Ministry could recruit a number of journalists. With the help of professional journalists, the area of documentation relevant information could become much more effective<163>.
Addressing the problem of the low level of staff qualifications in the Ministry will require a comprehensive strategy. In the short run, no major improvements appear realistic. In service training could be an instrument to improve matters. However, this area would also require external assistance. During a transition period, the Ministry would require additional external support to be able to offer up to date training programs. When focusing on training measures, emphasis on ’learning how to learn‘, should be placed. Staff need to learn how to access new information and develop routines for keeping it up to date. Job promotion procedures in the Ministry should include the candidate‘s track record in further education as important criteria.
In addition, staff should be given every opportunity to participate in further high school education programs, either locally or overseas. In the medium term, staff recruitment strategies may help to raise qualifications. As mentioned earlier in respect of participatory methods, the curricula of FCA and USP could be reviewed to ensure that the needs of the Ministry would be better met.
Practice and training should ensure that the level of competence reached in using participatory research and extension methods, would be consolidated. In addition to a good methodological toolbox, staff require a sharper knowledge profile. Specialisation of
189staff in specific areas should be encouraged. This should broaden the knowledge base in the divisions, and enlarge the pool of potential solutions to farmers‘ problems.
Further education and recruitment strategies should also attempt to widen the overall competence of the Ministry. Succeeding in the global market will require more economic competence, both in terms of farm economics as well as in business and political economy to be better prepared to promote agricultural trade. Thus, recruitment strategies should consider more students from the field of social sciences to enhance the competence of the Ministry in this field.
The analysis of the Fiji AKIS showed that a number of small structures or networks existed, that could be perceived as platforms. Common elements of these platforms were joint goals and funding sources. The majority of platforms were donor-funded projects. Goals for these platforms were determined between donors and the Ministry<164>. Other existing platforms were commodity boards. These cases indicated that the concept of platforms was not completely new to Fiji. Experiences with ’networking‘ exist, which could be used for a further expansion of the approach.
An important component for platform success was identified in a sound monitoring system. The most successful case study had a good monitoring system, while all other cases had shortcomings in this area. This finding supports the model of knowledge system functions that highlights the central role of monitoring, storage and retrieval of relevant information for innovation development and diffusion.
To which extent platforms can be sustainable after donor funding is terminated, remained an open question. Commodity boards were cases that managed to build up self funding sources through the export trade. Similar, in the case of the ’pineapple platform‘, a co-operative was set up that could generate sufficient self funding. However, in particular for less commercial innovations, platform funding is likely to require Government or donor funds exclusively.
Platform leadership and co-ordination could be identified as another important factor for platform success. The most successful platform was characterised by balanced contribution and participation of all actors. Including all relevant actors in the platform, also proved important . The question which actors qualified best for actor leadership was difficult to answer. In all case studies, experts played the leading role. Capacities of research and extension staff are probably still too weak, although these expressed self-confidence to resume full responsible platform leadership. Certainly, some potential
190among individuals is there, and the progress made during the training course on participatory methods, demonstrated to MAFF that staff could improve considerably if exposed to the right challenges. Private sector actors already play an important leadership role in commodity boards for ginger and taro. However, to further promote platforms, expert assistance will still be required for some time.
Responses to the follow-up questionnaire identified better co-ordination, improved linkages, better interplay of actors, better means to reach goals, reduced duplication and better use of resources, as the strengths of the platform model. Furthermore, it was supposed that platforms might have a positive influence on status, morale and performance by rewarding competence and output rather than length of service. Some of the strengths were also seen as potential weaknesses. Co-ordination and reaching of consensus was rated as potentially difficult to achieve or time consuming. Too much flexibility was seen as a danger to co-ordination. The fact that platforms might weaken the hierarchical authority and therefore might be resisted within the Ministry was seen as a risk. Another important weaknesses was seen in the need for strong leadership, and the fact that experienced and trained staff are not available in abundance in the Ministry.
The analysis of case studies and the follow-up questionnaire findings, indicated that platforms have the potential to provide a good organisational frame to promote innovations. In chapter 6.4.6, a model was developed to show how platforms could be linked to the Ministry, and how these could be further tested and introduced into the Ministry. These recommendations could be implemented and do not require further comments. Instead, focus will be on the requirements of MAFF‘s management.
During the linkage and information flow workshops, and again at the end of the research phase in the follow-up questionnaire, the MAFF structure and hierarchy was seen as a major hindrance in effective organisational output. To solve complex problems and steer innovation and diffusion processes, such a structure is not appropriate. Modern organisational management theories<165> developed in industrial countries, suggest ’organic structures‘ to enable innovative problem solving work. The ideal features of such an organisation are characterised by the following:
191Executives in the classical sense of organisational theory are no longer required (cf. Lühe 1996, 242).
These ideal features could provide a guiding direction for the necessary reorientation of management at the Ministry. Platforms could be the right means to start experiments with such new management concepts. Without abandoning the existing structure, platforms could enable learning processes, and provide the opportunity for a gradual reorientation of the whole organisation towards the above ideal.
Platforms could also be the right means to build up links with the private sector. At present, the Ministry with its slow bureaucratic structure, does not yet appear as a very attractive partner. The existence of a platform structure with flexible funds could change this impression. In addition, if the Ministry engages in the suggested qualification programme of its staff it should become a more competent actor, and joint ventures with the private sector are likely to become more frequent. In this context, a wider understanding of innovation is important for the Ministry. At present, the research and extension divisions in particular are too limited in the rather classical agricultural domains of crop and livestock production. The socio economic areas (e.g. marketing innovations, new types of co-operation, processing of foodstuffs and other agricultural resources) are by far underdeveloped. In these areas in particular, innovations may be developed and promoted in much shorter time than in the traditional agricultural domains. To improve the output of innovations, a shift in this direction is required. To achieve this, MAFF should try to attract foreign investments for Fiji‘s agriculture. This could include a policy of active advertisements in the surrounding large economies (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, US, Canada) to attract potential investors. In times of stagnating donor support, good links to private investors gain in importance.
Networking in platforms should not be seen limited to available national actors. What was said earlier under the topic, ’increasing the borrowing capacity‘ of the AKIS, could in fact, be networking activities. Closer co-operation with the small island countries in the region (regional platforms) could help in exchanging ideas, and also reduce costs, for example, of joint research efforts. But besides the Pacific, networking with other island countries with similar conditions (Caribbean) could also be rewarding. Of particular interest should be increased networking with Mauritius. This island country was also very dependent on sugar exports, but managed to diversify its agricultural sector significantly. With the rapid expansion of the Internet, local, regional and international networking has been facilitated tremendously. Providing good Internet access for staff should thus be an important goal for the Ministry.
The results of examining donor assistance in Fiji agriculture, have been mixed. The progress made towards institutionalising participatory methods, and the case studies described in this study illustrated this case. The rather limited overall success to date, may be felt as discouragement for donors. In this respect, more patience is required. Progress in the right direction was made, and sufficient time should be given for things to develop.
The overall trend, in particular of German technical co-operation to reduce the number of experts in projects, is certainly, in Fiji‘s case, the wrong policy. The weak local capacities will, on the contrary, require sound human resource development that needs more, rather than less personal assistance. Another general trend in donor funding is the focus on the state of infrastructure and the supply of equipment. The study showed that this was no major constraint at MAFF. Promoting participatory methodologies will, however, require an increase in operational funds to enable more mobility in fieldwork and better co-operation with target groups. Fiji faces an arduous phase of structural adjustment and diversification in the agricultural sector. The country will require further assistance along this difficult path.
The outcomes of participatory action research could be called ’intermediate‘ results. The term intermediate is used as the results could be used to provide the basis for further improvement in new research cycles. This is equally true of this study. At several points already, recommendations for further research were given.
This refers to the question of appropriate farm classification criteria for Fiji. The further process of introducing platforms, with the questions of platform leadership and platform sustainability, could be accompanied by a scientific follow-up.
To convince stakeholders in Governments and development organisations, and also researchers and extensionists about the advantages of participatory methods and new management concepts, more empirical research will be necessary to prove the superiority of the approaches (e.g. field successes, cost effectiveness). In this respect an important field for future research is the question, how the results of participatory technology
193development that were developed with a rather small group of farmers, can be scaled-up and passed on to a larger group of farmers.
Current findings with participatory methods indicate that the solutions developed are rather small-scale and localised. But that may be one immanent principle of sustainable development, the search for many small local successes, rather than the one big overall push.
In the medium term, it should also be considered to merge crop and livestock divisions. Then AH&P should also be part of this group.
Thompson (1994, 57) points in the same direction and postulates that PRA training should be part of a wider human resources development programme.
An example of curricula orientation towards new learning and problem solving capabilities is the University of Western Sydney - Faculty of Agriculture and Rural Development in Hawkesbury, Australia (c.f. Bawden and Macadam 1991, 368).
Schönhuth and Kievelitz (1994, 31) made similar observations. They report that PRA workshops have a great impression on workshop participants, but that did not change much in projects or programmes. Therefore, they call for post training action plans to ensure that staff have backup support after the first training workshops are completed (Schönhuth and Kievelitz, 1994, 34).
For participatory monitoring and impact assessment, IIED recently allocated a full journal of the PLA notes for this topic (IIED, 1998). They also published a new resource book on this topic (c.f. Guijt, 1998).
Also Preuss (1994, 227) highlights the problem that local staff of developing countries with the abilities to use participatory methods are not available in sufficient numbers. Besides education strategies that will lead to improvements in the medium term, he points out the need for donors to finance more experts to fill the gap until the local capacities are developed adequately.
In the short term, this could probably increase the output of information much faster than waiting for the build up of report writing skills in the divisions. In the medium to long term, journalists could also assist in training writing skills.
Feasibility studies and logical framework workshops played an important role in the planning stage of projects, as more participatory means to determine goals and funding of projects.
In this context, Mintzberg (1992) is an important representative. He calls the configuration that will be described further down as ’ad-hocraty‘, as it is able to bring together experts from different disciplines in ad-hoc projects (Mintzberg 1992, 336). Such functional working groups are also suggested by various authors in the context of agricultural innovation development (cf. Lühe 1996, 242; Preuss 1994, 224). Such functional working groups are similar to the concept of platforms. The advantage of platforms is that they explicitly point to the possibilities of including actors from outside their own organisation as well.
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