|Locally Generated Printed Materials in Agriculture: Experience from Uganda and Ghana - Education Research Paper No. 31 (DFID, 1999, 132 p.)|
During the planning stage the decision was made to visit farmers in established groups for several reasons. Firstly, it was a convenient way of discovering the views of many more farmers than would have been possible through individual interviews and, secondly, it would allow the flow of information into, within and out of the group to be revealed. By establishing the criteria that the selected groups should be autonomous and have been established for two to three years rather than using groups formed at the convenience of, for example, NGOs or extension agents, the intention was to avoid groups where the flow of information was largely determined from outside the group.
These combined criteria ensured that a fascinating array of largely independent farmer associations were met. The level of organisation, openness to new ideas and potential for action exhibited by these groups proved a considerable and rewarding surprise.
The informal social support systems exhibited within associations were an important binding strength. The nature of support varied considerably but tended to be stronger among female or mostly female groups who were more likely to work together and spend more time in each other's company. Older women talked of the reassurance they felt in knowing that during sickness and death, other members would support them and appear in large numbers for their funeral. Younger women talked of help and counselling received. Some groups practised informal savings and credit systems whereby each member either paid a regular sum of money or amount of crop produce which benefited one member in turn. Some associations mentioned that if a member was in financial problems their turn might be brought forward.
Though the benefits of improving information flow were still not reaching the poorest in rural communities, nevertheless empowered groups keen to share relevant information and living and working alongside them were more likely to extend information than any outside agency. A willingness to believe in the potential of self-formed, collective groupings and use them as a means of extending information provides a challenge to the methods of working adopted by many NGOs. Ideas found of benefit in the support and building up of groups, such as facilitating group travel, group workshops in the community and funding training by group members, may rarely meet donor objectives and time limits, yet their benefits may prove profound and far reaching.
8.1.1 Confidence building observed within associations
Of considerable interest was the observed increase in confidence which individuals, and notably women, had apparently gained through group membership. Confidence was assessed through the pride expressed in their achievements and the apparent ability of individuals to influence their future, to speak out with assurance and to initiate contact with staff from outside agencies. For example, members of Buluba Youth Group and CARD were proud of their experience and understanding of sustainable agricultural techniques and confident of their ability to share these with others; members of Bikyiiteng Bullock farmers had gained confidence and enthusiasm in their work of introducing bullock farming in their community; members of Tangiybe Beekeepers were confident in pursuing their aims of networking and supporting beekeepers within their region.
Such confidence was also apparent among women's groups which had achieved some progress and who talked proudly of their previous situations, difficulties overcome and the steps which had led to their present situation. Members of Kyebajja Tobona Bulange Women's Association, Uganda, had great pride in the wells dug and capped, the grain mill established and progress made with literacy training in their area. They now had the confidence to approach donor agencies for help and advice. Members of Sokode Gbobame Novisi Women's Cooperative Credit Union had established their reputation with very successful roadside vegetable plots in 1991. With profits raised they began poultry keeping and subsequently bought a grain mill using a loan. Their rapport with the male extension agent was marked and the leaders had confidence in meeting with other NGOs in the area, both unusual activities for women.
Also noticeable was the confidence of women members among mixed gender groups. Women members were often uninhibited in speaking out in a relaxed way in the presence of male members. Such confidence is in sharp contrast to the more usual perception of rural women's lack of participation in open community meetings (Chambers, 1983; Creevey, 1996). Examples of such confidence were found in all regions and in both Uganda and Ghana.