|Soil Conservation Techniques for Hillside Farms (Peace Corps, 1986, 96 p.)|
The technical aspects of solving problems associated with hillside farmland are much more simple and straightforward than the extension work aspects. Even though there are many variables which affect land use decisions, there are many more which affect the receptivity of farmers in an area to an individual Peace Corps Volunteer's promotional efforts. The possibilities available to a Peace Corps agricultural extensionist are almost endless. Presented here are some sample work activities, guidelines for evaluating work, motivating techniques, and types of groups with which one may be involved.
Volunteers should find this material useful in designing and carrying out a more realistic and successful work plan. For additional references on the extension process in rural areas see: Two Ears of Corn, Bunch 1985; Communication Strategies, Lionberger and Gwin, 1982; Communication Innovations, Rogers and Shoemaker, 1971; Agricultural Extension, Gibbons and Schroeder, 1983 and Helping Health Workers Learn, Werner and Bower, 1982.
1st. 3 - 6 months:
1) Settling in, find and fix up living quarters, meet people and make friends
2) Work an learning local customs and language
3) Get acquainted with work zone, communities, climate, topography, crops, technology, problems.
4) Identify at least three communities as target areas.
5) Plant demonstration lot perhaps in the form of a vegetable garden in each of the communities; in own yard, with interested collaborator, or as a school project. Use live barriers, contour ditches, contour planting beds, organic compost, etc.
6) Become familiar with host agency, its resources, and its policies, meet fellow extentionists.
7) Develop reputation as interested, responsible extensionist by attending host agency and community meetings, visiting farmers and keeping informed of seasonal agricultural activities. Help cut farmers in areas other than soil conservation (pest control, fertilizer applications, cooperative management, etc.).
8) Formation of ideas about best potential work strategies.
9) Look for interested collaborators to try out soil conservation techniques.
2nd 3- 6 months:
1) Maintain reputation as interested, responsible extensionist.
2) Discuss specific possibilities for soil observation work with fax. and other extensionists, begin promotional efforts such as introductory lectures, simple demonstrations (See Apendix 5), field trips, etc.
3) Select at least one collaborator from each of the communities and help them carry out some conservation practices on their own land.
4) Encourage these initial collaborators to help seek out and teach other interested farmers.
3rd. 3- 6 months:
1) Keep demonstration lots well maintained, use them to motivate and to teach others to start more demonstration lots.
2) Keep records to measure success of demonstration lots, publicize successes in the communities involved and at host agency meetings.
3) Make sure host agency extentionists, collaborators and other interested farmers understand techniques used; plan more formal courses, demonstrations, or field trips.
4) Constantly be on the lookout for new collaborators, have the initial collaborators help organize interested farmers into groups to receive visits and demonstrations at regularly scheduled times. Encourage initial collaborators to work as volunteer extentionists with other interested farmers.
4th 3- 6 months:
1) Work with larger number of collaborators
2) Organize farmers so that future extentionists will already have distinct groups to visit.
3) Make sure farmers and other host agency extensionist are well-trained to be able to continue designing and building soil conservation structures.
4) Publicize work based on records kept; publicize at agency and community meetings: local, regional or national fairs; radio, newspapers.
5) Train incoming Peace Crops Volunteers.
Depending on the area, the receptivity of the people, the number of growing seasons per year, etc.' this may already be the end of the two year period. If work has proceeded rapidly, all this may have taken as little as one year. In case any time remains, it can be spent trying additional soil conservation techniques (remember that different techniques reinforce each other when combined); helping develop the farmers into more stable, better organized groups; giving more formal training courses for both farmers and extentionists; expanding the work to other communities; or working on another aspect of agricultural development, such as youth organizations, improving marketing, crop diversification, etc.
1) Guidelines for evaluating soil conservation techniques used: If records are kept, then a comparison of budgets and crop yields can be made (See Appendix 3). This type of record can be very important in convincing farmers or other extensionists to try similar techniques in another area. Records can also be used to evaluate which techniques are most appropriate or which are inappropriate to the area. Remember, however, many of the benefits of using soil conservation techniques are long-term and may not show a dramatic improvement when using short-term observations to evaluate the techniques.
2) Guidelines for evaluating the extension methodology used: Again records should be kept following the growth of a program. This is often measured in terms of number of people or landarea involved in the program. Extensionists should realize that a large program is not necessarily more desirable than a slow starting, steadily growing one. Finding farmers genuinely interested in carrying out soil conservation practices is difficult (especially the first one). It is reasonable to expect slow acceptance of the techniques at first. Each farmer adopting soil conservation techniques may lead to one or two additional farmers adopting the techniques during the next planting season. Assuming two additional highly motivated new collaborators for every current collaborator, the following growth sequence can be generated:
(+2) = 3
(+6) = 9
First planting season
Second planting season
Third planting season
Fourth planting season
Fifth planting season
Sixth planting season
This growth sequence may represent anywhere from two to six years, depending on the climate and the crops involved.
If there is only one planting season per year (an arid zone without irrigation or crops such as coffee, fruit trees), after two years the volunteer is at the point with 3 collaborators. It is important that these 3 people be well trained and highly motivated and that other local extensionists are convinced of the value of the work so that it can keep expanding in the area.
In this case, since such a small number of collaborators are involved, the volunteer should attempt to visit several communities so that each one can initiate this growth sequence of adopting soil conservation techniques at the same time. For example: if this can be carried out in four communities then 12 collaborators rather than only 3, are involved.
If there are two planting seasons per year (moderate climate where a system such as successive corn and bean plantings are practiced), after two years the volunteer may be at the point where 9 or 27 collaborators are involved. If working in 3 separate communities, 27-81 people could be involved. Any of these is enough so that time will be saved teaching in groups. Then teaching groups can be the basis for organizing interested farmers into agricultural committees or cooperatives at a future time. These groups will also form a nucleus of people for future extensionists to visit, reducing much of the time spent in initially getting introduced to a community and discovering interested farmers. This larger involvement also merits bringing in outsiders for field trips to see the variety of work being done and its acceptability to the community. m is helps motivate the innovative farmers, making them feel they are doing something important and worthy of respect, and also motivates the visitors to try the techniques in other areas. At this time, the program can also serve as a model for other extensionist to follow.
If there are three or four planting seasons per year (year round cultivation possible because of climate or availability of irrigation water), after two years the volunteer may be at the point with 27, 81 or 243 collaborators, depending on the speed in getting started Enough collaborators are now involved that the formation of groups is essential if attention is to be given to all, especially if working with more than one community. These large groups can be powerful forces, making it much easier to attract government aid in the form of courses or loans, and in meriting regional or national publicity for soil conservation techniques me area can now serve as a good model for other agricultural extensionists or development agencies. m e group oriented nature may involve changing the work strategy, focusing more on training people in management and organization to stabilize and strengthen the groups, rather than strictly focusing on training in agricultural techniques
From this growth sequence, one can see that even though growth starts very slows if it can be maintained at a steady rate, it is soon growing so fast that one extensionist can hardly keep up with it Essential to the process however, is quality and success, especially in the initial period, in order for the techniques to appear acceptable and attractive to farmers
A soil conservation extension program almost always faces a challenge initially to generate awareness that soil erosion is a major problem that merits dealing with often farmers do not perceive deforestation or environmental degradation as problems, and may attribute poor production to other factors (lack of credit to buy fertilizers, quality of seed available, lack of modern farm machinery, etc ). One of the first goals of any extensionist, therefore, should be to change same of the attitudes farmers may have and introduce some of the following ideas: The importance in an increasingly crowded society of permanently cultivating the same plots of land while maintaining others in an undisturbed state to protect water sources and wildlife, the simplicity of adopting soil conservation techniques, and the advantages of labor intensive improvements as compared to capital intensive (buying fertilizers, improved seeds, farm machinery) improvements. Only upon generating genuine interest in soil conservation techniques can an extensionist expect farmers to be willing to try out and to care for, any new types of structures or planting systems introduced.
Several methods are available to extensionist attempting to change farmers' attitudes and generate interest in new techniques. Some of the common ones are informal discussions, lectures, films or filmstrips, classroom demonstrations, demonstration lots, field trips, visits from farmers already using the techniques, financial incentives, and soil conservation courses.
Informal discussions with farmers can be one of the extensionist's most effective techniques, especially in more isolated communities and where people may be unaccustomed to receiving courses, attending meetings, or receiving visits from extensionist Informal discussions provide an opportunity to make friends, to have people understand what to expect of the extension program, and to discuss ideas in an informal setting. Friends made in this manner, often turn out to be the first interested collaborators in an area.
More formal presentations such as lectures, films and films strips, and classroom demonstrations (see Appendix 5) made to a group of people, allow for the presentation of more information to more people and the use of visual aids to make some of the ideas clearer. They have the disadvantage, however, of requiring people to attend a meeting at a fixed time, something people may be unaccustomed to or very reluctant to do. These types of presentations are probably most effective when several individuals have already expressed an interest during informal discussions. In communities where people are not accustomed to receiving focal presentations, the format and content of the lecture, film, or demonstration should be designed carefully to ensure that the people attending understand how this will relate to their own farm work.
Demonstration lots are small plantings, carefully prepared and cared for, that demonstrate some or all of the techniques which are to be promoted in an area. "Seeing is believing", and that is the main advantage of this technique. People are given a concrete example, so that when an extensionist talks about digging ditches in the middle of a corn field, planting in contour curves, or using organic fertilizer, farmers will have a clearer concept of what these terms are describing. They also provide a local trial to evaluate the appropriateness of the techniques under local conditions.
Field trips to, or visits from farmers already using soil conservation techniques provide an opportunity to evaluate what is being done in other areas and to consider their appropriateness in the new area. These are especially valuable if there is a chance to discuss the new techniques directly with the farmers involved. This will permit a more thorough consideration of tine and labor involved and the rewards to be expected. Agricultural extensionists should encourage their collaborators to seek out and share their experiences with other farmers in the area. Extensionists might even consider making a "moral contract" with collaborators, requiring them to teach two additional farmers, who in turn will each promise to teach two more farmers. etc. In this way the number of farmers learning and using the techniques increases more and more rapidly with time. The extensionist should be aware that if the model area or farmer has received any special attention or aid to carry out the work, this may be interpreted as a prerequisite to the success of the technique.
Financial incentives (credit, seed, fertilizer, food for work, etc.) are available from many national and international agencies interested in rural development projects. These often are available only for groups of farmers. They can be used to attract participants to a project designed, for example, to bring people together for formal classroom sessions where new techniques are described, followed by carrying out the practices on their own land. In this process, the involved farmers receive benefits from increased production and a longer useful life of their fields. In Appendix 3, an extension program is described in which fifty farmers were involved in such a project. If carried out throughout a region or country, these types of projects can benefit the economy because of greater self-sufficiency in production and can reduce migration to urban areas and avoid often-destabilizing political pressures for rapid land reform measures. This method has the advantages of attracting a larger number of people to be trained during the extension program and the more immediate achievement of economic benefits to a larger number of people. A possible disadvantage of this strategy is that it may overlook the importance of future acceptance of soil conservation techniques by farmers not involved initially. If the same motivating benefits are not available to other farmers, they may not feel that the soil conservation work by itself is worthwhile. Depending on the receptivity and the subsequent extension methodology followed, however, this may not present a problem. In fact, the more immediate high visibility of such a program may allow a great increase in the effectiveness of a Peace Corps Volunteer during a two year service. The high visibility of such a large project could also be important in providing a site for field trips to motivate or train other farmers and extensionists, and a basis for publicizing the success of soil conservation techniques on a regional, national, or international level.
Soil conservation courses allow extensionist to teach a variety of techniques to farmers, more than they may be able to learn by doing their own field work. It should be remembered however, that many people are unaccustomed to learning in a classroom format, and that the courses should involve as much practical fieldwork as possible. Courses are probably most effective in training extension workers, on once several farmers in an area have already tried some soil conservation techniques on their own fields and seem receptive to learning more.
As an extension program gets under way in a community and starts growing, it becomes more and more necessary for the extensionists to work with groups as time may not always be available for individual visits.
If working in communities with no organized groups, extensionists are faced with the task of initiating groups with which to work. It is not unusual for community members to be resistant to the idea of joining such a group. For many reasons (a tradition of working alone, local feuds or jealousies, suspicion of unwanted economic or political committments, etc.)) this may be one of the extensionists most difficult tasks. dealing with and overcoming this reluctance is an individual matter and every extensionist works things out uniquely. It takes time and communication to develop a relationship that both the community members and the extensionist are comfortable with. Other people, including other agricultural extensionists, nurses, or school teachers, who have had experience working with similar community groups, may have very useful suggestions in these matters.
Although presenting new information to farmers is more efficient on a group than on an individual basis, this may not be so for actual field work. The extensionist must evaluate each community to decide if it is more appropriate to carry out demonstrations on individually or group tended lots. In group cultivated lots, the work and risks are shared, lessening the burden of any individual. However, sometimes farmers are less conscientious about caring for a crop if it is not theirs individually. In such cases, it may be most appropriate for the extensionist to present new information or techniques at a central location, such as a school, a small parcel of land made available to the extensionist for this purpose, or by rotating among the individual parcels of the group members. After the group presentation, the extensionist should, whenever possible, discuss or visit each individual's parcel to ensure that the technique will be put into practice correctly.
Organized groups of farmers can also be very important in the continued spread of the introduced techniques after the extensionist leaves. They increase communication among farmers, they serve as support groups for innovative farmers, they are more likely to attract the attention of other extension programs, and in some cases they manage credit funds which make it easier for farmers to implement certain technologies. Extensionists should familiarize themselves with the different types of groups so that they have a better understanding of how groups may facilitate, or possibly inhibit, the continuance of their promotional effort.
Agriculture committees are often informal assemblages of people drawn to meetings by a common interest in agricultural innovations. These committees are very flexible and allow for the admission of new members or formation of new committes upon demand. This can be a big advantage when working in a new area as the success of the program will probably attract more and mere interested persons. This flexibility also leads to the danger of dissolving rapidly if interest wanes, especially if dominated by only one or two enthusiastic members. The members of these committees can, however, be very important resources as local volunteer extensionist singe very often they are attending solely based on interest and a desire to learn, without any other reward. These committees can also be a good starting point for the organization of an agricultural cooperative if desired.
Cooperatives are more formal groups, generally organized around a set of by-laws or constitution, requiring members to fulfill certain responsibilities (pay dues, attend meetings or workdays) and granting them certain privileges (credit, buying and/or selling at favorable prices, right to farm a certain portion of land). Because of their formal nature, cooperatives are likely to be more permanent organizations than agricultural committees. Also as a result of this more formal nature, they are less flexible about admitting new members. Many times cooperatives receive preferential treatment from. governmental agencies when soliciting training courses, credit, or other types of assistance.
There are several types of cooperatives, differing in the nature of the rights they grant and the responsibilities they require of the members. Production cooperatives involve the members working together in the production process, such as farming the same piece of land. Credit cooperatives manage a common fund which is used to loan members money, an alternative to more expensive and often unavailable bank loans, Buying and selling coops pool all the farmers buying orders, buying in bulk for cheaper prices, and pool the farmers' produce to sell an higher prices or lessen transportation costs
Soil conservation extensionist may also be involved in working with other types of groups, such as schools, youth groups, housewives groups, etc. Regardless of the type of group an agricultural extensionist works with, some basic concepts must be considered. First, groups should be goaloriented or purposeful, that is they must provide some advantage to their members; some incentive to spend their time with the group Second, the group must have a structure, organization, plan of activities, and disciplinary code which permit the attainment of its goals. Third, care must be taken in planning, promoting, and realizing all group oriented activities to avoid disillusion among members and abandoning of the group. This may result from joining a group without understanding its stated goal or joining a group incapable of attaining its stated goal because of flaws in the design of its structure, organization, plan of activities, or disciplinary code. When these concepts are kept in mind, then the group is much more likely to serve its members in a productive, self-sustaining fashion Once confident of the usefulness and power of their own group, community members will be much more motivated to work within the group framework to improve their own situation.