Self Help Farmer Groups by welcomegong


									                         Self Help Farmer Groups

Tom Remington

Draft (Post Uganda and India Farmer Global Group Tour

November 1, 2005

Introduction & Background

CRS and CIAT are co-investing in an Agroenterprise Learning Alliance that went global
in 2004. An important learning event was that we needed to better understand farmer
groups as a basis of providing effective support and facilitation:

      What are they and where are they?
      What should they do and what should they perhaps not do?
      Should they be formal or informal – large or small?
      How should existing groups be supported and how should new groups be formed?

Since first learning of the essential role that farmer groups must play in Agroenterprise,
CRS discovered that we work with groups in all of our Country Programs – all sorts of
groups: microfinance groups, health groups, Integrated Watershed Management groups,
WatSan groups, farmer groups, HIV/AIDS groups and more. At the same time – from
the Agroenterprise perspective, there was no coherence to how we supported groups -
mostly they were ‘single issue’ groups. This further learning led to the articulation of the
CRS-CIAT global study of farmer groups.

The Global Study Tour, lead by CIAT/Cali Rural Innovations and CRS/Baltimore
Program Quality Support Departments planned three case study country visits to Uganda
(Sep05), India (Oct05) and Bolivia (Nov05) and a write up analysis and synthesis session
in Colombia (Nov05). These brief remarks are intended to contribute to the ongoing
process and also inform CRS Agroenterprise programs in progress and learning to date.

Self Help Groups (SHGs) are invariably multi-functional

Regardless of the original objective of group formation and of the objective of the
supporting organization, SHGs inevitably take on multiple functions. For example
groups set up to foster farmer experimentation and learning in Uganda (such as the FAO
Farmer Field Schools and the CIAT CIALs) begin ‘internal savings and lending’. But
conversely, groups set up by CRS and NABARD in India to encourage internal savings
and lending soon begin to access and evaluate new technologies and invest in producing
goods to sell in the market. Recognizing the flexibility and variability of SHGs is
essential to providing effective facilitation services.
The SHG paradigm – the triangle and diamond

Approaching SHGs from an agroenterprise perspective, there are three and perhaps four
key functions that SHGs have. These are: (1) internal savings and lending (2)
agriculture experimentation and learning (3) agroenterprise and (4) natural resource
management (see figure below):

                          Self Help Group
                            Internal Savings & Lending
                                 Financial Capital

                                 Self Help Group         Agriculture Learning
       Agroenterprise             Social Capital           Human Capital
       Physical Capital

                              Natural Resource Management
                                      Natural Capital

Internal Savings and Lending

Perhaps nothing is more significant than the placement of ‘microfinance’ or more
precisely ‘internal savings and lending’ at the top of the diamond. This place of
prominence is due to several factors:

   1. internal savings and lending is a priority of all groups
   2. it is a natural entry to forming and strengthening groups
   3. existing internal savings and lending group formation and management models
      and guidance are simple and effective

Though the focus is on internal savings and lending, it needs to be made explicit that an
objective for group formation and savings is often to qualify for an external loan. A role
for CRS is to facilitate SHG access to required and reliable financial BDS support.

Agriculture Experimentation and Learning

Agriculture Learning is defined as farmer group accessing new technologies (may be new
crops or varieties, or new knowledge or new equipment) for their own evaluation. CRS
has been referring to this as ‘farmer technology evaluation’ in East Africa. It is perhaps
FAO with their Farmer Field School (FFS) approach and CIAT with their Local
Agricultural Research Committees (CIALs), who have set the standard in this area..

The assumption is that there are technologies sitting on the ‘research shelf’ of interest and
value to farmers – if only they knew of them and could access them. And that, with
support, farmer groups can access and evaluate these new technologies and make
decisions to adopt, adapt or reject – but more importantly to ‘learn how to learn’ to
continue on a sustainable basis.


To the extent that CRS ‘has always supported groups in microfinance (internal savings
and lending) and in agriculture production (experimentation and learning), these groups
have been independent. We suggest that it is agroenterprise that connects the two with a
focus on financial investment in and production for the market – to increase incomes.

Whereas internal savings and lending and farmer learning are done by small informal
groups, the accepted paradigm for agroenterprise groups has been the large and formal
cooperatives and associations. Though there are numerous organizations that support the
cooperative movement (e.g. CLUSA, ACDI-VOCA), CRS has not done so and we
suggest does not want to begin to do so – at least not directly. Rather as SHGs mature,
they may decide themselves to associate or join an existing association – CRS can help
facilitate this.

Rather than investing in the establishment of large formal farmer organizations – or even
of linking smaller, agroenterprise-focused groups to these larger cooperatives, CRS
should invest in integrating different activities that self help groups engage in.

Natural Resource Management

Natural Resource Management (also referred to in CRS as Integrated Watershed
Management) has been closely aligned with Sustainable Agriculture (with a focus on low
external inputs) and achieving food self sufficiency. To this extent it is possible that the
shift to a market focus under the Agroenterprise Learning Alliance has inadvertently
resulted in a diminishment of Natural Resource Management – at least for CRS in East

To the extent that this might be true, it needs to be corrected. Natural Resource
Management occupies the bottom of the diamond and supports the other three activities.
CRS has the best developed Natural Resource Management program in India – funded in
part with FFW. A well designed and implemented NRM program creates opportunities
for the establishment of watershed management committees, the creation of multiple use
of water opportunities and the ability to exploit new technologies. Examples from India
include fish farming and chickpea production on residual moisture.
Self Help Groups and Livelihoods

Occupying the center of the diamond, SHGs embody social capital, which we consider to
be the heart of sustainable livelihoods. Though the lines between the different capitals
are not demarcated, NRM both improves the land and water natural assets as the basis of
sustainable production. Agroenterprise focuses on the production of physical assets – to
be consumed or sold in the market. Farmer learning increases human capital and the
ability to continue to iterate and capture opportunities that come with change. And lastly,
internal savings and lending impacts on financial capital – in terms of accumulation,
credit and management. We suggest that it is social capital that holds the center.

Impact on other livelihood aspects

There is always a risk of creating a static model (after the Uganda visit, the model was a
triangle – without NRM. Upon seeing the importance of the IWM program in India, it
became a diamond). It is therefore important to explain that the model is flexible and
open to other activities – deemed priorities by members. This might include advocacy
(e.g. access to land for vegetable farming by women SHGs in India), domestic water and
sanitation (within a natural resource management program), emergency preparedness and
response etc.

Conclusions & Next Steps

It is evident that self help groups exist and underpin livelihoods across Africa (and
beyond). There is no need for CRS to either create new single issue groups or to develop
weighty manuals on how to work with groups. They already exist. The opportunity is
there, however, to recognize that groups exist and that they have multiple interests. From
this recognition, CRS can support these groups by facilitating their access to business
development services – both financial and agroenterprise.

This is only a draft attempt to articulate ongoing learning – of a large group of CRS and
CIAT persons. It remains to discuss the emerging issues. And if the four points of the
diamond survive – to articulate the details of each – drawing on the extensive bodies of
knowledge in community-based natural resource management, agriculture producer
marketing groups and cooperatives, farmer technology learning groups and microfinance.

And then this needs to be shared with the Agroenterprise Learning Alliance members and
each of their respective country programs – to inform ongoing work with farmer self help

We look forward to the discussion.

To top