Thursday, May 8, 2014

Strengthening participatory learning in IRRC projects in Myanmar

Participants involved in a game to introduce value-chain concept.
Photo by Chris Cabardo
The Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) facilitates exchange of learning among various stakeholders. It continues to do so in different projects in Myanmar through impact pathway workshops and village-level learning alliances.

PIPA workshops
Two Participatory Impact Pathway Analysis (PIPA) workshops were held: one in Bogale on 11-12 July and another in Maubin on 2-3 December 2013. These were attended by representative farmers from project villages, village leaders, extension institutes, NGOs, millers, and local manufacturers.

The PIPA is a guided exercise in which participants from different sectors identify the underlying causes of a shared problem: farmers not producing a rice crop with good quality and selling it with good profit. Participants then examine opportunities, formulate their visions of success, and map the network of people in the value chain relevant to the community. Coming from various sectors, they interact and discuss sometimes-differing views. They then bring together what they found out and make explicit possible change pathways to overcome the problem. Lastly, they identify strategies for the project to facilitate change for different groups in each pathway.

In the past, PIPA workshops in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines helped to raise awareness and guide promotion and dissemination strategies of an IRRI postharvest project funded by the Asian Development Bank. By anchoring the analysis at a community level in Myanmar, the IRRC hopes to gain more from this participatory process to reach stakeholders and support wider uptake of suitable technologies. Beyond developing impact pathways for the introduction of new technologies, it also helps to generate ownership for project activities, new initiatives, and co-funding.

A group representative shares the change pathways identified by the private-sector group.
Photo by So Pyay Thar
Learning alliances established at the village level
At the end of each PIPA workshop, participants discussed forming a village-level learning alliance for activities on specific topics. The learning alliance is composed of members of a multistakeholder network that will identify, share, and adapt good practices.

The learning alliances started focusing on improving quality and linking with better markets. Different groups explored options for suitable rice and pulse seeds; threshing, drying, and storing grains; and better links with millers. According to IRRI postharvest specialist Martin Gummert, “Alliances at the village level will provide an open and flexible platform for sharing, allowing for faster feedback on what works or does not to a wider network of actors from different stakeholder groups.” It can also serve as a coordination mechanism to link various stakeholders implementing different but related activities.

Learning alliance members examine the flatbed dryer in Kyee Chaung Village during a demonstration.
Photo by So Pyay Thar
Learning alliance meeting
In December 2013, the learning alliance in Bogale met again to monitor the first round of activities planned in July. By then, a mechanical dryer unit had been installed successfully in Kyee Chaung Village. Initial discussions on business model and coordination on joint use had been started by small groups within the alliance.

The event opened with a demonstration of the mechanical dryer and discussion on how it operates. In the learning alliance meeting, 46 participants who were NGO staff, millers, male and female farmers, as well as project staff joined. They were divided into two groups: dryer operators and users. The operators discussed their technical questions on operations with IRRI scientists and the dryer manufacturer. They also discussed management issues. The users discussed interest in using the dryer, particularly with the target of making the service available to farmers in eight surrounding villages. They also discussed initial fees to sustain dryer operation, options so that farmers will have an incentive to dry and get higher quality grains, scheduling and coordination on use, and information needs.

For the next learning cycle, farmers from Kyee Chaung will try drying mechanically, storing in different ways, and then examining the results. GRET, a key NGO partner in the village, will help coordinate some activities. There will also be training and orientation for operators and millers, and a learning activity on moisture content before milling. These aim to help alliance members learn about good-quality rice and encourage price incentives for it. The learning alliance will meet again in the next harvest season to update and review what happened.

These participatory activities in Myanmar are in support of the LIFT and ACIAR projects to involve a wide stakeholder network and obtain support for technology change and impact.

By Rica Joy Flor

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