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A partnership for pastoralists: extending the message

What makes for an effective partnership? The basic ingredients are two or more partners, who may be quite different in character. But perhaps the key to a partnership's success lies in building on and making the most of the strengths of each partner. Building on strengths to effectively link research and development activities in livestock health and production is certainly the objective of a new partnership forged between the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and Vétérinaires Sans Frontières-Belgium (VSF-B). ILRI has an international mandate but within this there are clear parallels with the objectives of VSF-B, an established livestock NGO which is active in western, central and eastern Africa.

The ILRI - VSF-B partnership is taking the farmer field school technology to pastoralist communities in southern Sudan and northern Kenya (Thierry Gee)
The ILRI - VSF-B partnership is taking the farmer field school technology to pastoralist communities in southern Sudan and northern Kenya
Thierry Gee

Bruno Minjauw is the new Regional Director for VSF-B in eastern Africa. But as well as taking up this new post he will also maintain a position at ILRI as Project Leader for Innovative Partnerships. Previously responsible for co-ordinating the DFID-funded livestock farmer field schools (FFS) at ILRI, Minjauw is keen to use this pioneering partnership between ILRI and VSF-B to test the FFS methodology in new areas and in new livestock production systems. With continued support from the DFID Animal Health Programme, FFS will be tried and tested in the pastoralist areas of south Sudan and the Turkana region of northern Kenya.

Adapting the methodology

Farmer field schools for dairy cattle have undoubtedly worked well in the mixed farming systems in the highlands of Kenya. And the concept of FFS for livestock is spreading: to southern Africa with FAO; with small ruminants in collaboration with the International Trypanotolerance Centre in the Gambia; and there have been many other requests for support in implementing FFS. But what are the chances of success of FFS for pastoralists? The challenges are undeniably quite different. Constantly on the move, pastoralists have less resilience to withstand changes to their environment and, living in marginal areas with few resources, the majority of the population is not only extremely poor but also illiterate. The FFS concept of 'learning by doing' is based on practical experience but also on the analysis and sharing of results. Keeping records and presenting to peers will be more testing, although not impossible, if participants are unable to read or write. Bruno Minjauw is undaunted as he emphasises that "FFS for pastoralists is going to be very different and it may be that some people will think that we are not using the FFS methodology. But as long as the basic principles remain by which the farmers are empowered through their learning by doing, then we will have another model that institutions can use."

Community animal health workers who, up to now, have been providing basic animal health services, will be trained to help communities access information (Thierry Gee)
Community animal health workers who, up to now, have been providing basic animal health services, will be trained to help communities access information
Thierry Gee

The key to working with pastoralists will lie in training community animal health workers (CAHWs) as facilitators. CAHWs are generally farmers who have been selected and trained for working in their communities to provide animal health services, such as the provision of drugs and vaccinations. However, after a recent mid-term review of the VSF-B Turkana Livestock Development Project funded by the Belgian Survival Fund, it was determined that the impact of CAHWs is often quite limited and a recommendation was made for CAHWs to be more involved in extension messages. Becoming facilitators for FFS would enable CAHWs to assist communities in accessing relevant information for their needs. Capacity building will be required and the FFS project plans to work with a local NGO, one that has already worked with VSF-B, to provide the training of trainers and co-ordinate ongoing activities.

For the FFS project for pastoralists, the same approach will be developed as with other FFS: farmers are encouraged to adapt existing technologies and to try out new ideas, which are developed through the interaction of the farmers, scientists and, in this case, the CAHWs. New tools will be needed and the methodology may be adapted but the lessons learnt from extending FFS to a new production system will be the basis of ILRI's research interest in the project. 'Will it work?' and 'How will it work?' will be the questions that need to be answered. And, if it works, 'How can the same principles be applied for other poor and illiterate livestock farmers?'

Effective monitoring and evaluation of the project will be essential if the tools and methodology developed are to be used elsewhere. To achieve this, the project can make use of the analytical and scientific expertise at ILRI. Ultimately, the success of FFS in pastoralist production systems and the overall accomplishments of the ILRI-VSF-B partnership will be evaluated by the significance of the research and the effectiveness of the development activities.

Date published: September 2004

 

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