10 September, 2011

We're just country boys and girls

Last week I was invited by FAO to help conduct a subregional policy workshop for Southeast Asia and China on supporting farmers' organizations in their market linkage activities.

This was the first time I really got to experience the life of a short-term consultant in international agricultural development. After ten days' reviewing case studies of how farmers' organizations were involved in market linkages I flew to Bangkok on a Friday night and arrived there Saturday noon. Sunday I went to work with Betty del Rosario, the project coordinator and organizer of the workshop. I had to finish my presentations and we discussed how we would conduct the workshop on the next day. Monday and Tuesday saw two days' of intense workshoping with representatives from farmers' organizations from the subregion and a few resources persons from NGOs, the private sector and government. (A delicious welcome dinner of Thai food where we witnessed how the height of a farmers' representative is not correlated with his appetite.) In the evenings I was writing up my report.

On Tuesday noon the workshop programme gave me one hour to prepare a presentation synthesizing the results of our work from the various materials discussed during the two days: frantic copying-and-pasting. The output of the workshop was finalized at the end of the workshop and cleared by the participants. On Wednesday I continued writing my report and flew back to Paris. I sent my report for clearance yesterday Friday evening. 15 days of work more or less non-stop with 24 hours of flight and jet lag at both ends...

The first lesson I have learned from this experience: the life of an international development consultant is not for me. I can do it from time to time but I think I would not be able to lead this kind of life on a regular basis: it is exhausting!

The second lesson I have learned from this mission: it looks like the workshop method of knowledge sharing is becoming so commonly used that even farmers' representatives get into the activity without asking what they should be doing. Facilitators of the working groups emerged naturally from among the participants; rapporteurs likewise. These workshops were a great way to get the participants to discuss and forge a common understanding of issues without resorting to tedious plenary declarations on the microphone. Participants even seemed to enjoy it judging from the way some of the groups were eager to start the second group exercise.

The third lesson I have learned from this workshop: the counting method to assign group membership becomes complicated when some participants cannot speak the common working language and need a colleague-interpreter with them. For the first groupwork I assigned groups by counting pairs of participants so that all delegates had a colleague who could translate for them. However, when I tried to count different group compositions for the second group session by counting one pair out of each two, participants and I all got mixed up. I will have to think of another way of assigning groups for next time.

Photos: Betty del Rosario

Down on the farm
Tim Mcgraw, Greatest hits, Curb records

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