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Lessons learned on a photo-report initiative for poor farmers

The use of digital photography recently helped poor farmers in rural Cambodia to feel more confident about expressing themselves to donors and programme managers (see COSOP CAMBODIA 2011).

Lessons learned as facilitator:

The poorest often can not read or write. This is the thinking that spurred the idea of providing digital cameras to poor farmers. This way their situation could be explained visually. The intended purpose was for them to be able to participate in the conference and this tool worked extremely well for this purpose. But when I started this work, it was hard to imagine poor farmers coming to the conference with their powerpoint presentations. I felt I tasked myself with a 'mission impossible' !

My challenge was time: to travel to meet to screen, to select and ultimately to give basic training to each farmer on the use of the camera and to lead them to build a logical sequence of information to present at the conference. The basic plan was to have each person define a set of facts to describe their role and situation. For each of those facts, I asked them to show it with a photo. The cameras were very useful because it gave them time (a few days) to work on the presentations alone. But it also helped them to settle the information in their heads and create a sequence in their speech.They key advantage of this technique is that it helped me to keep them on tracks with their presentation plans.

What I also learned as a facilitator is that this process gave a multiple positive inputs and largely helped the quality of the communications. Each photo meant something very specific to the farmer who took it and each photo helped them to remember key facts to discuss and present. Some of the photos convey messages that would otherwise not be expressed. This is important to consider as often, policy makers and many project staffs have little time to visit the field. Photos can be great to account of a situation and without words, give feeling and emotions. It builds confidence in story telling - and sets the building blocks for a better communication process.


This tool can be used quite cost effectively and it means that there is also scope for replicating or scaling up such methods. The cameras I had purchased cost under 100 usd each. This is still too high for national range - scaling up, but there are other existing options that I could have used: mobile phones. Many people even in rural areas have mobile phones. Some of them have cameras on them. As new technologies develop, we have the chance to reconsider how we can better include the poorest in our communication processes.

This brings me to my final point: the most important lesson was not about photography and its benefits. The biggest lesson was that when given a chance to express themselves, poor farmers will make strong contributions to a program. In this specific case, time was missing to develop a strategic behavioral communication strategy but the experience shows that the potential is there. Integrating the voices and the participation of farmers in the programme implementation process is a sure way to improve impact and efficiency.



N.B. This article is written in response to comments received in a previous blog about the poor farmers and the COSOP conference in Cambodia last December: What were the lessons learned for me as a facilitator? Could this be replicated in other situations, and could this be scaled up for a bigger impact? I hope this blog inspires you to comment and participate further in defining good tools, models and approaches to better communicate for development.

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Thanks Cedric, No doubt the learning experience for the farmers and the impact it had on the farmers will be quite strong and may result in some transformation in their own lives. What about the impact on the COSOP review and the other people at the meeting. Were any of the readers of IFADAsia amongst the participants?

Posted on 2/9/12 5:07 AM.

Nice initiative Cedric. Involving the primary audience in digital storytelling brings up hidden facts that are not visible to oursiders or are not considered to be important.

Posted on 2/9/12 10:09 AM.

Read 'oursiders' as 'outsiders'. Thanks.

Posted on 2/9/12 10:13 AM.

Thanks Sanjib and Chase for your interest.
For your question about the impact on COSOP, it is hard to say at this stage, but I think people were interested and also touched by some of the presentations. On a purely communication level, two impact areas worth noting: 1) better communication processes benefit everyone. 2) poor farmers have expressed a demand to improve their agricultural knowledge through such exchanges.
I hope to catch up with the farmers soon and continue the process in this new channel - this could be very interesting to indeed focus on the issues of duplication of knowledge sharing tools. Who knows, maybe more 'hidden facts' will be revealed...

Posted on 2/9/12 12:41 PM in reply to Sanjib Kumar Chaudhary.

I found the photos the famers took fascinating, and beautiful. Having been lucky enough to be at the COSOP workshop and meet them and see their presentations, I would agree that their presence and voices added considerably to the whole process.

I also feel this process has potential for scaling up. IFAD's photography policy talks about portraying rural people with dignity and in a non-exploitative fashion. How better to do this than to put the camera literally in their hands and empower them to create their own images?

Posted on 2/15/12 7:21 AM in reply to Cedric Joel Jancloes.