Michael J. Jones
Critical factors for self-sustaining farmer organizations in Northern Laos
Jones, Michael J.; Case, Peter; Connell, John G.
Professor Peter Case Peter.Case@uwe.ac.uk
Professor of Organization Studies
John G. Connell
The SRA reported on here involved three groups of stakeholders—local farmers represented by their community-elected organizational leaders, government service providers represented by district and provincial extension agents and leaders, and a team of international researchers—collaborating in a participatory action research process designed to identify the challenges, opportunities, and critical role to be played by farmer organizations in improving the equity and sustainability of smallholder farming in Northern Laos. The study involved government extension service providers and farmers from over forty villages in each of two districts with two products—organic vegetables in Khoun District and forest coffee in Paek District, Xieng Khuang Province.
Looking critically at a range of successful but diverse farmer organizations throughout Laos, the farmer participants in this study distilled a set of lessons for developing their own organizations. The actions centred on replacing individual with group-based marketing and selling and coordinating production to enable this improved selling. The participants looked at the expected benefits farmers could gain through cooperation and built consensus around simple action plans that involved farmers taking their own actions—such as mobilizing committees from each village to engage in marketing, technical training, and production audits—and searching for support from private sector investors and government service providers.
Distilling the experience into a set of principles and lessons, the participants characterized the approach as follows: putting function over form, practicing representation to build participation, ensuring accountability through transparency, and building consensus around practical sales visions and coordinated production plans. Aligning with Government of Lao policy, the approach shows promise as a means of addressing the need to improve smallholder production and marketing efficiency to compete with other commercial forms. Incorporated within a district-wide extension management system, the approach to mobilizing farmer organizations around market opportunities can bring substantial benefit to smallholder farmers while adding to district economic performance through value chain development.
However, there remain challenges and the approach will not be applicable in all instances. Where markets are ill defined and market actors neither dependable nor trustworthy, farmers will seldom make the investments in time, energy, and resources to improve production and to collaborate. Where farmers are preoccupied with overcoming food insecurity, they may be unwilling and incapable of investing in improving commercial production. Similarly, they may not wish to devote the time necessary to collaborate on joint means of selling.
Furthermore, where DAFO offices are driven to meet formal targets and support structures and registration rather than functions and performance, they will likely not allow farmers to develop their own organizations at a pace that allows consensus building around productive visions and structures that work for farmers. In the right conditions, however, the approaches developed through this SRA have the potential to contribute significantly to a rural development strategy that supports a viable future for smallholder farmers.
To realize this potential will take more than a presentation of results. While the participatory action research (PAR) approach employed in this study built capacity and ‘champions’ within the participating farmers and government offices, the people with strong capacities and interest are neither sufficiently politically connected nor sufficiently numerous to generate the institutional changes necessary to ensure adoption and further development. While there are several key people, including leaders at Department of Agricultural Extension and Cooperatives (DAEC) and the Xieng Khuang Provincial Agricultural Extension and Cooperatives Service (PAECS), they will need further support to build the critical mass of momentum to move extension practices in this productive direction.
Jones, M. J., Case, P., & Connell, J. G. (2017). Critical factors for self-sustaining farmer organizations in Northern Laos
|Report Type||Project Report|
|Publication Date||Sep 1, 2017|
|Peer Reviewed||Peer Reviewed|
|Keywords||rural development, international development, farmer organisations, Lao PDR, Laos, agriculture, farmer learning, market engagement, agricultural extension|
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