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Reaching the Millions!

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Reaching the Millions!

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«How can Rural Advisory Services reach millions of smallholder farmers?» This was the starting question of a one-year-learning journey that was coordinated by the SDC’s Agriculture and Food Security-Network. The East and South Asian-divisions of SDC wanted to increase the investments in Rural Advisory Services (RAS). This made it necessary to reflect what has been done in the past, what went well, what could be done better. This reflection would serve as a good starting point for the new RAS-projects and at the same time SDC-staff would improve its expertise about RAS. The first step of the learning process started in January 2015 with the elaboration and analysis of seven capitalization studies about the experiences in RAS in seven Asian countries.  The second step was a face-to-face learning event with RAS experts and practitioners in Hanoi. The synthesis of the workshop, called the Hanoi Statement, can be considered as the third step. The fourth step – the completion of the process in November 2015 – was the dissemination of the results of the CapEx-process.
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Four steps of the capitalization process

The capitalization process started with seven studies: Five studies were realized on recently completed SDC financed programmes in Vietnam, Laos, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Kyrgyzstan. The programmes were implemented by Helvetas. Additionally, two studies were conducted on China and India where donors played only a minor role in the implementation of RAS-systems. Helvetas carried out the seven capitalization studies. By reflecting on 20 years of RAS-experiences in Asian countries, the studies derive conclusions on how RAS-systems can reach out to large numbers of farmers in a poverty-oriented, inclusive, ecological and sustainable way. You can click on the respective country to read the respective study. Here you can also find a synthesis of the different studies.
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In order to share the conclusions of the capitalization studies and to enhance a process of sharing and learning, SDC and GFRAS (Global Forum of Rural Advisory Services) conducted in March 2015 their workshops back to back in Hanoi. 68 RAS-experts and practitioners participated in the “Reaching the Millions”-workshop.
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The participants represented different RAS-sectors, coming from SDC, government organizations, private sector, NGO, farmers’ associations, research and international donors.
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During the five-days-learning event (find here the programme) participants discussed the question of how RAS can support large numbers of agricultural producers to develop skills that improve their livelihoods and well-being. From where do they get training and skill development, finances and innovation? And how do they decide what services to offer, and to whom? Participants discussed and shared their experiences with RAS-systems.
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The good mixture of participants allowed the networking between different donor organizations, but also between research and farmers, between NGO and private sector-organizations. In order to foster mutual learning and exchange the face-to-face was designed in a way that prioritized group work and active involvement instead of presentations. According to Felix Fellmann, participants were highly motivated throughout the five-days-workshop. This was an important factor for the success of the event and its output. RAS projects are mostly implemented by SDC’s partner organizations, that have built up a huge amount of valuable knowledge. A participatory experience capitalization process, involving SDC staff and its partners, allows the sharing of all this valuable knowledge.
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Listen to Stefanie Kägi from Helvetas, who carried out the seven capitalization studies, regarding her experiences with the face-to-face event in Hanoi.
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The Hanoi Statement is the synthesis of the discussions, intense group reflections and prioritization exercises that took place during the learning event in Hanoi. SDC-financed RAS-systems are pluralistic: A multitude of service providers interacts with agricultural producers, and these service providers are funded from various sources. The purpose of the Hanoi statement is to increase the capacity of future pluralistic RAS-systems to reach out to a large number of agricultural producers in a poverty-oriented, ecological and sustainable way. To this aim, the statement describes core aspects of RAS-systems and the factors that are supporting them. Based on those core aspects, it provides recommendations on how development cooperation can contribute to strengthen RAS-systems. The Hanoi Statement wants to support the SDC-staff in the design of new RAS-programmes and the conceptualizing of approaches in this field.
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The results of the CapEx-process were broadly presented and discussed: at the head office of Helvetas, at SFRAS and the SFIAR-meetings, at the GFRAS Annual meeting and in a publication about the results in Rural 21.  In order to make the process and its products also known at the SDC Head Office, the Agriculture and Food Security Network organized in November 2015 a presentation of the process in Berne. Stefanie Kägi and Peter Schmidt from Helvetas, together with Felix Fellmann, presented the findings of the learning process on Rural Advisory Services and discussed the Hanoi Statement with an interested public.
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Outlook

One unexpected product of the Hanoi Workshop was the creation of a sub-regional forum in Southeast Asia, the Mekong Extension Learning Alliance, called MELA. This is a group of project implementing organizations (SDC and non-SDC) that grew out of the discussions, the sharing and the enthusiasm generated in the Hanoi Workshop. The inaugural meeting already took place, the next meeting is planned.
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With the dissemination of the results the process came to its formal conclusion, but the creation of MELA shows that the continuing learning process has just gained speed …
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«The Experience Capitalization on Rural Advisory Services was an important process. As a learning organization it is crucial to achieve milestones that serve as references for our future work. The Hanoi Statement is such a milestone. And the face-to-face meeting allowed us to move forward.»  

Peter Bieler, SDC, Head of Global Programme Food Security
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On the shareweb of the Learning & Networking Team of SDC you find more information about the process of Experience Capitalisation, but also about designing events.

On the shareweb of the Agriculture + Food Security-network you can find all about the RAS Experience Capitalization and the ongoing exchange.




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