If project managers really want to implement a philosophy of continual improvement, then the identification of what has worked is as important as finding out what has not worked.
The small size of the Kastom Garden Programme and the closeness with which the staff work has made the identification of such facts an informal process.
Approaches to training
- the KGP crew wanted to try out the idea of growing vegetable closer to the house in small ‘nutrition gardens’ or ‘sup sup gardens’ to encourage greater use of annual vegetables to improve the family diet; within a short time the idea caught on and the number of gardens increased; observation indicates that the gardens have been successful
- ‘table gardens’ – a soil-filled growing tray to perhaps 30 centimetres in raised to around waist height and supported on timber legs – raising vegetable crops out of reach of chickens and dogs.
The main focus of nutritional education was the role of a balanced family meal in maintaining health:
- material used in nutritional education was drawn from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and from a useful book published in the UK by Intermediate Technology Publications – Nutrition for Developing Countries (1972; IT Publications, London); educational material was developed by nutritional educator, Maria Zabel, at Sasamunga Hospital
- in the program’s agricultural training the link between health, food crop diversity, the mixed family meal and the productivity of village sup sup and bush gardens was emphasised.
Encouraging gardeners to experiment with the new ideas introduced by KGP trainers was successful:
- the idea was that by trialing new ideas on a small area, farmers would become familiar with their management; they would then be in an informed position from which to make the decision as to whether it was worth their while to utilise the new ideas in the rest of their garden; the idea was slow to get started and required a great deal of talking with gardeners before they were willing to give it a try.
Limiting the number of new techniques
Too many new ideas at once produces confusion, suppresses motivation and limits the uptake of new ideas:
- introducing only a few associated ideas at a time helped gardeners comprehend them and boosted the chance that they would be adopted
- ideas are best introduced slowly, each building on the other, together making up a coherent package of techniques adapted to local environmental, social and cultural conditions.
Informal examples in communities
The visibility of new techniques in village gardens made use of the demonstration effect:
- people see the results of ideas tried out
- it encouraged informal ‘education by doing’
- village-based voluntary trainers were expected to use and demonstrate the techniques passed on by the program in their own gardens; it was not always the trainers who provided the examples but people who excelled at practical work and put into use what they picked up at workshops
- there was often a considerable period of time before gardeners adopted what they learned.
Building on indigenous knowledge
From the start, KGP staff assessed traditional methods of agriculture and incorporated them into the program where they proved effective.
In essence, the KGP was all about appropriate technology:
- the use of farmer experimentation, the assessment of traditional knowledge, food plants and agricultural technologies reflect the project’s attempt to retain what is useful from the past and to introduce what is affordable and manageable from the modern world
- an example was the use of local methods of using mulch to maintain soil quality; incorporating methods familiar to many of the gardeners gave them confidence and validated the new methods brought by the training program; gardeners felt confident that they would work in the long term.
Central to success in all the KGP’s training activities have been follow-up visits to participating communities:
- the visits create a ‘presence’ for the program in a region
- the effect is to raise the program’s profile and convince participants that project staff are interested in their welfare and have a high level of motivation for their work
- workshops provided an entry point to communities but without follow-up visits the workshops would not have contributed to change
- repeat visits make it possible to monitor project work over time, providing an additional source of information on how well or poorly particular techniques work.
Generally, follow-up involves:
- group meetings
- capacity building of local groups
- individual garden visits
- follow-up workshops
- farmer visits to other gardens.
The program attempted to provide follow-up for at least 12 months after the initial training workshops.
Doing the rounds of participant’s gardens during regular visits to communities proved a useful means of monitoring and encouraged the sharing of information:
- during KGP workshops, participants would visit gardens as a group
- KGP trainers used questioning and discussion to assist the group assess what was being done in the gardens
- project staff also visited individuals and encouraged the sharing of experience.
Voluntary village trainers
Choosing voluntary trainers proved to be a challenge:
- those selected generally worked out well
- a more realistic expectation would have been to gain only a few enthusiastic and capable trainers from all those selected
- voluntary trainers were responsible for working with their own communities and, sometimes, with nearby communities
- they attended KGP training workshops
- voluntary trainers were expected to demonstrate what they learned in their own gardens; for the most part this happened; sometimes, however, it did not, foregoing the opportunity to reinforce formal training with a demonstration of techniques
- on occasion, village trainers attended regional train-the-trainer workshops to improve their teaching skills and knowledge
- the process of selecting voluntary trainers was put into the hands of members of the village gardening group rather than leaving selection to KGP trainers.
Factors limiting the effectiveness of voluntary trainers included:
- personal problems
- migration to the city
- uncertainty among young people about what they wanted to do in life
- the failure of some trainers to substantially implement what they taught.
Focus on practical training
Emphasis on practical rather than theoretical training encouraged the ‘learning by doing’ approach so necessary in the Solomons:
- the emphasis on practical training took into account the literacy levels and educational standard of participants; only 50% of participants in KGP projects were literate or semiliterate; KGP trainers consequently limited lecturing and made use of participatory techniques
- demonstrating, then encouraging people to try new ideas for themselves, proved successful.
Use of local languages
Although Solomon Pijin is widely used throughout the islands, many local languages remain in everyday use. It was found that teaching in those languages greatly facilitated training.
Farmer field school
A successful mode of agricultural extension in some other countries have been the ‘farmer field schools’:
- the school is a way of introducing a new method or technology to farmers; the farmers then try out the new idea in their own gardens
- farmers come together on a regular basis as an informal group to share their experience with the new idea and to receive further training from the resource person
- the field school approach to training was tried only in the village of Takwa, North Malaita, where it seemed to work well; the village women’s group worked in their own gardens and met every couple of weeks to share information about how their field experiments were progressing; the approach worked reasonable well with the introduction of mulching and some botanical pest control sprays being promoted; perhaps the main difficulty was the inability of the KGP resource person to get to the village for the fortnightly meetings
- a limitation occurred when community commitments led to poor attendance at the field school
- the farmer field school served as an alternative to the less successful demonstration or community farm and proved to be a good group building exercise
- with more intensive support, field schools could be very successful in the Solomons
- as an alternative to the field school, people in Wagina, Choiseul, formed small groups of four to five to work in each other’s gardens.
Integrated pest management
There appears to be little knowledge about the control of insect pests among Solomon Island subsistence farmers:
- plant damage due to insect pests attack worsened during the drought of 1997 when plants already weakened by the dry conditions were attacked by insects; this presented program planners with both the need and the opportunity to introduce integrated pest management (IPM) into the program; IPM is a multi-technique approach to the control of insect pests
- until the integrated pest management program made its start on Malaita in 1999, what training had been provided had been opportunistic and sporadic
- there remains a clear need to further integrate training in IPM into the program’s field activities.
There is nothing quite as motivating as early success. Consequently, the opportunity to achieve quick results was built into the training program:
- quick results do not replace the need for long term change; they encourage farmers to set out on that longer road by building in motivators
- mulching, green manuring and erosion control works failed to produce the quick results needed to convince farmers to change current practices.
Serving as better entry points to longer term agricultural improvement have been:
- the building of sup sup gardens in villages
- natural pest control
- the establishment of nurseries.
Producing nursery inputs
To minimise costs, inputs into the farming cycle were scrounged rather than purchased:
- organic material scraped from rotting coconut husks and mixed with soil was found to make an effective growing medium for seeds
- another use of scraped coconut husk was as a stable, homogenous growing medium for the germination testing of seeds stored by the Planting Material Network
- a simple and reliable nursery system was developed which greatly assisted vegetable production, especially of the popular Chinese cabbage.
Association with an institution
The linking of the training program with an institution was a reason behind the success of the Lauru Kastom Garden Project:
- the link with the Sasamunga Hospital Primary Health Care Unit made possible the provision of agricultural training to support the unit’s nutritional work
- another benefit was access to the unit’s motor canoe to transport the training team to partner villages and the provision of office space for the program in the unit’s small building in Sasamunga
- the support of the hospital’s doctor was critical to this sharing of resources.
Employment of local trainers
The benefit of employing local people who have standing in the community, who speak the local language and who possess initiative in the role of regional coordinators was clearly demonstrated in the Lauru Kastom Garden Project.
Transfer of training
The transfer of useful information from trainer to participant, and the participant’s use of that information to make improvements is at the core of all agricultural training activities:
- although it was of concern at first, it became apparent that non-attendance at workshops did not necessarily mean that new techniques would not be adopted; somehow, people who were not workshop attendees picked up what was taught there
- some of the most successful implementers of sup sup gardens and bush gardening techniques were people who tried out for themselves what they learned from others who attended the training
- word of mouth was critical in the transfer of information in a village community.
Slash and mulch
The critical role of organic matter in building and maintaining soil fertility has been a central focus of the KGP’s training program:
- in almost all cases where farmers have tried slash and mulch as an alternative to slash and burn they report that yields have been the same of higher; some farmers reported significantly improved yields
- a negative consequence reported has been the growth of weeds, probably because burning killed weed seed and mulching does not
- during the 1997 drought, crops planted into soils covered by mulch generally continued to live, whereas bare soil gardens died.
The use of legumes
Legumes are plants which produce nitrogenous compounds which support plant growth and provide fibrous material that increases the organic matter content of soils. Nitrogen is one of the main plant nutrients:
- encouraging farmers to grow legumes has been a strategy necessary to the improvement of garden productivity
- promoting the planting of legumes has been reasonable successful, particularly in small gardens close to the house.
Mulching – the placing of organic matter such as cut grass and plant residue on the garden soil where it breaks down and becomes plant nutrient, has been heavily promoted by the KGP:
- particularly though the use of slash and mulch systems, mulching is seen as a substitute for the slash and burn cycle, now nearing its ecological limits in parts of the Solomons
- the use of mulch is an agricultural technology achievable by village subsistence cultivators
- traditional precedents for mulching have been used by KGP trainers as encouragement and validation of the practice
- for most subsistence cultivators, mulching seems to be a relatively new idea; patience and clear explanation of its benefits have been necessary
- the KGP has achieved a reasonable degree of success in encouraging the use of mulch
- composting has limited potential for use by village-based subsistence cultivators in the Solomons because it is a high-maintenance practice requiring more knowledge than mulching
- the use of mulch complies with the principle of keeping things simple.
The digging stick
The pointed digging stick is a traditional agricultural tool in the Solomon Islands. It is used mainly for the planting of the root crops.
The digging stick has been found to be less efficient for cultivating hardened soils. Here the metal digging hoe works better, making cultivation easier and opening the soil to allow air and moisture penetration.
Trials of digging sticks have been made at the KGP project centre at Burns Creek. Satisfied with their utility and their advantage as a soil conservation tool, the KGP has promoted them for use in the situations where they work best.
Alley cropping proved a mixed success:
- the practice was introduced in the Sasamunga Hospital garden and at the project centre’s Burns Creek garden
- in the Sasamunga garden, the tree species Gliricidia was used as a leguminous interplant established in alleys; between the alleys, which were about four metres apart, vegetable crops were planted; the Gliridicia was slashed and its foliage used as a nitrogen-rich mulch on the vegetable gardens between the alleys; it quickly regrew its foliage and the process was repeated
- despite the evident success of alley cropping, the idea has not caught on in bush gardens; the reason is believed to be because gardeners see the plant as unproductive because it yields no food and occupies valuable space.
Too many innovations can lead to failure and too few farmers will adopt the innovations:
- in Sasamunga and elsewhere on Choiseul, the clearly focused training and follow-up program of sup sup garden development produced good results
- the training provided in North Malaita and on Guadalcanal was more general, focusing on bush gardens, sup sup gardens, alley cropping, hillside gardens and more
- while some technique were adopted, a group momentum through which farmers encourage one another did not develop
- after this experience, the KGP changed its training approach on Malaita.
Evaluation page 1: assessing the programme
Evaluation page 2: what worked
Evaluation page 3: what did not work
Evaluation page 4: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities threats