Farmers become editors: what next?

Farmers become editors: what next?

We’ve found that participatory videos are a powerful way to include marginalized voices in development discourse. But we know what you’re thinking. What happens next?

When we started out, our aim was to include farmers’ voices in land and soil management-related issues. After all, they are the ones that to do the work. You can read about the process here.

But after we had finalized the video and posted them on YouTube, we went a step further. We went back to farmers with DVDs and copies of the pictures we had taken, so they could share their thoughts.

First, we wanted the farmers to critically analyze their own realities and explore their collective construction of meaning in the video. After this reflection, we wanted them to explore ways to communicate this message, carefully considering who it was meant for.

Second, we wanted to hear the villager’s perceptions about how the farmers in North Alego were portrayed – to give their thoughts on the narrative they had constructed, and the narrative itself.

Community screening of farmer-made video during DVD distribution celebration and discussion.

Community screening of farmer-made video during DVD distribution celebration and discussion.

What next?

Through screenings and discussions, we met with around 30 community members who created the video. We distributed copies of the DVDs to all participants and screened the long version of the film twice as more people came in to watch.

‘Going back’ allowed us to discuss the farmers’ self-reflexivity. They talked about the exercise and how it has shaped or influenced their farming practices.

“We still have challenges, especially those we mention in the film: training, improved and drought resistant varieties, pests and diseases, fertilizer access.”

Participatory Video Participant


“In the past six months, we’ve been more motivated on our farms, so you would see the difference if you visited.”

Farmer Film maker


Capacity building is one key dimension of participatory video. The participatory process was empowering because farmers learned new skills, they said. One participant said he was recently able to use a camera at a funeral without instruction. He wasn’t paid – but in future he could be.

But the process also caused room for reflection. Would anyone consider leaving agriculture for a different working career? The resounding answer was yes, but where to start? Some farmers were interested in selling shoes; others in agriculture-related businesses such as selling fruits or eggs.

They reflected on the constraint of access to capital. When asked if they could save from surplus harvest, they said if they have surplus, their neighbors would too, and market prices would be too low for business capital investments. Others said there just isn’t surplus.

Changing relationship and power dynamics

Conventional research has for a long time relied on scientists to define the research problem, and extract information from passive subjects. The whole process of the participatory video exercise allowed all of us to define the research objective together.

It challenged the hierarchal power relationship between the researcher and the researched – and redefined this relationship as one that is fluid and less top-down. It allowed us to speak nearby the farmers and let their voices be heard – rather than speak for them.

Taking the participatory approach forward

The video is designed to travel outside of North Alego – farmers want it to be seen by donors, International NGOs, county officials, and local government officials.

In other countries where the participatory video model has been used, like Malawi, participants have made waves on local radio and in the newspapers.

By investing in the participatory video process, we hope that the narratives constructed by farmers in North Alego, Malawi, Ghana and Tanzania will be useful in addressing land and soil health challenges in the area. And, although there was some concern among the North Alego communities that they would not receive direct benefits, the group reflected that together, their messages were stronger and more powerful.

While the many challenges farmers mentioned were not highlighted in the video, it became evident that our ‘going back’ was a useful process, enabling the farmers to highlight and discuss alternative ways of managing their land or earning an income – and perhaps changing, if only temporarily, the hierarchy of power.

This work was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) with funding from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

Get involved!

  • Increasingly, researchers in the agricultural sector are using participatory methods not only as way of including marginalized voices, but also as a way of contextualizing their approaches and providing tailor made solutions for farmers.
  • Context specificity allows researchers to expand the scope of their approaches from a singular, technological approach to a more inclusive approach recognizing some of the structural conditions that underpin the challenges farmers face.
  • An approach that considers the socio-cultural context is meaningful in creating sustainable solutions. It promotes the farmer’s perspective of the researcher’s technological interventions, taking into account farmer’s realties, heterogeneity, needs and wants.
  • Farmer’s groups like Rafiki Farmers who have participated in the video process are eager to continue producing videos and promote further farmer to farmer exchange and learning
  • This participatory methodology pairs well with other participatory methods and can easily be expanded to other areas and projects.

The authors of this post:

Wendy Okolo

Wendy Okolo

Gender Specialist

Photo credits: Juliet Braslow/CIAT

Juliet Braslow

Juliet Braslow

Soils Research Area Coordinator