Effectively involving farmers in the participatory process has always been a challenge both for diagnostic and evaluation. However, much of this might be due to the tendency of relying on the interview process to solicit their input. Thus, it might be noteworthy that much of agronomy is highly visible and thus it can be easily and perhaps more accurately passively collected with some good field observation. Once the farmer plants the seeds, he has a several month commitment the is easily seen for the entire cropping season. This be good for identifying the crops being produced, and the varieties being grown. With some good observations or questions, it would be possible to get planting dates and determine the biggest oversight in agronomy and smallholder development. This is the timing of crop establishment and other time sensitive activities. The overall time spread being a critical indicator of the severe operational limits smallholders face in terms of limited labor, energy to fuel that labor sufficiently for a full day of manual agronomic field work, or access to contract mechanization. Once this oversight is recognized it hopefully will be addressed instead of being ignored for over 40 years.
With the quality of Google earth and other satellite imagery it is now easily possible to get high enough resolution imagery of project areas to easily plot where target crops are produced, measure the hectarage involved and sum that up get percent of acceptance. Likewise, get an estimate of planting date and you can quickly plot a cropping calendar to see the overall cropping pattern of the project area, including the time spread in activities. This can be both a diagnostic tool and monitoring tool. While all this may have only minimal direct connection with the farmers, it should give you a quick appreciation as how effective your project is. Please see the example attached of a crop calendar that was developed to document actual irrigation use in Egypt as a guide for bring irrigation issues in line with actual use.
Of course, you will need to have targets as to what will qualify as a successful vs. unsuccessful project and this will need to be in line with what your underwriting taxpayers funding the project expect and will accept as success.
If the operational limits mentioned above were identified 30 or 40 years ago our overall emphasis would have shifted from concentrating on specific crops and crop management to facilitating access to contract mechanization, expediting crop establishment sufficiently to meet food security with enough surplus production to accommodate the value chain we promote as a means of stimulating production.
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