by Witness Kozanayi, researcher supporting the SKI AEL Participatory Action (PAR) Research process
Since October 2021, SKI has been promoting the use of PAR among five of its partners, namely, Zimbabwe Small Holder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF), Towards Sustainable Use Resources Organization, and Food Environment and Enterprise Trust (FEET), in Zimbabwe and Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) and Regional Schools and Colleges Permaculture (ReSCOPE) in Zambia. Conducted under the broad banner of promoting community-led research and the democratisation of the research agenda, the focus has been on training target communities and partner staff in the theory and practice of PAR.
Some SKI partners had already been using the PAR approach to varying degrees, for example using different participatory tools, when the SKI PAR programme was rolled out. In these cases, the introduction to PAR was about taking partners and people from where they were at, to a place of deeper understanding and practice.
Kicking off in March 2022, a second phase in the PAR training focused on participatory indicator development and data analysis. This training had been requested by the partners, as there was a need to monitor progress using a set of agreed upon indicators. For such indicators to be useful and relevant, they had to be developed with the active participation of the local communities – the end users of the indicators. Involving local people in the development and use of indicators increased ownership of the indicator process by community members and allowed for mutual learning.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, training in participatory indicator development and data analysis was conducted as a combination of virtual and in-person learning where the three Zimbabwean partners received face-to-face training while for the Zambian partners, training was virtual.
Currently, the five partners are at different stages of implementing PAR and they continue to get virtual support on PAR from the SKI regional office.
In total, 251 participants drawn from local people, staff members of partner organisations and officials from government departments were trained in both phases of the PAR module. Overall, almost half, 46 % of the participants were females. Where officers from government departments that work with SKI partners also participated in the PAR trainings, PAR was in effect institutionalised within these departments. In all PAR sites, local PAR facilitators were selected through democratic processes, consideration was taken to accommodate capable and passionate youth and women as local PAR facilitators. Overall, a significant number of PAR teams were equipped with the knowledge to drive the PAR process at the local level. As an example of its success, PAR trainees in Zimbabwe and Zambia led the process of undertaking a baseline survey for the Agroecology Landscape Agroecology (AEL) work. A lot of fascinating data was collected during the survey and part of the data has since been used to plan and implement actions and write proposals for future funding.