Rurality stories: How we engage with farmers

Maud Hazard, Rurality project officer, shares her experience after holding a meeting with palm oil farmers and stakeholders in Ghana.

As an initiative of The Forest Trust, we focus on farmers involved in the supply chain, who have the potential to profoundly impact the nature and people around them. It is a complementary work, as small producers, the ones that supply mills and middlemen, are not directly included in TFT’s big work of transforming supply chains.

It is essential to gather all the stakeholders in the village, including the farmers, middlemen, traders, local authorities, and NGOs to:

  1. Present the Rurality initiative.

  2. Discuss together the challenges that farmers are facing in their social, political and economic environment.

  3. Identify farmers that are interested in being part of Rurality’s journey.

  4. Establish a first contact with farmers before visiting each plot individually.

Maud: “In Ghana, it’s a particular situation because we work with a mill that’s very involved in the village. In this area, some smallholder farmers are part of grouped plantations, managed by the local mill. Many other farmers are independent plot owners, called out-growers. We prefer to engage with those farmers for now, as they have a decision-making power on their fields. Sometimes smallholders can be out-growers as well, if they have individual plots outside of the grouped plantation.”

 

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“Both smallholders and out-growers joined the meeting that we held, as well as the local mill managers, and local authorities. This small village (approx. 500 people) is very organized and already structured in associations, so it was easy to generate interest among farmers and gather more than 70 people in the school room.

The goal was to officially present Rurality and our team to the village. There were a lot of interactions and questions during this meeting. Farmers wanted to know what exactly we were doing, or how much it would cost to draw a map of their field for example. We could gather all farmers’ information and opinions about Rurality thanks to a check list that we passed through. That way, we could also see how many of them were interested in being part of the initiative that we started to elaborate with the local mill.”

 The field officers in charge of RDD, Grace and Charles, then got in touch with farmers association’s representatives, who told them which out-grower they could visit to establish the RDD. In that case, the process was rather easy to put in place because there is a strong social cohesion and all stakeholders are very involved in local discussions.

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That was one way of conducting a meeting but each context is very different and we have to adapt how we engage with farmers in each countries and regions.

Personally, I thought that there were a lot of interesting expectations from the smallholders/out-growers and a good dynamic for open discussions. It made the whole Rurality initiative very concrete to me because I had palm oil farmers in front of me, asking challenging questions. This first confrontation made me realize the work that can be done.”