Agricultural research is often focused on improving the crop varieties that feed the world, ensuring they respond to humanity’s evolving needs. As global development objectives increasingly call for interdisciplinary action, agricultural researchers must collaborate with economic, sociopolitical, and development sciences to achieve an in-depth understanding of the contexts in which smallholder farmers live and work.

“For research findings and proposed solutions to feed into context-relevant, inclusive initiatives that respond to gender, policy, and communities’ needs, it’s essential to gain an understanding of the context in which the research is taking place,” said Juliet Braslow, CIAT researcher. “This requires that we provide a platform to voice the needs, opinions, and ideas of every group that makes up the research context, and channels these voices into project design, implementation, and follow up.”

With these objectives in mind, CIAT through the CGIAR Research Programs on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS) and Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) set out to make the most of an innovative and inclusive tool that includes community voices in a conversation aimed at tackling agriculture’s most pressing challenges. Researchers gave video equipment to a group of Nicaraguan rural farming community members, and taught them to make their own movie, but the real magic took place behind the scenes.

Lights, camera, action: movie magic in agricultural research for development

Participatory Video (PV) is a participatory action research tool that involves members of a community in creating a video message, learning to use video technology, write their own story, interview leaders and neighbors, and tell their own story. Meanwhile, analytical and reflective exercises encourage the group to observe their livelihoods from new perspectives, to determine the approaches needed to bring about the transformations they are striving for.

“[Participatory Video] is a participatory rural appraisal research tool that bridges worlds, unlocks doors, and involves the beneficiaries in each phase of a research project. We’re training community change-makers. This is not [just] a video camera. This is a people magnet, pulling people together to join in, to get involved, to plan together, to unite, to take action locally, to make the changes that they want to see.”

Chris Lunch

Founder and Director, Insightshare

An accessible way to bring people together to explore shared issues and voice concerns, PV provides a platform to engage and mobilize traditionally underrepresented and underserved groups. The methodology is designed to simultaneously empower participants to engage in learning activities and voice their stories and opinions, while they gain confidence in their abilities to acquire new skills, improve existing knowledge and practices, and think creatively towards innovative problem-solving.

“What makes this such an effective tool for social change is its accessibility to all participants, irrespective of literacy or background. It provides a non-threatening mechanism through which people can speak up about potentially delicate topics, often overcoming gender and inter-generational communication blocks in the process. A powerful shift occurs when you give marginalized groups a space to share their knowledge and experiences, to identify their own needs, and empower them to implement their own forms of sustainable development. When we use participation as a pathway towards more respectful and insightful research, it becomes a two-way conversation. We then have the opportunity to conduct research with people, rather than about people.”

Manon Koningstein

Founder and Director, Sivin Communications

At the same time, the methodology responds to research objectives aimed at creating conditions that enable development, drawing out valuable information linked to community participation, learning and innovation, gender and inter-generational dynamics, and natural resources and income generation. These areas are explored by the participants to identify the challenges facing their work towards sustainable livelihoods, while they are empowered to take on these challenges.

Collecting a wealth of indigenous knowledge on factors that impact agricultural development initiatives, PV has been an effective tool for project documentation, communication, and monitoring and evaluation. By opening a channel through which local knowledge and experience can be shared with other communities, scientists, and decision and policy makers on a local, national, and global scale, PV aids in adapting and promoting agricultural development strategies and policies to local knowledge, wants, and needs.

Enabling development: empowering rural women and youth

CIAT’s first PV pilot project was conducted in Somotillo, Nicaragua, where a group of young farmers from the rural farming community of La Danta shared their perspectives on the impact climate change has had on their livelihoods. The project followed the successful experience with the Quesungual Agroforestry System in the community, which contributed to the mitigation of climate change vulnerability through the replacement of traditional slash-and-burn farming systems in favor of more sustainable resource management practices.

The project sough to strengthen the community’s understanding of the interrelation between improved environmental conditions, sustainable intensification, and increased crop yields, all the while fostering a process that celebrated indigenous knowledge while stimulating creative problem-solving by community members. The group’s final video revealed a strong gender and youth perspective around their community’s way of life, their experience transforming their resource-management practices, and how the positive changes they are capable of generating manifest on an individual and community level.

After a successful PV pilot project, CIAT conducted a second workshop in collaboration with local partner Fundación Entre Mujeres (FEM), with a group of young women from rural farming communities in the Nicaraguan department of Estelí. During this process, participants created a video about their experience as young rural women being ‘Subjects of Change‘ through their participation in rural women’s empowerment processes to drive transformation in their communities.

During this workshop, participants bonded over dynamic and often emotional moments derived from mastering new skills, observing their livelihoods from diverse points of view, and gaining the confidence to influence change in that situation. PV created a safe space that affirmed and validated the perspectives of a vulnerable group, linking intellectual and emotional reasoning by fostering a dialogue around the impact that personal actions can have on the environment and on the potential for collective action in the communities.

“During this course I didn’t just learn how to use a camera, conduct an interview, or make a documentary. I learned that I am not alone in the problems and issues that I am facing. I was able to connect with other girls my age, with the same dreams, in the same context, and by working together we were able to realize what the real barriers are that we are facing, and above all, we were able to realize what we can do together to get past these barriers. The most important thing is for us to organize, to stand together and to work side by side. We cannot do this alone, we need each other. There is still a long battle to be faced, and we can win, I am sure of it. We have many allies, we are not alone.”

Deyling Espinoza

PV workshop participant (Estelí, Nicaragua)

The PV experiences in Nicaragua were inspired by Insightshare’s transparent and effective methodology, and Christine Jost and Nafissa Ferdous’s Gender Toolbox, which provided guidelines for the inclusion of a conscious and balanced gender lens. The methodology was also adapted and used by various projects in Africa, while similar methods were used to promote citizen science in Asia.

More information on these initiatives:

View the communities’ participatory videos:

Call to Action

This work was made possible through the support of the CGIAR Fund Donors. Upcoming opportunities seek to bolster the impact PV outcomes can have within communities and in broader discussions, including:

  • Developing an inter-regional systematization of the PV experiences conducted in Latin America, Africa, and Asia in order to create a unified global methodology that can be applied in a variety of research contexts
  • Using the Participatory Video Methodology Facilitator’s Course to facilitate training workshops that build capacities in extension partner organizations interested in applying the PV methodology in strategic areas of their work, ensuring the method can be locally and sustainably facilitated
  • Developing a PV follow-up toolkit aimed at maximizing dynamic PV outcomes to bring community voices into the decision-making arena.

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