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Strengths and weaknesses

An independent evaluation (7)
Nissen, J., Chonde, C. and Chipeta, S. 2014. Evaluation of the We Effect study circle concept. Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, Knowledge Centre for Agriculture.
of FSCs in Zambia and Malawi identified the following strengths and weaknesses of FSCs:

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Provides direct benefits to participants 
  • Suitable for organisational development 
  • Effective tool for member mobilisation for farmer organisations (9)
    For example, the Cotton Association of Zambia increased its membership from 5,000 to 24,000 members through the introduction of FSCs.
      
  • Promotes dialogue and deliberations 
  • Provides for social capital 
  • Easy to understand 
  • Strengthens a reading culture 
  • Promotes action 
  • Good for community mobilisation and training 
  • Provides demand-driven access to information and learning 
  • Very cost-effective 
  • Strong tool for women’s participation and engagement in learning
  • May have a limited perspective 
  • Benefits may be apparent only in the long term 
  • Requires commitment to voluntarism 
  • Requires a reading culture 
  • Requires reading resources or materials in other media, in local languages

Best-fit considerations

Target groups
Different categories of farmers and other rural people from all over the world have benefitted from learning through FSCs. The experiences have been particularly good among small-scale farmers. Farmer study circles are especially beneficial for rural women’s participation and learning. As FSCs are self-directed, they address the particular needs of the participants, and women can learn and contribute without being subject to the male bias of conventional extension services. Women tend to appreciate the collaborative and practical way of working in an FSC (8)
Nissen, J., Chonde, C. and Chipeta, S. 2014. Evaluation of the We Effect study circle concept. Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, Knowledge Centre for Agriculture.

Innovations and community action
The concept is action-oriented for problem solving and innovation. Groups identify topics for study by identifying common problems. The materials promote new ways of addressing problems through innovation and community action, including the following. 

  • Links to financial services through group savings and loans associations; and to formal financial institutions such as banks in Zambia, and savings and credit cooperatives in Malawi, Kenya, and Uganda. 
  • Links to market services through forming produce-aggregation centres and selling in bulk. Similarly, input suppliers sell and deliver to FSCs, reducing the cost of doing business with individual farmers. 
Context
Generally, FSCs are most successful with homogenous groups of people in similar situations and with shared concerns. It may not be appropriate to introduce FSCs in contexts of highly hierarchical and authoritarian patterns, or in conflict-driven environments (10)
For example, as indicated by experiences of Chilean trade unions.
, unless ways are found for collaboration of equal members as seen in women’s FSCs in Bangladesh and in human rights work in Zimbabwe (11)
Gweshe, E., Argren, R. and Mawanza, S. 2002. Community based human rights study circles manual. Avondale, Zimbabwe: Human Rights Trust of Southern Africa.
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