Philosophy and principles
ERI is a solution-focused approach that builds on farmers’ strengths. It stimulates farmer groups to identify available natural, social, financial and personal resources and helps them find innovative solutions and make informed decisions on marketing, production and consumption. Rather than being passive ‘beneficiaries’, farmers develop, drive and own agro-enterprises. They choose what they need and want after being supported in acquiring production and marketing information. ERI thus enables farmers to respond appropriately to dynamic markets and changing environmental conditions.
The approach encourages entrepreneurial spirit: ‘Produce what you can market rather than market what you produce’. It helps farmers balance food- and cash-crop production through easily applicable decision- support methods that put great emphasis on managing natural resources so that income security does not compromise food security and environmental sustainability.
Gender balance in both participation and decision-making plays a crucial role in ERI. Based on reporting data from 2014 in the HORIZONT3000 ERI East Africa project, 64% of farmer group members are women and 60% of the leadership positions are held by women.
The key players in implementing ERI are community development facilitators (CDFs), usually employed by local NGOs or farmer district associations. They start by identifying and selecting existing farmer groups or forming farmer groups that would like to work with the ERI approach. After discussing the participants’ expectations and conducting group-strengthening activities, the CDFs guide farmers through a series of practical learning sessions as outlined in Box 1. One CDF usually works with 8–10 farmer groups in facilitating ERI modules and making follow-up mentoring visits.
Key models of ERI approaches
1. Participatory diagnosis – Farmer groups assess the resources and opportunities available to them and how they can use them to achieve their goals. They develop a common vision and agree on objectives and an action plan to realise them. The most important tools for this are role-play methods from the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) Tool box suchas river code, visioning, seasonal calendar, resource maps and institutional network analysis.
2. Participatory market research – Farmer groups conduct market research to identify, prioritise and analyse profitable markets and enterprises. Meetings are held with all stakeholders relevant for agro-enterprises (farmers, input suppliers, traders, extensionists, microfinance actors, local administration etc). Based on the collected information, farmer groups conduct a cost–benefit analysis and risk assessments to select viable enterprises. Pairwise ranking helps to prioritise market options.
3. Farmer participatory research – Farmer groups learn about the principles of sustainable agriculture and experiment in their own fields to test which technologies work best for new cash- and food-crop opportunities. A committee within the group develops a research protocol and data collection tools and analyses the research findings.
4. Enterprise development – Farmer groups develop profitable enterprises and build sustainable business relations based on simple business plans and market intelligence.
5. Participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E) – Farmer groups keep track of their progress towards achieving their goals and learn from successes and failures. Another internal committee develops monitoring tools, collects and analyses the data, and gives feedback to the group by using PM&E tool kits.
+ Crosscutting issues – These include gender, group dynamics and governance and are addressed in all five modules.