Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA)

SIAGI is exploring ways to utilise internationally-accepted nutrition-sensitive agriculture (NSA) frameworks and guidelines in the way it plans for and implements agricultural research activities.

For SIAGI partners who have not applied NSA concepts previously, sharing knowledge and building capacity internally has enabled the project team to start thinking about how NSA principles could be applied to current research activities.

For SIAGI partners more familiar with NSA principles and practices, a focus on trialling internationally-recognised NSA pathways to improve the personal food environment for example, has helped to identify ways in which nutrition outcomes could be enhanced.

Working in resource-poor communities such as Bankura district in West Bengal, has enabled SIAGI to more widely share experiences of applying NSA principles in settings where basic determinants of malnutrition are not consistently met.

Incorporating NSA approaches to components of SIAGI’s activities has led to new partnerships, improved water access especially for domestic use, and increased food sufficiency in the villages of Hakimsinan and Chakodoba, Bankura district.


Ethical Community Engagement

Inclusive or ethical community engagement (ECE) underpins the SIAGI way of working and is pivotal role in the quest for more equitable and sustainable agricultural development. In SIAGI, researchers, NGO practitioners and government partners are working together with local communities to ensure development activities are more inclusive and equitable.

ECE draws on the rich history of participatory development practice recognising that the very poor and marginalised, including women and the landless, are typically excluded from development processes and do not reap its benefits. ECE strives to facilitate the inclusion of individuals and groups in collaborative and participatory decision-making.

Under an ECE approach, the poor are given the opportunity to offer insights and perspectives from their own unique positions and to build this capacity within individuals and the community, increasing the sustainability of interventions. SIAGI has applied an ECE approach to a range of activities including formation of more equitable water user groups and more inclusive value chain development.

The project has developed a set of ECE principles and practices to guide practitioners in planning and implementing research activities. These are available here.


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Ethical Community Engagement: Reflections on Experiences, Principles and Scaling

Written by: Wendy Merritt (Australian National University)


The West Bengal Accelerated Development and Minor Irrigation Project (WBADMIP) aims to enhance agricultural production of small and marginal farmers in 19 districts across West Bengal, India. Key to WBADMIP is strengthening Water User Association (WUA) capacity to construct, operate and maintain minor irrigation schemes. In addition WBADMIP are providing agricultural services, encouraging crop diversification and use of new technologies, and creating income generating opportunities (

In 2018 the WBADMIP and SIAGI project teams explored opportunities for sharing learnings of how to engage with and empower farmers and marginal communities to lead to transformational change in community water management and agriculture-based rural livelihoods.  A one-day workshop was held in Kolkata in March 2018 where SIAGI outlined our work on ethical community engagement (ECE), bioeconomic modelling, inclusive value chains, and nutrition sensitive agriculture (NSA). PRADAN and CDHI continued engaging with WBADMIP over the following months, and the teams held a joint one-day workshop on 7 December 2018 to share experiences in working with marginalised farmers and establishing effective local institutions, and to test SIAGI’s ideas around principles and practice of ECE and scaling strategies for ECE.

Reflections on the WBADMIP

The decision of WBADMIP to partner with communities and NGOs was by necessity. WBADMIP had been working in the barren lands around Bankura and by 2015 the project was under pressure to complete the work in 3-4 months before it would be embargoed in the lead up to the state election. Rather than the normal route of engaging contractors WBADMIP had to empower the community to act. They engaged service providers (e.g. PRADAN and other NGOs) to work with community and WBADMIP to achieve the project goals. The experience working with community has been so rewarding that one participant said that ‘now we would choose to engage with community even if using a contractor’. During this workshop, the WBADMIP team reflected on their experiences in the Bankura and Jalpaiguri Districts in West Bengal, and why it had changed how they would choose to implement projects in the future.

WBADMIP activities on the barren lands in Bankura

The collaboration between WBADMIP, the WUA and PRADAN in Bankura District in West Bengal focused on the barren infertile lands that had received little attention from government in the past. The reality is that all the good land goes to the powerful and servicing this land with projects like WBADMIP does little for those who lack power and need help from the government. The WBADMIP leadership recognised that by going to the barren lands they are better able to reach the poor and the marginalised farming households.

The first meeting with community and PRADAN in Hakimsanin was an eye-opening experience for some in WBADMIP. One participant at the workshop noted that it ‘used to be hard to read people and that 10-15 years ago government people couldn’t even approach the village … now women were running the show and articulating what needed to be done and that with government resources they (the community) would do’. PRADAN had developed trust with the women in the community from past project activities and so when the women were eager to share responsibility for activities, the WBADMIP team were encouraged to believe the project could work.

The communities living on the barren, infertile lands have been heavily dependent on seasonal migration to generate household incomes. Under the WBADMIP project there has been a shift towards water harvesting to support cropping, horticulture and fisheries. Community spirits have raised, with some saying if this continues then they may not have to migrate in the future. The shift in actions and attitude of WUAs has been substantial. A few male members dominated initial meetings but this has changed to include more voices including those of women. The WUA are now thinking about schemes to capture surface water rather than the wells they initially wanted. The attitude of taking whatever government offers has changed to giving opinions and direction to government and proactively working to change their own situation. Tellingly, the Hakimsanin community have contributed funds from their Self Help Group (SHG) whilst waiting for funds from WBADMIP to arrive, an indication of their commitment to the project aims and their trust in the process, PRADAN and WBADMIP. The WUAs have strengthened their local governance and accountability, and women have taken charge of intercropping, reporting back to WBADMIP, and planning WUA roles and responsibilities.

Captured in the diagram below is snapshot of how the actions and attitudes of WBADMIP and PRADAN (orange ovals) built community trust and confidence in themselves and others, and developed capacity of individuals and the WUA (blue ovals). Women in particular are being empowered to take charge though PRADANs focus on building the capacity of WUA members by conducting orientation programs, organising exposure visits, providing planning support for communities to drive development of their land and water resources, and by acting as a bridge between the community and WBADMIP. WBADMIP have demonstrated empathy, commitment; trust in community and accountability, which has encouraged community participation. Community told PRADAN that initially they were ‘scared about officials visiting, but then they saw genuine interest and so were confident to share’.


A key realisation for WBADMIP was the importance of shifting from large infrastructure to small water harvesting structures that women and marginalised farmers can themselves implement and maintain. Not only are these schemes cheaper, they have empowered communities to take charge. Working with the WUA to implement water harvesting interventions has proven more cost effective than would have been achieved using contractors. The community could save money by hiring equipment to prepare their land and doing the work themselves, rather than hiring contractors. WBADMIP are also saving money as a result.

WBADMIP activities in the Jalpaiguri district

Reflections on WBADMIP activities in the Jalpaiguri district centred around institutional linkages, capacity building and empowering community, and how to ‘exit’ the community. At a high level, WBADMIP feel that they ‘should not be the crutches for their community’, and if they are fair and transparent in how they work, then they will build trust and create an environment for community to empower themselves to develop sustainable livelihoods.

During a field visit on 5 December 2018, the SIAGI team noted how cohesive the local WBADMIP team were, and that they were impressed by the capacity of individual members to discuss with community issues that were outside their disciplinary background. In part this reflects the design of WBADMIP to cut across agriculture, fisheries, water and other agencies, but also the fact that small teams have to reach many (100+) WUAs, meaning they have to be across disciplines. In the workshop discussions, it was highlighted that building internal capacities of government or other institutions was critical for any cross-disciplinary project (like the WBADMIP) to be effective in partnering with community. This is not often achieved to the level seen in Jalpaiguri.

Much discussion centred on how to exit community at the end of a project. Strengthening inter-agency linkages was seen as a key outcome to be achieved before ‘exiting’ the community. One WBADMIP team member identified that their key challenge is to convince the WUA that WBADMIP is a short project after which they will have to look after themselves. Normally when they work with communities there is an expectation that the department will have a longer presence. Fostering trust is critical and building on community-respected service providers has been key to WBADMIP developing relationships with community. One striking comment was that ‘for this work [WBADMIP] we are not “diku” (outsider) … rather we are your people’.

Ethical Community Engagement

Principles and practices

The principles and practices of ECE distilled from the SIAGI project encapsulated many of the WBADMIP teams feelings based on experiences in the field. Being aware of these principles and practices will help them consider their activities more systematically and better understand why they do things the way they do and to help ‘unlearn’ the traditional approaches of how to engage with community. This has many parallels with management of complex socio-ecological systems such as the Great Barrier Reef. Having the mindset of ECE is one thing but how to do it is another question entirely, especially at large scales.

Principles of Ethical Community Engagement

Individual and organisational values and cultures play a key role in inclusive practice.

  • Physical and social space creation is a key ingredient to inclusive engagement.
  • Inclusive engagement demands specific skills, attitudes and belief systems integral to the engagement process.
  • Qualitative methods are a key technique in inclusive engagement.
  • Situational awareness is paramount to building trust and achieving inclusion.
  • Scaling initiatives without beneficiaries driving the desired change is unsustainable.
  • Follow-up, monitoring, learning and evaluation with the community enhances ability of the community to adapt as new situations arise.

Further information:

Moving beyond a project – how to support more widespread impact with ECE

Taking an ECE approach in SIAGI has been intensive, and whilst it has proven critical to the project, we recognise that as a research project we have had the liberty to take the time to reflect with community and adapt our activities. This is a luxury that government agencies or NGOs typically do not have. Indeed, it was noted during the workshop that ‘Government are asked to do things at great scale, often quickly, and ECE in this environment is difficult terrain’. So how do WBADMIP or similar programs advance whilst keeping ECE principles in mind?

Scaling ECE in WBADMIP activities is really a way of formally recognising, and supporting, much of what WBDAMIP staff already try to do. Strategies for scaling of ECE outlined below include a mix of trying to support this across more locations (1,2); emphasising learning and capacity building for those facilitating ECE (3,4); and creating an enabling environment by building appreciation and capacity of those organisations designing and funding development programs to support ECE (5,6,7).  To be successful, a range of these will be needed.

Replication 1.      Simultaneously replicate the ECE process in more locations

2.      Accelerate the ECE process

Investing in learning and capacity building 3.      Distributed train-the-trainer approaches

4.      Developing a broader cohort of ECE service providers

Learning and capacity building / policy change 5.      Strengthen donor and government agency capacity (culture and value) in selecting appropriate ECE service providers
Creating an enabling environment 6.      Ensuring program design, implementation and evaluation metrics support ECE approach

7.      Building strong collectives of women

SIAGI and WBADMIP discussed what it would mean to apply ECE principles in the context of WBADMIP’s activities. The sheer volume of WUA and land targeted by WBADMIP, over such a short period of time, is an example of the “Replicating ECE in more locations”. There could be opportunities to engage with PRADAN to analyse where the successes have (or have not been) in the Bankura district in order to better understand the challenges of this approach. WBADMIP’s consideration of engaging service providers with a strong presence in an area in order to harness their relationships and their relationship with community is consistent with strategy 5. The potential of bring ECE principles and practices into program design, implementation and evaluation was noted (Strategy 6). Accelerating the ECE process (2) was contentious, and largely dismissed as inconsistent with core principles of ECE (eg. that community drive the engagement process and its timing).

Avenues for future collaboration

After a positive day reflecting upon the successes and challenges of both WBADMIP and SIAGI, clear synergies were identified. Many avenues exist to explore future collaborations, particularly exploring scaling strategies 5 to 7. Reflecting on the scaling process and applying lessons learnt through adaptive management will be critical in the coming year as the partnership between SIAGI partners and ADMIP progresses.

Brainstorming between the SIAGI and WBADMIP Teams

Hero Nipa and her woman group members jump into action

Written by: Mahanambrota Das, Sumana Sarah Bhuiyan and Mustafa Bakuluzzaman, Shushilan

agri. field in 2016
Agriculture field of Khatail village in 2016

When the SIAGI project started, most farming land was fallow in Robi season (January to May) in Khatail village of Dacope sub-district due to the constraints of the lack of sweet water and unplanned livestock rearing by the community. This adversely affected the people’s livelihoods and food security. The vulnerable community was unaware, inexperienced or inefficient in the use of limited water resources to grow crops. They lacked technical know-how of how to grow saline-tolerant high-valued crops as well as the importance of planned livestock rearing to protect crops from damage. A few influential people in the village took advantage of the situation for their personal benefit. They spread rumours that the farmers were idle and also that the land was infertile and not suitable for growing Robi crops. They told farmers that it was wise to remain the land fallow and use for livestock. Then, the influential people controlled the sluice gate and canals to produce bagda shrimp (using brackish water) or to grow crops themselves.

canal dyke of khatail and behind open livestock at agri. field
Canal dyke of Khatail with open livestock in the agricultural field in the background

Since the inception of the project, the SIAGI team members have diligently facilitated the community engagement approach to sensitize, unite and build the capacity of the vulnerable people. They formed water user groups and aimed to make the land productive for Robi cropping. The community started to see the potential for Robi cropping success. The community collectively initiated to store freshwater in the canal and publicly announced using loudspeakers the need for both effective use of the freshwater reservoir and stopping unplanned open livestock rearing. Many of the community responded positively, but a few were negative. Thus, community-based close monitoring was initiated to protect the crops from the livestock damage, illegal cutting of the canal’s dyke and illegal irrigation using the stored canal’s freshwater.

group meeting of ‘joba” women group
Group meeting of ‘Joba’ women group

The community initiatives and monitoring helped poor farmers confidently invest their time and they accessed credit to invest in their land with the aim to become successful to grow Robi crops in 2018. Many of them were successful in producing their melon variety crops in the last Robi season, making them very happy. Regrettably, some people tried to jeopardize the dream of the farmers, but failed due to close monitoring and the heroic actions of the volunteer Nipa and her group members. During the facilitation of a meeting between Shushilan and the ‘Joba Doll’ (one-woman group), Nipa (not real name) and her group members gave the following example.

dyke preparation to store freshwater in canal by ‘joba_ women group
Dyke preparation to store freshwater in canal was an initiative of the ‘Joba’ Women group

It was the dark night about 8:30 pm on 13th April 2018. Two women group members of Khatail village phoned me (the volunteer Nipa) to tell me that one influential farmer of the village was illegally irrigating the canal’s water for his fishpond. Nipa immediately rushed to the spot by a motorcycle to see the situation for herself. She and woman group members informed and organized the other group members and UP representatives to stop illegal irrigation using the canal’s water so that those poor farmers could effectively utilize the stored freshwater for Robi farming.

community_s initiative of announcing by the loud speaker for storing freshwater and controlling livestock
Community’s initiative of announcing by the loud speaker for storing freshwater and controlling livestock

After one week, they (the women group members and the volunteer) once again had to organize the community and the local government officials to stop the illegal cutting of the canal’s dyke. These woman group members with the help of Nipa have also successfully managed the conflicts of the crops damaged by the open livestock through organizing meetings and discussions with the community leaders, UP representatives, accusers and the affected farmers.


Shushilan has facilitated regular discussion with the group members, formal and informal meetings with community leaders and government officials. Our efforts have involved coaching, building community coherence, and most importantly the practicing of the concept ‘do not harm’. These activities over the last two years have effectively assisted to empower the women to take the kind of the noble initiatives illustrated in this piece.

conflict management meeting with the multi-stakeholders
Conflict management meeting with the multi-stakeholders


About Shushilan:

We are an eco-sensitive national non-governmental development organization in Bangladesh. We are involved in this project to apply Ethical Community Engagement (ECE) approach and principles to empower the vulnerable community and water user groups including women to change their fate and the development of livelihoods by taking sustainable agriculture initiatives through water-based solutions. We have volunteers like Nipa in our organization, who live in or near the village we work in, to provide a person that community members can contact if (for example) there is an issue that needs immediate attention. This approach helps us responds in a timely manner and to build trust.


Increasing Demand for the Membership in Water & Silt Management Committee (WSMC)

Written by: Mahanambrota Das, Sambhu Singha and Mustafa Bakuluzzaman, Shushilan

The demand to become a member of the Water and Silt Management Committee (WSMC) of Sekendarkhali village is increasing day by day. Non-member villagers and family members who live outside of the village want to observe the activities of the committee. They want to become members of the committee because the successful canal re-excavation led to increased availability of freshwater for crop production, livestock and domestic purposes and also has allowed fish culture in the canal. Non-members think if they become part of the committee, and invest in the WSMC, that they may gain financially by using freshwater for vegetable farming.

door-to-door visit by wsmc committee members
Door-to-door visit by WSMC committee members

Word of mouth has been important for generating this interest. The male farmers generally gather every day in the local market named Bandra Bazar, where they gossip about their activities and success. Women and men also disseminate the information to their neighbors and peers through informal discussion and gossiping. They also share their project activities, learning and success stories with their relatives and friends. Rahela Begum (not her real name), a member of ‘Surjamukhi’ woman farmer group, said that “I shared my knowledge and experience of vegetable farming in the field and in the homestead with my relatives during visiting my father’s house. Family members of my father’s house particularly my brother and brother-in-law are trying to cultivate vegetable farming in their village.  The president and Secretary of the WSMC committee said that our demand had increased to the village people. Many people are offering us to enroll them in the committee. This is our success. Once they criticized us and speeded rumors. Now, they want to be a member of our committee. We visited door to door day after day to discuss and understand them, but they did not. We continued our discussion and consultation with the community about canal re-excavation and freshwater storage. Some of them believed us, but some of them not. Considering the people’s demand, we (WSMC members) have discussed the issue with the members what we should do about the enrollment of the new members.”

discussions between some of the wsmc and villagers
Discussions between some of the WSMC and villagers

The WSMC considers that the required freshwater now available in the canal should be sufficient to allow the equal distribution for irrigation and domestic purposes in the catchment area for improving the quality of life and livelihoods. The non-member households that live in the village or households that have agriculture land in the catchment area but live outside of the village, may get the opportunity to participate in the general committee or the advisory committee as per the rules of the WSMC’s constitution. The ultimate decision will be considered and made following discussion with the executive committee and the general committee members.

About Shushilan:

We are an eco-sensitive national non-governmental development organization in Bangladesh. We are involved in this project to apply Ethical Community Engagement (ECE) approach and principles to empower the vulnerable community and water user groups including women to change their fate and the development of livelihoods by taking sustainable agriculture initiatives through water-based solutions. We have volunteers like Nipa in our organization, who live in or near the village we work in, to provide a person that community members can contact if (for example) there is an issue that needs immediate attention. This approach helps us responds in a timely manner and to build trust.

Seeing the Light of Success from our Failures

Written by: Mahanambrota Das and Sumana Sarah Bhuiyan, Shushilan

Learning by doing visit by SIAGI farmers of Khatail village for practical experience on melon variety crops in Saidkhali Union (Neighbour Union) under polder 22

Life and livelihoods of the farming community in the Khatail village, Pankhali Union (Dacope Upazila), is tough because of the challenge of growing enough volumes of good quality and high-value crops. Crops are prone to failure given the prevalent issues of soil salinity, lack of freshwater in the canals and unplanned open livestock rearing. Much of the recent freshwater scarcity has been due to the influential people who control the sluice gates and deliberately let saline river water enter the canals so they can produce bagda shrimp. The inability to grow crops outside of the Amon season has meant that many marginal and landless farmers have had to migrate during Robi seeking labour work. Often this is the male members of households, but some women also have to leave the village to seek paid work. The community has commented that ‘Food insecurity and lack of the employment opportunity give us much pain to the family members, particularly in the Robi season. At that time, we passed a very hard time to manage food for our family members.’

field day observation at the field of joba (1)
Field day observation at the field of Joba

Over the last two years, some woman and man farmers have rallied hard to ensure there is freshwater in the canal and to control the open livestock rearing during Robi season. The farmers were inspired by the SIAGI team members, particularly volunteer Nina (not her real name) who gathered them together again and again and supported them in efforts to farm Robi crops. Shushilan facilitated regular communication and the building of networks between agriculture department officials and the poor farmers. Early on, some farmers received training and demonstration support of zero tillage for producing watermelon and sweet pumpkin. They tried to grow some crops, but these failed. Despite losing their financial investment, these farmers remained positive and together with SIAGI team members worked to develop their technical know-how, particularly on alternative ways to cultivate the watermelon and sweet pumpkin. The group members and Nina contracted one successful farmer of Saidkhali union under polder 22 (which neighbors Pankhali Union) and local representatives of Lalteer Seed Ltd (private company) to conduct on-the-job training and a learning visit to there for getting practical experience on the cultivation of the watermelon and sweet-pumpkin. The farmers themselves organized these activities. The volunteer of SIAGI also conducted pollination demonstration and on-job training.

participants of the field day organized by the farmers and supported by lalteer seed ltd
Participants of the field day organized by the farmers and supported by Lalteer Seed Ltd.

The knowledge and experience gained by farmers were clear to see. They were able to increase the number and the quality of fruits on the sweet-pumpkin, watermelon and other melon varieties. Some farmers got some profit. One farmer named Harun (not his real name) gained BDT 18,000 as a profit from watermelon production by using only 10 decimals of land. However, many farmers experienced small financial losses again due to early rainfall and late starting of Robi. The most important thing is that farmers were not frustrated and instead said that they learned many things and felt that if they had started their Robi season fifteen days early they may have achieved their expected profit. Further demonstrating their positivity, they also organized a field day on 21st May 2018 for disseminating the learning to other farmers so that they can scale up their production. Woman farmer, Mala (not her real name) said, during presenting her watermelon field in the field day, “We are seeing the light of success from our failures. We believe, we must be successful to gain profit.”


About Shushilan:

We are an eco-sensitive national non-governmental development organization in Bangladesh. We are involved in this project to apply Ethical Community Engagement (ECE) approach and principles to empower the vulnerable community and water user groups including women to change their fate and the development of livelihoods by taking sustainable agriculture initiatives through water-based solutions. We have volunteers like Nipa in our organization, who live in or near the village we work in, to provide a person that community members can contact if (for example) there is an issue that needs immediate attention. This approach helps us responds in a timely manner and to build trust.

Rabi cropping gives the farmers’ choice to stay in the village


Babul in his vegetable field (Photo: Shushilan)

Written by: Mahanambrota Das and Sambhu Singha, Shushilan


Babul (not his real name) is an active group member of the SIAGI project’s marginal farmer group in the Sekendarkhali village, Amtoli Upazila. He leases as much land as possible during the Amon season (August to December) to increase crop production and to meet his family’s consumption demand. For many years, he has worked as a paid laborer (outside of his village) during the Aus and Robi seasons as there was no opportunity to produce high valued crops in his field. Since SIAGI began, he and his family members have tried to grow high-value vegetables in their field. Their initial attempts failed due to lack of freshwater and technical know-how.

wife of babul working in the vegetable field
Wife of Babul working in the vegetable field

In 2017, he received training and practical experience on how to farm high-value vegetables and sunflower. This was provided by the SIAGI team members and CSI4CZ1 project scientists. Following this training, his confident and trust level was high and he felt inspired to continue trying. He says, “It is possible to increase the earnings … by producing the high value, marketable crops if freshwater is available in Aus and Robi season”.

Babul selling his produced vegetables in the local market

Following the community-driven excavation of Hafamari canal (see SIAGI Blog), the issue of freshwater scarcity is less of a constraint. Now, he is the first farmer from Sekendarkhali to successfully cultivate multiple vegetables in his fields and along the canal’s dyke. He has successfully grown country beans, leafy vegetables including water spinach, cucumber, bottle gourd, bitter-guard, eggplant and okra in this Aus and Amon season. He said, “Now, I am happy with my earnings. I have profited about BDT 2000-2500 weekly by selling vegetables in the local market that has helped me for not going to the outside of the village for selling my physical labour by leaving my family members. In addition, I am hiring two/three labours daily for taking care and harvesting the vegetables. I am expecting my earnings will be double in the next Robi season if I could use my land perfectly and not [get] damage to the natural calamity. My family and I are inspiring other farmers of the village too for increasing the production area of the village. Our dream [is] no farmers will go outside for selling physical labour in the next Robi season.”

This narrative shows how important it is to build farmers skills and their confidence to persist after early struggles with a new crop or production system. Training and on-site practical support, in conjunction with the community working together to solve water scarcity issues, have helped to give this farmer the choice of staying in the village with his family all year round.

About Shushilan:

We are an eco-sensitive national non-governmental development organization in Bangladesh. We are involved in this project to apply Ethical Community Engagement (ECE) approach and principles to empower the vulnerable community and water user groups including women to change their fate and the development of livelihoods by taking sustainable agriculture initiatives through water-based solutions. We have volunteers like Nipa in our organization, who live in or near the village we work in, to provide a person that community members can contact if (for example) there is an issue that needs immediate attention. This approach helps us responds in a timely manner and to build trust.


Learning Together – SIAGI Half-Yearly Meeting in Kolkata

Written by: Kazi Farid (Bangladesh Agriculture University) and Niladri Sekhar Bagchi (Indian Institute of Technology)

The SIAGI semester meeting was held at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur extension campus at Salt Lake, Kolkata from 27th to 29th March 2018. It was a nice gathering of a diverse group of stakeholders including university faculties, researchers, development practitioners, NGO partners, and PhD students from Australia, Bangladesh and India. The main objectives of the meeting were to update and discuss the work progress of each partner of SIAGI project, to present and refine the research proposals by the PhD candidates and to modify future plans according to received feedback.

The meeting started with a briefing by Mr. Arnab Chakraborty, PRADAN, on WBADMIP (West Bengal Accelerated Development and Minor Irrigation Project) workshop on 26th March where ways to converge works of WBADMIP and SIAGI were explored. Dr. Christian Roth, team leader of SIAGI, explained the importance of the works being undertaken by WBADMIP and the role SIAGI can play to fill the gap in their works and complement each other.

Intent learning discussions between SIAGI team members

Dr. Pulak Mishra from IIT Kharagpur presented about the research activities being done by IIT Kharagpur and CDHI on value chain. He pointed out issues of mismatch between demand and supply, negligence of human capital in the process of focusing more on social capital through ethical community engagement and importance of studying group dynamics and equal focus on quantitative aspects along with qualitative aspects of research. There was an interesting debate on quantitative approach versus qualitative approach and the SIAGI team was liberal enough to accept the complementary roles of the two.

Along with their field activities, BAU team updated about their research progress including Master and PhD research with a thorough presentation by Dr. Hasneen Jahan. She mentioned that one of the Master students has completed his Master degree in December 2017 and wrote thesis on “Rural Livelihood and Social Inclusiveness underAgricultural Intensification”; one is in the field for collecting primary data for her thesis and will complete her degree by June 2018; and another two are developing their research proposals and will complete their Master degree by December 2018.

Mr. Niladri Sekhar Bagchi, PhD scholar from IIT Kharagpur presented the outline of his research proposal on dynamics of agricultural markets. Mr. Mojammel Haque, PhD student from BAU presented his modified proposal on inclusive value chain of sweet water shrimp at Dacope, Khulna. Mr. Kazi Farid, a new PhD candidate from BAU presented his research proposal on developing an integrated model in order to combat social exclusion among the marginalized communities of coastal Bangladesh.The specialty of his proposal is that he’ll completely adopt a qualitative participatory approach to address his research questions. Everyone in the meeting eagerly listened to all the PhD proposals and gave their valuable suggestions.Kazi was delighted for becoming the part of SIAGI team. This meeting was a great opportunity for him. In his words:

“I think I am the luckiest person in this meeting. As a newcomer, it’s a great opportunity for me to know about the SIAGI project, its objectives, current status and future activities. Earlier I had very little knowledge about this project. Now I know a lot about this and it’ll be helpful for me in designing my research objectives” (Kazi mentioned during the closing of the meeting)

Dr. Uday Nidumolu (CSIRO) and Dr. Wendy Merritt’s (ANU) presentations on ‘bio-economic modelling’ and ‘integrated modelling’ were of special interest for the participants. Uday discussed his model as a participatory model in order to examine farmers’ crop choices and showed how this model fits with the field level data. On the other hand, Wendy described the potentials of ‘mental modeller’ and ‘fuzzy cognitive model’ for further reshaping the integrated model. Lucy’s presentation on nutrition sensitive agriculture evoked a lot of enthusiasm from all corners of the round table as higher income does not necessarily lead to better nutrition and health.

The NGO partner, PRADAN, in their presentation narrated their works in the villages of Chaka Doba and Hakim Sinan in Bankura district of West Bengal, where a holistic social, psychological and economic change is aimed for through participation of community. Mr. Subrata Majumdar from CDHI highlighted how the process of ethical community engagement has been playing a catalytic role in the mobilization of farmers’ groups and women SHGs in the villages of Dhaloguri and Uttar Chakowakheti. Shushilan updated on how community engagement process through the ‘water and silt management committees’ at Sekendarkhali and Amtoli, in Bangladesh are working in the project areas and how crop production is increasing because of active participation of local people with SIAGI. The most important thing is that disadvantaged people of both Dacope and Amtoli are now aspiring for new knowledge instead of credit and in-kind support.

Subrata showing the training material that has been co-developed with the communities of Dhaloguri and Uttar Chakowakheti

Emerging lessons and highlights:

From our perspective the main observations are:

  1. It was clear from the operation of SIAGI in the last two years that the attitude of people towards development can evolve from a donation-dependent mentality towards a self-dependable and self-sustainable mentality through continuous engagement with the community guided by the principles of ethical community engagement
  2. It is very important to understand the dynamics of collectives formed in the study villages in order to design proper strategies for the sustainability of the collectives even after the completion of the project.
  3. The linkage of farmers with the rural as well as nearby urban markets and the embedded risks need to be further studied to mitigate the prospect of demand-supply mismatch. As marketing is a major area of concern among the farmers, development of marketing skills among farmers through provision of training should be explored.
  4. Earlier there was disagreement whether quantitative methods should have more importance than qualitative methods. Some of the SIAGI team were reluctant to use qualitative approach. But gradually homogeneity in thinking among team members has been established. Now the team members think that qualitative methods are equally important as quantitative methods, in order to carry on research for development of the community and its environment. Both quantitative and qualitative research approaches should be applied in a complementary manner, as any one approach applied separately will bear the danger of misinterpretation of real problems and issues.
  5. Increased collaboration with a diverse/heterogeneous group of stakeholders is another achievement of the SIAGI project. Through this project we learnt how the members of an interdisciplinary team interact with each other, act accordingly and learn form each other.

Reflections on a field immersion in SIAGI’s case study villages in Northern West Bengal

Written by: Christian Roth (CSIRO)

During the last week of January 2018, the SIAGI Project Leader, Christian Roth (accompanied by Stefanie, his wife) spent time visiting the SIAGI case study villages Dhaloguri and Uttar Chakowakheti, together with CDHI, the joint SIAGI and DSI4MTF partner NGO.

A primary purpose of my immersion in the case study villages was to experience and test firsthand what some of the challenges are to collecting, documenting and interpreting qualitative data as an alternative to resource intensive and extractive methods such as quantitative surveys. In fact, I regard this exercise as an example for how (qualitative) methods that heed our principles of ethical community engagement can still yield valid and scientifically defensible insights and conclusions. I offer the following observations and principles:

Open-ended questions

It takes discipline not to ask (suggestive) questions seeking to provide the answers to a predetermined view or hypothesis. I found myself on occasion slipping back into asking questions of confirmation to affirm what I already thought. For many of us scientists, articulating open-ended questions is likely a skill that requires active practicing over many interviews or conversations. As long as we are sufficiently self-aware when we slip back into old questioning patterns, this can be managed. Shadowing or being coached by people who are good at this is perhaps one way of getting better at this skill.

Reflective and judgement-free listening

Learning to leave behind what we think as being right or wrong, good or bad, and just taking the information we hear for what it is I think is perhaps the most challenging skill required, and perhaps a skill many of us are not well versed in. We all have our biases, conscious and unconscious. I wonder how we can train ourselves in getting better at this; again perhaps observing others who are good at listening?

Consciously looking

Some people are more visual than others. I personally ‘see’ more than I ‘hear’. As a soil scientist and agricultural scientist, as I do the village walk I look at the state of the soils, the nature of the irrigation being performed, the state of the crops, what crops are being grown in the homestead gardens, the quality of the ponds, the way the animals are kept and what they graze, whether the dung goes into fuel or into manure for the fields etc. Also, as I walk through the village I try to be aware of how people interact amongst themselves, what they wear, whether they look healthy and well-nourished. I look for indicators of wealth or surplus cash – how many TV satellite dishes are on the roofs, motorcycles, smart phones, solar panels, are the houses thatched, brick or tin etc. All of these visual stimuli create a picture of the state of the village and the being of its inhabitants that provides context and subsequent entry points for conversations and questions.

Creating space for the unexpected

If we pre-structure our engagement, we are likely to be more efficient (for example the day spent in UC systematically looking at all four collective sites). But we risk missing or closing out on things we would otherwise see or think about. The contrast on day two in Dhaloguri was revealing – by doing the random walk we ended up having discussions we wouldn’t have had otherwise (eg talking to non-collective farmers and women), at the expense of not having looked systematically at all collectives and their sites. The challenge is finding the right balance between both modes – they complement each other.

Taking time

Perhaps the most striking thing I learnt is that all of the above takes much more time than I thought. Active or reflective listening changes the pace of conversations. They meander. But that is how you create space for the unexpected. The combination of pre-structured discussion and visiting of sites complements the random conversations. Ideally I would have spent two days in each village, doing both.

The other dimension of time that I had underestimated is the value of immediately reflecting on and mulling over what had been said and seen with the CDHI team and Stefanie, over lunch or dinner, in the vehicle etc. The benefit of ‘fresh’ processing of the information, its triangulation, and continuous contextualisation I think cannot be underestimated, and I think this created a most stimulating environment for learning and insights. To some extent this hedges against not having captured all of the notes on the go (see below).

Capturing and documenting the conversations and observations

I tried two methods. On Day 1 in UC, I focussed exclusively on the interactions, leaving the compilation of notes to the evening. This was challenging. After a long day, I was tired, and really had to force myself to write up notes. I probably forgot some of the things I had seen or heard. In contrast, on Day 2 in Dhaloguri I took notes on the go, during the discussions. In this case I noticed that I wasn’t as good in the active listening, hastening my note writing to keep catching up with what was being said. I missed some of the subtleties of body language (leaving aside the problem of not speaking the language and having to rely on translations).

On reflection, I think the best approach is to have two people involved in the discussion or interview – a speaker, and a note taker. In the evening, or back in the office, these two can then triangulate, compare and gap fill. I know that this is standard practice for some of our NGO partners, but I am not sure how the PhD students might be able to do this.

Longitudinal studies of NGO practices

An unexpected learning was the value of extending the project timeline backwards by looking at past intervention sites, to be able to extrapolate forwards as to how certain approaches and interventions might play out. I think this is something we need to think a bit more about in terms of how we capture evidence of long term sustainability of project interventions. I am convinced that all of our NGO partners would be able to take us ‘back in time’ to villages where they have worked in the past. However, for this kind of longitudinal approach to be valid, there would have to be some confidence in the consistency between engagement methods in the past and currently.

The CDHI team at CDHI’s HQ in Jalpaiguri, before setting out to the immersion trip (from left – Dhananjay Roy, Rajeshwar Mishra, Subrata Majumdar and Mitali Ghosh), together with Christian and Stefanie Roth

Integrated Modelling in SIAGI

Written by: Serena Hamilton (ECU) and Wendy Merritt (ANU)

Modelling is a way to systematically organize data, knowledge and assumptions for a particular purpose and context. For SIAGI, the broad purpose of integrated modelling is to improve our understanding of the risks and opportunities of agricultural intensification for marginalised households in our research communities. We are more concerned with the process of developing and using model(s) to gain insight than with the model itself.

The role of SIAGI integrated modelling is to provide a ‘big picture’ of the system and insight to the interrelationships between the different system components. In complex systems, a solution to one problem can potentially lead to new, and perhaps bigger, problems in the future or elsewhere.  The integrated modelling process provides a structure to help think through such unintended consequences of interventions.  It can also help detect leverage points, which are “places within a complex system where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything” (Donella Meadows, 1999. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System). One example of a leverage point is women empowerment, which has been demonstrated in many Indian communities to lead to improvements in household health and wellbeing, food security, and agricultural productivity. Identifying leverage points may provide community and stakeholders with insight on the suite of opportunities or interventions that could produce long-term, positive impacts across the communities.

To date, the focus of the SIAGI integrated modelling activities has been on ‘Scoping’ and ‘Problem framing and formulation’ phases. There has been an ongoing process of understanding and capturing the key system components and variables, and their linkages, as well as determining the scope of the model (e.g. What issues will it capture? What type of questions will the model address?). This has been a deliberately extended process to ensure the most appropriate model type and scope is selected; we are not forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Fig. 1: The steps and four phases of the integrated modelling process (Hamilton et al. 2015).

In July 2016, we surveyed our project partners to get their early understanding of up to five key issues that affect the rural communities they work with. For each issue, we wanted to know who it affects and how, the drivers and flow-on effects, and factors that improve the capacity of households to avoid, adapt to or cope with negative impacts.  By September 2016, we developed conceptual diagrams which highlighted the interrelated nature of the issues and the complex pathways that determine (e.g.) food security, financial and health outcomes.

Fig. 2: Conceptual diagram showing key issues faced by the Khatail community identified by Shushilan (September 2016)

This exercise highlighted the challenges that multidisciplinary teams face, namely differences in terminologies, theories, methods and/or research interests of members. In response, we developed a generic framework to facilitate people from various disciplines and backgrounds to structure issues, risks and opportunities in terms of driver-state-impact pathways (see

The SIAGI team used the framework in November 2017 to capture the knowledge and learnings from the preceding year. We worked in five sub-groups – policy, market, environment & climate, nutrition, and social – and brainstormed driver-state-impact pathways around each of the themes. This capacity building exercise has helped the team to think in terms of systems, interconnections (including indirect drivers and impacts) and feedbacks.

Fig. 3: Driver-state-impact pathways mapped out by the ‘market’ group in November 2017.

The nature of the SIAGI project means a qualitative or least semi-quantitative modelling approach is most appropriate, particularly one that supports engagement with (or input from) the communities. We have trialled fuzzy cognitive mapping, a flexible approach that seems intuitive to the non-modelling members of the project team and capable of capturing the different issues at play at the SIAGI study villages. Currently, we are narrowing the scope of the integrated model(s) for each site.