Ethical Community Engagement: Training Workshop Stimulates Perspectives and Skills

Written by: Subrata Majumdar (CDHI), Pulak Mishra (IIT) and Niladri Shekhar Bagch (IIT)

The Background

Ethical Community Engagement (ECE) underpins the core of the SIAGI approach which has evolved over time extending through the inception (at Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur campus in March 2016) to the review meetings in Kolkata campus of IIT Kharagpur (October 2016) and Khulna (February, 2017). The approach, iteratively, has been practiced and modified before it was finally adopted. SIAGI considers ECE essential to collaborate with the farmers and other stakeholders respecting their wisdom, insights, perception and practices. Adopting the approach has definite challenges – unlearning of the conventional extractive research approaches, developing sensitivity to the farmers and other stakeholders and also developing necessary capacities and skills.

Being aware of these challenges, SIAGI underlined the need for a capacity building event. CDHI, one of the project partners, has been practising this approach and has shown credible evidence of its impact in not only accessing information but also in taking collaborative initiatives with the farmers and other marginal communities to empower them and turning the collaborative initiatives transformational. CDHI offered to facilitate and coordinate the event.

Discussions on ethical community engagement
Teams deep in reflection on their experiences of community engagement

The ECE reflective workshop

The reflective training workshop on ECE was organized collectively by the SIAGI partners and facilitated by CDHI in Jalpaiguri during May 11-17, 2017. Right from working on the conceptual framework to preparing the course compendium and organizing the workshop a high level of collaboration was demonstrated. The workshop used participatory reflective pedagogy, combined with field exposure and interactions with the farmers – both male and female. Role plays, scenario analysis and story building and telling were some of the important tools applied during this workshop. The workshop discussed and reflected around practical insights/scenario brought from the respective fields by the participants.

Some Important Issues of Discussion in the Workshop:

  1. The first thing a researcher must understand is the feeling of togetherness while working with a community. Every member of the community must feel that they are working ‘with’ each other and not ‘under’ anybody.
  2. For deeper understanding of what the community wants for their development, one must respect their values and culture. Nothing should be imposed upon them; rather everything should come out from equal participation of all.
  3. One of the major reasons why communities lag behind is different forms of discrimination they face – social, religious, caste, colour and others. The participants portrayed different forms of discrimination through play, storytelling and songs. Researchers must understand these discriminations and try to overcome these barriers to come close to people. The project team must initiate steps to spread awareness in order to eradicate such discrimination from the society.
  4. There was a debate on the issue “Person first, environment later vs. environment first, person later”. The arguments presented by both groups in for and against the issue were very intuitive and thought provoking.
  5. The theory of people and environment by Albert Bandura and Kurt Lewin was discussed. The theory explains the role of responsive and enabling environment in achieving self-efficacy.
  6. Based on the work by Paulo Freire, the concept of the oppressed and the oppressor was demonstrated. It was reflected that, in order to create equal rights, the oppressed class must unite and create a big pool of assets and then challenge the oppressors. The success of such movements depends on – unity, strategic plan, discipline and leadership.
Engagement with the community at Uttar Chakowakheti


Workshop Outcomes for the SIAGI

The workshop enabled thinking through reflections on multiple perspectives on development and pedagogies and preferred to settle for ethical community engagement. Several of the workshop sessions witnessed these reflections and commitment in enthusiastic participation of the members. The visit of Christian Roth, SIAGI Project Manager and Wendy Merritt, SIAGI Coordinator to the fields, both in Bangladesh and India, following the workshop, and interactions with the partners confirmed growing preferences and applications of the approach. Back home some of the partners have reported positive impact of the approach being practised in their field works.

For more details please see the Ethical Community Engagement Workshop_Workshop Report_final_4 Dec 2017


Note about the authors:

  • Subrata Majumdar is Executive Director (Programs) at CDHI and coordinator, SIAGI project. Subrata has been a strong proponent of the ECE approach and has extensively used this approach in water management programs of CDHI. Subrata also coordinated the workshop at CDHI.
  • Pulak Mishra is an Associate Professor at IIT Kharagpur and coordinator, SIAGI. Pulak has been quite proactive and has used the perspective in his study and analysis of the value chains. He also offered valuable inputs during pre-workshop preparations and logistic supports during the pre-workshop consultations at their Salt Lake campus.
  • Niladri Shekhar Bagchi is a Research Assistant (SIAGI) and Ph.D. Scholar at IIT Kharagpur. Niladri was one of the participants in the workshop and has shown commitment to the approach. He, together with Pulak, used the approach in their value chain study and analysis.





Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Global Learning Forum, Bangkok May 22-25, 2017

Written by: Lucy Cater (CSIRO)

In May, the Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Global Learning Forum, convened by SEEP, was held in Bangkok. The forum attracted over 350 gender champions representing public and private sectors, academia, and civil society organisations across 60 countries. The forum focused on key themes central to SIAGI including: women’s empowerment on and off-farm; women’s financial inclusion for improving gender equality; and enterprise development for women.

A common thread during the forum was the influence of non-economic factors on the success of women’s empowerment strategies. Structural barriers for women including a lack of mobility, poor literacy and the burden of unpaid care work (including domestic work) present unique challenges for improving WEE.

Poorly targeted financial products and services which do not take into account women’s changing financial needs during their life cycle was also identified as a worrying trend. A lack of consideration for how women wish to use financial services as well as whether women have access to such services was identified as key to meaningful financial inclusion.

A number of innovative programs which aimed to improve women’s participation and success in enterprise development was showcased, each revealing the critical importance of tailoring programs to local conditions and local needs.

The SEEP network – Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems – hosts an extensive network and resource centre available at

Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Learning Forum, Bangkok, May 22-25, 2017 (Photo: Lucy Carter, CSIRO)






Public Private Partnership Roundtable in Delhi

The second of a series of roundtable meetings on Public Private Partnerships (PPP) organised by YES BANK was held on the 22nd February 2017 at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. These workshops are being held as part of the ACIAR-funded project on Promoting socially inclusive and sustainable agricultural intensification in West Bengal and Bangladesh, and aim to provide a platform that brings together on-ground institutions and market professionals to discuss challenges to effective PPP and identify ways to overcome these barriers. There were over 20 participants at the recent workshop representing a broad range of private and public stakeholders and research institutes, including Shri Jagdamba Samiti, National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited (NCDEX), Reliance Foundation, Indian Council of Food & Agriculture, ACIAR, Innovative Change Collaborative (ICCo), ITC, Reserve Bank of India, Tata Cornell Agriculture & Nutrition Initiative, CDHI, and Annamrit Foundation.

Tushar Pandey (Senior President, YES BANK & Distinguished Fellow, YES Institute) chairing the roundtable discussion.

It is recognised that there are inadequate linkages between smallholder farmers and the markets required to sustain their economic viability. One key challenge is to bridge the disconnect between the development organisations and institutions working at the grassroots and the commercially driven market institutions. The focus of this second workshop was to discuss these ‘linkage’ and ‘institutionalisation’ issues. The roundtable discussion opened up a wide span of ideas and perspectives from the broad range of participants and their experiences. Some of the key points that emerged include:

  • The need for a shift in the perception of smallholder farmers, including their own perspectives and that of the private and public institutions. The mindset of all must change from its focus on staples to a broad diversity of agriculture. New and growing food value chains provide an opportunity for smallholder farmers, however there are constraints that hinder this opportunity including poor market infrastructure for non-staples, financial systems designed for rice and wheat only, and policies that are also centred on staples.
  • New skill sets and capacities are needed by farmers. Collectives, or Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), need to be well managed to ensure they transition into successful business enterprises. Rather than making the role of an NGO central to the collective, there must be members with the right skills to ensure the group self-sustains in the long-term even after the NGO leaves. NGOs and the public (and possibly private) sector can be a major conduit for this skill development and extension.
  • Bottom-up approach to agricultural intensification. There is no cookie-cutter approach to developing a successful farming enterprise. It is imperative that farmers are supported to make their own choices to ensure long-term sustainable agriculture and self-reliance. This entails providing farmers with the capacity to make, for example, crop choices based on market information and their local conditions.
  • Scale-neutral technologies to help bridge the gap. While collectives provide the scaling up needed to compete in certain markets, scale-neutral technologies, particularly IT-related led (e.g. e-National Agri Market) are another opportunity for smallholder farmers to reach new markets. Digitization may also help in the delivery of subsidies and other policy mechanisms.

Transforming marginal and smallholder farmers to profitable farming businesses requires a shift in the perceptions and policies of both public and private institutions including NGOs, and building the capacity of farmers in skills to meet market needs. Through this discussion we have started to identify a number of potential mechanisms and opportunities to build and strengthen the linkages between farmers and markets. There has been great interest from the participants to continue this conversation through further workshops, and to build a framework that can be implemented to support these rural communities.


Members of the SIAGI team after the workshop [left-right] Subrata Majumdar (CDHI), Serena Hamilton (ECU), Lilly Lim-Camacho (CSIRO), Rajeshwar Mishra (CDHI), Tushar Pandey (YES BANK), Parth Joshi (YES BANK), Srijita Dutta (YES BANK).

Norming through Storming

An account of the SIAGI half-yearly progress review workshop, by Chiranjeevi Tallapragada (LNRMI) and Wendy Merritt (ANU)

The SIAGI team met for the project’s first six monthly review on 3-5 October 2016 in the IIT Salt Lake guesthouse in Kolkata. The participants could not have imagined that the three days would lead to so much positive change.

The workshop sessions started with partner presentations on farmer household typologies. There are many ways to develop typologies, the pros and cons of which were discussed in depth. Despite a forecast of winds of change from the project leader, the sessions moved briskly through the value chain analysis and public-private partnerships. Whilst the project team has narrowed down what value chains we may look at, it was recognised that we need to do more engagement with the target communities and further understand the context of our case study regions before selecting the crop or aquaculture systems. The winds started blowing from the post-lunch sessions onwards but the extent of the storm was not yet visible.

Sailing through group discussions and interaction (Photo: Mahanam Dashbrota)

The storm crossed the coast on the second day with discussions on the ethics of community engagement. Most participatory processes don’t treat communities with respect and facilitators (or researchers) instead use participation to justify what they recommend should be done for the good of communities. Truly ethical community engagement recognises the ability of the communities to know what is good for them and to be the keystone for making positive change. The role of the facilitator is to help make connections, provide support and let the community determine outcomes. While a project may stimulate change, the project timelines are for the research processes but not for the communities who are on a continuous journey.

There was a consensus that the SIAGI team needs to ethically engage with the communities in the case studies. However, the eye of the storm centred on what the ethics of engagement meant to each person in the room, what could be its objectives, what rules to follow while engaging, what processes need to be adopted, how to balance the engagement needs of project components and who in the team needed to be involved at what point in time. The role of facilitators, skills that would be needed and the outputs that may be derived and the potential risks or limitations were some of the issues that we encountered. It was apparent we needed to step back and re-design our strategy for on-going engagement with the communities. A fantastic although challenging outcome!

Describing the iterative, inclusive path to ethical community engagement  (Photo: Mahanambrota Das) 

After the ethics discussions subsided, the team was provided with an overview of the findings from the review into institutional arrangements and policy settings relevant to our project aims in coastal areas of Bangladesh and West Bengal. The day concluded with some operational discussions. That evening we walked from the guesthouse to have a lovely dinner at a local restaurant – lovely food and great company!

The crew adjourns to the mess hall (Photo: Mahanambrota Das)

The third day began with a presentation on bio-economic modelling for agricultural intensification, work that offers multiple opportunities for community engagement. Farmers are critical to inform the objectives of the modelling and capture the resources available to them and the constraints they face. The team felt that the process of engaging with farmers to build the model was a concrete example of the ethical community engagement processes previously discussed. The session on integrated modelling allowed the team to consider the overall picture of how each project activity fits together and reflect on the substantial conceptual understanding of that the team has already developed.

Colleagues concentrate hard to stay afloat in the challenging research seas.  (Photo: Mahanambrota Das)

The workshop concluded with a discussion about the range of stakeholders we may need to engage with, and monitoring and evaluation. The team noted the continual process of identifying stakeholders and the need to start early. Monitoring and evaluation will need to be intertwined with the re-designed community engagement process.

Throughout the whole workshop there was an overall excitement in making new connections and bonding through mutual respect. Many participants stated that the joint India-Bangladesh-Australia meeting was how they wanted meetings to occur in the future. All the thought-provoking and challenging discussions were held without our captain losing control or direction of the ship. The project in terms of its maturity cruised several nautical miles into clearer skies, towards an exciting vision of a new dawn for participatory development and research.

Our captain feels the wind from each quarter (Photo: Mahanambrota Das)


BAU Activities in Mymensingh and Dacope

Written by: Dr Hasneen Jahan, BAU

The Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) team is working on many activities for its research under the SIAGI project. To set up the priority works and the execution process, the team has already sat for 18 discussion meetings where all the team members, led by Professor Dr M Serajul Islam, contributed to plan and organise the project activities.

BAU team members discuss research activities under the leadership of Professor Dr M Serajul Islam (Photo: BAU/H Jahan)

The BAU team visited Polder 31 of Dacope Upazila of Khulna district to get an overall socioeconomic and environmental conception of the study area as well as to document the agricultural practices under different farming systems in that area. The team used Focus Group Discussion (FGD) and a Transect Walk to obtain the required information. FGD was conducted both for men and women groups.

BAU researchers consult with farmers in Polder 31, Dacope Upazila.  (Photo: BAU/H Jahan)

Necessary secondary data of Dacope Upazila has also been collected. After returning back from the study area, the team prepared a field report.

BAU researcher consults with farmers in Polder 31, Dacope Upazila.  (Photo: BAU/H Jahan)

The BAU team has also contributed to developing the conceptual framework of livelihood and value chain analysis with other teams within the SIAGI project. It has also working on finalizing the PRA (RRA) check list for livelihood study. BAU team leader Prof. Dr. M. Serajul Islam has divided the BAU team into three sub-groups to work on value chain (Dr. Mohammed Ismail Hossain and Md. Mojammel Haque), modelling (Dr. Md. Akhtaruzzaman Khan and Dr. Hasneen Jahan) and socio-economic and livelihood (Dr. Muhammad Obaidul Islam and Dr. Md. Wakilur Rahman) to accomplish the works in a more constructive manner.

Farmer fishing in Polder 31, Dacope Upazila.  (Photo: BAU/H Jahan)

The BAU team has made significant progress on engaging MS and PhD students in the project who will work under this project to fulfil the research requirements of their degree. Three MS students and one PhD student have been selected to date. The students have been admitted to the Department of Agricultural Economics (1 PhD student), Department of Agribusiness and Marketing (1 MS student), Department of Agricultural Finance (1 MS student) and Department of Rural Sociology (1 MS student) following the admission criteria of Bangladesh Agricultural University. In the meantime they have presented their research proposals in front of BAU team and after incorporating the comments of BAU team members they have finalized their proposals.

The BAU research team with the newly engaged PhD and MS students.  (Photo: BAU/H Jahan)

Building our Capacity for Value Chain Analysis

Written by: Lilly Lim-Camacho (CSIRO), MD Ismail Hossain (BAU), and Mahanambrota Dash (Shushilan)

The SIAGI value chain team recently held a value chain analysis training workshop, hosted by CDHI at their Jalpaiguri office, on 23-26 August 2016. All partner organisations were represented, giving us a great opportunity to build on the combined expertise across the SIAGI team.

The activity kicked off with a welcome dinner and briefing, followed by a day out visiting field sites in Dhaloguri and Uttar Chakowakheti, and a local farmers market at Mainaguri Road. It was the first visit to Jalpaiguri by our colleagues from Bangladesh, enabling great learning against the different case study contexts.

Photo 1
Farmers and traders at the Mainaguri Road local market, where most of the participants are male.  (Photo: Lilly Lim-Camacho)

Days 2 and 3 focused on module-based training, covering the following topics:

  • Principles of value chain analysis, by Lilly (CSIRO) and Ismail (BAU)
  • Value chain and social inclusion perspectives, by Mahanam and Sakul (both Shushilan), Mojammel (BAU), Subrata and Joy (both CDHI), Michaela (CSIRO), and Alak (PRADAN)
  • Econometrics, by Pulak and Bhagirath (both IIT)
  • Public private partnerships and entrepreneurship, by Tushar (YesBank)

The way the sessions were developed and run showed we could overcome the tyrannies of distance and conflicting workloads: Michaela led the development of the inclusion module, even if she wasn’t able to attend the workshop. Tushar ran his module online from Delhi – with a recorded presentation (25:38) while he was on Skype for questions and discussions. (So we had tech and IT capacity building as well!)

Photo 3
Post-presentation discussion with Tushar online from Delhi  (Photo: Lilly Lim-Camacho)

In addition to the field visit, the training sessions were contextualised by a significant stakeholder discussion session where government and farming stakeholders were invited to share their thoughts on issues surrounding inclusion in value chains. It was evident that there was a lack of communication between the two stakeholder groups, and we had great moment of achievement when one government stakeholder decided to continue farmer discussions immediately after the session!

Lots of discussion, learning, design and planning occurred throughout the workshop. Here are videos of Ismail (1:09) and Mahanam (4:30) sharing their thoughts on the field visit and workshop.

The value chain workshop achieved a lot. We’re not only proud of having achieved the goals we had set; we’re also proud to continue building friendships along the way.

Photo 2
The team holds a discussion with farmers at Uttar Chakowakheti, led by Mitali and Subrata (Photo: Benu Kanta Dey)


CDHI Activities in West Bengal

Written by: Mr Subrata Majumdar and Mr Joy Ray, CDHI

The Centre for the Development of Human Initiatives (CDHI) has begun social mobilization and SIAGI project orientation activities in two villages, Dhaulagiri (254 households, Cooch Behar district) and Uttar Chokwakheti (246 households, Alipurduar district) in West Bengal.

Picture 2 M Ghosh facilitating discussion w women farmers from SHG
Ms M Ghosh from CDHI (top left) facilitates discussion with a women’s self-help group.  Photo: CDHI

Working with local level institutions including farmers’ clubs, women’s self-help groups, and collective farming groups, CDHI has captured narratives of local experiences of natural disasters and risks related to agricultural intensification.  The CDHI team, working with collaborators from IIT Kharagpur, has also conducted a rapid rural appraisal at both villages in the context of livelihood typology, and undertaken preliminary studies to inform an agriculture-based value chain analysis.

Picture 4 CDHI reps talk to farmersThis research reveals as a baseline that both villages are agriculture based and surrounded by rivers and forest.  Almost all households belong to schedule tribe-schedule caste community and all are (directly or indirectly) involved in agriculture sector for their livelihoods.

Farmers are facing different problems including:

  • Depletion of ground water
  • Increased cost of agricultural inputs
  • Lack of innovations in cropping patterns and technologies
  • Quick fluctuations of agriculture market prices

Rainfed paddy based cropping systems are dominant at both villages. Except for rainfed paddy and winter potato in small portion of land, most of the lands remain fallow during the dry (winter) season, especially at Uttar Chokwakheti. Irrigation infrastructure is almost non-existent; direct pumping from a nearby river was the only source of irrigation to grow winter potato and other vegetables. Pumping water from the river requires using very long, flexible delivery pipes which are highly inefficient and uneconomic as well.

Picture 5 CDHI reps talk to farmers
CDHI and IIT colleagues talk to farmers.  Photo: CDHI

Recently the ACIAR-funded DSI4MTF (Dry Season Irrigation for Marginal and Tenant Farmers) project has started trialling the installation of some shallow and deep tube wells at both villages.  With assured irrigation water farmers have started growing winter crops, including high-value vegetables, at small scales which is very encouraging. Thus it is observed that both villages have high potential to explore the agriculture based livelihood especially at Uttar Chokwakheti village.

Feedback from community meetings and the rapid rural appraisals is that the farming community and local level farming institutions are more interested to be involved in value chain analysis if SIAGI project includes potato and paddy.

Picture 6 Farmer checks pests in kharif paddy at Dhaloguri
A farmer in Dhaloguri checks his kharif rice crop for pests.  Photo: CDHI