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Knowledge management supports Micronesian farmers facing changing climate

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Knowledge management

The effects of climate change are more and more clear and even worrying in some parts of the Pacific Islands. Herman P. Semes observes the challenge of climate variability and change every day. Chief of Pohsoain, a farming community of 80 inhabitants located on the Pohnpei Island of the Federated States of Micronesia, Semes believes livelihoods can be improved with new knowledge. “We grew up knowing that during the year, there are times when there is going to be rainy season

How can knowledge help face climate change impacts?

Knowledge can solidify the readiness of Micronesia and other small island developing states to face climate change impacts. By collaborating, sharing knowledge and capitalising experience amongst farmers, researchers, extension workers and advisory service providers, interisland challenges can be synergistically addressed. By working together to document their experiences and share knowledge around common problems, these small island nations could be more adaptive to weather variability. But what is the best way to do this?

A hands-on experience

At the Island Food Community Centre in Pohnpei, a training workshop brought together 37 agricultural officers, extension workers, farmers and representatives of farmer groups from the Marshall Islands, Palau and other Micronesia Federated states of Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap. They were trained on the use of knowledge management (KM) tools, and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approaches and tools. In fact, KM and PRA tools can help gather information on the impacts of climate change on livelihoods. Communities and individuals can then learn from each other, co-create and store knowledge, share experiences and find solutions to their problems to increase their adaptive capacity. In particular, the PRA process allows communities to explore and mobilise their own potential and resources to address the challenges faced.

Workshop participants were also introduced to the basics of communications and story-writing techniques, including how to capture existing knowledge, how to organise it and how best to present to be reusable by others. In particular, the workshop sought to strengthen the knowledge management capacity of researchers, extension workers and advisory service providers in order to better serve rural communities.

The five-day workshop was supported by CTA, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) through its European Union Pacific Agriculture Policy Project (PAPP) and the Pacific Islands Rural Advisory Services (PIRAS).

What is Participatory rural appraisal? 

According to the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit, “Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) is a set of participatory and largely visual techniques for assessing group and community resources, identifying and prioritising problems and appraising strategies for solving them. It is a research and planning methodology in which a local community (with or without the assistance of outsiders) studies an issue that concerns the population, prioritises problems, evaluates options for solving the problem(s) and comes up with a Community Action Plan to address the concerns that have been raised”.

Capturing, packaging and delivering: lessons about knowledge management

Participants learned about KM during the first two days. Throughout the remaining three days of the workshop, training focused on the process of collecting information, presenting and writing information into stories, narratives and reports, and sharing that knowledge with different audiences.

The process also involved training on PRA tools using SPC's Community-based Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) Framework to assess climate variability and change; the impact of PRA tools on agriculture and livelihoods and the subsequent adaptive capacity of communities.

Benjamin Ludwig, farmer and representative of a farmer's organisation, attended the workshop. "I have learned about the climate vulnerability of my community through the PRA approach. During the workshop, we analysed weather, soil and finance. This has enabled me understand climate change and how I can adapt to it." On the third day of the workshop, Ludwig and participants from other islands visited Pohsoain to assess community vulnerability to climate change and climate variability using the CVA Framework. "During the field trip, we discussed climate-ready crops such as cassava and taro," states Ludwig. Cassava for example, is considered drought tolerant, thus ideal to improve food security in the area, whilst taro is also resilient to climatic stresses and diseases.

To enable communities in the Micronesian island states to efficiently apply KM tools, CTA's knowledge ecosystems approach was presented to workshop participants. To better understand their knowledge assets and how to tap into these, they applied the knowledge management scan. Mr Ioanis Engly, acting director of the Cooperative Research & Extension College of Micronesia, says "We have knowledge but we need to actually capture this knowledge and manage it so it can be used by future generations." One problem, he noted, is that almost every two years, a key member of staff leaves the agricultural division taking institutional knowledge with them. But with knowledge management he sees accessible tools "that we can use to capture [that knowledge], give it to the programmes and at the same time, share with communities so that they can benefit from this knowledge."

Solutions for and by the community

A key lesson from using the PRA tool in the local community is that it opened people's minds to the challenges faced and the opportunities available to address them. For Pohsoain, Chief Semes indicates that after going through the assessment, the community now realises some of their difficulties and are now putting in place a working group to identify solutions to the key problem: water scarcity.

Melander Yamado, agricultural officer at the Agriculture and Land Management Department in Kosrae state is taking home some lessons learnt. "We learned about: writing, storyboard creation and other techniques to help us document our work from the field," says Yamado. "We went to a local community and put what we had practiced into action; talked to the community and used the skills we now possess to tell our story."

From Pohnpei's Unit of Agriculture, Enicar Arisako, also took something from the workshop. "During the workshop, I learned about the five W's (who, what, where, when, how, and why) and about creating storyboards and writing templates. During a course field trip, I used the techniques I had learned to collect information and write stories."

There are follow up actions coming up after this workshop. SPC will introduce climate resilient crops to the targeted countries (Marshall Islands, Palau and three Micronesia federated states). As for CTA, it will assist SPC in ensuring that the knowledge acquired is applied, following up with the country forums with the help of the Intra-ACP/PAPP project.

The learning journey might be over in Pohnpei, but now the participants can take home their experiences, put them into practice and share their knowledge with others. As Chief Semes puts it "Without any new knowledge, people remain at the same level. But when new knowledge is received that helps each and every one of us to grow, we must share that information so others can benefit."

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