Why Your Finished Agroforestry Projects Eventually Fail
"How did my finished agroforestry project initially close as a success but then gradually slide backward, its positive impacts declining?"
We can successfully launch, implement, and close our agroforestry projects. Yet, we may notice that once we walk away thinking to ourselves, "Job well done,"—maybe even patting ourselves on the back, but after that, the positive impacts begin to diminish. Why could that be?
The sad part is, this happens to many of us, not just in agroforestry, but all kinds of projects and initiatives.
Three critical issues we might have missed are the establishment of a robust:
- community-led capacity development program
- community-centered business model
- post-project monitoring program
Let's take a quick peek at these items and look at how they play a role in the continued success of our agroforestry programs and projects. In the same way that planting a seed is a necessity for growing a tree, there are follow-up actions that can ensure a higher success rate that the seed will indeed become a thriving tree.
A Community-Led & Owned Capacity Development Program
Training farmers and their communities in agroforestry is essential to successful agroforestry projects.
Training and education may cover obvious farming and agroforestry subjects. What we should also pay attention to is:
How will the capacity development of farmers and their communities continue beyond the initial training?
If we don't continue learning alongside our ever-changing environment and economy, our competitiveness and sustainability deteriorate.
Beyond standard agroforestry farming practices often presented in initial training and education programs, farmers and their communities must continue developing their capacities regularly.
Our modern economies depend mainly on leverage. Knowledge and resources are the foundations of leverage. Knowledge is largely responsible for the acquisition, creation, and management of resources. In this digital age, we are constantly acquiring new knowledge through technological advances, stimulating economic evolutions. For farmers and their communities to remain competitive and thriving, they must continually develop their capacities to stay adaptive to a quickly evolving global economy and climate volatility. In other words, ongoing capacity development reduces harmful risks and increases opportunities to exploit positive risks. "Ongoing" may look like training that takes place 1-10x per month, depending on needs and available resources.
A capacity development program that is led and owned by its community has the local investment and ties to help the program succeed and compete with other models that may require more inputs (i.e., external financial support, foreign employees, etc.).
These programs can benefit from having a rewards/recognition based system that further motivates its recipients to continue seeking the advancement of their own education and skills. Certifications and local ceremonies can celebrate the advancement of local's capacities being developed. Instilling a sense of honor and pride in an individual's personal and professional growth opens greater economic and environmental opportunities for the community. A positive feedback loop may look like community members congratulating and encouraging one another to continue their professional development—a development that is founded on ethical principles of economic and environmental management.
Identify the local community champions that could organize and lead such capacity development programs.
Develop a training program for these champions and a curriculum that is sensitive to their local environmental and cultural context.
Establish a quality management plan and program that monitors and receives feedback on the progress of the community-led and owned capacity development program.
Create all programs and plans in a participatory process that involves the local community.
What is the farmer learning (beyond immediate farming practices)?
Does/will the farmer have a fundamental understanding of:
LID stormwater management techniques
the soil-food-web and soil science
no-tech topsoil regeneration
macro and micro hydrological cycles
added value processes
Any of these subject areas could take a lengthy amount of studying to become an expert; however, understanding the basics of each is much more realistic and still significantly helpful for a farmer and their community. At its essence, these system components (subject areas) will help maximize resource management and productivity.
A Community-Centered Business Model
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Without a connection to the local community, a business' soul and longterm sustainability are not secured within the local people. A community-centered business model differs from other business models because it is principally centered on the goal of involving and improving the local community. Some common characteristics of community-centered business models include:
portions of profits being invested directly into local improvements of community infrastructure, schools, healthcare, and cultural programs
participatory planning (involving the community in ideation, decision-making, and management)
business-supported programs (foundations/fellowships for education, healthcare, environmental cleanup, etc.)
local ownership (business partners and employees live in the community)
cultural focus and culturally-reinforcing (some or many of the products, services, operations, or programs linked to the business have a cultural tie to the local population; this reinforces cultural pride, local identity, and continuity)
We begin to see a positive, self-reinforcing feedback loop as the community and business grow and sustain one another.
A Post-Project Monitoring Program
If we plant a tree and look back at that tree in the future and notice it isn't looking healthy, we can take notes and make an adjustment. For the same reason, it is invaluable to create post-project monitoring programs. Trillions of dollars have gone to waste because project managers and organizations cut ties with their work once it is complete.
Misfortune exists for the stakeholders of the project and for the organizations and managers that led the project. Clients/stakeholders are stuck with a product that ultimately failed to produce the intended results, and those that led and created the project have not learned anything from their failures—a LOSE-LOSE.
Let's look at a WIN-WIN. In a post-project monitoring program, key performance indicators (KPIs) are identified and monitored over time, and KPI red flags will signal project managers and organizations that something is not functioning as intended. An opportunity to proactively catch a problem, make an adjustment, and learn from that experience is precious. Best management practices documents can then be updated for future project implementations and management practices with the newly learned information. Think of post-project monitoring programs as a heart monitor.
Ideally, these monitoring programs will have multiple items being regularly monitored and relaying important signals to all stakeholders. Some of these monitoring systems may be tracking things like:
crop production levels
soil humidity levels
and much more
Using the FAO's TAPE (Tool for Agroecological Performance Evaluation) could be referenced to help you develop a starting point for your monitoring program.
Community-led and owned capacity development programs enhance ongoing capacity development, thereby increasing the business and community's economic and environmental resilience.
By focusing the business model on community improvement, we find opportunities to provide greater transparency, enhance stakeholder buy-in, and local support for the business.
A post-project monitoring program provides invaluable lessons-learned opportunities, project success continuity, and improvements to future project implementations.
Here are some other reasons why your agroforestry project may fail.
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Let's keep planting trees.