Sierra Leone’s rural North-Western Province has limited infrastructure and government on-farm extension services. Farmers working with Dr Alec Thornton need increased capacity and knowledge of post-harvest handing and processing methods to increase returns on investment from harvest. Limited farmer capacity has been linked to the historical inattention from government farmer extension services. Working in partnership with the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute and Fourah Bay College (University of Sierra Leone) utilised video as a key method to assess the needs of farmers in the Kambia District.

Farmers were trained to use video cameras to record their experiences and interview their peers. The videos were then edited by the research team and shared with government to communicate the on and off farm challenges they experienced. Active participation is a central tenet of Alec’s research – directly connecting farmer voices with policymakers.

“As a participatory method, video provided unique opportunities for ‘farmer-researcher’ collaboration. It had an empowering impact, in particular for female farmers, to clearly communicate – in their own terms – the challenges and opportunities in rural sector livelihoods, as seen from farmer’s perspectives or, quite literally, through a farmers’ ‘lens’.”

A short video on Alec’s work with farmers in Sierra Leone can be viewed here. The use of video strengthened conversations by translating survey data results into ‘real world’ images that audiences can engage with. In doing so, farmers have a tangible output (the video) from the participatory project, which is easily accessible via YouTube, to use in public debates where farmers can play a role as advocates for rural change.

About Alec Thornton

Alec specialises in Participatory and Sustainable Livelihoods approaches to monitoring and evaluations of food security, rural and urban agriculture and has widely published these topics in empirical case studies located in Uganda, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zambia, as well as in Australia, Germany and the USA. He is Honorary Senior Lecturer in Geography at UNSW Canberra and Research and Practice Associate at the Institute for Global Development (IGD) at UNSW Sydney. He is also Senior Research Associate at the University of Johannesburg, in the School of Humanities and the School of Tourism & Hospitality. Alec recently released a new book chapter titled, 'Agro-Industrial Mega-Land Deals in Sierra Leone: Beyond the Rhetoric of Beneficiation, Employment and Economic Development'.

This work is part of the IGD's work on Research and Development Impact.