Transforming Rural Households through the Family Teams Approach

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Jeromy Kavi

Inclusive participation is an essential feature of vibrant family units and communities. However, this is a critical challenge in smallholder family farms where unfair sharing of responsibilities, decisions and benefits among members, is rife. Efforts to address this dilemma have increased in recent years with innovative development programmes being initiated to foster equal contributions and benefits, through changed mindsets and attitudes.

One such programme is a concept known as the Family Farm Team (FFT). NARI was engaged, with the University of Canberra, in piloting this project over the past eight years. It was initially undertaken in East New Britain before being rolled out to New Ireland and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville; as well as Eastern Highlands, Jiwaka and Western Highlands. The project was implemented in collaboration with various public and private sector partners with funding from Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research.

FFT was undertaken to help address challenges that cause unequal participation and benefits for women. These challenges included high levels of lag in training opportunities and literacy among women; socio-cultural barriers that favour male dominion and control; as well as lack of understanding about fair distribution of responsibilities and privileges.

The project generated many useful advantages for smallholder farmers who participated in it. It provided an opportunity for the strengths of individual members of family farms to be recognized and nurtured to realize their full potentials. In all the project sites, selected couples undertook training workshops that built their capacity to undertake planned farming practices.

Four family farm team training modules based on experiential learning processes were used. The first module ‘Working As A Family Farm Team For Family Goals’, helped to change mindsets and attitudes by encouraging equal participation among husbands and wives as well as their children and extended families.

The second module ‘Planning Your Family Farm’, helped families to understand the concept of ‘farm business’ by mapping and mobilizing different activities such as vegetable gardens, cash crop blocks and livestock as project arms of their family farm businesses. The module enabled families to organize themselves with clear goals and guidelines in order to monitor their progress towards desired goals and results.

In the third module ‘Feeding Your Family Farm Team’, families were made to appreciate healthy organic diets and refocus on growing more local vegetables both for consumption and sale. This helped the families to cut expenditure on processed food and enhanced saving.

The fourth module ‘Communication And Decision Making As A Family Team’; was where husbands and wives were encouraged to develop good communication skills needed to foster better understanding about each other’s roles so that improved results could be attained. Part of this training also captured aspects of financial literacy such as savings and banking as well as basic record keeping and management.

Families were able to work according to set income generation plans. This helped them to achieve many vital necessities that they targeted such as paying school fees and building permanent homes. They were able to budget and save money better in order to reach those goals.

Ultimately, the exemplary families became model farm team advocates. They were identified by the project and given opportunities to be up-skilling through leadership and management training workshops. From these, they were certified as Village Community Educators (VCE) to work as trainer of trainers who promote the FFT model to other farming families. They become respected in their communities as resourceful citizens.

Many live changing stories have emerged from FFT project sites in the targeted provinces. One such story is that of Paulus and Hellen Graham – a model couple from Jiwaka. They revealed during the project’s evaluation workshop that their lives and that of their family had seen amazing transformation since their participation in the project. They went from indulging in unproductive lifestyles to sustainably managing their farm business and achieving livelihood goals; such as affording education for their children and building a permanent home.

Helen said, “The secret of our success is that we have learnt to understand each other and work well together. This has helped us to manage our time and share roles. These together with having a bank savings account; are our greatest achievements, so far. These successes have really raised our self-esteem”.

The Grahams now serve as VCE model farmers who help to introduce the FFT concept to other couples and families, in their community.

Due to such life-changing testimonies across the different target sites; project partners have unanimously proposed that the FFT concept should be embraced and promoted through relevant government policies as a key component of sustainable development programmes in the smallholder sector, across the country.