Saturday, 29 September 2007

Guide to managing ICT in the voluntary and community sector

'This guide is aimed at staff and volunteers from voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) who want to manage their information communication technology (ICT) better. It is intended particularly for staff and volunteers from small and medium-sized organisations and especially for those people who don’t haveaccess to ‘paid for’ technical advice and support.'

Download here

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Rural entrepreneurship

The RUPRI Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship have designed their site 'as a roadmap for those of you who are interested in learning more about entrepreneurship as a rural economic development strategy'. Information and resources to describe each step of the way along the road are available at the click of your mouse.

The Center also publishes Energizing Entrepreneurs: Charting a Course for Rural Communities and has companion online resources available here.

There is even a link to rural entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland on their old website, see breaking news.

For information on rural and social entrepreneurship, and assistance, in Northern Ireland check Invest Northern Ireland and SABP.

'Examples of regional innovation projects'

Talking about that ecological footprint there might some sustainable solutions and lessons here. The European Union Regional Policy publication Examples of Regional Policy Innovation contains summaries of case studies of good practice from the regional programmes of innovative actions, 2000-2006.
'The case studies present the objectives and activities of the various projects,
the strategic context, the innovative aspects, partnership, obstacles in terms
of design or implementation, results and impacts.'

Detailed coverage of the various case studies, such as Food logistics: providing local food through individual transport and distribution systems can be found on the InfoRegio website.

Thanks to the Economic Development Resources blog for the information.

Big shoes to unfill

The first ever Sustainability Development Strategy for Northern Ireland (2006) reports
'at over 5.6 global hectares per person we have a slightly larger footprint than
anywhere else in the UK, principally as a result of over-reliance on imported
oil and coal for energy, imported food and food processing, on transport and our
reliance on the private car and our poor waste management and reliance on land

Download the full report here to learn what we can do about it

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Have you checked out the Communication Initiative?

If you haven't, you really should.
'The Communication Initiative is a space to share, debate and advance effective
communication for development progress.'

It's brilliant, get searching.


While on the subject of 'participatory photography' I suppose I should also mention 'participatory video' an area that in recent years has grown rapidly. Like photography, video can also be a powerful tool by giving voice to those individuals and groups that are often marginalised and rarely involved in consultation and dialogue. All you need to know by way of introduction can be found at the excellent Insight website including examples of participatory video from North and South (I am talking globally here) with a range of downloadable documents and information about training events.

To learn about the use of participatory video as a tool for monitoring and evaluation click here.

Art for social change?

Nanci Lee, of the Coady International Institute in Canada, believes strongly in the transformative power of art to effect social change.
'As an educator-artist the opportunities in this area excite me. Some of the
most inspiring work I have seen in education has been in this arena.
Circus-training used to help women who have suffered from violence re-claim
their bodies. Theatre professionals working with streetkids to produce plays
about poverty and homelessness. Collective murals used to help communities share
their ideas and history.'
Read more about what Nanci has to say here. I would love to hear about individuals and groups doing similar work here in Ireland.

Photography as a tool for community voice

Since posting earlier describing the young refugee photographic essay supported by International Medical Corps UK and National Geographic my friend Luigi has been in touch with other similar initiatives that I thought deserve their own separate posting. 'Photovoice blends a grassroots approach to photography and social action by providing cameras to people with the least access to those who make decisions affecting their lives. Photovoice has 3 main goals: to enable people to record and reflect their community's strengths and concerns; to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about personal and community issues through large and small group discussions of photographs; and to reach policy makers.'

For further information check the following sites:
Caroline Wang's PHOTOVOICE site
Photovoice (appears to be a different site but with same name and aims)
The Communication Initiative
Unheard Voices, Hidden Lives

Postcards from Home; Community Development through Participatory Photography is a brief powerpoint presentation that will be of use to those thinking of starting a participatory photography initiative.

If you are interested in a more detailed treatment of 'participatory photography' click here or go to the papers written by Caroline Wang on her website.

While a powerful tool for planning, M&E etc. there are important ethical implications that need to be worked through when undertaking an initiative of this sort.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The 'Effective Engagement' toolkit

One of the better community engagement resources that I was able to access and use while working overseas was the 'Effective Engagement' kit developed by the Department of Sustainability and Environment in Victoria, Australia. The 'Engagement Kit' comes in three parts, all downloadable from the website:

Book 1: An Introduction to Engagement
Book 2: The Engagement Planning Workbook
Book 3: The Engagement Toolkit

Dancing with Lunasa

One of my favourite memories is making an almost two thousand kilometer round trip from NSW to South Australia to take my two children, Callum and Imogen, to see the marvellous Lunasa at Womadelaide earlier this year. Lunasa, a band steeped in the rural tradition, put on a storming session in front of thousands just as the sun was going down. We danced and danced all night. Funnily enough, Lunasa was started by our very own Trevor Hutchinson of Cookstown. Few people around the town seem to know that, even fewer seem to care but that's Cookstown. Anyway, if you haven't heard Lunasa before I strongly recommend them.

Kila, another favourite and interesting band, have just brought out a new album, Gambler's Ballet. If it is like all their other albums it should be well worth a listen.

Finally, I caught the tail-end of ther Transatlantic Sessions on RTE last week which included excellent performances by Paul Brady and Sharon Shannon. It really was playing and enjoyment of the highest order. I am told that the 'Sessions' are not available on DVD because of 'contractual arrangements'. That's a real shame but there is always YouTube. This excerpt has Maura O'Connell with Nanci Griffith playing 'Trouble in the Fields' (and that looks like Danny Thompson in the background on double bass). Just type in 'Transatlantic Sessions' and watch the feast., a one-stop shop for training needs

' is the one-stop-shop about training and development for staff and volunteers working in community and voluntary organisations in Ireland, developed by The Wheel.
Launched in September 2006, enables you to access an extensive database of training courses and providers for the Sector, along with everything you need to know about training.'

Give it a go, I found it useful.

The Argumentative Indian

Amartya Sen is one of few (Peter Timmer on agricultural development, being the other) economists that I always feel that bit wiser for having taken the time to read. A large bulk of Sen's writing is on inequality, poverty and famines and his latest collection of essays under the title of The Argumenative Indian also touch on these issues. It is his essay on gender inequality, Women and Men, that interested me most. While there is extreme gender inequality in places like India and China (survival and natality inequality), which he writes about vividly in relation to the millions of 'missing women', he does stress that gender inequality is not a social issue exclusive to either the developed or developing world, concluding,
'Gender inequality is a far-reaching societal impairment, not merely a special
deprivation of women. That social understanding is urgent as well as momentous.'

Anyone with an interest in gender would do well to read his framework and analysis of what he calls the six distinct faces of gender inequality: 1. Survival inequality, 2. Natality inequality, 3. Unequal facilities, 4. Ownership inequality, 5. Unequal sharing of household benefits and chores, and 6. Domestic violence and physical victimization. While there are obvious geographical patterns to faces 1 and 2 it would be very wrong to think places like Ireland, Europe or other economically advanced societies are generally free from many of the gender biases within the other groupings.

The Centre for Global Education, enhancing local awareness of global issues

Recently, I visited the Centre for Global Education (CGE), based in Belfast, which

'was established to provide education services that will enhance awareness and
understanding of international development issues. It aims to use education
as a means of challenging the causes of poverty and inequality in both local and
global contexts.'

CGE, in partnership with the Suas society at Queen's University Belfast, are organising a Global Issues Seminar Series beginning on 11 October and running over eight consecutive Thursdays finishing on 29 November. The seminars cover a variety of topics, including migration, gender and climate change, that will be of relevance to local development workers and help provide a global perspective that can no doubt help influence local practice and social change in Ireland.

The venue for all of the seminars is Room 302b in the Peter Froggatt Centre in Queen's University each Thursday, commencing at 6pm. For more information and a pdf document describing the series contact the Information Officer Try to get along, it should be an excellent and informative series.

While on the topic of the CGE, it is also an excellent resource/information centre with a large and accessible library, has web-based resources to support learning in local and global citizenship and offers an Open College Network accredited training course in global youth work with the aim of creating capacity in development education among practitioners in the youth sector in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

'Whose reality counts?'

Photography is a versatile and powerful tool. How many of us carry around vivid images of people and events that have been caught on camera? But photography can also be a powerful tool in many aspects of rural development. Most often photography is used by 'outsiders' to capture aspects of rural development practice but when we 'hand over the camera' to 'insiders' it can become a very powerful tool indeed throwing up new perspectives and ideas. A few months ago I visited an exhibition in London where young children in a refuge camp in Africa had been provided with cameras and given basic photography training. The project encouraged children living as refugees to express their feelings of displacement and interpretations through the medium of the photograph. As you can see the outcomes were indeed impressive. I have attended other exhibitions using a similar approach and indeed it can be very empowering for people who would usually not have the chance or luxury to get behind a camera. In some exceptional cases it has lead to a new livelihood. And it doesn't have to involve expensive cameras. I have seen excellent, thoughtful photographs taken by young people using disposable cameras.

I wonder has anyone been involved in such exercises here in Ireland, north and south. I can think of a huge list of situations and contexts where such an idea could be tried in a positive way.

The SEAGA Programme

The Socio-economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA) Programme was established in 1993 to promote gender awareness when meeting development challenges. It involves a partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

SEAGA has produced an excellent range of gender-related publications that are available for download free from their website including their excellent Handbooks series (this is the field level handbook). These provide practical information on how to undertake socio-economic and gender analysis at the macro, intermediate and field levels. Each Handbook presents case studies and tools to help development and gender practitioners collect, analyse and use information. Each Handbook also suggests methods for integrating the findings to policy programme and project identification and formulation.

Finally SEAGA has also produced a useful guide for those people facilitating the collection of gender disaggregated data for agriculture and rural development.

I am sure that SEAGA has much useful information and resources for local rural development and gender practitioners.

Positive Ageing - International Day for Older People

The first day of October marks International Day for Older People each year and I believe Age Awareness Week is based around this (28 September to 6 October). There are many events going on throughout Ireland, north and south, to mark these events. Further information about events and issues regarding ageing in general can be found at:

The Changing Ageing Partnership is particularly interesting as it funds and supports research on ageing-related issues including the impact of the urban/rural divide.
If you are involved in organising an event or researching ageing-related issues especially in a rural context please let me know what you are up to.

Moving on diversity; some partner profiles

The Diversity Works partnership brings together an interesting array of actors and includes:

Disability Action; 'Disability Action Northern Ireland works to ensure that people with disabilities attain their full rights as citizens, by supporting inclusion, influencing Government policy and changing attitudes in partnership with disabled people.'
North West Forum of People with Disabilities (no website currently)
Northern Ireland Council of Ethnic Minorities (NICEM)
Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSO)
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

Click on the above links for massive amounts of useful information.

Moving on diversity

Diversity Works is a partnership between community organisations, public authorities, government and employer representatives which aims to develop a diversity management process for use in different employment sectors in Northern Ireland. Diversity Works are having a launch on the 27 September in Belfast of a pilot study, Moving on Diversity; Pilot Study on Diversity Management in Northern Ireland. If you are interested in attending details can be found here.

Training for the future

There may be opportunities for those with exceptional leadership qualities and potential to apply for the internship programme at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Check out their Training Young Professionals for Sustainable Development programme

Appreciating and understanding cultural diversity

The Training for Women Network (TWN), Northern Ireland's leading network for the promotion of women's training and development, is running the following 'free' course on the 29th October 2007

Course: Cultural Diversity Awareness Introductory Session
Date: Monday, 29 October 2007
Time: 10am — 4pm
Location: TWN Training Suite, Unit 10b Weavers Court , Linfield Road , Belfast
Cost: FREE (Limited to 20 places)
'It is nowadays incumbent on businesses to have an awareness of the implications
of having a multicultural workforce and the implications of equality legislation
for all employees. A wealth of cultural diversity awareness workshops and
training courses have been designed to assist businesses to manage cultural
diversity and equality issues in the workplace. In this unique 1 day
introductory session the hosts will seek to provide delegates with a wide
ranging overview of the issues that effect today employers based on the various
courses available. This special introductory course is aimed primarily at
frontline staff, business owners, HR staff and managers. The course involves
supporting the indigenous workforce to support multi-ethnic employees and
customers by creating awareness of the needs and customs of specific ethnic
groups. The result is a more informed and aware workforce and a more customer
friendly ethos. To book your free place on this unique course contact TWN on
(90) 319888 or e-mail

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

BRIDGE, a one-stop shop for gender

I have posted a couple of times now on work that highlights the need for improved data gathering related to gender and gender research. If not already aware, practitioners in this area might be interested in the work of BRIDGE, housed at IDS, University of Sussex.
'BRIDGE supports gender advocacy and mainstreaming efforts by bridging the gaps
between theory, policy and practice with accessible and diverse gender
information in print and online.'
BRIDGE covers a range of themes and provides an array of information types. In relation to the issue of improved data and information systems in relation to gender the BRIDGE Cutting Edge Packs may be of interest.

The specific Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Indicators may be particularly useful. It contains both an overview of issues and resource pack which has links to relevant information available online. The pack contains an interesting section on the need for engendering statistics systems and data collection.

Has anyone had experience using the BRIDGE resources? Have you found them useful?

SIYANDA, helping mainstream gender equality

SIYANDA is an excellent online resource of gender and development resources.
'Siyanda aims to be an ever growing resource to support practitioners in
implementing gender programmes and in mainstreaming gender equality concerns,
whether they are gender specialists or not.'

Making every step count

A Welsh scholar has evaluated the economic impacts of walking in the Welsh countryside with some interesting findings.

Irish trees

As part of the People's Millenium Forest Project,
'Over fifteen hundred acres of native Irish woodland have been designated as 16
'People's Millennium Forests' and are dedicated in perpetuity to the people of
Ireland. The forests include newly planted areas using native Irish seed and the
restoration of native woodlands that have been in existence for at least 200
years and probably longer. A native tree has been planted on behalf of every
household in Ireland and a certificate posted to all homes giving details about
the household's tree and where it is planted. The forests form a lasting legacy
for all to enjoy and will include woodland walks, nature trails, interpretative
and recreational facilities. '

The project also includes a Schools Programme and a resource pack is available that describes our native trees, collecting seed and setting up a school nursery.

There are also two excellent publications tied in with the project, Native Trees and Forests of Ireland and Our Trees: A Guide to Growing Ireland's Native Trees.

A tale of two books

Eamonn O Cathain's book, Around Ireland with a Pan: Food, Tales and Recipes is a somewhat humorous and honest examination of (or lack of!) the culinary tradition in Ireland. The book looks at how food is produced, prepared, sold and eaten in Ireland, north and south and makes the outrageous statement, 'When I was a wee boy, the only thing that seemed to come from Tyrone was a sausage - from Cookstown'

Another interesting read that I came across recently was Back Through the Fields: Memories of a Rural Life by Maurice McAleese (2005).

Horse power

My grandfather used to breed and look after draught horses so I spent an interesting day reading the recent book, The Irish Draught Horse - A History edited by Mary McGrath and Joan Griffith in 2005 . The book
'brings together a collection of essays by a number of scholars and experts.
Each contributor provides a unique perspective on the horse covering a wide
range of knowledge including Irish culture, economics, agriculture, folklore,
geography, art, genetics, equine science, archaeology, and history. The book is
illustrated with over 160 photographs and has an annotated bibliography.'
The above website link also contains extensive resources, publications, weblinks and databases in the Irish Draught Horse Resource Guide.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Participatory mapping

An interesting posting on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog today brought back memories of my involvement with a participatory mapping exercise in Fiji when working on the Development of Sustainable Agriculture in the Pacific (DSAP) project. DSAP, with other partners, worked with rural communities on Ovalau Island, Fiji to help map their natural resources and tangible and intangible cultural heritage (it was part of an exercise to assist with Ovalau's application for UNESCO World Heritage listing). Further information about the exercise and participatory mapping in general can be obtained from the IAPAD website.

The posting referred to above on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog called 'Mapping for Change' is a brief video on the international Mapping for Change conference that took place in Kenya in 2005 and is well worth watching.

For those interested in participatory mapping, IIED have published a special issue of Participatory Learning and Action dedicated to the Kenya conference. Robert Chambers has also written about the development of participatory mapping/GIS in his recent publication From PRA to PLA and Pluralism, which I recently posted on.

It would be interesting to learn about any similar participatory mapping exercises that might have been carried out locally with rural communities to map natural resources, cultural heritage or other community assets.

Monday, 17 September 2007

'Feature Agency' - Irish Rural Link

Irish Rural Link would appear to be the counterpart of the Rural Community Network in the Republic of Ireland.
'Irish Rural Link (IRL), formed in 1991, is a national network of organisations
and individuals lobbying for sustainable rural development in Ireland and
Europe. IRL, a non-profit organisation, has grown significantly since its
inception and now directly represents over 300 community groups with a combined
membership of 25,000. The network provides a structure through which rural
groups and individuals, representing disadvantaged rural communities, can
articulate their common needs and priorities, share their experiences and
present their case to policy-makers at local, national and European Level'
To learn more about Irish Rural Link click here.

'Celtic Neighbours'

The CarnegieUK Trust has available a documentary which describes the work of 'Celtic Neighbours'. A sample of the documentary is available to view online and the entire multi-media package can be ordered from the Trust. The documentary describes a rural action research programme to address issues of isolation, service delivery and community planning in remote and peripheral areas against a cultural backdrop and in a conference gathering.

'The documentary was filmed at the 'Ceangal' Conference, which was hosted by our
RARP partners 'Celtic Neighbours' in November last year. The 'Ceangal'
(Connections) Conference was the first of three planned annual events. The aim
of these events is to combine elements of conference, cultural showcase and
gathering of grassroots workers. This conference was hosted by Ealann na
Gaeltachta and took place in Gaoibh Doire, West Donegal. It showcased examples
of some of the most exciting arts and cultural activity taking place in the
Gaelic world – both Ireland and Scotland – and in Welsh-speaking communities in

This is part of the Trust's larger Rural Action Research Programme (RARP)

Some recent publications from the Carnegie Trust

The following publications may be of interest:

A Charter for Rural Communities - The final report of the Carnegie Commission for Rural Community Development.
Mapping Rural Needs - The Young Foundation
Developing Gender Research in Rural Scotland- UHIPolicyWeb
Asset Based Approaches to Rural Community Development- Literature Review and Resources

These and other publications can be downloaded from the Carnegie Trust website.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Who is responsible for agricultural biodiversity?

I spent a large part of the afternoon trying to come to terms with the policy and strategy framework for agricultural biodiversity in Ireland, especially in Northern Ireland (NI). While there is a considerable amount of information on biodiversity in general there is little written about agricultural biodiversity in particular. In regards to agriculture the emphasis is on the role of farming in helping to protect the environment and rural habitats. Very little seems to be written about the importance and role of crop and livestock diversity on-farm and how this contributes to a more resilient farming system as well as spillover effects for the environment and rural habitats.

The Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of Environment provides a considerable amount of the information available on general biodiversity in NI. This includes the NI Biodiversity Strategy and Recommendations for Biodiversity Conservation Action. Their website also contains useful information on the various partners involved including government departments, universities, local district councils and other relevant organisations. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is listed as the main partner responsible for leadership on the role of agriculture in promoting biodiversity and natural habitat protection with a particular responsibility for conservation arrangements for plant cultivars and livestock breeds. Unfortunately, I could not find much information on the DARD website regarding initiatives and activities that might be underway to achieve these conservation arrangements and who the main partners in agricultural biodiversity might be.

At an all-island level there are a few interesting networks and strategies that address agricultural biodiversity. Firstly, there is the Irish Genetic Resources Conservation Trust (IGRCT), which is a non-governmental organisation whose main objective is to promote the conservation and sustainable utilisation of Ireland's plant and animal genetic resources with a good focus on agricultural biodiversity. While listing those individuals and organisations involved it is not clear who is involved or participating from NI. Participation in such a network would seem an appropriate strategy of 'exploring mechanisms for promoting biodiversity conservation on an all-island basis' as highlighted in the NI Biodiversity Strategy. A National Plant Conservation Strategy for Ireland is another useful all-island document and includes a number of targets and actions relevant to supporting conservation of agricultural biodiversity.

But I am still concerned about the lack of general information on agricultural biodiversity issues in NI. If you are interested in, or work with, agricultural biodiversity in NI I would be grateful if you could share information on any of the following: What current activities are underway in relation to agricultural biodiversity and conservation in NI? Who are the main actors and organisations involved in agricultural biodiversity, in addition to DARD, in NI? What is the extent of all-island networking and cooperation among partners in relation to agricultural biodiversity?

Friday, 14 September 2007

Famous Seamus the country boy

There is an excellent article on Seamus Heaney, who found much of his inspiration from his rural upbringing, in the Daily Telegraph.

Food glorious food

Following my earlier posting on agritourism I came across this article on culinary tourism on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. It discusses the differences and linkages between the two but at the end of the day I believe that the linkages are greater than what they admit to. There is absoultely no reason why a gourment culinary experience cannot be part of a rural restaurant linked to a farming enterprise.

Just read the comments from their blog on an author's culinary experiences on a recent visit to Ireland. There would seem to be much scope for improvement and innovation bringing to life Irish food in a rural setting.

Communications toolkit

A useful online communications toolkit for rural community groups is available from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation website. It contains a massive amount of information and resources covering creating a communications strategy and plan, key concepts, tools, dealing with the media, evaluation and excellent links to additional information.

Improving rural services

I read with interest that Rural Development Minister, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, recently met with her counterpart Eamon O Cuiv, Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DCRGA) in County Leitrim. Among the many issues they discussed were rural childcare and mental health. In a separate but related story, Praxis Care Group have secured funding that has enabled them to extend their outreach programme for dealing with mental health problems in rural areas of NI.

Women, farming and rural development

Reading Dr Sally Shortall's publication Women in Rural Areas in Northern Ireland I was somewhat surprised to be reminded that a number of the issues she highlights as challenging women's participation in rural development and farming in NI are similar to those constraining women in many of the countries in Asia and the Pacific where I worked before. Well, maybe I wasn't all that surprised. Dr Shortall has raised a number of policy recommendations to address these constraints and again these are similar and include: farming organisations actively engaging women in their approach to the farming community; improving gender representation; enhancing women's training; and sensitivity in timing and locations of meetings/events. This is for farming alone. There are others for general rural development, childcare, employment and improved data. One recommendation in particular caught my attention:

  • The fact that so many documents refer to the under-representation of women in rural development suggests that full account is not being taken of the work of the Women's Networks. A very solid infrastructure exists. Tapping into and supporting this infrastructure seems an important means of ensuring the representation of women in general rural development initiatives, a stated priority for DARD and the rural development organisations.
After working extensively in international rural development I can add that I am aware of many organisations, programmes and projects that have done exactly the same i.e., worked in isolation from exisiting women's networks. So while they were all busy figuring out how to mainstream gender into their activities and programmes they failed to see the gains and opportunities that could be made by better linkages and partnerships with local women's networks. For example, until recently I worked on an EU-funded sustainable agriculture development project with 16 participating countries and multiple stakeholders. Mid-way through the project we commissioned a thematic gender evaluation of the project (largely because we felt that the EU commissioned mid-term review of the project did not take evaluation of gender seriously enough). The gender evaluation provided project management with a great deal of useful information and data, confirming what we were doing well and highlighting where we could improve. However, while full of praise for the lengths we had gone to develop linkages and networks with relevant stakeholders in each country, the review stressed that it was significant that no partnerships had been developed with already existing national women's mechanisms which could bring gender expertise and experience into the project. Not only did the project lose out in terms of accessing such expertise and inputs, the review rightly pointed out that we were missing opportunities for the project to highlight its good gender practice in a wider context to support and contribute to national policy level actions for gender equality. It is interesting (and humbling) to sit down and reflect on how such simple strategic partnerships could be so easily neglected!

Which reminds me. I can't recall much being written in NIRDP2007-2013, which I posted on earlier, that convinces me rural development actors in NI have paid much heed to the findings and recommendations on gender from Dr Shortall's publication. I hope I am wrong.

Food for thought

'Britain's biggest retailer, a giant food and toiletries manufacturer and a
group of sustainability experts have gazed into the future - and seen a new
world of shopping.'

Four scenarios for the future of shopping by 2022 are compared in a recent article published by the Guardian and based on a study carried out by the Forum for the Future which came up with scenarios of the future depending on high or low economic growth and changing consumer preferences

Reconnecting food and farming

If you believe Prince Charles and the Daily Mail there is much to be said for the connection between the 'poisoning of young children with food additives and the plague of anti-social behaviour.' There's probably a bit more to it than that, I suppose. However, Prince Charles did take time out recently to speak at the launch of what appears to be a useful initiative, the Year of Food and Farming. This is an attempt to reconnect young children to the countryside and learn more about where and how food is produced. It urges schools to create more school garden and vegetable plots and encourages children to grow more vegetables. This has similarities to an earlier posting I made on how gardening and growing can be linked to a wider school curriculm. Such initiatives certainly have much to offer.

I understand there are similar initiatives planned by the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) Rural Affairs Committee for the introduction of an agri-food educational resource pack for schools in Northern Ireland. Maybe someone can tell me about the current status of this initiative and if there are other similar initiatives underway on an all-island basis. Do you have any innovative experiences to share?

What role for agrobiodiversity in rural development?

I wonder how many people ever read a huge document such as the Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 (NIRDP), just recently approved by the European Commission. More importantly, who is responsible for wading through all the jargon and communicating the essence of what it all means, and opportunities it presents, for rural communities, who I assume are the intended beneficiaries of the planned initiatives. I did manage to get through most of it and was interested to read what it had to say about agriculture and the environment. While there is much made of enhancing the rural environment, I wasn't quite clear how this would be achieved with strategies that increase conversion of farmland to sustainable energy production. While there is a great deal written about agriculture's role in improving habitats and environmental protection there appears to be no mention of how improvements in agrobiodiversity also have numerous benefits for the rural environment and could actually be the basis for innovative rural enterprise in certain situations. With the growing interest in locally-sourced foods and 'food with a story' surely there is much scope for considerable innovation with agrobiodiversity. The document mentions that
'a major opportunity exists to build on Northern Ireland's considerable
investment to date (mainly through the agri-environment programme) in protecting the rural landscape and environment. There is growing interest within the
agriculture industry to embrace the agri-environment programme, yielding
improvements in farm practices and conserving the natural and built environment
and landscape character across a larger proportion of the Northern Ireland land
mass. This could be aided by further development of farm woodlands, with the
attendant gains in biodiversity and amenities.'
Surely such opportunities, improvements and gains could be equally aided by improving the diversity of crops and livestock on-farm! Improved agrobiodiversity could also provide opportunities for innovative approaches for agri-tourism, agri-diversification and linking food marketing to improved environmental stewardship, strategies which the NIRDP also highlights.

You're welcome here kind stranger

While some of the life stories of women described in the RCN publication Stranger or Citizen? Barriers to Citizenship are harrowing, many are inspirational such as that of Bennie Attoh from the Louth African Women's Support Network. Bennie, who came to Ireland in 2000, unable to find a job after two years despite having a degree began selling Nigerian food from the boot of her car. With start-up funds of Euro140 she managed to grow a business that now has an annual turnover of Euro200,000.

The publication describes many of the now familiar barriers facing women, and new arrivals in particular, in Ireland but more importantly highlights the massive change they can inspire if given an equal chance.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Status of organic agriculture in the UK

According to an article by John Vidal in the Guardian organic agriculture in the UK is still growing but could be badly affected in the next few years by higher prices and difficulties finding enough produce. According to the Soil Association's Annual Market Report the UK public wants more locally grown food but consumers are still largely located in the more affluent parts of the UK. Helen Browning, director of Food and Farming at the Soil Association said that the biggest surprise of 2006,
'was the growing popularity of box schemes where households are delivered a
selection of fruit, vegetables and sometimes organic meat. Sales of boxes
increased 53% last year, with more being sold direct by supermarkets. But the
old idea of boxes of gnarled-looking vegetables delivered from small farms
complete with soil and beetles is changing. Some "boxes" now cost £250, and the
biggest schemes may collect from 60 or more farms and serve 10,000 or more
A recent poll carried out by the Soil Association has found that 38% of people wanted local sourcing of food but the Guardian article highlights that nearly 50% of people who bought organic produce in 2006 thought that it was too expensive.

The NI Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 document reports uptake of DARD's Organic Farming Scheme has been much lower than expected when the scheme was launched in 2001. In 2004, agricultural land under organic production in NI was only 0.62% compared to a corresponding figure of 4.25% in England.

The Organic Action Plan Group for Northern Ireland, established in 2005 to lead the strategic development of the organic sector, produced its action plan in 2006.

Another Pretty book

I have always enjoyed the writing and thoughts of Jules Pretty. He has just published a new book, The Earth Only Endures, now available from Earthscan and which has just been reviewed by the New Agriculturalist. Describing many examples of value-adding and on-farming processing on small, mixed farms
'Pretty asks whether the small, mixed farm model offers anything to the
industrialised countries. It appears to have much in common with what a growing
number of farmers are attempting in his home country, the UK. Adding value,
earning a good proportion of the sales price and giving food a story - so people
know what they are eating and where it comes from - are increasingly seen as
vital to the financial viability of many UK farming businesses.'

I think it will offer many lessons.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Apple diversity in Ireland?

Luigi's recent postings on the history of the apple, its diversity and contrasting conservation measures at Brogdale in the UK and Geneva-NY, in the USA, and the general discussion this has generated has prompted me to do a specific posting in the hope that I can get some information, or leads, on the history and diversity of the apple in Ireland. Firstly, I would love to hear from anyone who might be able to give us some information on the history and diversity of the apple in Ireland. How many of these varieties might be conserved in the collection at Brogdale? Is it possible that early Irish colonists to America might have brought apple varieties now in the USA collection? Are there separate apple collections in Ireland (either north or south) and where might these be? Is there a conservation strategy for apples in Ireland? Who are the main individuals and organisations involved in apple conservation in Ireland? I would be delighted to hear from people on these queries.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Do you take rural seriously?

The RCN 16th annual conference will take place in Omagh on the 28th and 29th September 2007. Full details and an application form can be downloaded by clicking on the event listed under 'Upcoming events'.

Lissan House, history on our doorstep

I had a wonderful visit to Lissan House at the weekend, courtesy of the Friends of Lissan Trust. Jane Greer, our knowledgeable and passionate tour guide, enthralled us with the history and stories of the house and its extensive lands in a tour that lasted almost two hours! Jane has obviously benefited from an association with the last family member to have lived in the house, Mrs Hazel Radclyffe-Dolling, who sadly passed away in 2006. I was very pleasantly surprised by the numbers of people that turned up on Sunday to see the house and there were large groups for all the tours, so there is plenty of interest out there in the property. The house was also the former residence of the artist, Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples and a blue plaque awarded by the Ulster History Circle marks this.

Many of you will remember Lissan House from the BBC's Restoration series, when it finished runner-up to the Victoria Baths in Manchester. Well, the house is still very much in need of help, both financial and logistical. For more information on how you might help contact the Friends of Lissan Trust.

Hear Elsie Bell talk about Lissan House here. If you have any other stories about Lissan House you are welcome to share them here.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Agritourism throws lifeline to Italian farmers

Here's an interesting article I came across on my friend Luigi's blog Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. A staggering 16,000 farms in Italy throw open their gates to tourists annually and this figure is expected to grow by 700 this year. Three million tourists, a quarter of whom are foreigners, are expected to stay on Italian farms this year. That means three-quarters are all locals!

I would be delighted to learn about the more innovative approaches to agritourism that might be happening in Ireland.

Toolkit for Community Development Practitioners

The Rural Community Network in Cookstown, along with partners, has developed a very handy toolkit that contains detailed factsheets which will be useful for community development practitioners. The toolkit contains factsheets on a range of topics including, Forming a Community Group, Team Building, Partnership Working, Networking, Action Planning and Appreciative Inquiry. Each factsheet contains a step-by-step guide.

To obtain a copy of the toolkit get in touch with the RCN or call 022867 66670 or email:

Robert Chambers on participatory methodologies

From PRA to PLA and pluralism: practice and theory is the title of a new publication by Robert Chambers that examines the development and spread of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and the more inclusive participatory learning and action (PLA). Well worth a read for those interested in how these participatory methodologies have been applied.

Download full text of the document.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Sustainable Community Action

My attention was drawn to the excellent Sustainable Community Action wiki earlier this week. It has a massive amount of information. As Phil Green, the founder of the The Sustainable Community Action, points out the wiki offers "integration, synthesis and synergy across at least 4 dimensions'':

  • Place - from the whole earth to local communities and whatever intermediate levels may be useful
  • Topic - environmental, social and economic well being - personal and community options
  • Type of content - information, news, comment, images, etc., and most importantly,
  • Openness to all - all stakeholders, and in particularly those that traditional and establishment initiatives tend to leave out - ordinary citizens and communities.

If you are interested in sustainability check it out. If you have time, maybe you can add information to the Ireland/Northern Ireland pages.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Russian Roulette

While world leaders continue to play 'russian roulette' with climate change, my attention was drawn to a recent article in The Sunday Times describing a growing movement known as Transition Towns. As an aside, the article highlights how Dr Dave Wilks, a climate change activist, has hit on a new way to describe the warming of the earth's atmosphere:
'it's equivalent to nearly five Hiroshima bombs exploding per second.'
Definitely attention grabbing but back to the article and transition towns. The Transition Town movement was started by Rob Hopkins when he was working in Kinsale, County Cork. Transition towns are all about creating local innovative changes as a response to looming climate change. Apparently the movement is growing rapidly and individuals and groups from 176 places have now registered to become Transition Towns. The Transition Town website has an array of useful information on what communities can do and how to do it.

Kinsale is the only town in Ireland that has registered as a transition town. It would be great to hear from someone involved as to how things are progressing.

Friday, 7 September 2007

High Court ruling quashes decision on PPS14

The NI High Court today overruled an earlier decision by former Stormont Minister Lord Rooker on PPS14, the controversial planning policy for sustainable development in the countryside. In welcoming the decision, the Rural Community Network stated
"the move endorses the overwhelming position articulated by RCN’s 450 members
and supported through 700 individual responses made to RCN’s consultation on the
unpopular policy."

Commenting on the court’s judgement Michael Hughes RCN’s Chief Executive Officer stated that
“To date there has been limited investment in seeking to understand what makes
rural communities tick. This decision provides an opportunity for an exploration
of the factors that have shaped the existing rural settlement pattern as well as
creating the space for people to engage in informed and responsible
conversations around how people will live and work in the countryside of the

Looks like a more inclusive and rural community-led policy-making and planning process might get underway. What do you think? What are your views on the ruling?

Not sure what PPS14 is about, click here?

Want to know what rural communities in NI thought was wrong with it, click here?

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Floating cultivation

I was involved in an interesting conversation on floating cultivation with some colleagues who run an excellent blog on issues related to Agricultural Biodiversity. The conversation slowly evolved homewards as we shared experiences from the Pacific, Asia and Latin America before ending up in Amiens, France. I was wondering if we might get even closer to home. Is anyone aware of similar cultivation practices in Ireland or the UK?

Learning and Teaching for Transformation

The Learning and Teaching for Transformation (LTT) initiative should be of interest to anyone involved in capacity building for sustainable rural development.
'The initiative aims to enhance the capacity of higher learning institutions
to develop and deliver effective education programs that contribute to a wider
transformation of individuals, institutions and society. It is especially
relevant to those involved in the preparation of individuals for engagement
in fields such as development, governance and citizenship, and within
sectors that aim to bring about personal and social change. It advocates
forms of learning that are grounded in the principles and practices of
participatory development and action research, and seeks to encourage these
forms through the sharing and generation of both theory and practice.'

Immerse yourself

I have followed with interest the discussion and development of the notion of 'immersion' in the lives of individuals and communities and how this can deliver 'better and deeper understandings of poverty' and other realities. Immersions for Policy and Personal Change, a policy brief from IDS, is a useful introduction to what and who is involved in 'immersions'. Such programmes have been organized for a range of professionals by organizations such as The Association for the Promotion of North-South Dialogue and The Grass Roots Immersion Programme (GRIP, run by the World Bank). The Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education run immersion programmes in rural Australia that allow teachers, students, academics and other professionals to spend time living in indigenous communities. Harvard and Cornell Universities are two examples of higher learning institutions that have developed immersion programmes in the South for their academic staff and students. There are growing numbers of NGOs, including ActionAid, now running and organizing immersion programmes. The area of immersions is about to receive in-depth treatment and coverage with a special issue of PLA notes forthcoming in December 2007 from IIED.

While I understand and appreciate the benefits of such immersion programmes in the South there must also be many benefits of running similar programmes in local communities in rural/community settings in countries of the North. Surely, immersions can assist rural development professional practitioners in the North to a better and deeper understanding of the realities of rural community life. I would be most interested to hear from anyone familiar with similar programmes in Ireland, UK or elsehwere. I would be especially interested to hear from anyone involved in higher education in Ireland or the UK if immersion-type programmes or placements are used for student learning in rural and community development.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

You can't logframe partnerships

I took some time over the weekend to read the Rural Community Network's (RCN) interesting publication, The Skills and Knowledge Needed to Take Forward the Practice of Rural Community Development over the next Ten Years. What struck me most were the number of issues and problems that bore a remarkable resemblance to problems that are faced in global international development but also specifically in rural development in developing countries, many of which I had to deal with myself. Two issues interested me in particular. These were the apparent urban biases at work in Northern Ireland rural and community development, or at least perceived by some of the groups involved in the RCN's action research project that was the basis of the above report, and the perceived difficulties in establishing 'effective partnerships' for development. In this posting I want to focus on partnerships as this is an area of practice and research interest that I have had for many years now. But not before briefly addressing urban bias. Urban bias, urban focus or urban-centric problem, call them what you may, are a global phenomenon. There are many reasons for this and it is a complex area but in most of the Asian/Pacific developing countries I worked in the problem was acute. We are talking about countries were agriculture still contributes greater than 25% to the national GDP and it was sad to see 'urban-centric' elites channel funds and resources away from re-investment in the sector. In fact, such urban bias was very much part of the initial stimulus behind the development of rapid rural appraisals, participatory rural appraisals and participation in general. That's another story, for another day!

Partnerships, where do you start? The RCN report talks about 'lip service'. That's as good a place to start as any. Like 'participation', partnerships have been very much the vogue in international rural development and among donor and implementing agencies. Unfortunately, much of this has been indeed 'lip-service' and added considerably to the rhetoric of (rural) development. Having been team leader and manager of an EU-funded DSAP project (Development of Sustainable Agriculture in the Pacific) with 16 participating countries and a vast complexity of national stakeholders and actors tasked with developing 'effective partnerships' I can confidently say that the funding body relegated partnerships to the bottom of the pile when it came to evaluation (with disbursement of funds at the top!). I found that very disappointing for a number of reasons which I won't go into at this stage. However, if like me, you believe that development is about people then there is no getting away from the need and desire to develop 'effective partnerships' as the basis for a people-centred approach to sustainable development. I feel that within the DSAP project we made important contributions in approaches to planning and nurturing 'effective partnerships'. Particularly we made important contributions in the area of evaluating partnerships and creating participatory spaces for partners to reflect on the quality of partnerships. This highlighted problems and bottlenecks but more importantly allowed us to develop strategies to move forward on these issues and develop the partnerships further. Probably our most important achievement in this area was the effort we put into developing an appropriate capacity building strategy to achieve this. Such evaluation, negotiation and mediation, and the corresponding skills building, I personally believe led to better partnerships and certainly moved us away from 'lip-service', 'rhetoric' and 'arm's length partnerships'.

There is a great deal of reference in the RCN report to developing skills in relationship/partnership building, the need for more advanced training and skills development to a 'more meaningful level'. This brings me back to the heading for this posting, You Can't Logframe Partnerships. I don't know if people are familiar with this project planning/management tool but what I am basically trying to say is that partnerships are really not something that can be simply pencilled into a project proposal and expected to evolve because there are budgets and resources. 'Effective partnerships' won't happen without political-will, commitment, honesty, trust and much more but isn't it worth the effort if we are all striving for a more sustainable development, one that is fairer and more just? In the last seven years I have spent considerable time reflecting on partnerships and developed a range of partnership tools (1,2, 3) and I would be glad to share and exchange experiences with others working in partnership development in NI. In fact, I would be delighted to hear from anyone working in the area of partnerships especially building capacity/skills training, there must be some excellent work going on especially in areas related to conflict-resolution.

For those interested, there are also some useful online resources available including: The Partnering Initiative; The IBLF Partnership's Forum; and the Partnership Brokers Accreditation Scheme. You can find excellent partnership toolkits and training opportunities here.


1. Hunter (2006) You Can't Logframe Partnerships. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Suva, Fiji Islands.

2. Hunter, Ali and Halavatau (2007) Like a Bridge over Troubled Water; laying down the tensiometer to reflect on partnerships. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Suva, Fiji Islands.

3. DSAP (2007) Effective Partnerships - A Guide. Development of Sustainable Agriculture in the Pacific. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Suva, Fiji Islands

Diversity is the spice of life

Reading through an old Rural Community Network publication, The Environment and the Farming Community in Northern Ireland (May 2000) and seeing all those frenzied Polish Bantams running around Ardress House prompted me to think about the extent of agrobiodiversity in Northern Ireland. The above publication refers to the Biodiversity Strategy Proposals of 1999 which identify one specific to agrobiodiversity. That proposal, Conservation of Genetic Biodiversity, highlights the need for a review of conservation arrangements for plant cultivars and livestock breeds in Northern Ireland. Having just returned to the north I am keen to learn as much as I can about the main actors and players in biodiversity but more specifically agrobiodiversity. Firstly, I would be extremely grateful if anyone could tell me whether the above proposal relating to conservation arrangements/strategies of agrobiodiversity in NI were ever pursued, and if so, what were the outcomes. What are the main organisations looking after agrobiodiversity in NI? What is the policy/strategy framework that is guiding agrobiodiversity and it's conservation in NI? Presumably someone has been tracking on-farm agrobiodiversity over the years, where is such information available? I would be absolutely delighted to hear from anyone working in the field of agrobiodiversity in the North.

"Class act"

I think I could count the number of good teachers I ever had on one hand and it certainly didn't improve as I moved through university. I certainly would have liked to have come across a teacher such as Neil Morgan the new science teacher at Saxmundham Middle School. An article in the The Guardian Weekend magazine describes a wonderful way of linking as much of a school curriculum as possible, not just science, to garden-related field activities. The story should be of great interest to teachers especially in school's with available land for similar activities. A nice example of experiential and problem-based learning and having students apply their learning to practical situations. It doesn't mention it specifically in the article but I am sure that the same approach could be used to learn about food plants, the importance of agrobiodiversity and its contribution to healthy nutrition. The article finishes with information sources for any teachers interested in pursuing such school projects. It reminds me of the University Breeders Club we started at the University of the South Pacific for students to learn about crop breeding in a very real situation with farmers evaluating the materials they produced as part of a participatory plant breeding programme. Not only was it an excellent teaching and learning approach but also strengthened the links between the university and local communities in Samoa. Exciting times indeed.

Polish Bantams, Bats and Apples

Headed for the Moy today and a visit to the beautiful Ardress House in County Armagh (pictured right). Set in a beautiful rural woodland and orchard setting the house has an incredible history and Una O'Neill, our guide for the day, was the just the right person to tell us all about it. She is well versed in the history of the house and not averse to the odd wee joke or two. Sadly, the property no longer has a functioning farm due to earlier perceived health risks but that is changing. The livestock are making a comeback! There are about five 0r six poultry breeds around at the moment including Marans, Sussex, Rhode Island Reds and Polish Bantams. I never realised that Polish Bantams were such a diverse breed or that they were popular on Northern Ireland farms. I would certainly love to hear from people who could tell me about the diversity of this breed in the North and what their appeal might be. Hopefully the near future will see the return of even more diversity. And talking of diversity, it was interesting to learn that seven out of eight of NI's bat species can be found around the farm buildings of Ardress, including a species that forages for aquatic insects on top of the nearby river by using it's feet! There is still much to see in the rest of the farm as many of the old buildings such as the threshing barn, potato house, byre, diary and so forth have an excellent collection of implements and machinery.

Walk on the wild side

What a breath of fresh air A Dander with Drennan was when it screened on BBC2. Not watching much television this was a definite must see every Monday evening but now it is sadly finished. I do hope that the BBC are right this minute busy planning a follow-up series of Willie Drennan and his friends. Seeing Willie stumble on top of Slemish Mountain while trying to maintain his composure playing the lambeg drum was enough to get rid of those Monday blues. If like me, and my friends, you are suffering withdrawl symptoms you can always view excerpts from the show on You Tube or catch up with Willie's band, Nae Goat's Toe.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

I'm a Dapper Dan man!

To be honest, the last time I attended the Annual Bluegrass Music Festival at the Ulster American Folk Park in 2003 I was far from impressed. This was shortly after the release of the magnificent, O' Brother, Where Art Thou?, and maybe my expectations were a little bit too high, given that the soundtrack to the film is equally good. Despite this, myself and a group of friends ventured back on Friday evening and I am very pleased to be able to say that the event and the music has improved dramatically. Not having any prior knowledge of any of the bands we were all agreed that we had seen something special in the Lovell Sisters and it would not surprise me if they become major stars of the bluegrass scene in the future. Also impressive were Sunnyside who seemed so happy just to be 'here back' in Omagh. Apparently they have been a big hit at prior shows. This Czech Republic bluegrass outfit provided some great music and laughs.

A Sustainable Timeline

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has just published a useful timeline that describes a number of important events that were pivotal in the global debate on sustainability. The timeline takes as it's starting point the publication of Rachael Carson's seminal book Silent Spring in 1962 and continues up to the present day with the release of Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Thankfully, it omits any reference to the debacle that was the "Live Earth" concerts. The timeline can be downloaded as a pdf from the IISD website link above.

Bringing local history to life

I spent a fabulously interesting day on a wind and rain swept Tullyhogue Fort, Cookstown courtesy of Cookstown District Council and in the learned presence of John Mc Cavitt and Northern Peer Productions. This was one of a number of events organised by Cookstown District Council to commerate the 400 years since the flight of the Flight of the Earls. The event was vividly brought to life by the members of the Northen Peer Productions dressed in full period costume who provided insight into what life was like in this part of Cookstown in the late 16th Century. The historian John Mc Cavitt was also on hand to discuss his most recent publication, The Flight of the Earls - An Illustrated History. The organisation of the event was excellent and it was free! Admittedly it was a wet day but it was disappointing to see so few people turn up to the event. In fact, I continue to wonder whay so few local people seem to take little interest in local history? When I was at high school in Cookstown about 30 years ago there was never any attempt to learn about local history. Yet there is such a vast resource on our doorstep. I certainly hope things have changed today. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of local history, especially in rural areas of the north, and the potential for tourism based on this. The Cookstown District Council are to be congratulated for putting together this series of events (and they continue for the rest of the week).
Additional information regarding the journey the Earls took in mainland Europe can be found here. Hugh O'Neill and Rory O'Donnell eventually died in Rome and are buried at the Franciscan Church of St Peter in Montorio.