Seeing and hearing farmers through photos and videos

Using photos in focus groups and a video baseline survey puts faces to the once-anonymous ‘stakeholders’ of a project. They give a more personal dimension to all the figures and statistics and help show what farmers really need and how researchers can help


By Amy C. Cruz


We conducted the first activities for a Photovoice process and video baseline survey in Lantapan, Bukidnon, the Philippines, 1–9 September 2014. As far as we knew, these kinds of activities hadn’t been tried before as part of World Agroforestry Centre research and we were the first team to test it.

The relatively short duration of the Climate-smart, Tree-based, Co-investment in Adaptation and Mitigation in Asia (Smart Tree-Invest, for short) makes it hard to record changes in the landscapes and practices of the farmers, which usually only appear over the long run, especially if tree planting is involved. Hence, the decision to use the Photovoice and video baseline survey.

Ryan Tulusan, Bantuanon, Lantapan, Philippines, shows flood extent in the rainy season

Ryan Tulusan of Bantuanon, Lantapan, Philippines, shows the extent of flooding on his farm in the rainy season. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Amy Cruz

Our team consisted of Robert Coombs and I, both from the World Agroforestry Centre Philippines program, and agricultural technicians from the local government of Lantapan. The technicians helped us locate farmers who were participating in Smart Tree-Invest, which is operating not only in the Philippines but also in Viet Nam and Indonesia, supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s component on Landscape Management of Forested Areas for Environmental Services, Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihoods. The technicians also helped with translating from English and Filipino to the local dialect. Robert and I operated the cameras and GPS unit.

Photovoice is a process that allows more nuanced capture of the important elements in a landscape by letting farmers themselves decide specific areas to photograph. We asked them to capture two of their areas that were most vulnerable to climate change, two of their resources and two of their coping strategies. Aside from documentation of the landscape and the farmers’ perspectives, the photos were used in discussion groups to further draw out opinions of the landscapes in their respective villages. Nearly all the farmers identified sloping areas on their farms as the most vulnerable—they were usually flooded during rains—and the crops as their resources. There was, however, a variety of coping strategies mentioned by the farmers when discussing the photographs. Some said they did not do anything when the land flooded; they just waited for the waters to recede. Others said that they did, or planned to, use contouring on their fields to counter erosion. Quite a few also used trees as boundaries and windbreaks.

The project leaders had also decided that, as well as the Photovoice technique, a video baseline survey might help the research team better document the more intangible aspects of the communities, particularly the opinions of the farmers. The plan is that the video documentation will be repeated each year to help capture any changes.

Norhyde Udabe's photo of her resources: intercropped beans with coffee. Photo:  World Agroforestry Centre/Norhyde Udabe

Norhyde Udabe’s photo of her resources: intercropped beans with coffee. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Norhyde Udabe

Two smallholding farmers (one man and one woman) per village were chosen as participants for the survey. These farmers were individually recorded answering questions regarding the existing condition of the landscape in their village, the more desirable condition and the gap between reaching the desirable from the current condition.

Not surprisingly, the answers mostly echoed those of the Photovoice participants but offered more detail, noting the degradation of the land (for example, now farmers needed to apply fertilizers whereas formerly they didn’t), the increase in plantations in some of the lowland villages and the changes in climate and the impact on their livelihoods. Many of the interviewees said that they would like to bring back the fertility of their land and, according to some, planting trees and running communication campaigns about the importance of healthy soil would help the land regain its fertility.

This information has already turned out to be useful for Smart Tree-Invest, which is only running for three years but nevertheless intends to develop ‘co-investment schemes’ for ecosystem services. Such schemes are intended to help farmers adapt to climate change and also maintain ecosystem services, such as clean and plentiful water, healthy soil, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. It became clearer from the video survey that farmers were aware of the need to enhance ecosystem services and that communication was an important part of doing so. This will add to the research team’s plans for developing business cases for the ecosystem services that can be presented not only to potential ‘co-investors’ but also to other farmers in the region.

For me, having been involved in this process firsthand, talking with farmers and researchers through the media of the Photovoice and video survey, I am confident that Smart Tree-Invest will be able to help improve not only the condition of the landscapes and environmental services but also the lives of the farmers.



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This project is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s component on Landscape Management of Forested Areas for Environmental Services, Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihoods.'

Amy Cruz

Amy Cruz is the communications officer for the World Agroforestry Centre Philippines. She is developing an integrated communications strategy for the Philippine program, scripting and editing videos and promoting projects through various media. Her other interests include social media, writing and photography. She has a Bachelor of Science in Development Communication, major in Science Communication.

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