Learning and power in international farmer exchanges

Lauer, Stephen
Major Professor
Francis Y. Owusu
Committee Member
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Community and Regional Planning

The "Bridging the Gap" program provides an opportunity to explore the relationships between learning and power in international agricultural development partnerships. A USAID-funded partnership between Iowa State University and Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns, this farmer-to-farmer program sent groups of Iowan women farmers to Uganda to teach Ugandan women farmers with the objectives that Ugandans would move from subsistence to commercial farming and that both groups would benefit from the cultural exchange. Data were collected primarily through semi-structured qualitative interviews of 28 Ugandan farmers, 7 Iowan farmers, and several program staff, and were analyzed using a grounded-theory approach. This thesis explores what and how each group of farmers learned from the other, the impacts of learning on power and vice-versa, and makes recommendations to encourage mutual learning in similar programs.

Both Ugandan and Iowan farmers learned through the "Bridging the Gap" program. Learning by members of both groups included ordinary learning, which helped them achieve their preexisting goals, and transformational learning, which shifted their frames of reference and the goals and power relations embedded therein. The experiences of farmers in the program support the argument that power distorts the learning process. The greater power of the Iowan farmers presented cognitive barriers to their learning from the Ugandan farmers, which were not fully addressed through the program design. The power differences were, however, reduced slightly as both groups of farmers learned from each other over time, particularly when it was recognized that the Iowan farmers could and did learn from the Ugandan farmers.

Analysis of the experiences of farmers in the "Bridging the Gap" program suggests several ways to increase learning by American farmer-volunteers. Learning by American farmers can be promoted in such programs through supporting more informal conversations during the exchanges, providing service-learning-inspired reflection activities for both groups of farmers, and facilitating communication between American and host-country farmers between exchanges.