A space full of ideas across borders and time zones – the PAFO NFO online exchange platform

by Julian Friesinger

Learning is certainly one of the most exciting processes of all. Exchanging experiences is an exciting way to learn from one another. Virtual exchanges in particular are simple and save time and money. July witnessed the launch of the NFO exchange platform with the Pan-African Farmers' Federation (PAFO). It brings together five regional and 73 national farmers' associations for exchanges with one goal - to learn from one another and thereby strengthen the system of organised agriculture as a whole.
Core and Moderation Team participants in discussion at the moderation training in Kigali
Core and Moderation Team participants in discussion at the moderation training in Kigali

In early July, there was considerable excitement at the launch event for the PAFO National Farmers’ Organisation (NFO) exchange platform. Would there be enough participants? Would the Internet connection be stable? Would the translation work? The term “Pan-African” already gives an indication that the platform will be bringing together participants from all over Africa. Indeed, numerous participants attend; around 40 participants from Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Mali, South Africa, Kenya, Eswatini and Tanzania – in short, from a whole variety of countries in Africa – enter the virtual Zoom room for the launch event of the PAFO NFO exchange platform. The moderator waits for a few more participants to join. Several more appear, from Chad, the Republic of Congo and Togo. Now there are roughly 50 participants in the Zoom room. Meanwhile, the moderator, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, opens the first session of the PAFO NFO exchange platform and warmly welcomes all those present.

The first session of the exchange platform revolves around the topic of representing associations’ interests. What is “interest representation”? How do you successfully represent interests? Which methods and tools help to represent interests in the political realm? What example of success exist and what can be learned from these? Such relevant questions are certainly one reason why the event resonates so much with participants.

The two-and-a-half-hour session is filled with vivid examples from Mali and Togo and rich discussion. The technology is working, the participants’ Internet connection remains stable. The first of a total of 15 sessions (by early 2024) turns out to be a success. And there is considerable joy and relief among all participating organisers and moderators.

Core and Moderation Team members at the launch event feedback session
Core and Moderation Team members at the launch event feedback session

What is the goal of the exchange platform? The overarching goal of the exchange is to create an online space for sharing experiences in which members of farmers’ associations from all over Africa who are members of PAFO can exchange ideas and learn from one another about the most important topics concerning associations and umbrella cooperatives. The idea behind the platform is that the skills and expertise exist in the various associations, but there are hardly any opportunities to share this knowledge. The platform wants to change all that Through knowledge and expertise being shared – by farmers’ organisations, with farmers’ organisations and for farmers’ organisations.

PAFO, the Pan-African Farmers’ Federation, is supported by the five African regional associations – The Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), East African Farmers Federation (EAFF), Réseau des Organisations Paysannes et des Producteurs Agricoles de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (ROPPA), Union Maghrébine et Nord-Africaine des Agriculteurs (UMNAGRI), Plateforme régionale des organisations paysannes d’Afrique centrale (PROPAC). Through these five regional associations, PAFO can reach 73 national umbrella organisations as members of the regional organisations. In total, PAFO thereby reaches 80 million farmers.

The central concern of the platform is therefore to engage volunteers as well as employees of the numerous farmers’ associations from the different African countries in conversation, to enable exchange and to learn from one another. What is working particularly well in the western or central African regions? What practices could associations in southern and eastern Africa adopt here? And vice-versa: what can western African associations learn from their colleagues in southern and northern Africa?

The platform is mainly supported by the Core and Moderation Team of 15 highly committed members. These 15 experienced men and women prepare the content of the sessions and also moderate them. They stem all from PAFO’s member organisations and the RFOs and were selected in conjunction with the AHA and AgrarKontakte International (AKI), meaning that they are well-acquainted with the main issues affecting various farmers’ associations. The 15 members of the Core and Moderation Team speak French as well as English. Six of the 15 members are women. And half of the 15 members are under 40 years old. All 15 members were in Kigali in early May for a training course on moderation. In three days, our trainer Francis Offermann succinctly conveyed important topics in moderation: attitude, moderation techniques, group dynamics and dealing with difficult situations.

The Pan-African Farmers’ Organisation (PAFO), together with the AHA and AgrarKontakte International (AKI), launched the NFO exchange platform in July. The AHA is working closely with PAFO and AgrarKontakte International. The AHA is supporting PAFO in project management and providing intensive accompaniment for the platform, especially at the outset. AKI is taking care of the technology used for the platform.

A total of 15 sessions are being organised from July 2023 to early February 2024. After a well-deserved summer break in August, the topic in September will be climate change. Sessions on managing farmers’ associations, funding issues and communication will follow through to February 2024.

Without the passion, motivation and considerable interaction with one another in the Core and Moderation Team, the platform and the exchange sessions would not be possible. The platform also works so well because a skilled project manager at PAFO in Kigali is pulling all the strings, while, of course, ensuring that the platform is also aligned with the interests of the farmers’ associations, so that the exchange is also relevant and fruitful.

The Author

Julian Friesinger

Programme Manager international