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Farmer study circles are self-governed. The FSC organisers, leaders, and members are trained on principles of democracy, equality, and cooperation.

Evidence of impacts, sustainability, and scalability

Experiences confirm that people working in small groups learn more quickly and reach insights that would have been unavailable to them if they were working alone. Outcomes include increased civic participation and democratic practices, political participation, social change, and self-help activities. In southern Africa, the implementation of FSCs is monitored in terms of productivity and incomes. The most significant results (12)
We Effect. 2015. ‘Internal rural development results assessment 2015’, unpublished report.
 are described below, along with evidence of outcomes and impact from an independent evaluation in Malawi and Zambia (13)
Nissen, J., Chonde, C. and Chipeta, S. 2014. Evaluation of the We Effect study circle concept. Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, Knowledge Centre for Agriculture.

Improvement in incomes and livelihoods
Participants in FSCs showed 20% improved production and productivity, and 50% improved incomes and livelihoods. Through FSCs, participants improved the health and nutrition status of their families. Non-members also benefit from FSCs. For example, information centres built for FSCs also serve as libraries for communities, and some of the income generated from the FSCs is used to support orphans, the elderly, and people affected by HIV/AIDS.

Social change and member empowerment at individual and FSC levels
Participants improve their public speaking skills, and FSCs effectively disseminate information on rights and policy issues and provide participants with a stronger voice in influencing policies or improving rights. Farmer study circles may raise issues and feed these into mainstream organisations for lobbying and advocacy, to influence both the local government agenda and central government policies. Farmer study circles are a vehicle for further change as members transfer their knowledge and democratic behaviour to other systems of community collaboration. They may also offer adult literacy classes, and there are FSCs on HIV/AIDS that provide a public voice for rural women (14)
Oliver, L.P. 1996. Study circles on HIV/AIDS for Africa: Swazi women gain a public voice. Adult Education and Development 47: 317–331.

Gender equality at household and community levels

Women experience empowerment both in their households and at community level. They voice their opinions and concerns in the presence of men. Women also practise this behaviour in their households, where they communicate more freely. With an improved economic situation and literacy levels obtained through participation in FSCs, women may take part in decision-making and control the resources in their houses and communities. 

Realising the power of knowledge for innovation
The methodology promotes the sharing of both indigenous and scientific technical knowledge systems. Participants  in FSCs have been able to innovate using locally available resources. In Malawi, women participants shared ideas on producing compost manure, built a raised goat-house, and constructed a clay stove to reduce the amount of firewood used for cooking. Women FSC participants from the Zambia Honey Council made clay/straw beehives as they could not afford wooden beehives. 

Unintended effects
Farmer study circles were originally intended to be temporary and to dissolve when the group had finished studying the selected topic. The reality, however, is that FSCs stay together for many years and continue studying new topics (15)
Nissen, J., Chonde, C. and Chipeta, S. 2014. Evaluation of the We Effect study circle concept. Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, Knowledge Centre for Agriculture.
. Partner organisations support the permanent structure and see FSCs as important in their organisation at grassroots level. 


Farmer study circles build sustainable capacity in communities, resulting in long-term empowerment and social   transformation. Participants are able to sustain the activities and take the resulting innovations into sustainable actions such as savings and loan groups, small-scale businesses, and market initiatives. Farmer networks and associations have emerged as a follow-up effect, and these units allow small-scale farmers to access more lucrative markets.

Dos and don’ts



Carefully train promoters, organisers, and FSC leaders to encourage equality and democratic processes 

Make FSC organisers and leaders ‘dictators’ 

Promote FSCs for 10–20 participants 

Have groups smaller than 10, which makes an FSC vulnerable and too small to ensure adequate inspiration 

Have groups larger than 20, which makes group processes too complicated 

Promote homogenous groups in terms of wealth, power, education, and gender in communities with strongly unequal power systems 

Promote FSCs with big inequalities in terms of power and voice 

Insist on self-direction/ governance 

Interfere with the FSC’s decisions about topics and activities 

Provide support for monitoring and backstopping 

Promote FSCs where there is inadequate capacity for monitoring and supervision in the support organisation 

Facilitate links to service providers and market actors, and enable FSCs to make their own contacts and demands 

Provide grant support, except for purchase of technical services 

Develop study materials based on requests by FSC participants 

Plan services on behalf of FSCs 

Provide study materials in non-academic, simple, action-oriented form 

Plan and develop materials that have not been requested 

Provide study materials in vernacular languages 

Provide theoretical materials in scientific language