Establishing learning alliances between extension organisations: Key learnings from Laos.

Anne Stelling, Joanne Millar, Phonepaseuth Phengsavanh, Werner Stur

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Learning alliances are partnerships established between organisations such as research institutes, government agencies, private enterprise and Non Government Organisations (NGOs) to identify, share and develop proven agricultural practices with farmers. Learning alliances are based on innovation systems theory and have been developed by organisations working with rural farming families in developing countries. These partnerships can play a key role in extension by sharing information, knowledge and experience of those working with farmers. This paper describes the development and evaluation of a learning alliance in northern Laos aimed at spreading the use of legumes as supplementary pig feed by poor upland households. In 2008, two years after the creation of this alliance, we conducted research to evaluate the effectiveness of the learning alliance approach as an extension tool for improving livestock production and rural livelihoods. Aqualitative approach was used, in which semi-structured interviews were conducted with seventeen alliance participants across all of the organisations involved, at a range of staffing levels. The outcomes of the learning alliance included a dramatic increase in the number of farming households using the legume technology. Major benefits articulated by alliance partners were the productive and labour saving aspects of the technology, the provision of supporting materials, the extension methodology used and the creation of a strong network.The qualities of government and NGOs complemented each other and highlighted the value of working together. Despite different institutional cultures and operational procedures, alliance members worked to overcome constraints by building trust among partners. The three key learnings from this study were that learning alliances can: 1) build the capacity of extension staff from multiple projects to use technologies with farmers; 2) increase and spread the impact of technologiesto more farmers in remote areas; and form a strong, lasting and supportive network among extension staff. Examination of the elements underpinning the success of this learning alliance reveals a number of factors requiring attention if these successes are to be replicated in other extension situations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-52
Number of pages10
JournalExtension Farming Systems Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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