Telling the story

Narrative is the most important component of CSAR, and is also what makes this process unique to many others.

– Informal way, free of jargon to begin to describe and understand the system. E.g specifically to answer questions like what is resilience?
It is unimposing and inclusive, using common vocabulary.
This helps avoid an over-framing of the problems…
It helps identify practices that wouldn’t otherwise be thought of as solutions.
The aim is also to break down the power inherent in a facilitator/participant setting. Getting to speak about the unspeakable.

Cooking together 


Gathering around ‘Osh’ in Rushan valley, Tajikistan, we hear stories about how the grains used to make the noodles of this soup change every season depending on climatic conditions.

Food links social and ecological resilience attributes of communities and their food production systems. Cooking together and talking about food awakens memories and ideas, especially in places where traditional agriculture has been practiced for a long time. It touches on people’s identity and history, provides a common vocabulary, is intimate and unimposing and involves those whose voices are often overlooked (e.g. women, the elderly, children). By cooking together, we use food as a lens to create the narrative of a community and identify resilience attributes.

Even for those who don’t cook, food provides entry points to elicit resilience attributes by discussing for example:

Elizabeth describes the resilience of her long-horn cattle

Elizabeth from Uganda describes the resilience of her long-horn cattle

  • Sources of food (e.g. communal gardens, markets, farm, grazing land, foraging)
  • Sources of firewood and water (e.g. availability and accessibility of wood and water)
  • Education of family members on morals and values
  • Role of food in social and cultural events (e.g. weddings, funerals, festivals)
  • Story telling, community history and indigenous knowledge
  • While cooking there is a lot of sharing of knowledge that goes on, teach morals and values. Learn their ways of living.
  • Planning of weddings, events, funerals, festivals people contribute with different materials, special materials
  • What kind of food the bulls and cows feed on, some people have it, some people need to buy it from somewhere?
  • Firemaster
  • Tradition and culture (songs, poetry and dance) in the way we cook

You can read more about how to use food as a method here.

Michael from Zimambwe explains how cooking can be used as a narrative to assess resilience.

Michael from Zimambwe explains how cooking can be used as a narrative to assess resilience.

Ecocultural Mapping

Participatory maps often represent a socially or culturally distinct understanding of landscape and include information that is excluded from mainstream maps, which usually represent the views and/ or scientific traditions and methods of dominant sectors of society. Participatory maps can pose alternatives to the languages and images of the existing power structures and become a medium of empowerment by allowing local communities to represent themselves spatially. In the sketch maps, for example, community members can produce a map of the past and to reflect on what they remembered about the landscape and about their relation to it, with special reference to issues relating to agricultural biodiversity. The elders take the stage at this point, as they are the ones with longer memories of the past. After the past was visualized, the participants construct a map of the present. They then have a longer discussion comparing the past and the present. They can discuss cultural, social, ecological and economic changes and can assess the trends. Following this, the participants can develop a map of the future in two scenarios. Often two alternative futures emerge: the future of business as usual, and the preferred future!

Maps are not an end by themselves. They are a medium of conversation. They are powerful because they help the community to externalize their problem and have a discussion instead of facing each other in a community dialogue session.

An example of eco-cultural mapping (c) Gaia Foundation

An example of eco-cultural mapping (c) Gaia Foundation

Maps usually depict the spatial relationship of people with nature. It is of course possible to represent this relationship as dynamic and changing on the maps through arrows connecting events. But it is much more explicit and visual if this dynamic, temporal relationship is represented in a circular way showing the changing patterns of practice according to the seasons. This way of doing temporal change is called eco-cultural calendar. Eco-cultural calendars are developed in many ways. One way of doing this is to divide the circles according to the number of seasons, and then create concentric rings. The inner most circle can represent the season and then other circles expand to include people’s livelihood, cultural expression, expressions of nature and climate, one after the other.

Read more about the process at the Gaia Foundation 

Community Diversity Mapping

A helpful tool to start up “telling the story” is the community resource (diversity) map. The participants are asked to draw the community/village map locating   farms, forests, rivers and all other resources the community has. Once the map is completed, the discussion is directed towards providing the participants collective appreciation of their resource endowments. At the same time, global, national and even local developments, events, calamities, etc. and how these have affected the community landscape (or particular elements in it), are noted by the facilitator during the processing of the activity e.g., improvements in infrastructure that have facilitated agricultural marketing, rivers that were there before but have dried up, forests that have now been denuded, river siltation, introduction of rice hybrids, etc. etc.

SEARICE uses Diversity maps to...

SEARICE uses Diversity maps to assess resilience of local communities to shock and change.

A diversity listing of crops grown, wild food species in the forests, aquatic organisms, animal species and breeds may be used to supplement the community resource map. Or an adaptation at the individual farm or farmer level, called the farm diversity map may be done if time is not a constraint.



Essence Questions

Simple questions can either be used as a tool in itself or to guide discussions while cooking together or creating eco maps or drawings:

  • What makes our community strong and healthy?
  • What makes us who we are? (that if we lost this we could lose our idenity?) keystone culture point. E.g. ankholi cow.
  • What do we want our community to look like in the future? (in one year, in 5 years).
  • What do we value that we want to keep?
  • What do we want to change/address?
  • Looking at the strengths we identified how can we address our current challenges?
  • If you have all these strengths, what is missing? What is stopping change? Why are you not acting? What are the barriers to change?