Terra Bite 2: The Rule of CLOSE

Achieving Attitude Change: the Precursor to Behavior Change



A note of caution: a completed Terra Firma Permagarden may look difficult and laborious to the casual observer. This is a potential drawback, one which can tie you up in knots trying to figure out what went wrong in terms of adoption. Something which appears to be difficult, but actually isn't, is a danger; a danger which any project must be cautious about. Remember that we never know who is watching! If it looks too hard, despite the promise of great yields and environmental resilience, many may stay away, saying, “It looks too difficult”. These are the majority; the ‘late followers’. They need to see actual results. We want to eventually reach them, but we do not start with them. We must first do the action and see who comes to us and then does it on their own. These are the crucial ‘early adopters’ who will attract the ‘early followers’. Both of these types of people are the ones who will do the action without needing to actually see the reason why. This can be very tricky. How do we find these willing few? We start small and easy and take note of those who come to find us, asking questions, expressing interest and eagerness to help. These will be our early adopters and early followers. Since they are the ones who will encourage all to eventually follow, even though they are few, they are the ones we must focus on at first. We never force anyone to do this work; we merely make sure that each and every action follows the Rule of CLOSE so that they can say, from the start, “Yes, I can do that.”


Building a house takes time, planning and skill; just as a garden does. However, once created, easy maintenance is all that is required. Knowing that our ‘target audience’ tends to fall in the ‘highly-vulnerable’ category, we must take small, measured steps to allow wide-spread adoption. As change agents, we are required to think carefully throughout the entire process to make sure each step is both socially acceptable and easily replicable. If our actions are not ‘doable’, don’t start until they are.


Our goal is to achieve lasting nutrition security and real behavior change. To achieve this, slow and steady psychological attitude change is a must. As we set forth on the tasks needed to achieve the measurable goals of food and income security, we must assure that everyone can do the same on their own. Therefore, EACH task MUST follow this simple rule. By following it, any activity we are promoting (not just gardens, they are but a good example) will be viewed as ‘doable’, especially by the vulnerable, risk- averse, families. If even the most marginalized individual can do it on the worst piece of land around, then it can be passed from neighbor to neighbor well after our hands-on training sessions have concluded.

To be successful, our teaching must be hands-on, participatory, organic and well within the realities of the local landscape. We must choose the ‘worst’ soil and the oldest tool; not the best of each. In this way, local gardeners and farmers can determine what is truly feasible for them to continue on their own. All of these issues can be summarized by one word, CLOSE, where each letter holds multiple meanings. However, the key amongst them tell us that ALL of our actions, learning moments and materials, must be Close, Local, Organic, Small and Easy. If you miss even one, any one, our mother/farmer/student will say, “No. I can’t do it”. Good ideas fail all the time; usually for one of the reasons expressed by the opposite words to CLOSE. If we follow this rule we will be preparing for success, not designing for failure.


C. Close: (Opposite = Far). This refers to the point of daily control. It can be the home, farm, office, clinic or field station. But it must be physically close to where our target individuals go every day. If it is far away, key management steps will be missed and results will suffer. The closer to the locus of control; the better. A mother, spending most of her time around the home, will not be able to continue proper management of a garden that is far away. It must be CLOSE.


L. Local: (Opposite = Imported). This refers to accessibility of everything we use, not just availability. If it’s not locally accessible, don’t use it!. For example, compound fertilizer may be available in the shops but if your target audience doesn’t have money to buy it, this availability is irrelevant. This applies to tools, plants, seeds, as well as sources of soil fertility and soil building. If something must be imported it will be an overwhelming barrier to adoption by others. Therefore, make sure everything used is LOCAL.


O. Organic: (Opposite = Synthetic/Static). This refers to all materials as well as the thought processes and decision making that goes into the action. Garden amendments must be non-synthetic to keep costs and dangers to public and environmental health low. And, just as decision-making is fluid, these gardens breath, evolve, adapt and remain flexible like other organic organisms. In this way it fits within the particular issues posed by the local people and landscape challenges in terms of slope, sun, moisture and soil. This is an Opportunity. It is an opportunity for empowerment, an opportunity for economic and environmental resilience. But it is not a guarantee. However, as you explore the connection between effort and reward, you will have an opportunity to advance. If you chooseto do so! The key here is that we promote an organic process that uses only locally accessible, organic materials to achieve this opportunity for livelihood growth and resilience.


S. Small: (Opposite = Large). For people who lack space, all actions must be seen as small in order to be doable by all. This applies directly to the initial size of the garden. It can expand, but it should never be large at first. We take small steps along this long journey. The garden will be expanded later if there is interest, success, and if space allows. In the end, all will see that it is far better to manage a small space very well than a large space poorly. Since the initial creation phase can appear to be labor-intensive, (double digging is by definition ‘digging twice’) one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to make a large garden that is just too big. It will simply appear to be TOO hard. But while these gardens may be small, the yield is comparatively high per unit area. Yield increases of 400% per unit area have been repeatedly attained by the end of the second growing season.


E. Easy: (Opposite = Difficult). It has been said that “the hardest thing we have to do is to make it look easy”. If done incorrectly, double digging will appear to be hard work. It is, but for just a short time. Making the berms appears time consuming, they are. But the benefit in terms of water saving is enormous; you just won’t see it for several months into the dry season when the soil in your beds is still moist. Therefore, as the work is occasionally hard, we must remember that easy refers to the fact that the concepts are easy to see, do, teach and learn. The creation phase can be hard work, but the maintenance of that work is easy.

While Behavior change can happen; it will only occur once positive attitude change is achieved. By following this Rule you will hear people say “Yes I can”, rather than “No I can’t”. That is attitude, not behavior. It is then through individual, supportive follow-up that these repeated action steps may eventually lead to real behavior change. The small, doable Terra Firma actions that go into the creation of a family level Permagarden, will lead to real change but only IF, after each step, we ask the learners, “was this action CLOSE?” If people can say yes, then your continuing monitoring and evaluation will have a much higher likelihood of yielding successful adoption at the household level. Behavior change is hard. Yes. It is however impossible if we don’t first achieve positive attitude change.


By now you have seen what the first letters of the opposite words spell: FISSLD. If our actions include even one of these, our target audience will say “I can’t do it”. And if our actions include ALL of them, then our work has become just another example of a good idea that fizzled. This is why we say, “If our actions aren’t CLOSE, we don’t even start. Continuing without changing our actions is not only wrong.... it is the opposite of right.”


Peter Jensen TerraFirma.Jensen@gmail.com Agroecology and Permagarden Training Specialist


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