|In recent years, ICRISAT – like most agricultural R&D
institutions – has increased its emphasis on
farmer-participatory research (FPR). Rather than simply
developing new technologies and expecting farmers to adopt
them, researchers now work together with farmers to identify
and test technology options that are practical and relevant to
smallholder conditions. Clearly, FPR works. But there are many
different kinds of FPR, and some work better than others.
Most FPR methods fall under one of three broad categories:
research-led, researcher-managed (RLRM); researcher-led,
farmer-managed (RLFM); and farmer-led, farmer-managed (FLFM).
For example, in RLRM, farmer input is limited to providing
fields and labor for the trials. Researchers make all the
decisions – what experiments to conduct, which fields to use,
when to weed the crop, etc. In contrast, in FLFM, farmers make
all the decisions, including choosing what experiments to
conduct. Researchers play a very limited role.
Which approach is best? A recent ICRISAT study compared the
three approaches in terms of various parameters: adoption of
the new technologies, changes in research/extension practices
(if any) as a result of FPR, and the costs involved in each
approach. Fieldwork was conducted in six case study areas in
Zimbabwe and Malawi, chosen to represent different
agro-ecological zones, population densities, and market
Adoption: Adoption levels, particularly for crop and soil
fertility management technologies, were highest under RLFM.
This is because promoting a new management practice is far
more difficult than, say, promoting a new variety.
Learning-by-doing is the key, and the RLFM approach promotes
Changes in research/extension practice: Extension staff
report that FPR in general (but especially RLFM) has improved
interactions between researchers, extension staff and farmers.
Researchers in both countries have now adopted the Mother-Baby
trial approach (classic RLFM) for on-farm testing, not only
for crop and soil management, but also for new varieties.
Cost comparisons: Various costs were factored in –
background studies, literature review, researcher and
extension staff time, workshops, village meetings, training,
as well as costs of implementing the trials, data analysis,
and dissemination. RLFM is the most expensive, because it
involves substantially more interaction with the community,
training, travel etc. But it provides the greatest impact per
dollar spent, as measured by adoption rates, changes in farmer
knowledge and understanding, changes in research and extension
practices, and the degree of farmer empowerment, ie, farmers'
willingness to try out – even demand – new ideas.
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