Should we leave extension to the farmers?

Photo caption: Farmer training in Bulukumba, South Sulawesi.  Photo by Enggar Paramita/ICRAF

Farmer training in Bulukumba, South Sulawesi.
Photo by Enggar Paramita/ICRAF

Farmer to farmer communication might be the most effective way to ensure widespread adoption of agroforestry.

“Often farmers don’t have access to research being disseminated by extension services, so they learn from other successful farmers,” explained Endri Martini of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) during a session at a session on ‘Bridging Science and Development’ at World Congress on Agroforestry.

When Martini and colleagues asked farmers in Sulawesi, Indonesia what was their most effective source of information on agriculture, they rated other farmers ahead of extension agents.

People from the villages they studied in South Sulawesi and Southeast Sulawesi got roughly half their information about agriculture, health and education from inside the village (such as through village leaders, farmer groups, friends and family) and half from outside the village (e.g. media, government agencies, projects and people from other villages).

Men tended to get more information from outside the village than women because men have more opportunities to visit other areas.

Farmers said they adopted the top 3 favoured agroforestry innovations (planting new species in agroforestry systems, vegetative propagation and gaining access to improved planting material) equally from farmers or farmer groups and agroforestry projects. Only 4 percent said they had adopted these through extension agents.

Recognizing the important role of farmer to farmer communication, the World Agroforestry Centre has begun running farmer field schools as part of its work in Sulawesi. They have identified lead farmers who can disseminate innovation and organized cross-visits between successful and struggling farmers.

“Farmer to farmer communication is particularly crucial in areas that extension agents rarely visit, where language is a barrier and where there is poor infrastructure,” says Martini.

Her presentation struck a chord with participants at a session that included a range of other presentations addressing why it is that science often does not have the envisaged impact on development.

Christian Borgemeister suggested there are 3 factors needed for science to trigger development: transdisciplinary research, capacity development and symmetrical partnerships.

Tatiana Deane de Abreu Sá who works on agroforestry systems in the Brazilian Amazon also emphasized the need for many disciplines to be involved, in addition to effective collaborations with farmers.

In scaling-up Evergreen Agriculture in Africa, GIZ and ICRAF rely on partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders to reduce barriers and spread the science to farmers. In Ethiopia, greasing the wheels for up-scaling the use of Faidherbia albida (a fertilizer tree) from 1 to 2 million farms will require a “multistakeholder and multidisciplinary approach,” say Joerg Lohmann and Alice Muller.

So, should the dissemination of agroforestry innovation be left to farmers?

Martini believes that improving communication between farmers, agroforestry research agencies and local governments holds the key to providing the information which is needed to extend agroforestry across Sulawesi and indeed Indonesia.

As Borgemeister pointed out, “We need more solution-oriented research.”  Listening to farmers and their needs is crucial. Innovation doesn’t always start with science.

By Kate Langford

Further reading

Abstract of Endri Martini’s presentation

Kiptot E, Franzel S (2013). Voluntarism as an investment in human, social and financial capital: evidence from a farmer-to-farmer extension program in Kenya. Agriculture and Human Values.

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