Farmer communication with other farmers

In Europe and the USA and especially in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, there are many, many more farmers than extensionists, and many more extension agents than scientists. With these proportions, how can participa-

Figure 3.6 Relative time commitments of farmers and scientists in different, but complementary, learning approaches for improved weed management. (After Van Huis & Meerman, 1997.)

tory learning for action, which proposes that scientists work directly with farmer groups, contribute to improved decision-making in weed management among millions of farm households.?

The possibility for widespread impact of participatory learning for action resides in a three-stage process that begins in pilot areas and expands outward through organized extension programs and informal farmer and rural household communication networks.

The first stage, described in the three previous sections, focuses on creating a nucleus of methods, results, and experienced individuals in pilot groups. This stage may appear costly in time, although Nelson (1994) found that standard demonstration plots were only slightly lower cost than farmer experimentation groups. The slightly greater cost pays off because the experienced

Table 3.3. Rewards to farmers, extensionists, and scientistsfor working together

Rewards to farmers

• new perspectives through exchange with other farmers and with scientists and extensionists

• structured analysis of information and procedures for decision-making; a sounding board for new approaches

• source of ideas for short-term problem solving

• better understanding of how to manage weeds

Rewards to extension

• better understanding of how farmers observe and make decisions as basis for better design of extension programs

• in-depth understanding of on-farm conditions, including weed problems; assessment of current technologies for more effective feedback to researchers

• farmers as partners in extension programs rather than as recipients of technology transfer

• pilot fields and farms for visits from other farmer groups

Rewards to scientists

• new perspectives on farmer observation and decisionmaking criteria for weed management to improve research strategies

• intellectual challenge of understanding spatial and temporal weed variability at field and landscape levels

• definition of new research directions integrated with other disciplines

• practical cases and examples for teaching and training presentations

• access to data from many fields and farms individuals and the methods for monitoring weeds, analyzing decisionmaking, and linking group meetings with individual actions form critical elements for the multiplication of learning.

In the second stage, extensionists promote new groups, relying on established farmer groups. Although scientists are not present, the principles of participatory learning continue: farmer experimentation, field observation, group analysis of plans and decisions, and discussion of new weed management methods. In addition, extensionists strengthen farmer-to-farmer exchanges among pilot groups and new groups with surrounding farmers. Other household members and diverse non-farm sectors of rural communities may also be incorporated into these exchanges. Much needs to be learned about how ideas spread in rural social networks; insights on this subject would contribute to more effective facilitation of farmer-to-farmer exchanges (Box, 1989; Engel, 1997; Selener, Chenier & Zelaya, 1997).

The configuration of the third phase represents a wider spread of the participatory learning approach in informal rural communication networks and a potential for partnerships between farmer networks and formal research organizations. For example, in the Netherlands, horticultural study groups begun by growers to compensate weak research programs now make up a national federation that is developing links with government research programs (Oerlemans, Proost & Rauwhorst, 1997). In Colombia, farmer experi mentation groups have formed their own umbrella organization to find funding and provide technical advice (Ashby et al., 1999). What are the essential components for a vitalized co-learning network that encompasses research, public and private extension, and formal and informal farmer to farmer communication.? The answer will depend on the experiences generated in such diverse areas as California, Iowa, Holland, Peru, Cuba, Vietnam, Philippines, Senegal, and many other countries (Thrupp, 1996; Veldhuizen et al., 1997).

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