Something else, some other way
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CTA. 1996. Something else, some other way. Spore 65. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47463
Jean-Pascal Pichot, an agricultural scientist, was the Scientific Director of IRAT (Institut de recherche en agronomic tropical -Tropical Agronomy Research Institute) and then Director of the former department of agrarian systems (DSA) at the Centre...
Jean-Pascal Pichot, an agricultural scientist, was the Scientific Director of IRAT (Institut de recherche en agronomic tropical - Tropical Agronomy Research Institute) and then Director of the former department of agrarian systems (DSA) at the Centre de Coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le developpement (CIRAD). He is now responsible for coordinating ClRAD's scientific involvement with international research consortia which have been formed for tropical wet zones. A mass of data has been collected over the past 50 years as a result of research into tropical agronomy, particularly in terms of technical methods and the creation of new varieties. Given the relatively few developments, apart from those made in some industrial fields, which have ensued as a result of this new information, particularly in Africa, the scientific community will have to take a quite different approach and invest in new fields of research. From 1960 to 1990 agronomic research for development purposes has been based on two implicit hypotheses: one, that people in rural areas would buy seed spontaneously and obtain improved plant material for themselves; and two, that they would have easy access to inputs, fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, whose use is linked to the use of improved varieties. In some countries these hypotheses have proved to be valid, in some areas of production. For instance in Asia, the politics of the green revolution which put in place finance and supply systems enabled rice growers to adopt more intensive technical methods. On the other hand, in Africa, apart from commercial crops such as cotton, seed distribution remains almost non-existent and people in rural areas generally have to make a 100 km journey with a donkey and cart to find an outlet where they can buy 50 kg of fertilizer. As the two basic hypotheses of putting research into practice have not been borne out in Africa, ome researchers are now putting forward alternatives. The idea of 'zero fertilizer' is emerging, together with biological environment fertility management systems, setaside, and the use of soil-cover plants, green fertilizers and manure. There have been many tests on the effectiveness of manure, both the amount to be used and its mineralization in the ground. That is all well and good, but what makes these options any more relevant than the previous ones? Nothing would lead us to think that the people in the rural areas of Bamileke in the Côte d'lvoire or the suburbs of Libreville, for example, are going to adopt these new practices without thinking about them first. And even if the men are convinced, their wives and children may no longer put up with making the three kilometre journey carrying gourds full of manure on their heads: why would anyone prepare manure without first having a cart to transport it? The original issue was of fertility management but the problem which emerges is the mechanization of transport. we are therefore faced with issues of credit and organization for people in rural areas who need to buy a cart (maybe jointly) and who also need to have draught animals to pull it. These are often issues of small-scale mechanization, husbandry and tools: sometimes people in these rural areas do not even have spades or forks. Perhaps the time has come to think about how to make a system of credit and a system of distribution accessible to people in rural areas so that they can use fertilizer. Or why not consider the possibilities of organizing fertilizer banks at village level, as a completely separate research topic? And, if we are talking about managing the fertility of the environment and sustainability we will have to consider land ownership rights, and the legal status of the land, the tree or water resources. All this should lead us to start to do research in areas still considered foreign to agronomic research. This change is not peripheral; it represents a fundamental change in approach. If I want to distribute new plant material, the question (and therefore the reply) will be very different if I start with the premise that, perhaps, people in the rural areas will not spontaneously buy my seed. The entire research issue is different. Taking this quite different approach altogether means widening the field of research to go more towards rural development and particularly to take more account of economic, organizational and social factors. This fundamental change in approach is already underway. It is now a widely held belief that research can only be carried out with the participation of the people involved and systems of research in the South are becoming more complex and developed. Over and above the institutions which have long had a kind of monopoly, both in the North and South, research for development purposes is attracting new partners: universities, agricultural colleges and agri-food technology institutes. The appearance of regional consultation bodies (CORAF, SACCAR and ASARECA in Africa, for instance) means these ideas can be promoted. The methodology behind eco-regional approaches, adopted by the international community for the Humid Forest and Moist Savanna consortia for example, will allow light to be shed on the workings of coherent zones, in all their diversity, in terms of their ecological, economic, organizational, political and social aspects. It cannot be taken for granted that current research bodies, both in the South and among the CGIAR centres or the advanced institutions in the North, are ready to lead this revolution. For example, there is often no geographer when we need to implement complex geographic information systems and different policies must be defined, for recruiting, training and equipping. Given the changes happening today it is quite possible that certain fields, to which agronomic research has dedicated substantial resources in the past, will find it more difficult in the future to raise finances, or even to keep those they have. Taking a quite different approach altogether also means raising multidisciplined teams of agronomists, economists, sociologists, specialists in technology or animal and plant pathology to work closely together, on a common research subject. It is a challenge: people will have to come to recognize, that each have complementary skills to construct a joint representation of the reality on which they are working. This reality is life and this exciting challenge is hope. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CTA