Help farmers winnow tools and partners
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Temudo, Marina Padrao. 1998. Help farmers winnow tools and partners. Spore 77. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48210
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore77.pdf
Marina Padrão Temudo is a junior researcher at the Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical (IICT)/ Centro de Estudos de Produção e Tecnologia Agricolas (CEPTA) in Lisbon, Portugal.Winnowing is the process by which farmers separate the...
Marina Padrão Temudo is a junior researcher at the Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical (IICT)/ Centro de Estudos de Produção e Tecnologia Agricolas (CEPTA) in Lisbon, Portugal. Winnowing is the process by which farmers separate the grain from the chaff, and consequently divide the useful and desirable from the useless and undesirable. The same approach needs to be used by small farmers when dealing with the innovations researchers create for them ? they winnow the package by sifting out the useful elements. Many researchers and extension agents still believe that technologies developed in laboratories and research stations are always applicable to the circumstances of resource-poor farmers. This view is held despite all the evidence against it, compiled by such authors as Robert Chambers, John Farrington, Paul Richards, Maria Salas, Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan and Jan van der Ploeg. During three years work in the south of Guinea-Bissau, studying knowledge and institutional interfaces in subsistence agriculture, I have encountered several situations in which farmers felt obliged to accept innovations presented by government officials and NGO workers, because of their 'all or nothing' approach, despite the participatory rhetoric of the projects. In one project, a local NGO tried to disseminate improved varieties of mango, in order to reduce slash-and-burn rice cultivation while generating new sources of income. The project insisted that deforestation should be thorough, and forbade inter-cropping with other fruit trees, under threat of restricting access to credit and improved varieties. Extension agents wanted to inter-crop mango with cassava, beans and peanuts, in order to reduce soil erosion. However, beans and peanuts only cover the soil during the rainy seasons, and cassava does not provide significant protection against erosion. During the dry season, project technicians wanted the farmers to water the young mango trees. Local wisdom knows best Traditionally, however, farmers inter-crop several species of fruit trees, at a high density, with the mixture depending on soil type, and their access to new plants and varieties. For example, bananas are used often as an 'insurance' crop during the first year of a perennial tree orchard. Another advantage is that they shade young trees, reducing the need for watering. Inter-cropping is also a traditional risk-avoidance strategy against pests, and criss-cross planting helps to prevent soil erosion during the rainy season. The interface between peasants and extension agents is thus sometimes uneven. It is not so much that misunderstandings and ignorance lead to open conflict, but that they create friction and frustration. Another dimension of this issue of 'who knows best what we need' is in education. Although it is the official language of Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese is only spoken by a minority of the urban population. There are more than thirty ethnic groups each with their own languages, and even the Creole language, much used during the war of liberation and after independence, is not spoken by the entire population. Some integrated development projects have introduced an innovation by teaching ethnic languages (thus reaching women, who seldom master Creole well) and using the Portuguese alphabet. It was surprising, to say the least, to see a local NGO respond to local community demands and launch an educational programme in the south of the country, using Creole and the failed alphabet. The local people wanted to be taught with the Portuguese alphabet instead. Using their own resources, they hired a primary school teacher to provide them with the education they wanted. Participation is a chameleon Participation cannot be parachuted onto a project, as if from a plane loaded with good intentions. Participation is situation-specific. Like a chameleon, it has multiple 'faces' and colours, depending on the actor, the player and the institution using it, and on whether it is in the rhetoric of speeches and project reports and proposals, or it is embedded in development practice. Consequently, I argue that participatory research and the development of new technologies with farmers implies more than simple knowledge of a set of techniques but that it requires a change in institutional and individual attitudes. It also requires specific skills in cross-cultural communication and a will to succeed in this area. In any project intervention, it is development agents and institutions who are seen as the first carriers of potential innovation. That being so, I uphold that the farmers should be given the power, the right, and the tools to winnow those with whom they want to work. This represents a challenge to the research community, because it means changing the traditional ways of rewarding professionals, and of funding research and development institutions. Before the winnowing, let's pay attention to the harvest!