Social science research in developing countries
The objective of this presentation is to show the direction of social science research in developing countries
based on the experiences and lessons of social science research which were obtained from mainly specific
comprehensive research projects, namely “JIRCAS Mekong Delta Project” (Mekong Delta Project) in Vietnam and
partly “JIRCAS Rainfed Agriculture Project”(Rainfed Project) in Laos. The reason why I took up social science
research within these comprehensive research projects is as follows: Social science research is required to take a
more solution-oriented practical approach in order to contribute to development. This requirement is true in cases
of research in Japan and in cases of research in developing countries as well. And, I think comprehensive projects
where social science and natural science work together have the synergetic possibilities to meet this requirement.
In this presentation, I would like to mention several cases including failure cases which led to important lessons.
In the Mekong Delta Project, based on problems identifi cation, we developed component technologies such as a
seeding technogy for rice farming, a rice straw compost technology, a biogas digester technology, and fi sh density
technology in diversified farming. After the development of these technologies, we conducted farm economic
evaluation of these technologies and clarifi ed the ideal optimum size relationship between each component such as
rice, pig, fruits, and fi sh components.
The social scientists played an important role in project management in the Mekong Delta.The main
activities of research and project management of social scientists were as follows;
(1) We identifi ed and fi xed the common research site. Then, we formed an inter-diciplinary team. After developing
and improving technologies in that research site, economic evaluation was conducted. As a result, we proved
the possibility of the farmers’ adoption of the abovementioned technologies.
(2) In the Mekong Delta Project, we were able to conduct substantial collaborative research by allowing the
Vietnamese researchers to have their own research topics.
(3) We adopted the farming systems approach which consisted of 4 stages such as diagnosis, design, test, and
evaluation/extension. We can say that this approach is solution-oriented approach. However, so far in Japan,
there are few research projects which have adopted this approach. In this approach, social scientists conducted
the diagnosis, design, and evaluation.
There are several lessons in social science research within the farming systems approach. First, we should
recognize the signifi cance of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and its limitation as well, and then we should
fi nd out the best way of empowement of local farmers.
In the research site in Laos, PRA helped us to establish good relationship with the farmers. In Vietnam, we
initially conducted Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) at the beginning.We realized later that we should have conducted
PRA at the beginning of the project in Vietnam. It took two days to complete the PRA where basic tools such as
mapping, historical calendar, seasonal calendar, and cause-effect diagram were introduced. There were many poor
farmers and some of these farmers were illiterate. So, the Lao researchers and district offi cers wrote down these
farmers’ opinions one by one. On the other hand, in Vietnam during the project, we conducted PRA. We divided
the respondent farmers into three groups such as rich, middle and poor farmers, and we conducted the PRA
differently. The most inactive discussions in the case of PRA were those conducted with the poor farmers. From
these experiences, I think various kinds of PRA suitable for various economic and educational levels of farmers
are required. Especially for poor farmers, a more simplifi ed PRA should be developed and practiced. Moreover,
PRA is said to be a tool for the empowerment of farmers. However, the empowerment process is still not clear.
Therefore, we should make clear the process of empowerment. Of course, there is no single theory for that. I think
many case studies are required. Then, reseachers should think out what to do for farmers according to the different
stages of the entire empowerment process.
Secondly, in developing countries, the problem is sometimes lack of information. Therefore, diagnosis and
design are very important stages which we should focus on and which required considerable time. And, we should
be careful about the relationship with farmers. One of the main features of the project consisted of comparison and analyses of the results of technologies evaluation for technology selection. The objective is to provide basic
information for reaching concensus between the farmers and the researchers in selecting the technologies for
testing. In the evaluation by researchers, AHP-method was applied with consideration of effects, possibility,
easiness of practice, initial capital investment, and research cost. In the evaluation by farmers, simple scoring
method was applied. Actually, we felt uneasy before fi nally selecting the technologies for testing due to the time
pressure that we had to speed up our project. However, we spent enough time for diagnosis and design. Due to this
careful diagnosis and design, we were able to develop practial technologies such as a seeding technogy for rice
farming, a rice straw compost technology, a biogas digester technology, and fi sh density technology in diversifi ed
farming. This also shows that farming systems approach is very effective and practical approach for development.
Based on these experiences, I can say that diagnosis and design should be fully placed or included in the
project. Moreover, the equal relationship between farmers and researchers is important. Researchers and farmers
should learn from each other and should learn together throughout the entire process of a research project.
Thirdly, we should appreciate the farmers’ own capacity. From this point of view, we had better more closely
monitor and evaluate farmers’ activies. We understood that farmers tried to adapt to the environmental conditions
by making various efforts and that farmers have their own capacity to improve technologies and to disseminate
technologies successfully by themselves. For example, the farmers tried to make various efforts to prolong the life
of the biogas digester in our research site. And, farmers improved a seeding tecgnology. Originally, the farmers
practiced broadcasting with higher seed density. Through this project, some farmers adopted the row seeding
technology. In the case of row seeding, seed density is at its lowest. But, when farmers faced the golden snail
problem, they changed from row seeding to broadcasting with lower seed density (higher seed density than that of
row seeding, but lower seed density than that of original broadcasting) as a result of risk consideration in relation
to the threat posed by the golden snail.
From other villages which were not part of our research site, some farmers organized on-site trips to conduct
observations of row seeding trials in our project site. Then, they decided to disseminate this technology to other
farmers inside their villages. In fact, some village leaders bought several row seeding machines to encourage the
farmers to use them in cooperation. We might be able to say that these cases are the cases of advanced farmers
and an advanced area. Then, social scientists should make a case study on the process of improvement and
dissemination of technology as part of the ongoing process of empowerment. This kind of case study will lead to
useful suggestions to other farmers and other areas for their empowerment.
Fourth, we should recognize the significance of the research leading to the useful suggestions for the
improvement of policy and systems. It is very difficult for poor farmers to adopt diversified farming because
initial capital investment is necessary. This was clarifi ed by the workshop before and after the project. In order to
solve these problems, not only technological development but also solutions to socioeconomic problems such as
rural fi nancial diffi culties should be addressed. We should have deepened this kind of research instead of merely
identifying the problems, so that it could have led to important suggestions for policymakers. It has been said that
farming systems approach has no strong linkage with policy. This seems to be a weak point of the farming systems
So far, this kind of researches have been mostly done independently, but there are advantages in conducting
this kind of research inside a farming system research project. One advantage is that we can narrow our focus on a
particular socioeconomic issue based on the diagnosis of the whole farming systems in the research site. Another
advantage is that we have capacity to connect socioeconomic issues with technology issues.
In our reseach site in Laos under the Rainfed Project, food shortage is a very serious problem. In fact,
farmers there borrow rice from neighbor farmers. And, livestock is very important component for their farming.
There is a “cattle bank” which is helpful for especially poor farmers lacking the initial capital. There are many
failure cases in the projects which cope with these kind of problems in Laos. Therefore, social scientists should
analyze the causes of the failures and based on this analysis, they can make useful suggestions about the system
itself and policies to support the system.
|Date of issued||2007-09-12|
farming systems approach
|Publisher||Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences|
|Rights||Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences|