Participatory Technology Research: Issues and Future Directions Drawn from Two Examples in Northeast Thailand and Central Mali
Participatory development has been practiced for over 20 years. However, due to important
differences in assumptions with state-led development, as well as with positivism that
characterizes the natural sciences, difficulties often occur in its implementation. We consider
four questions using two concrete examples of participatory programs carried out by JIRCAS
and collaborating institutions in Thailand and Mali:
1. What kinds of technologies should be developed?
2. What are the objectives of technology development?
3. How can different objectives be reconciled in a way that increases synergy?
4. What are the relationships among different levels of actors, from individuals and
households, to villages and regions, and how can they interact to increase mutual benefits
at multiple levels?
Diversification in Northeast Thailand
Rainfed agriculture characterizes Northeast Thailand,?? where?? rainfall ?? is ?? lower?? and??
large-scale?? irrigation?? is?? less?? developed?? than?? other?? parts?? of?? Thailand. Cropping systems
combining rainfed paddy rice for home consumption with the drought-tolerant cash crops
sugarcane and cassava predominate. However, sugar cane has high production costs and prices
are subject to fluctuations in the international market, so debt loads of farmers are high. The
agricultural economy of the region has been termed a “sugarcane trap.”
To increase farmers’ options and reduce dependency, we have carried out a project over the
past seven years to improve water use efficiency and increase diversification through a
participatory research approach. We have addressed three methodological problems through this
research. Beyond diagnosis: Formation of farmers’ experimental groups from farmers’ “dreams” for the
Participatory research and development often has difficulty moving from diagnosis of
constraints and identification of farmer goals, to concrete programs for improvement. To
address this problem, we organized a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional team combining
technical and social / economic sciences to design and facilitate a farmer process for developing
an on-farm research agenda.
The first step in this process was a visioning exercise. Farmers wrote their “dreams” of the
kind of farming they would like to do five years later if water and marketing problems could be
solved. Each dream was read out, classified into one of eight groups, and placed on the wall.
Next, farmers self-selected into four groups to discuss constraints and successful examples for
vegetables, fruit, livestock, and integrated farming. Farmers then organized visits to
representative farms. Finally, three farmer groups were voluntarily formed with a total of 30
Beyond farmer modification to farmer innovation and invention
Integrated farming in Northeast Thailand is based on use of farm pond water for rice and
diversification activities (fruit, vegetables, and livestock). Farmers in the integrated farming
group chose to begin with wet season vegetables, when prices are high, as a means to increase
funds available for further diversification. The group carried out three years of on-farm trials
with three vegetables. Farmers also recorded pond water use for all activities. This resulted in
development of a water use planning tool that farmers can use with ponds of varying sizes to
combine different activities in different proportions while assuring adequate water for rice water
The dry season vegetable production group developed a method called “Incomplete
technology as knowledge transfer technology” (KTT). Ten farmers used KTT to invent 44
technologies and test them on 56 plots. Researchers identified the scientific basis of
water-saving methods from farmers’ technology inventions and used this to offer further ideas
Beyond extension to scaling out through farmer-to-farmer technology improvement
We describe two approaches. In the first approach, four new sub-districts (tambons) were
selected based on a set of characteristics shared with the original pilot group. Farmers in the
three pilot village farmer experimental groups presented methods and results of two-years of
on-farm research and discussed needs and ideas for the new villages with representatives of the
new villages. The representatives then meet with other farmers in their villages. A program of
visits to successful sites, on-farm trials, and farmer-to-farmer trial visits and information sharing
resulted in development of four technologies, only one of which came from the pilot village.
After two years, 67% of the participating farmers were using one of these four technologies, and
farm income increased 33% compared with a 10% increase for farmers not using the new
technologies. In the second approach, the KTT farmer group incorporated local technologies developed by
other innovative farmers and joined hands with an existing pond project farmer group.
Through a program of farmer-to-farmer visits between the two groups, farmers in 22 villages
implemented KTT, leading to two-fold increases in yields.
Natural Resource Management and Village Livelihood Improvement in Mali, West Africa
The Sahel region of West Africa, with annual rainfall between 300 and 750 mm, lies
between the Sahara Desert and the wetter Soudanian and Guinean zones further south. It is
characterized by sparse vegetation, low soil fertility, and low levels of crop and livestock
productivity. Increased severity of these characteristics in the Sahelian zone and their spread
to the Soudanian zone are termed “desertification.” Examples of successful technologies can be
seen, but how to insure their continuity at the village level, and how to expand desertification
control from individual points to the wider zone through scaling out, are issues here as well.
We describe results from a site-selection survey of 10 villages that show that population
density is a more significant factor affecting desertification than ecological zone, and that
village development of recycling systems between crops and livestock can reduce
desertification even in an ecologically less-favored zone. We also describe results from
week-long participatory rural appraisal (PRA) carried in four site villages selected based on the
initial survey. PRA results in two villages where no previous PRA had previously been
conducted showed that improvement of resources contributing directly to villagers’ livelihood
had priority over natural resource management whose benefits are longer-term. These results
contrasted with results from two villages where livelihood needs had been addressed through
activities based on PRA conducted by an earlier JICA project.
Conclusions and Future Directions
Farmer-led approaches enable farmers to innovate and invent to develop a wide range of
technologies for differing farm conditions. Farmer innovation speeds up technology
improvement, increasing production and income, while at the same time providing opportunities
for self-realization. These two objectives of technology development are mutually-reinforcing.
Increasing farmers’ ability to improve their own livelihoods is a precondition for natural
resource management. Farmer groups provide a means for villagers with different interests to
address different needs, thereby reconciling conflict. Farmer groups are also effective for
scaling out beyond pilot villages.
Social and economic science can work with technical science develop explanations of
which differences among farmers are critical in determining differing technology impact, design
indicators of villagers’ self-realization achieved through technology development, help identify
potential reasons for differing interests and facilitate social arrangements to reduce conflict and
maximize synergy, and provide information from micro and meso level field research for
decision ?makers at the macro level.
Reaching agreement on priorities and sharing of common resources is only possible through dialog. These results support the thesis of A. Sen that self-realization, democratic dialog, and
development are integrally related. Participatory development can go beyond diagnosis, beyond
testing, and beyond extension by using personal realization, dialog, and democratic
decision-making to enable individuals, households, communities, and wider institutions to
achieve self-sustaining development.
|Date of issued||2009-11-04|
|Creator||John S. Caldwell|
|Publisher||Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences|
|Rights||Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences|