Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Friday, June 3, 2011

Farmer networks hold key to agricultural innovation in developing countries



This study on farmer networks was co-authored by Pamela Matson, dean of the School of Earth Sciences and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford.
New technologies can improve agricultural sustainability in developing countries, but only with the engagement of local farmers and the social and economic networks they depend on, say Stanford University researchers.
“Most people tend to think that technology information flows to farmers through a direct pipeline from scientists, but that isn’t true,” said lead author Ellen McCullough, a former research fellow at Stanford’s Program on Food Security and the Environment, now at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The study was co-authored by Pamela Matson, dean of the School of Earth Sciences and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. To better understand how farmers decide to adopt new technologies, the researchers interviewed growers, farm credit unions and agricultural experts in the Yaqui Valley in Sonora, Mexico – the birthplace of the “green revolution” in wheat and one of Mexico’s most productive breadbaskets.
“If scientists want to offer solutions to manage these environmental impacts, they need to understand what influences farmers’ decisions about technology and production strategies,” McCullough said.

Valley growers also have a long history of working with the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, a world-renowned agricultural research center known by its Spanish acronym, CIMMYT. But interviews conducted for the PNAS study revealed that most farmers take their cues from local credit unions and not from experts at CIMMYT. As an example, McCullough pointed to a collaborative effort between CIMMYT scientists and farmers to develop a nitrogen diagnostic tool that reduces fertilizer use without sacrificing crop yields.

The device, which gives real-time readings of nitrogen levels in the soil, proved early on that it could save farmers 12 to 17 percent of their profits. Yet most farmers rejected the new technology until CIMMYT researchers finally convinced credit union officials that it was a worthwhile investment.

"The most successful innovations that have been adopted by farmers in the Yaqui Valley have come from collaborations among researchers, farmers and local establishments, like the credit unions," McCullough said. Because of their considerable influence among farmers, credit unions should be included in any effort to effect environmental change in the region, she added.
Learn more about this agricultural study for farmer networks on Biomechanism.com

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