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Title: Researcher/farmer linkage for technology and agricultural development
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081540/00001
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Title: Researcher/farmer linkage for technology and agricultural development
Physical Description: Book
Creator: Hildebrand, Peter E.
Publisher: Food and Resource Economics Dept., Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida,
Publication Date: 1984
Copyright Date: 1984
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Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
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Resource Identifier: oclc - 190773617

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Full Text


Peter E. Hildebrand

Prepared for presentation at the "Workshop on
Agricultural Research Policy and Organization in
Small Countries". Wageningen, The Netherlands

September 12-14, 1984




Peter E. Hildebrand*

Researcher/farmer linkages are basic to effective

agricultural research policy and organization. This paper

is organized into three sections. The first discusses how,

where, when, why, by whom and with what methods

researcher/farmer contact is carried out. Emphasized is

researcher/farmer linkage for purposes of technology

development, including dissemination. This purpose also

serves other applied research involving policy and

infrastructure implications. The second section deals with

these policy and infrastructure implications. Finally, the

third section discusses the implications of

researcher/farmer linkage for research policy and




*Professor, Food and Resource Economics Dept., Univ. of

Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA.

In a word, researcher/farmer linkages must be based on

confidence. Farmers historically are suspicious of any

representative of government. In many developing countries,

the fear is that government knowledge may be utilized in

some form for tax purposes or in other means detrimental to

farmers' best interests. In developed countries, the

concern may be with time spent with the government official

at no apparent benefit, if not a detriment to the farmer.

Confidence can be gained when farmers are convinced that

researchers are going to be working in a partnership with

them to help solve problems which are important to the

farmers and have been articulated by them to sympathetic

representatives of government.

Technology development research in what is now called

the Farming Systems approach provides an entree for creating

the confidence necessary for an effective and efficient

researcher/farmer link. Research conducted on farms in

partnership with farmers and on problems of direct and

immediate concern to farmers, particularly when conducted on

a realistic basis, provides farmers with confidence that the

researchers are attempting to help improve their lot.


To be effective, technology development research must

be conducted in such a way that a clientele can be clearly

identified. Farming systems practitioners use the term

Recommendation Domain to identify homogeneous groups of

farmers. Research conducted with farmers who are

representative of a specific domain provides the basis for

extrapolation to all farmers in the domain. Research

efficiency is improved because locations for on-farm

'research are selected for specific characteristics.

Resources are not wasted on obtaining research results for

conditions which do not apply to the recommendation domain.

Extension efficiency is improved both because the clientele

can be clearly identified and because the technology

developed and being disseminated precisely fits the

agro-socioeconomic conditions of the clientele.


On-farm research in partnership with farmers is to be

contrasted with researcher managed and controlled

experiments on farmers' fields but conducted under the

conditions of an experiment station. The purpose of the two

types of trials is distinct. Research conducted in

partnership with farmers and under real farm conditions is

designed to evaluate the effect of alternative technologies

under the conditions in which they would be put into use if

they were to be adopted by farmers in the recommendation

domain. This means that each location, or farm, is

different in many ways from the other locations or farms and

that research techniques therefore need to be different from

experiment station practices where locational differences

are minimized by following prescribed experimental


Farmers are by nature experimental. However, many

cannot accept undue experimental risk. Technology should be

evaluated under their conditions and in partnership with

them only when researchers have a fairly high degree of

confidence that the technology will be effective when used

under real farm conditions. This means that the

technologies usually will have been evaluated on local

experiment stations and perhaps in rented fields on a few

farms prior to being placed in farm trials in partnership

with farmers. By extrapolation, this implies that

experiment station research, at least in part, is oriented

toward the solution of farmers' problems as defined by the

researcher/farmer linkage.


In the process of technology development, there are at

least three critical reasons for this researcher/farmer

linkage or partnership. The first relates to quantity of

resources, the second to quality of resources and the third

to the all-important factor of management of scarce

resources, including management time.

A standard production function is an estimation of the

response of the output of a production process to a variable

input when other inputs into the production process are held

at a fixed or constant level. The level at which these

fixed inputs are held influences the shape and/or level of

the production function. Yield gap or constraint analyses

have amply shown that responses on farms differ

significantly from responses under controlled conditions

such as .those used in usual experimental procedures.


Conclusions as to the significance of responses and/or their

profitability based on higher levels or better quality of

fixed resources than are available to farmers can lead to

faulty recommendations. If other farmers try the

technology, they can be disillusioned at best or subject to

a loss of profit, cash invested or family sustenance at

worst. Such a situation can be avoided if technology is

evaluated under the conditions in which it would be used by

farmers if and when adopted by them.

Quality of resources can have an impact very similar to

that of quantity and at times the two are difficult to

separate. Soil quality, basic animal nutrition and

reliability of irrigation water deliveries are bio-physical

examples. The socio-economic conditions which farmers face,

as distinct from physical, biological and climatological

conditions are also qualitative and quantitative and have an

important impact on the adoptability of technology. Farmers

are the ultimate decision makers regarding adoption. Prior

evaluation and understanding by researchers increases the

probability that technologies are acceptable to the

clientele, but the farmers' own evaluation is the final link

in the chain. Technologies or goods and services created in

the absence of a close,clientele/researcher linkage often

are rejected or utilized only after significant

modification. Absence of researcher/farmer linkage can only

decrease the efficiency of the technology development or

research process. One need look no further than the

inefficiencies created in centrally planned economies where

decisions are made by bureaucracy with little consideration

of the needs, desires and conditions of the user. This is

also the reason why extension in many areas has become an

agency trying to sell poorly adapted products rather than

one oriented toward solving farmers' problems.

Three important functions of farmer management are

evaluating alternative technologies, adapting them and

learning to use those which are being adopted. Wake (1984)

describes two activities in the learning process. One is

the activity of learning from secondary information, either

oral or published in one form or another. The second is

hands-on learning. The shape of the learning curve is,

perhaps, debatable, but if one considers a learning process

beginning at a level of no-knowledge, an S shaped curve

could be envisioned. In a highly developed economy with a

sophisticated farm clientele, secondary sources can easily

be conceived as allowing movement along the learning curve

to the point where initial hands-on learning results in

rapid gains. In a very poorly developed economy, with

little availability of secondary information, early hands-on

learning by individual farmers probably is a tedious process

with only slow gains during early attempts.

Early adopters provide a community learning experience

which augments the amount of secondary information available

to later adopters. Early adopters also modify or adapt a

technology to local conditions, so that the technology is

more suitable to a specific community. However, those who

are better able to take the risk of early adoption usually

have a different resource base than later adopters. Their

results differ from those of later adopters with an inferior

qualitative or quantitative resource base.

The farming systems approach to technology development

is an organized complement to community adaptation and

learning in agriculture. It provides the additional benefit

of being able to adapt and evaluate alternatives under the

conditions of the majority of farmers in a community or

recommendation domain and not just under the conditions of

the "most progressive" farmers. This increases the

efficiency of the technology development and adoption

process and effectively combines research and extension


By whom

The term researcher is used here in a broad context.

Researchers at different levels in the institutional

hierarchy will have varying intensities of contact with the

clientele. Those researchers who comprise the on-farm

research teams will have the most continuous contact with

farmers. In many small or poor countries, these teams may

be comprised largely of sub-professional personnel.

Professional level personnel in many countries may have to

'support two or more on-farm teams. Their contact with the

clientele will necessarily be less but it is still critical.

If support personnel do not work on farms with the teams as

often as possible, they will not be able to communicate with

their own team members who would be speaking with a much

better understanding of reality. Even national level

commodity team scientists should maintain researcher/farmer

linkage. This linkage not only provides the researchers a

better understanding of the farmers' situation. It also

creates confidence and a sense of accomplishment that is too

often lacking among research personnel.

The farmers involved in researcher/farmer linkage are

those who are representative of a specified recommendation

domain. A recommendation domain is comprised of a group of

farmers, homogeneous with respect to specific activities on

the farm. An individual farm can be in more than one

recommendation domain at any one time and can change

recommendation domains if the technology used is changed.

Individual farm members can also belong to different

recommendation domains. The women may be in one

recommendation domain with their crops while the men are in

another with crops which are predominantly managed by them.

Commercial crops on a farm may be part of a different

recommendation domain than the subsistence crops on the same


Methods to provide researcher/farmer linkage

A farm is a complex organization comprised of many

facets. Most farms are comprised of one or more household

units with a complex set of functions designed to provide

for the welfare of family members. Many products are

required and several means are used to achieve desired ends.

In order to approach an understanding of the farm, a team of

researchers from a number of disciplines is essential. It

is not sufficient for members of a number of disciplines to

work individually in a given area or on a given problem.

Rather it is critical that different disciplines work

together in the technology development process (Hildebrand,

1981). Technology development in recent years has been

oriented primarily toward biological interventions. It was

therefore reasonable that heavy emphasis be placed on the

biological sciences. However, it is also critical that the

social and economic sciences be included in the

multidisciplinary teams involved in researcher/farmer


That linkage usually begins with an initial

characterization of an area, frequently using a sondeo or

rapid reconnaissance survey for the purpose of identifying

tentative recommendation domains, evaluating constraints to

the farming systems within those domains and determining

possible interventions for the improvement of those systems.

Characterization, evaluation and refinement of

recommendation domains is a continuous process. The

multidisciplinary team uses several means including on-farm

records, on-farm trials, directed or verification surveys,

and frequent researcher/farmer contact to achieve a better

understanding of the clientele and to initiate evaluation of

technological alternatives.

Biologic researchers must keep in mind that the major

objective of conducting on farm trials is to evaluate the

potential response of technological alternatives under the

real and varied conditions to be found on the farms in a

specific recommendation domain. Disciplinary training has

convinced most biological researchers that it is necessary

to reduce sources of variation from non-studied variables to

a minimum in order to effectively determine significant

differences among levels of treatment or treatment

variables. To gain the most benefit from on-farm research,

biologic researchers must comprehend the value of working

with variability among farms and not attempt to follow

disciplinary mandates that dictate controlling this

variability. One statistical procedure which shows great

promise in helping biological researchers to evaluate

technological alternatives when subjected to the variability

of individual farmer management is modified stability

analysis (Hildebrand, 1984a). This analysis utilizes the

environment within which a product is produced as an

independent variable reflecting soils, climate, and

socioeconomic conditions including management. Against this

independent variable, results can be measured by any of the

revelant evaluation criteria including yield per hectare,

production per unit of cash input, yield per unit of labor

in a critical period, or any other criterion which is

relevant to farmers in a recommendation domain. The

procedure also provides a method by which recommendation

domains can be refined or partitioned.

Guatemala -- one indication of success

Perhaps the best example of a national research

institute which has followed the farming systems approach,

is that of the Guatemalan Institute of Agricultural Science

and Technology (ICTA). In the early 1970's Guatemala

embarked on a daring endeavor to significantly modify the

impact of its investment in agricultural research and

technology development. In 1973, when the new institute was

established, Guatemala was importing large amounts of the

basic grains needed as food. The primary goal of the

Institute was to achieve self sufficiency in the production

of these basic grains utilizing primarily the small farmers

who produced approximately 65% of the grain in the country.

The methodology developed by ICTA has been well documented

and the results achieved within one decade are gratifying if

not startling. Imports have been reduced to a minimum, and

yields have been increased up to 70% even in the face of

large increases in area of production, (Table 1) which

normally results in reduced yields. Seldom, if ever, has a

country achieved self sufficiency in four basic food

products simultaneously over such a brief period of time.


The farming systems approach to technology development

with its strong researcher/farmer linkage, is directly

amenable to augmenting infrastructure and policy research.

The multidisciplinary teams involved at the farm level can

provide direct information to policy makers and

infrastructure managers and can incorporate information

received from them in the development of alternative

technologies (Hildebrand, 1984b). Economists and social

scientists, in particular, can help provide policy makers

and infrastructure managers with much more realistic

information on probable responses to policy and

infrastructure stimuli than is possible from studies of

models based on data from standard statistical survey

techniques. Directed surveys are occasionally conducted by

the multidisciplinary teams for purposes of answering

specific questions regarding technology development. The

same types of directed surveys, if not conducted so

frequently they interfere with on-going work, could provide

specific responses to policy makers and infrastructure


Becauseof resource constraints, many multidisciplinary

teams have a minimum number-- often only one --of economic

and social scientists. If research for policy and

infrastructure is to be an important component of the work

of multidisciplinary teams with researcher/farmer linkage,

the proportion of social scientists and economists

necessarily must increase. This increase should not be to

the detriment of efforts in the biological sciences.

Rather, the teams should be made larger by one or two

individuals. These individuals would not have sole

responsibility for policy and infrastructure research but

should be completely integrated into the multidisciplinary

teams so they have a thorough understanding of the

agro-socioeconomic conditions of the clientele.


Poor countries in general, and poor, small countries in

particular have little justification for conducting anything

other than applied, problem-solving research. Larger,

wealthier and better developed countries, as well as the

international agricultural research center network, must

carry most of the burden of the more basic research

activities required as input into the applied research of

poor countries. Fortunately, experience has shown that

applied agricultural research can be effective in solving

both micro and macro level problems in small countries and

effective researcher/farmer linkage is key to efficient

applied research. It must therefore receive top priority in

research policy in small countries.

Effective applied research with strong

researcher/farmer linkage requires an investment in field

personnel and the transportation and logistical structure

for them to be efficient in the field. Incentives are

required to attract quality personnel to isolated areas in

the interior of many countries. Administrative structures

must provide the flexibility required to operate efficiently

without being bogged down by bureaucratic paper work at

central offices in place of action in the field. Research

policy must support this type of structure and program.

The need for transportation, field logistics and

incentives for quality field personnel is often construed as


unreasonably increasing the cost of a nation's agricultural

research program. However, if emphasis is placed on

efficient applied research with a strong researcher/farmer

linkage, the traditional large investment in elegant

experiment stations, offices and laboratories can be

minimized. Research policy should consider the investment

in a strong field research program as an alternative to and

not an addition to an expensive, centrally located research

facility. This is not to say that support research is not

needed. Rather support research can be conducted with more

modest facilities in-country and with more use of the

international agricultural research network.

Agricultural development will not occur as a result

only of the development of appropriate technology.

Provision must be made for required infrastructure to

provide a constant and reasonably priced supply of the

technology or its components and market infrastructure must

provide efficient commercialization channels. National

agricultural research policy therefore must link technology

and infrastructure development. This linkage can be

provided via multidisciplinary teams with strong

research/farmer linkage.

Development also cannot occur unless technology is made

available to farmers. Extension services are traditionally

the purveyor of this service. Effective multidisciplinary

teams working in well identified recommendation domains can

work with 50 to 100 farmers each year. It is well known, if

not well documented, that good technology travels rapidly


from farmer to farmer and widespread adoption occurs even in

the absence of organized extension efforts. Strong

researcher/farmer linkage is an effective extension

procedure and should be considered by policy makers as such.

Some specialized extension services can be utilized by farm

level multidisciplinary teams for providing pamphlets,

audiovisual materials and other equipment to improve

presentations at field days and less formal gatherings.

Integration of extension personnel into these

multidisciplinary teams should also be part of agricultural

policy. This integration will involve a small proportion of

the total extension personnel of a country. The remaining

personnel can be freed for the many other duties which are

always placed with extension.

National agricultural research policy should also

attempt to link university level research with the applied

research organization. On the one hand, this implies that

universities will not be directly involved in the kind of

farm level development research which has been discussed.

The nature of most university research does not make it

amenable to providing responsibility for development

research. However, this does not mean that research

conducted at the university level cannot be applied research

and provide input into the main agricultural research

organization. A close university linkage helps orient that

research and provides students with valuable applied

research experience. It also provides the research

organization an opportunity to evaluate graduating students

to help them in their own personnel selection process.

Finally, national agricultural planning research

activities can certainly benefit from a strong linkage with

the farm level multidisciplinary teams. However, care must

be exercised by national planning groups not to usurp the

time of the farm level teams. The primary product of these

teams must be the development of technology. However, it

has been seen that they can provide valuable information for

policy makers. If these teams are augmented with social

scientists or economists they can be particularly useful to

national planning activities.

In summary, strong researcher/farmer linkage is

possible. It increases efficiency of technology

development, it can serve as the focal point for extension,

university, policy, infrastructure, and international

agricultural research network linkages. A strong

researcher/farmer linkage, then, can easily be envisioned as

being the key ingredient in national agricultural plans for


Table 1.
Comparison of Production, Yield and Importation

of Basic

Grains in Guatemala

Unit Maize Beans Rice Sorghum



Increase in:

metric tons
metric tons

metric tons
metric tons










Source: Adapted from Banco de Guatemala
* Animal feed
** Improved seed only, not for consumption.


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