Front Cover
 Title Page
 Northern Zambia
 Implications for FSR/E

Group Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Title: Problems of understanding and communication at the interface of knowledge systems
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00081691/00001
 Material Information
Title: Problems of understanding and communication at the interface of knowledge systems
Series Title: Conference on Gender Issues in Farming Systems Research and Extenion, University of Florida, February 26 to March 1, 1986
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Jiggins, Janice
Publisher: University of Florida
Publication Date: 1986
Subject: University of Florida.   ( lcsh )
Farming   ( lcsh )
Africa   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: Africa -- Zambia
North America -- United States of America -- Florida
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00081691
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved, Board of Trustees of the University of Florida

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover
    Title Page
        Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
    Northern Zambia
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    Implications for FSR/E
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
Full Text

at the VJrverifrf iO`& faf --F-- __
Conference on


Janice Jiggina
January 1986

Paper to the Conference on Gender Issues in Farming
Systems Research and Extension, Women in Agriculture
Program, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
February 26 March 1 1986


Ine of the fundamental justificationss for the practice of FSR/E is

that its methodologies promote a desirably close relationship between

farmers, researchers and extensionists in the determination of

research criteria and the design and choice of interventions.

Considerable effort is going into persuading researchers and

extensionists to understand that:

"The goals and motivations of farmers, which will
affect the degree and type of effort they will be
willing to devote to improving the productivity of
-their farming systems, are essential inputs to the
process of identifying or designing potentially
appropriate improved technologies" (Norman et al

Much less effort is being devoted to helping farmers to understand the

values, rationales and objectives that lie behind research and

extension behaviours. The more that FSR/E becomes involved with

on-farm trials, particularly farmer-designed and managed ones, the

more important it is for FSR/E practitioners to find ways of

articulating their own rationality and making it accessible to


Necessarily, something about this rationality implicitly is conveyed

in the course of working closely with farmers. A 1985 circular on the

ATIP programme, distributed to local agricultural staff in Mahalapaye

in Botswana, notes:

"In explaining these meetings, it is important the
farmers understand this is a new approach to
research in which we want to work together with
them to discuss and evaluate alternatives, rather
than just rely on collecting information from


But conversations with farmers in areas where FSR/E teams have been

working, convince me that farmers remain greatly puzzled by such

things as why researchers insist fields or plots should be measured in

certain ways and what those measurements tell them or, what it is in

the logic of researchers' world that makes them value, for example,

certain livelihood activities such as field cropping above other

activities which seem to the farmers themselves equally necessary

components of their livelihood. The breakdown of communication and

understanding seems the greater between women as farmers, food

processors, traders and consumers and male researchers, but not only

because of the socio-cultural distances between them: male researchers

may understand little of the rationality of the domestic domain in

their own worlds. The researchers' lack of an implicit standard or

frame of reference in this sphere or a partial or biased one -

influences, of course, their own set of mental constructs by which

they perceive and interpret the world of women within farming systems.

Communication difficulties thus are compounded.

There are a number of threads which might be disentangled here. I

want to pull out and untwist only one: the logic of flexibility within

the domestic domain, illustrated by examples from Lesotho and northern

Zambia (1). The data are not complete from the FSR/E point of view,

being collected for other purposes, but they do highlight a number of

points which FSR/E theory and practice needs to take into account. The

paper concludes with suggestions about how this might be done.

The data are drawn from areas of acute seasonal stress; in Lesotho,

from an area in which a longitudinal study of energy flows suggests a

bimodal pattern of stress (Huss-Ashmore 1982) and in northern Zambia

from an area with a short period of moderately erratic within-season

rainfall and a long dry, cool period of some 6 to 7 or even 7.5

months, with the time of acute hunger falling in the January-February

period after weeks of heavy labour and declining food stocks (author's

unpublished field notes, 1979-80).

Both are areas of high male outmigration and income insecurity. Risk

and loss minimisation figure highly in farming system strategies.

Women, as household heads and as farmers within male-headed

enterprises, respond to climatic and income uncertainties by trying to

maintain flexibility. Typically, they try to maintain flexibility in

four areas of the domestic economy: (i) in production, by maintaining

reserve crops and varieties in household gardens and in wild habitats;

(ii) in the timing of operations, volume of product handled and

technique used, in the spheres of food processing, storage and food

preparation; (iii) by altering the mix, timing and quality of

performance of their multiple roles; and (iv), by manipulating

whatever room there might be for substitutability of labour and

obligation between men and women. For reasons of space, the

illustrations will be taken from only the first two areas.


In the peculiarly distorted economic situation of Lesotho, the day to

day survival of rural households is largely a matter of how women

maintain themselves and their children. The rationality of the farming

system is not determined by physical and climatic features these

only set limits to what is possible. It is determined by the

rationality of women's life, which is centred in (though by no means

confined to) the domestic domain. And within that domain, there is one

resource which is critical: fuel supply. It could be said to be the

key both to cropping choices and household food availability.

Huss-Ashmore writes:

"Because fuel is essential for processing almost
all foods, it can be considered a critical
resource for the maintenance of health and
nutritional status. In Mokhotlong the type of fuel
used, and the time spent to procure it, vary
according to the seasonal availability of dung"
(Huss-Ashmore 1982:156).

The preferred fuel is compacted dung, readily available during the

winter from the kraal close to the homestead, which, dried in uniform

slabs, burn with the slow, even heat necessary for long cooking of

dried grains and pulses. Women from kraal-less households have to

purchase the dung or to manipulate kin relations to get it. When the

cattle are moved in the summer to the high pastures, women must use

horse and cattle dung, picked up from the fields and trails, which is

less dense and takes more time to gather. Both sorts are kindled with

resinous, woody shrubs which become scarcer as the summer passes but

may be the only source of summer fuel if insufficient dung can be

gathered. For a short period, kraal dung may be kindled with maize

cobs as they are threshed in the winter. It is fuel availability

rather than food availability which determines which foods are eaten

at different seasons:

"The supply of slow-cooking protein sources is not
used equally throughout the year but is depleted
during the cold season when appropriate fuels are
available. During the summer the population relies
heavily on wild vegetable protein sources, which
require more time to locate and gather but which
can be rapidly cooked" (Huss-Ashmore 1982:157).

Now, you might think that these interactions and their further

entwining with the water/fuel/grain seasonal cities of sorghum

beer-brewing, a source of income and wage work which is the more

important for being one of the few available to women are not so

terribly difficult for a researcher to discover. However, one-off

visits during the exploratory survey may fail to discover

seasohalities which are both interdependent across disciplinary

boundaries (fuel-forestry; cropping; postharvest domestic food

technology) as well as across gender boundaries (cattle are men's

business). The fact that, in this case, a critical key to the

functioning of the farming system operates within the domestic domain,

may well continue to conceal its significance during the verification

phase too.

A further difficulty arises when researchers try to measure the

quantities involved, for example, the cooking time of various

foodstuffs using different fuels. An anthropological study of Sesotho

measurement concepts points out:

"A woman knows how long to cook vegetables because
she knows when they are ready. One woman,
preparing bread, was asked how she would cook it:
Until it is ready (bo butson). Pressed for
precision, she thought carefully and then said:
Five or six hours (l i-hora again the English
In fact, she cooked the bread for an hour and a
quarter and saw that it was perfect when she took
it from the steam oven. It was ready both in
English terms and her own. At no time did she
refer to any kind of time, not even the sun. It
was not the time that made it ready. It was the
cooking" (Wallman 1965: 240).

The researcher is concerned with the measurement of time but the woman

is concerned with the measurement of "readiness" and there is no

reason why the measurement process should not begin with readiness

(what does it look like ? is it hard or stiff or does it run ? etc.).

Instruments such as time allocation studies, useful as they are as

indicators of the range of activities and claims on labour, make

invisible whatever it is that women themselves see themselves as

allocating or conserving. In Huss-Ashmore's case, women collect wild

vegetable proteins not because they are a preference food nor because

there is nothing else available but because women wish primarily to

conserve fuel.

The difficulty does not lie in using the measurement units which make

sense within the rationality of the referent user but in actually

getting someone to do so. Researchers and extensionists alike are

trained in the concepts of scientific agriculture and these .concepts

may have no equivalents in the knowledge system of the woman while the

woman is trained in the concepts of her indigenous knowledge system

and may have no way of apprehending the significance (even if the

literal meaning can be translated) of the concepts used by the

researcher and extensionist. This has little to do with any

differences in the ethnic background of the actors and a great deal to

do with the difficulty of articulating the rationality of one system

in the terms of the rationality of another.

Northern Zambia

The fact that local vegetables and fruits form an important part of

the diet is well-established and there are even a few research

programmes investigating the more important species (MAWD 1983). What

is not so readily accepted is that these may have characteristics

The case is quite different in most dryland areas in developing

countries. Except perhaps for the richest, producers are not organised

nor politically powerful and have few if any links with researchers;

the range of transformation processes occurs largely within the

domestic domain using local technologies; wholesalers and retailers

operate in fragmented and often non-competitive arenas in which the

overall level of sales is depressed and quality carries no premium,

and, consumers have weak purchasing power and few if any organized

channels for expressing their preferences.

If the inherent yield potential of many dryland areas is judged to be

low, with scant chance that the value of the marketed uutput will ever

pay for or induce the kind of infrastructural developments witnessed

in irrigated environments, then, presumably, it will be necessary to

preserve a continuing capacity to derive benefits frum the goods and

services presently obtained from the biomass through transformation

within the local community and the household economy. The challenge

becomes that of raising capacity without displacing too many of the

benefits presently obtained from within the micro-economy rather than

in raising capacity by concentrating on only a few benefits (higher

yield) and externalising the provision of the rest. Varietal

characteristics must continue to an (unknown) extent to meet the

demands of domestic transformation processes, technologies and end


The following example describes just such a situation.

The local vegetables (fruits not included here for the sake of

simplicity) produced on one farm (February 1980) at Sambwa in Mpika


which yield benefits not provided by modern varieties of the main food

crops, however abundant they might be. Interventions which make their

production the more difficult by switching labour or land use, for

example may also make the seasonal management of diets more

difficult, unless the market provides substitutes at affordable


The question of the timing of agricultural innovations with respect to

the role of market provision of those goods and services previously

supplied within domestic and local economies, merits a short

digression here. In industrial country agriculture and, albeit to a

lesser degree, in irrigated agriculture in developing countries,

research organizations work within and for production and knowledge

systems which are well-defined, well-organised and highly interactive.

There are are least four main components: farmers, who are organised

and able to contribute to research programming through a variety of

channels; powerful industrial organizations engaged in the business of

transforming primary production into a range of consumer and

industrial goods, well able to signal to researchers their own

technical requirements or even, by paying for research, to determine

that crop characteristics meet the needs of their own technical

processes; powerful commercial organizations engaged in the business

of wholesaling and retailing produce and processed foodstuffs, which

are able to insist on high quality standards in defence of existing

and the acquisition of new sales; and, consumers, who, either through

their purchasing power or through consumer organizations and lobbies,

also signal their preferences to researchers.

District, are set out in Appendix 1. The main food crops were: four

cassava varieties (masan-oa uko, matutumushi muntuluno uconqo);

three finger millet varieties (mwaanqwe, mutubila, mwambe); two

varieties of beans, groundnuts and local maize. Each has a very

specific place in seasonal production and food manaegment; for

example, mwaanqwe is a sweet, very early maturing finger millet which

provides one of the first new food crops in the year and a sweet beer

for working parties as the main harvesting period approaches. Two of

the cassava varieties have palatable leaves (masanoa uko and

matutumushi the latter much sought after by the wild pig) but these

fall in the cold season (June, July) so some are dried early in the

season for later consumption.

in addition to. these main food crops,, there were 5 distinct production sites,
around the compound (and one further away in the dambo or wide valley bottom)
tended by the two adult resident women, on which were grown a mix of wild
and semi-wild plants and plants recognized by the extension department as
"crops ise. those promoted, and officially marketed by the government.. A number
of the wild.plants,, such as busoshi (sesamum alatum) and chimamba (spheno-
stylis erecta), also accur naturally (respectively on disturbed soil and
around anthills) but on this farm could be considered as true crops, for they
were deliberately planted on chosen sites, protected from chickens and weeds,
fertilized with household rubbish and the product traded in Hpika market..
Their utility is partly a: reflection of the low and erratic yield of ground-
nuts but,. whatever the yield of groundnuts, they have a utility as snack foods
at a time of the year when women may cook only once a day or even once in two
days.; the perennial chimamba ensures that some kind of snack is always
going to be available:. It would only lose its utility if alternative snack
foods were to become available at the critical time of the year when women
are busiest and/or the preparation and cooking time of cassava and millet
were to become less and/or women's cultivation labour were to be reduced.


Another example is provided by the great care the women took to maintain
the balance between the availability of the staples (millet, cassava)
and the availability of oily or slippery foods for the relish which is
added to the nsima or thick, coarse porridge. The naima is almost uneat-
able in sufficiently large quantities without such a relish to ease it down.
In conditions of scarce and expensive commercial cooking oils, unreliable
groundnut harvests in the face of erratic rains and, the time required for
shelling and pounding groundnuts, the softness and slipperiness of some
local vegetables were highly desired characteristics Pupwe (fagara chal-
ydea) is an important dry season resource in this respect. Slippery local
vegetables have the additional advantage of needing no blanching or treat-
ment with potash when they are dried for preservation.

Both the men and the women had been experimenting with vegetable production,
as the following examples illustrate. The male head of the compound had
been trying white cabbage, tomatoes and cucumbers from seeds supplied
through the Horticultural Marketing Board in Mpika, in a dambo garden at
the end of the rainy season. ie found that the cucumbers grew best but were
the least needed for domestic use as they already grew a satisfactory range
of cucurbits. The tomatoes were well-liked for their flavour and the softness
of the flesh but were tiresome to eat because of their tough skins, the very
characteristic which made them suitable for the rough marketing conditions.
The women had been experimenting for many years with lubanga (cleome gynandra.)
selecting for larger leaf size without sacrificing any of the tenderness. They
reported, too, that they could get a higher price in the local market for the
larger-leaf variety.

The men in the compound scored consistently lower than the women on the
following tests: identification by sight; recall of the main physical
descriptors and husbandry; processing techniques and length of storage;
preparation for eating. Zambian and expatriate members of the nearby
Agricultural College who were engaged in conducting and supervising trainee
extension workers in farm surveys, were asked to share their views of the
role of local vegetables in the farming system. They all referred the question
to the Home Economics staff who, trained to work with "western" vegetables,
with few resources to work in the field, knew only those local vegetables
which had been used in therhousehold in their own home areas.


There are further problems of communicating knowledge between distinct
knowledge systems. The production sites where the local vegetables were
grown changed shape and area as the women took advantage of rainfall patterns
as the season advanced to make additional sowings while neither the market
value of the product traded nor the opportunity cost of female labour (based
on market wage rate) would seem adequate measures of the value of either
women's labour time or of the local vegetables to the farming system. The
women themselves used a notion of convenience which appeared to be a compound
of characteristics such as: easy to grow near the house, avai.labilty (fresh
or dried) at moments critical from thepoint of view of diet manage-
ment, ease of processing and preparation, timing of labour inputs, substit-
utability for other crops. The notion encompassed the principle of flexibility
- in this respect, they were reluctant to choose paramount characteristics
either for any one crop or between the range of crops; local vegetables were,
viewed as a bundle of biomass which enabled them to manage their resources and
responsibilities to the best advantage.

The Implications for FSR/E

There are a number of important "lessons" which could be drawn from this
brief review. In sum, these could be reduced to two:
- the need to develop methoaogies far establishing the key field-household
interactions at an early stage of the diagnostic process
- the need to develop methodologies for mutual communication of key concepts.
across the boundaries of researchers'and female producers'distinct knowledge.

Two techniques which might prove useful diagnostic instruments,usable by
researchers of any background, are: Situation Analysis based on the critical
incident technique; Peer Group workshops.

The former is widely used in diagnostic sessions between researchers and
carefully drawn panels of users in industrial and commercial practice. It
involves informal but structured interviewing which, as users identify
problem areas and describe the boundary conditions, focuses on a
*critical incident' which exemplifies one of the problems. The incident is
then analysed in depth, leading into discussion of desirable ways to deal
with it. Each of the problems is similarly treated in turn.


Peer Group workshops are widely used for example, throughout the ESCAP
region in the development of local, self-managing groups and income-gener-
ating projects and by the FA0"' Marketing and Credit division in the
promotion of female entrepreneurship and are based on the understanding
that knowledge and expertise exists also among local communities, together
with a diagnostic capacity attuned to local realities. They draw on the
expertise of those who are locally recognized as knowledgeable within the
problem area which is the subject of interest,by facilitating the preparation
of case studies of their successes, which are exchanged and analysed at
workshop sessions, leading to identification of interventions which would
allow these successes to be replicated. A great deal of experience now exists
to guide the preparation and implementation of workshops. with those who have
little formal education and to facilitate the participation of service officers
(agricultural researchers, extension officers etc.).

Both these techniques ha ve the added' advantage that they eliminate some of
the stages of "translation' of knowledge concepts and, with careful preparation
it is not too difficult to identify those items which, though denominated
differently, refer to a standard unit., (For example, in the case of the cake
that is ready, the researcher can measure the hours it takes to cook and the
baker the cooking that is needed to make it ready: both are referring to
a standard referent, .although the baker might be interested in the number
of mouths it feeds and the researcher in its unit weight and composition).
The difficulty comes when one is using a knowledge concept that has no
referent in the knoweldge system of the other. The difficulty is in a sense
a one-sided one. Researchers are often keen to learn about and understand
the concept of producers but have little awareness of the.constructs and
values inhereft in their o~yknoledge system. Where the knowledge system of
male agricultural researchers/does not encompass either an experiential --:
nor trained understanding of the domestic economy, the problem
seriously undermines; FSR/E practitioners' claims to be conducting systems-
based technology development,


Seasonality in Rural Highland. Lesotho: Method and Policy, in
A Report on the Regional Workshop on Seasonal Variations in
the Provisioning, Nutrition and Health of Rural Families,
Nairobi, ALEF, pp. 147-161'



Norman, D.,

Wallman, S.

handbooks for Agriaultural Field Workers, Zambian Local
Vegetables and Fruits, Lusaka., Dept. of Agriculturer Ministry
of Agriculture and Water Development

E. Simmons, 1L. Hays
Farming Systems in the Nigerian Savanna., Research and Strategies
for Development, Boulder, Westview Press, p- 25 -

The Communication of Measurement in Basutoland, in Human
Organisation, III (205) Vol. 4, pp. 236-243


1.. The research was carried out between January 1979 and September 1980 in
the Central, Northern and Luapula Provinces, of Zambia by members of the
Rural Development Studies Bureau, UNZA, Zambia.

. ':

Ilusa-Ashmore ,










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