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Title: Making the farmers' voice count
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095621/00001
 Material Information
Title: Making the farmers' voice count issues and opportunities for promoting farmer-responsive research
Physical Description: 20 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Merrill-Sands, Deborah
Collion, Marie-Hélène J
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Publication Date: 1992
Copyright Date: 1992
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 Notes
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 16-19).
General Note: "Invited paper for the 12th Annual Farming Systems Symposium, Session 3: 'Strategic inititiaves in Roles for FSR/E: Institutional Linkages,' Michigan State University, Sept 13-18, 1992."
Statement of Responsibility: Deborah Merrill-Sands and Marie-Hélène Collion.
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Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Title Page
    Table of Contents
        Table of Contents
    Introduction
        Page 1
    Bringing the users' voice into R&D: Luxury or vital ingredient?
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
    Future initiatives for developing farmer-responsive research
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
    References
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
    Notes
        Page 20
Full Text









MAKING THE FARMERS' VOICE COUNT:
ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROMOTING FARMER-RESPONSIVE RESEARCH1




Deborah Merrill-Sands and Marie-Helene Collion2























Invited paper for the 12th Annual Farming Systems Symposium
Session 3: "Strategic Initiatives in Roles for FSR/E: Institutional Linkages
Michigan State University
Sept 13-18, 1992





CONTENTS


I. Intro d u ctio n ................................................................................................. ......... 1

II. Bringing the Users' Voice into R&D: Luxury or Vital Ingredient? .......................2...

Making the case for user involvement in R&D ..............................................2...

Involvement of users in agricultural research in developing countries ..........3...

Impact of FSR on shaping agendas for research .........................................4...

II. Future Initiatives for Developing Farmer-Responsive Research.........................7...

Bringing farmers' input into research planning and priority-setting ...............7...

Strengthening farmers' leverage over the research agenda......................... 12

R efe re nce s ........................................................................................................ . . 16

Notes


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992






I. INTRODUCTION


Farming Systems Research (FSR) is designed to make research more responsive to clients. It
has been used, in particular, to improve the capacity of research to address the needs of
resource-poor farmers operating in heterogeneous, and often marginal, environments. To this
end, FSR performs two key roles within the technology generation and dissemination process:

its adaptive research role of seeking niches for existing technologies and tailoring them
to fit the agroecological and socioeconomic needs of specific client groups;

its feedback role of channeling field-level information about clients back into research
priority-setting and planning so that it responds to farmers' most pressing problems
and needs for new technology.

It is now well accepted that to perform these roles successfully, FSR must have strong links
with experiment station research The two types of research are complementary and
interdependent. When effectively integrated, each provides information and services vital to
the success of the other (Biggs, 1983; Fresco, 1984; Norman and Collinson, 1985; Baker and
Norman, 1988; Byerlee and Tripp, 1988; Merrill-Sands and McAllister, 1988).

When assessing the impact of FSR, it is important to look at how effectively it has performed
both its adaptive research and its feedback role. For the adaptive research role we need to
evaluate its impact on the ground the degree to which technologies have been adopted and
the degree to which they have contributed to increasing sustainable production or improving
the welfare of farm families (Martinez and Sain, 1984; Anderson, 1985; Tripp 1991) An
excellent example of this type of impact analysis is Tripp's (1991) recent compilation of case
studies analyzing adoption of technologies developed through FSR. But, to assess the
feedback role, we need to look at the institutional impact of FSR -- the degree to which it has
been successful in making research organizations more directly responsive and accountable to
farmers (Merrill-Sands, 1988). This type of impact is clearly less tangible and difficult to
measure. It should, nevertheless, be integral to the evaluation of FSR as well as to identifying
strategic directions for the future development of FSR.

In this paper, we focus only on the feedback role of FSR and its impact on the research
agendas of developing country research organizations. The discussion is centered on public
sector research organizations since in most countries, it is these which have the mandate for
serving poor farmers. First we revisit the benefits of involving users in R&D. Then, in broad
brush strokes, we assess the effectiveness of FSR in making research organizations more
responsive to the needs of resource-poor farmers. We conclude by identifying two strategic
initiatives for developing more farmer-responsive research organizations in the future.

In earlier papers on improving the performance of the adaptive research and feedback roles of
FSR, we have focused on organizational and managerial interventions for strengthening the
link between FSR and experiment stations research (Merrill-Sands et al., 1991; Merrill-Sands
et al, 1989; Merrill-Sands and McAllister, 1988). In this paper, we take a broader political
economy perspective. We argue that to bring about lasting changes in the client-orientation of


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




research organizations, introduction of new research methods or improved management
practices is not enough. We need to target the distribution of power, the decision-making
processes, and constellation of decision-makers within research organizations. At the same
time, we need to support the development of farmers' organizations so that they can exert the
external pressure needed to make research organizations more client- driven than science-
driven (Collion, 1992).

We conclude that farming systems research or farmer participatory research cannot bring
about such fundamental realignments in public sector research organizations. They must be
coupled with changes in internal decision-making processes and structures as well as external
pressures from client groups if they are to have the intended institutional impact. This is not a
new idea, but it is an arena where FSR practitioners and advocates have been loathe to enter
(Biggs and Farrington, 1990; Chambers, 1983; Kaimowitz, 1992; Roling, 1990; Roling and
Femandez, 1992; Sperling and Ashby, 1992). Divorcing ourselves from the political economy
of research merits serious reconsideration as we charter the strategic directions for FSR in the
1990s. If farmer-responsive research is to be institutionalized, priority must be given to
developing the strategies and mechanisms for addressing these issues of power both within
and outside of research organizations.


II. BRINGING THE USERS' VOICE INTO R&D: LUXURY OR VITAL INGREDIENT?

Making the Case for User Involvement in R&D

There is mounting evidence indicating that user participation is a critical ingredient for
innovative, relevant, and efficient technology development, whether in agriculture or industry (
von Hippel, 1978; Souder, 1980; Peters and Waterman, 1984; Gamser, 1988; Kanter, 1983;
Roling, 1990). The benefits of involving users in R&D have long been recognized by private
R&D firms. Since their survival depends on whether users purchase their products,
considerable investment is made in understanding users' needs and preferences and
capitalizing on their ideas and innovations, von Hippel's pioneering research at MIT on user
innovation, for example, showed that most of the successful new devices in the fields of
scientific instrument production and semiconductor electronics derived from customer ideas
and prototypes (von Hippel, 1978). The highly successful 747 also resulted from close, and
often contentious, interaction between Boeing and its customer Pan American Airlines
(Gardiner and Rothwell, 1985, cited in Gamser, 1988).

Similarly, when one looks at effective agricultural research and technology development
systems, user participation and, indeed, some user control over research appears to be a key
factor contributing to success. Examples from the West include the USA and the Netherlands
-- the two largest agricultural exporters in value terms in the world In the Netherlands, for
example, user control over research is strong. Approximately half of the costs of experiment
stations and experimental farms are paid for by farmers. Farmers also participate in program
committees and have representatives on boards of the main agricultural organizations (Roling,
1990). In 19th century Europe, farmers organizations and cooperatives played a critical role in
the development of agricultural research. They not only represented a strong "demand pull"
for research services, but also a powerful lobby encouraging governments to support research.


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




In Israel as well, about half the money for agricultural research comes from farmers through
value added levy or farmers organizations. Farmers have the controlling voice over regional
field trials, while their representatives participate in decisions on the research projects financed
by the levy (Kaimowitz, 1992). China provides another obvious example. The impressive
developments in agricultural production gained under the Maoist regime in China where fueled
in part by active participation of farmers in R&D and the union of researchers' science-based
knowledge with farmers practical knowledge. Farmer pressure on research is also considered
to have contributed to successful agricultural performance in Japan and Taiwan (Sims and
Leonard, 1989).

Although we have many cases which demonstrate the benefits of involving users in R&D, there
are few systematic studies from either agriculture or industry which quantify the benefits of
maintaining close links with users. Such studies have been carried out, however, on the
closely related area of links between marketing and R&D in private sector industrial
companies. These studies are relevant since marketing in private sector companies plays
much the same role as that of FSR in agricultural research organizations.

In one of the most rigorous studies of this type, Souder (1981) assessed how the quality of
linkages between R&D and marketing in 150 randomly selected R&D projects in 38 firms in the
United States affected the commercial viability of the products developed (Figure 1). The
results are striking and provide a forceful argument that links with users are vital for successful
technology development. Souder found that linkages between R&D and marketing were strong
in nearly half the projects reviewed. Of these projects, approximately two-thirds generated
products that were complete commercial success. The failure rate was only 14%. In contrast,
in those projects where the links were weak, characterized by distrust, avoidance, or hostility,
we see the exact opposite outcome: two-thirds of these projects developed products which
failed totally and only 15% had products which succeeded commercially. Souder's study
indicates that R&D carried out in isolation from its clients has unacceptable costs in terms of
failed products. Extrapolating from this study to agriculture, we must ask ourselves, How many
developing countries can afford such high rates of failure in technology development?

Involvement of Users in Agricultural Research
in Developing Countries

The systematic involvement of farmers as users of agricultural technologies in most public
sector agricultural research organizations in developing countries has, nevertheless, been
weak. The exception is large-scale commercial producers of high valued export crops. These
farmers, through both political pressure and their ability to fund research, have been able to
exert considerable influence over the research agenda of commodity parastatals. To a lesser
extent, commercial farmers working with politically valued crops under similar production
systems have also been able to exert pressure on research (Pineiro and Trigo, 1983). But in
those government research organizations with mandates to conduct research on a wide range
of commodities and to cover diverse agroecological zones, involvement of farmers as users of
technology has been diffuse, if not totally absent. This is especially the case for those
research organizations serving large numbers of resource-poor farmers.

There are many reasons for this lack of user influence on public sector research, but two stand
out as fundamental:.


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992





Lack of internal motivation. Unlike private firms, there is little internal motivation
for government research organizations to be responsive to users. Such
organizations in most developing countries are accountable to policy makers and,
often, to external donors; but they are not directly accountable to farmers -- the
ultimate users of the knowledge, services, and products they generate. Even
though farmers have the ultimate power to refuse technologies, the survival of
these organizations does not depend, at least in the short term, on farmers
adopting their products (Roling, 1989). Client-responsiveness depends on policy
decisions and individuals' interest, not the "bottom-line".

Lack of external pressure. Resource-poor farmers are usually not sufficiently well
organized to have the political and economic power needed to ensure that their
demands are met. They are rarely included in the decision-making processes
which define research priorities and portfolios. Even extension services, which are
supposed to feedback the clients' perspective into research, rarely have much
impact when they are representing resource poor farmers (Merrill-Sands and
Kaimowitz, 1990). Consequently, external pressure to become more responsive is
also limited. Experience has shown that without such external pressure, research
organizations and scientists tend to pursue their own intellectual, social and political
objectives rather than those of their clients (Kaimowitz, 1992; Sims and Leonard,
1989). As a result many technologies, while considered successful from the
scientists' point of view, sit on the shelf unused, representing a flagrant waste of
scarce research resources.

Within this political economy of public sector research in developing countries, farming
systems research (FSR) and farmer participatory research (FPR) approaches have been
developed, in large part, to give farmers, particularly resource-poor farmers, a voice in setting
the research agenda (Norman, 1980). These approaches are designed to compensate for the
lack of farmers' direct influence in defining research priorities and programs (Merrill-Sands et
al, 1991). The goal, as noted above, has been to feedback knowledge and information about
users which would enable research to respond more effectively to the priority problems of
specific groups of client farmers. Over the past two decades, many national agricultural
research systems have experimented with, adapted, and adopted these approaches -- albeit
with varying degrees of intensity and permanence.

Impact of FSR on Shaping Agendas for Research

The basic questions we need to ask ourselves now is:

To what degree has the farmers' "voice" truly been brought into the decision-making
processes of national agricultural research systems?

To what extent has the adoption of these client-oriented research approaches actually
had an impact on the type of research conducted in national systems? How much has
feedback from farming systems research influenced which commodities are
researched, which problems are addressed, which potential solutions are explored, how
technologies are designed, and what research gets funded?


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




Our conclusion, based on research conducted by ISNAR and a review of the literature, is that
such impact has been limited and patchy.

ISNAR carried out a study on the institutional factors influencing the integration of on-farm
client-oriented research approaches3 into national agricultural research systems (NARSs)
(Merrill-Sands et al., 1991). The study included nine NARSs, all of which had carried out on-
farm client-oriented research for at least five years and had formally integrated the approach
into their research organizations.4 We found that although these efforts had been quite
successful with respect to the adaptive research role, feedback to research priority-setting,
planning, and annual programming of experiment station research was considered to have
been weak in half the cases and only moderately effective in most of the remainder (Merrill-
Sands and McAllister, 1988). This finding is particularly disturbing given that we were looking
at relatively mature FSR efforts that had had time to train researchers in FSR methods,
produce some results, and establish at least some credibility within the research system.
Moreover, most of these research organizations had made a formal policy commitment to
addressing the needs of resource- poor farmers.

Other reviews have reached similar conclusions. An analysis of the institutional impact of 12
USAID funded FSR projects found that feedback had been weak in half of the projects (Byme,
1989). Haugerud and Collinson (1990) reviewing farming systems and farmer participatory
research experiences in Africa concluded that" after a decade of rhetoric about "feedback" to
extension workers and scientists, a large gap remains between the ideal and reality".
Similarly, Tripp (1991) in his review of nine other case studies of farming systems research
efforts drew similar conclusions:

"The relative isolation of on-farm research (OFR) affects its capacity to provide information
relevant to setting research priorities at the national level. OFR has yet to fulfill its promise of
bringing the farmers' voice to research decision-making."

Clearly, there has been some impact. A common change induced by FSR feedback is the shift
in varietal screening to include early maturing varieties to fit specific niches in farming systems
(Biggs and Rood, 1987; Haugerud and Collinson, 1990; Negassa et al, 1991; Soliz et al,
1989). Farmers are often willing to sacrifice yield for early maturity in order to get food during
the traditional "hungry period" before the harvest, to intensify relay or inter cropping systems,
or to relax labor bottlenecks. In other cases feedback has led breeders to screen for a wider
variety of characteristics, such as color, taste, cooking time, or suitability of stover for fodder,
for example (Ashby, 1990; Sperling et al, 1992). But much of the feedback has been confined
to influencing priorities for adaptive research, to making adjustments in research experiments
to better reflect farmers' production conditions, or to changing the orientation of individual
scientists and their specific research activities. While such changes are important, they are not
enough to significantly improve research relevance and its eventual impact on technology
development for resource poor farmers. Major changes in research directions or problems,
while not absent, are much less frequently documented.

We believe that it is fair to assert that although farming systems and farmer participatory
methods have in many cases led to more client-responsive research scientists, they have in
few cases resulted in more client-responsive research organizations. We submit that a major
cause for the lack of impact on reshaping research agendas is that the political aspects of
bringing about such changes have not been adequately addressed. Client-oriented research
methods are a necessary condition for fostering client-responsive research, they are not a


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




sufficient condition. Just as the impact of technology is determined not only by the quality of
the technology itself, but also by the institutional and political environment into which it is
placed; so too with research methods and approaches (Heinemann and Biggs, 1985).

While fully acknowledging that inculcating client responsiveness often requires major
organizational and managerial changes as well as reorientation in the values and attitudes of
research organizations and researchers5, we believe that the limited use and impact of
information from farmers in the formulation of research agendas is due to our neglect of two
fundamental areas on both sides of the research-farmer linkage:

on the side of the research organizations, we have tended to be overly
technocratic. We have focused on improving knowledge about clients. We have
given much less attention to ensuring that this knowledge is packaged and
channeled into the decision-making processes which determine research agendas.
At the risk of overstatement, FSR can be viewed as a passive, apolitical,
mechanism for strengthening client responsiveness. It generates information about
farmers and their needs and it improves our ability to define priority problems and
seek out realistic solutions. But FSR and FPR methods can not guarantee that
those who make decisions about the content of research will actually use this
improved knowledge and information. To achieve effective feedback, FSR, and
even FPR, has in essence depended on the voluntarism, or altruism, of research
organizations or scientists to be responsive to resource-poor farmers (Roling and
Fernandez, 1990). For many public sector research organizations, this is an
unrealistic assumption.

on the side of the farmers, we have side-stepped politics. We have not tackled
the problematic issue of empowerment -- farmers' ability to exert pressure on
research organizations and hold them accountable. The movement towards farmer
participatory methods and working with farmer groups and communities, rather than
individual farmers, is an attempt to redress this weakness (Ashby; 1990; Norman et
al, 1988; Heinrich, forthcoming). Yet, it is still not sufficient to generate the external
pressure required to make organizations more client-driven. Recent experiments
with working with farmers organizations and NGOs provide new opportunities for
strengthening farmers' capacity to exert more leverage over decisions on priorities
and portfolios (Bebbington, 1991; Bebbington and Farrington, 1992; Sims and
Leonard, 1989; Wellard et al. 1990).

Following this argument, we advocate that future initiatives in developing farmer-responsive
research should focus on:

developing strategies and mechanisms for getting farmers' input incorporated
systematically into the formal decision-making processes which determine research
priorities and agendas;

working with farmers and farmer organizations to develop the institutional base,
skills, and funding needed to exert pressure on research systems so that their
needs are met more effectively. 6

We see these two initiatives as closely related and, in many respects, each dependent on the
other for success. They are discussed in more detail below.


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III. FUTURE INITIATIVES FOR DEVELOPING FARMER-RESPONSIVE RESEARCH

Bringing Farmers' Input into
Research Planning and Priority-Setting

We have argued that for information about farmers' needs and priorities to have a significant
impact on determining research agendas, we need to develop institutional mechanisms which
enable this information to be incorporated systematically into the formal decision-making
processes regarding research priorities and portfolios. This is all the more important in
bureaucratic organizations where the flow of information from the bottom upwards is
notoriously difficult to achieve.

It is at the level of research programs (whether organized by commodities, regions,
agroecological zones, or disciplines) that feedback from farm-level research can have the
greatest influence on shaping the choice of research problems and the strategies used to
tackle those problems. A key constraint to effective feedback in the past has been the weak
link with planning and priority-setting at this level.

There are several reasons for this weak link. The first relates to the kind of planning and
programming processes in place in developing country research organizations. Many
organizations have simply not had systematic planning or priority setting within or across
research programs (Ewell, 1988; Merrill-Sands and McAllister, 1988). This has meant that
there were no formal mechanisms for channeling information between field-level and
experiment station research. Researchers working with farmers have often had little choice
but to rely on informal networking to try to persuade individual scientists to listen to farmers'
concerns and priorities and adjust their research accordingly. Such a strategy of conversion"
may change the perspective of some scientists or research managers, but it cannot lay the
foundation for building a client-responsive research organization. Such informal mechanisms
are inherently transitory. With movement or attrition of staff, linkages become severed,
knowledge disappears from institutional memory, and the "newly converted" are lost to the
system. This problem is accentuated in research systems with large complements of
expatriate scientists with fixed term postings and frequent turnover (Eponou, 1990)

In those organizations that have had formal planning and programming processes, many have
run them independently from client-oriented research efforts and rarely opened them up to
external participation. In Zambia, for example, significant gains were eventually made in
strengthening the impact of feedback from FSR on commodity research when the annual
planning meetings for the commodity programs were opened up to include FSR researchers in
their deliberations (Kean and Singogo, 1988). Similarly, feedback was quite effective in ICTA
in Guatemala where research was systematically reviewed and planned at a regional level with
both experiment stations scientists and FSR researchers actively involved (Ruano and
Fumagalli, 1988).

The second factor causing weak links relates to how information from farmers is packaged and
presented to decision-makers. Although client-oriented research has produced a wealth of
information on farmers needs, priorities, and circumstances, this information is rarely
consolidated and packaged in a form that can be channeled into institutional decision-making.


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992





Opportunities: New opportunities for overcoming these constraints are emerging. They will
provide us with new leverage points for strengthening farmer-responsive research in the future.
In recent years, national research organizations, faced with declining resources and pressure
from policy makers and donors to show results, have begun to establish more formal planning
and priority-setting processes at the level of research programs (Collion and Kissi, 1991). At
the same time, many of these organizations have also now developed the staff and skills for
working more closely with farmers. With the basic tools mastered, the scope of their work can
now be more easily expanded to include the packaging and communication of their findings
and results for diverse clients -- research managers, policy-makers, planners, senior officials in
development and extension agencies, as well as farmers.

To show concretely how input from farmers, either furnished directly or indirectly through
farming systems or farmer participatory research, can be incorporated into formal decision-
making process, we use as an example of a program planning and priority-setting approach
developed recently by ISNAR in collaboration with INRA in Morocco (Collion and Kissi, 1991).
The approach has two key components:

a participatory decision-making process designed to involve the researchers as
well as research users -- development agencies, extension agents, and farmers or
their representatives;

an analytic framework which structures available information, mobilizes diverse
sources of expertise, guides decision-makers through a systematic analysis of
constraints and opportunities, and provides a tool for setting priorities.

By promoting the active participation of both researchers and research users, the participatory
planning process changes the constellation of decision-makers responsible for designing the
research agenda. In this way it has significant potential to strengthen client-responsive
research. Research priority-setting and planning is ultimately a political process. In the end it is
often who is involved in the decision-making process, not the tools or techniques, that makes
the difference.

Researchers and research users are brought together in workshops to draw up medium to long
term plans for research (5-10 years) and set priorities among research projects. A group
facilitation method is used which elicits information on constraints and potential research
solutions and opportunities from all participants. The method ensures broad and equitable
participation through the use of visualization techniques to manage group discussions.
Everyone has the opportunity to present their ideas on cards which the discussion leader
organizes by theme. Each idea is then discussed and evaluated by the group and then
retained, modified, or discarded. Visual aids have proven very useful in ensuring that all
participants have a chance to influence the deliberations and for building consensus on
decisions reached. Such techniques are particularly useful in groups with inherent power or
status imbalances such as those typically found among researchers, extension agents, and
farmers.

To date these planning exercises have used "proxies" fc farmers -- either FSR researchers or
representatives from extension and development agencies -- since the research organizations
involved had not yet established links with farmers' organizations. Nevertheless, the model is
designed to, and should, accommodate direct input from farmer representatives.


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The analytic framework is designed to strengthen the basis for informed judgments on future
agendas and priorities for research. The analysis involves eight steps. We have highlighted
the five in which input from farmers' and knowledge of farmers' production conditions would
significantly strengthen the outcome of the planning deliberations leading to a research
program more in line with users' needs and potentialities.


STEPS IN PROGRAM PLANNING


1. Diagnosis of the sector targeted by the research program (whether single
commodities or production systems) and a review of development objectives for
that sector

2. Analysis of constraints that hinder the achievement of these objectives and
their causes

3. Review of research results relevant to constraints identified

4. Determination of research objectives and design of a strategy to achieve these
objectives

5. Evaluation of alternative solutions and identification of research projects

6. Setting of priorities among research projects

7. Human resource gap analysis by discipline and research station

8. Policy recommendations for implementation (identification of accompanying
measures that would have to be taken to facilitate technology adoption)

Source: Collion and Kissi (1991)

Constraint analysis is obviously an area where farmers' input is crucial. Without it, scientists
can misinterpret a problem or attribute the wrong causes to it. The evaluation of research
results (step 3) also requires farmers' input. Farmers are best positioned to explain reasons
for adoption or non-adoption of existing technologies; scientists can often only speculate.
Designing a strategy and evaluating alternative solutions (steps 4 and 5) should merge
scientists knowledge of which research paths are technically feasible and likely to yield results,
with farmers' understanding of the kind of technology they need and are likely to adopt.
Priority-setting at the program level (step 6) amounts to choosing among projects and ranking
them from the most to the least desirable. Since priority-setting will ultimately determine
resource allocation, involvement of users at this stage is critical.

The priority-setting method proposed by Collion and Kissi (1991) is based on the principles of
cost/benefit analysis and takes into account five criteria:


the potential for productivity increase by agroecological zones;
the importance of alleviating the constraint to achieve that potential;
the expected extent of technology adoption;


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




the probability of obtaining research results
the research cost measured in research-years

Here, farmers' input is essential to determine the importance of the constraint to be addressed
by the project as well as the projected extent of technology adoption. The utility of systematic
priority-setting procedures is often compromised by the lack of reliable information in these
areas. Harrington (1991) in his recent review of the applicability of cost/benefit approaches to
setting priorities for on-farm research noted that a serious flaw was the inability of researchers
to predict future adoption rates of new technologies. In many cases, farmers should be able to
assess future adoption better than researchers as Ashby's (1986, 1991) Sperling's (1992) and
Rhoades' and Booth's (1982) work with bringing farmers early into the technology design
process implies.

A second criticism of cost-benefit approaches is that they reflect only efficiency objectives,
leaving equity considerations aside. To compensate, some analysts have tried to build
weighting systems into their priority-setting tools. These have proven less than satisfactory,
however. And yet, if one looks beyond the tool to the planning process itself, a simple solution
could be at hand. If resource-poor farmers, or their representatives, participate in the priority-
setting exercise as described above, then their views, as well as those of other key
stakeholders, will be explicitly included in the final judgment. Equity would be addressed not
by changing the formula for ranking priorities, but by changing the balance of power among
decision-makers.

In summary, such participatory program planning methods provide the opportunity for
strengthening the farmers' voice in setting the agenda for future research. By changing the
constellation of decision-makers, providing a framework for systematic analysis, mobilizing
diverse sources of expertise, and structuring the process of decision-making, these methods
open the door to a more balanced distribution of power among researchers and their clients.

Issues. Several issues will need to be addressed if such participatory planning approaches
are to be used effectively to strengthen farmers' input into research priority-setting and
planning.

How can information from farmers and farm-level research be aggregated and
presented in way that is meaningful to decision-makers?

What are the appropriate channels for bringing in such information?

How do research managers gain the skills required to manage group decision-
making processes involving diverse stakeholders who often have competing
interests and perspectives?

Collecting, consolidating and packaging information. To date, data gained from working with
farmers has rarely been collected and synthesized with the purpose of supporting research
planning and decision-making process. This is partly because manv on-farm researchers have
not viewed research managers a J planners as clients c -heir rese.: h. But it is also because
the minimum data set for sound research planning has r..., been specified. This will become
more feasible as planning processes are refined and put in place and data requirements
become clearer. We need to think about what kind of data sets would be required for each of
the steps highlighted above.


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992





A related issue is the nature of the data. Much of the richest data gathered during work with
farmers is qualitative. We need to work more on how such qualitative data, which tends to
come across anecdotal, can be packaged and used in formulating research agendas. The
new techniques being developed for quantifying qualitative data could be very useful in this
regard (Rhoades, 1991 and Sperling, 1992)

A third, and critical, issue pertains to the consolidation and aggregation of data. Problems of
coverage of farming systems and the representativeness of farm-level data will have to be
addressed. How many farmers or farming systems have to be covered to represent a realistic
appraisal of demand for technologies? There is always the concern that preferences for
varietal characteristics of farmers in one village, where intensive participatory techniques have
been used, can distort the research agenda for an entire breeding program simply because
that is the only systematic, (and insistent) feedback available. Intermittent and uncoordinated
feedback from location-specific research is not suitable for sound decision-making on research
priorities (Tripp, 1991). We need to develop mechanisms for collating and packaging such
data and for feeding it in a systematic way to decision-makers at the level of research
programs or experimental stations.

Optimally, a basic data set from all regions designated as development priorities should be
collected and aggregated so as to provide a full and balanced expression of demand. This
approach was used very effectively in Panama during the initial planning exercise of IDIAP as
well as in ICTA in Guatemala (Ewell, 1988). The advantage here was that both these institutes
were new and starting with a clean slate; most research systems do not have such an
opportunity. Nevertheless, relevant micro-level information can be collected over time,
consolidated, and then fed intermittently into medium -term planning exercises as well as
annual reviews and planning exercises. We need to work on the methods and processes for
accomplishing this.

Information channels. What are the appropriate channels for feeding information from
farmers into the decision-making process? There are several approaches.

Farmers can participate directly in planning exercises. Selection and
representativeness of farmers would be a key issue as well as their ability to
communicate with researchers (see next section). Nevertheless, this is the most
potent way to ensure farmers' input into setting the research agenda.

On-farm researchers can act as proxies for farmers. Such "proxies" will not carry
the necessary weight to influence decision-making if they are merely self-
proclaimed spokesperson, as has often occurred in the past. They will be most
effective when they are viewed by both farmers and researchers as the farmers'
representatives, accountable to farmers, and bringing farmers' views and priorities
to the table.

A series of pre-planning meetings with farmers can be organized in regions selected
as representative to discuss their priorities for research. This approach has been
used quite successfully in Nepal (Kayastha et al, 1989), and is now being
experimented within Niger. These meetings could be organized by researchers or
by representatives from NGOs or extension and development agencies. Information


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




can be elicited from farmers as required by the analytic framework and the
conclusions can be consolidated and fed into the formal planning exercises.

Data collected during diagnosis and experimentation on-farm with farmers can be
aggregated and packaged into forms relevant for decision-makers as discussed
above.

Extension can channel feedback from farmers. This is the traditional mechanism
still used in many countries and has been reinforced through the T&V system. The
lack of effectiveness of this channel for bringing the concerns of resource-poor
farmers into technology development process is well documented, however
(Eponou, 1992).

As we experiment with these various approaches we will need to assess systematically their
relative advantages and disadvantages as well as the institutional conditions under which they
would be most appropriate. Cost and efficiency should be important criteria in such an
evaluation.

Skill development. The new approaches to participatory planning methods permit key
stakeholders to come together to assess information, evaluate options, and negotiate a
consensus on research priorities and plans which reflect a balance of their interests (Collion
and Kissi, 1991). Further work needs to carried out on refining these methods, training
research managers techniques for managing group processes and decision-making, and
strengthening farmers' capacity to participate directly in such exercises.

Strengthening Farmers' Leverage over the Research Agenda

While strengthening farmers' input into program planning and priority-setting is an important
step toward developing farmer-responsive research, it provides no guarantee. It does not
move us beyond altruism. Research organizations still have the power to chose who will
participate, how much weight will be assigned to users' views, and the degree to which plans
will actually be implemented and priorities enforced with matching resource allocations. Our
conclusion is that we will only move beyond altruism to true responsiveness when farmers
become better organized and have the political and financial power to negotiate with research
organizations to meet their needs.

Roling (1990), following similar logic, argues that performance of research systems could be
improved more by increasing the countervailing power of farmers than by investing in research
or extension organizations themselves. We have seen that the changes in the mission,
guiding values, and incentive and reward structures required for client-responsive research
organizations are difficult to engineer from within public sector organizations. Such changes
are much more likely to occur when farmers can exert pressure and hold these organizations
accountable for meeting their needs. Research organizations will change when farmers have
the mechanisms and funds to express their demands, contract research, and sit on their
governing boards and program committees.

Opportunities. Sims and Leonard (1990), in their analysis of the political economy of the
technology generation and transfer systems, argue that strong farmers organizations are the
key to fostering client-responsive research. They assert that the strength of farmers'


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




organizations is the single most important determinant of the effectiveness of agricultural
technology systems:

"The importance of farmers organizations is that they directly represent the users of
agricultural research. To the extent that they are effective in transmitting the needs of
their members, they will demand relevant research, press for the integration of research
and technology transfer, and as a consequence, promote adoption to a greater degree
than do other actors in the political and bureaucratic system. "

Recognizing the importance of external pressure for effective technology development, the
governments of Japan and Taiwan, for example, both promoted farmers associations precisely
to stimulate demand for innovations and put pressure on government services for improved
relevance and performance. Even without government intervention, the utility of farmers'
organizations in pressuring for client responsiveness has been amply demonstrated with
respect to high value commercial crops. Not only do such farmers have political clout, but in
many cases, they have the resources to fund and contract research

In reviewing the experience of farmers organizations in influencing research, Kaimowitz (1992)
writes:
"[Typically the influence of ] farmers' organizations is stronger when farmers are
affluent, politically influential, few in number, educated, motivated to invest, and able to
exercise monopoly power to reap the rewards of technological change".

The question remains, then, about the degree to which other types of farmers can develop
effective organizations and the power and resources required to exert pressure on research
organizations. Recent developments in organizations of resource-poor farmers, often
associated with processes of democratization and the increasing commercialization of
agriculture, indicate potentially promising opportunities for developing a more effective power
base for these farmers (Collion, 1992). We have examples of organizations of cassava
producers contracting research from government organizations in Ecuador. Similarly, in the
highlands of Ecuador, positive experiences have been documented of federations of farmers'
organizations, established at provincial levels, bringing pressure to bear on government
organizations to better meet the needs of their constituents (Bebbington, 1991). Other
examples include the linkages between the researchers at the University of Los Banos and
farmers organizations in the Philippines, the partnership between ISRA and CADEF in
Casamance Senegal and the current collaboration between INERA a two farmers
organizations in Zaire.7

Issues. While these recent experiences point towards the potential for poor farmers to
organize and influence the agenda for research, we should not deceive ourselves about the
ease with which such changes can be brought about. Several key issues need to be
addressed before the potential benefits of such farmers organizations can be assessed.
the vulnerability of farmers' organizations
representation -- which farmers are to be represented and by whom
NGO's as an alternative source of pressure

Vulnerability. The weaknesses of farmers' organizations, particularly those representing
resource-poor farmers, have long been highlighted. Esman and Uphoff (1984), in their
seminal study on the role of local organizations in rural development, identified several


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




obstacles to the establishment, maintenance, and effectiveness of local organizations. While
these obstacles were analyzed in the context of building upon these organizations for
development purposes, they appear relevant for the purposes of strengthening research as
well.

The shortage of managerial and technical skills among the disadvantaged rural groups has
been well documented and is probably the most salient factor hindering the effectiveness and
sustainability of farmers' organizations. In addition, local people often encounter resistance
from local elites or national government leaders or administrators when they try to organize
themselves. Farmers organizations also constantly stand the risk of being co-opted as soon
as they cease to be small and informal and threaten to become influential. They may be
subjected to the paternalism of NGOs, to the ambitions of local politicians, or to deception by
their own leaders pursuing personal agendas. Esman and Uphoff (1984) argue that when
local organizations come under external control they lose their potential to serve as
instruments of development for their members. They become:

"less effective in organizing self-help, in managing local resources, in
articulating the needs of their members, and in providing reliable feedback to
government programs."

Clearly, such weaknesses in farmers' organizations would have to be addressed if they are to
serve as viable advocates for their constituents.8

Representation. Typically, farmers' interactions with research have been dominated by large-
scale commercial producers who have political and economic power. This is one reason why
farmers organizations have been eschewed in our efforts to develop greater client
responsiveness in research. This is a critical issue. Sims and Leonard (1990) argue that
unless the production conditions of large-scale and small-scale farmers are similar, the
influence on research of large-farmers, pursuing their own interests, can be prejudicial to poor
farmers. A case study of the Columbia Coffee Growers Federation, for example, showed that
while pressure from large-scale farmers led to stronger research performance in general,
responsiveness to the needs of poor coffee farmers remained weak. (Kaimowitz, 1988).
Similarly, experiences from Zimbabwe indicate that despite a strong policy commitment to
improve the livelihoods of large number of farmers in marginal areas, the interests of the much
less numerous, but well organized, large-scale farmers have tend to dominate decisions taken
on research priorities and the types of technologies to be developed (Gata, 1990).

Farmers organizations will only become an effective instrument for promoting farmer
responsive-research if they are able to represent the interests of diverse client groups,
wealthy as well as poor farmers. Local organizations representing poor farmers will need to be
supported to counterbalance the influence of well-organized large-scale commercial
producers.

NGOs as an alternative source of pressure. Because of what appear to be daunting problems
in strengthening farmers' organizations, some people have turned to NGOs that working
closely with farming communities as an alternative vehicle for increasing external pressure on
research organizations to become more responsive to farmers' needs. In recent years,
external funding has flowed into NGOs operating in developing countries, reflecting donors
growing disillusionment with investments in public sector organizations (Wellard et al., 1990)..


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




While some NGOs have demonstrated clear capacities in community organization and grass
roots development, there remains the persistent problem of accountability. In the end, NGOs
are accountable not to farmers, but to the organizations and individuals that fund them,.

If we rely on NGOs to serve as brokers between farmers and research organizations, we are,
once again, operating within the framework of altruistic organizations representing farmers,
rather than empowering farmers to represent themselves. We would argue that investment in
NGOs should not be a substitute for investment in local farmers' organizations. Nevertheless,
we also recognize the important role NGOs can play in assisting farmers organizations to
develop the administrative and technical skills required to become strong and independent
partners to, and clients of, research organizations (Bebbington and Farrington, 1992).


If we are serious about fostering the external forces needed to make research organizations
client-driven rather than science-driven, investments will have to be made in developing local
farmers' organizations. These organizations will need support in strengthening managerial and
administrative skills. They will need to develop the capacity to attract funding not only from
their members, but also from external donors or national foundations. Securing a sound
financial base is crucial. Their ability to maintain leverage over research organizations will be
significantly enhanced if they have funds to contract research. They will need to develop the
capacity to negotiate with policy makers and government institutions and they will need the
technical skills required to diagnose and prioritize the needs of their members and
communicate these effectively to research. Clearly this will be a long-term process of
institutional development, but one, we would argue, likely to yield significant benefits.


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992





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NOTES


1. This paper draws on a discussion paper presented at the CGIAR meeting of Sccial Scientists,
August 17-20, The Hague, Netherlands. It was entitled "Strenghtening Farmers' INput into
Research Program Planning and Priority-Setting: Issues and Opportunties", by M-H. Collion, T.
Eponou, and D. Merrill-Sands. The paper builds on the results of research carried out at ISNAR
on research-technology transfer linkages; organization and management of on-farm client-
oriented research, and research program planning and priority -setting.

2 Both authors are senior officers at the Intematonal Service for National Agricultural Research
(ISNAR). While the ideas are based on work carried out at ISNAR, the views are those of the
authors alone and not necessarily those of ISNAR.

3 We used the generic term on-farm client-oriented research (OFCOR) to cover a braod range of
research methodologies aimed at developing technologies for resource poor farmers. These
included FSR, on-farm research with a farming systems perspective, on-farm adaptive research,
farmer participatory research, farmer-first-farmer-last; etc. All these approaches share common
features which define on-farm client-oriented research: they involve farmers as primary clients of
research; they are designed to complement experiment station research; they emphasize
diagnosis and the setting of research priorities within the context of the whole farm system; they
adapt and evaluate technologies at the farm level.

4 The cases included: Bagladesh, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nepal, Panama, Senegal,
Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

5 Many of these issues have been addressed in publications resulting from ISNAR's study on on-
farm client-oriented research. For a summary of conclusions see Merrill-Sands et al, 1991. See
also Chabers (1983) and Chambers and Jiggins (1987).

6 Biggs and Farrington (1990) have gone as far as to assert that empowering the poor to exert
pressure on research organizations should be the single most important responsibility of
scientists promoting farmer-responsive research.

7. ISRA: Institut Senegalais de Recherche Agricole. CADEF: Comite d'Action pour Developpement
du Fogny. INERA: Institut National pour ;'Etude et la Recherche Agronomique. L. Sperling,
personal communication.

8. Obviously, a parallel question needs to be asked about the potential for research institutes to
deal with farmers organizations. Some of the obstacles are akin to the ones that have hampered
the integration of farming systems research in the first place. The mission of the organization and
its guiding values, the promotion and incentive structure, the organization of research by
commodity programs on a national basis are some of the difficulties that stand in the way of a
constructive dialogue with farmers. For an effective partnership, these would also have to be
addressed. A great deal of emphasis has been given in the past to the need for adjustments in
the management and organization of the research organizations to make them more client-
responsive, The authors have argued, however, that unless farmers are able to exert pressure
on the research organizations, the required adjustments in organizational behavior and policies
are likely to be limited. Recognizing the need for organizaitonal change and development on
both sides of the equation, ISNAR is embarking on research to examine the organizational and
managerial conditions needed in both research and farmers' organizations to develop an
effective partnership.


dms/USERFSR.DOC/8 September, 1992




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