Case studies on smallholder farmer voice: an introduction to a special symposium

by | Nov 25, 2019 | 0 comments

What was the issue?

It is becoming increasingly clear among researchers that views of farmers, especially in developing countries, are not considered when policies are being made. “Farmers have a voice when their preferences, perspectives, knowledge and needs are considered. Farmer voices is more than merely asking farmers what they think about a particular policy or new technology” (Harvey & Iddisah, 2014). One prescription to enabling farmer voices beyond just asking questions is the use of participatory research. But the dynamics involved in this process may be the empowerment of marginalized groups rather than the achievement of a scientific or policy objective.  This paper identified, through a collection of cases, barriers to smallholder voices and efforts to overcome the bottlenecks.

What process was used to ensure Small-holder Voices (SHV) were heard by policy makers?

In 2013, project leaders from the John Templeton Foundation’s (JTF) programme ‘‘Can GM Crops Help to Feed the World?’’ met in England for a symposium to discuss progress on funded projects. Through a collection of essays in this symposium, they tried to understand the hinderances to smallholder farmers having a voice using participatory approaches. The essays described these efforts and provided a critique of their successes, focusing on specific challenges and barriers to farmer voices.

What was the outcome of this process? Was it a success/failure/mixed?

One of the case studies examined matooke farmers in Uganda and adoption of GMO and found that they were virtually shut out of the debate regarding biotechnology; researchers talked to but not with the Matooke farmers. In another instance, the effect of GMO maize in South Africa on smallholder farmer voices was analyzed. The creation of a community of practice, which is a group of people who share a craft or a profession, by the JFT, allowed South African farmers who had not grown GMO maize access to share in the development and enhance their experiences. This effort, though not conclusive, was optimistic about the ability of the community of practice to employ participatory approaches to improve farmer voices.

What key lessons can be learnt? Is this process replicable?

Important lessons can be learned from the process.

  1. Participatory research that involve farmers throughout the process is ideal to amplifying the voices of smallholders. Thus, participatory research could help reduce the extent of information and individual bias that stifle agricultural research uptake
  2. Cultural and knowledge differences between farmers and researchers pose an active risk; understanding the ecosystem of smallholders will be critical to their empowerment.
  3. It is appropriate to involve smallholders in discussions that reflects their interest. Doing so would give them an enabling environment to express their opinions and be heard. This process can be replicated bearing in mind the socio-cultural underpinnings of the country.

This case involved participatory approaches to agricultural research in technology generation and utilization with promising results.  Perhaps, similar participatory approaches in policy processes could have similar results.

Is this process sustainable? What is the latest assessment of the impact of this process?

Participatory approaches to making farmer voices heard is one of the foremost tools used by researchers to guarantee ownership and uptake of findings to improve farmer welfare outcomes. This approach not only gives farmers a voice, but also promotes cross learning among researchers and smallholders. It allows both parties to understand and communicate better in the short and long term on agriculture applications. Indeed, one validation of this process was done by the ‘Empowering Smallholder Farmers in Markets’ (ESFIM) Programme, a research support fund implemented between 2015 and 2018 in many countries including some west African countries, which utilized participatory approaches  that helped farmers’ organisations (FOs) prepare for change through advocacy and access to markets.

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