"peasants have much to learn from agriculture researchers, but so do researchers have much to learn from peasant farmers...lines of communication have never been effectively opened in either direction; until they are, neither will benefit, with african agriculture and the environment on which it depends being the main losers. the scientist has attempted to impose inappropriate solutions from outside, with little knowledge of the small farmers' priorities and realities. the farmer has ignored such advice, and more often than not has been right to do so."
In most of the world, research into agricultural technologies has been limited to the confines of research centers. While that research is important, the real test of the appropriateness of any technology rests, according to B. T. Kang of IITA, "....with those groups working in villages who are testing technologies and adapting them to the local conditions." There is such variation within each country and its microclimates that both station and on-farm adaptive research must take place. A great opportunity for intensification of on-farm agricultural research is with the PVOs and the NGOs.
In our discussions with PVOs both national level and international ones, many have expressed a desire to have Rodale International assist them by providing up-to-date information on the agricultural successes of others and provide technical assistance through both training and follow-up activities in regenerative agriculture and communications. The voluntary agencies recognize their strengths and weaknesses. Their strengths lie in their direct links with the communities in which they work and their long-term commitment to the betterment of those communities. Their weaknesses lie in limited expertise in agricultural technologies and extension techniques.
To create a mechanism to support agricultural activities of voluntary agencies, Rodale International carefully studied the potential and design for creation of a communications network that would provide pertinent technical information to local projects. In addition to conversations with the voluntary organizations, we have visited and/or established essential links with many of the international research and development agencies, such as IITA in Ibadan, Nigeria, International Service for National Agriculture Research (ISNAR), International Center for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA), Nitrogen Fixing Tree Association (NFTA), the World Bank, USAID, national research agencies in individual countries, and with the United States Department of Agriculture National Library in Beltsville, Maryland. All are important components in activating an international communications network that can share basic technical information with those in the greatest need of it.
Rodale International's strategy has three components: research, communications, and training.
Develop a better understanding of the individual successes in food production which now exist.
Carry out research into technologies that can build upon those successes.
Encourage and support applied research that is being carried out through the auspices of existing agricultural projects of international and national voluntary agencies.
- Establish a national network to share experiences and results with others involved with agricultural development.
- Link the national network to an international communications network that will share the successes between regions of the world.
- Assist with training staff of PVOs and NGOs in regenerative agricultural technologies.
- Assist with training staff of PVOs and NGOs to conduct quality
on-farm adaptive research.
As has been noted above, there are abundant existing successes with regenerative technologies. These successes can be found on individual farms, in pilot projects, and at research centers, but no system exists to network the information being generated. Rodale International has designed and is implementing an interactive international network which is linked with strategically placed regional centers that are the "loop" through which information moves back and forth (Figures 2 and 3). The overall structure for the network is as follows:
One regional center is in Senegal, a second is being established in Kenya and discussions are underway for the establishment of a third center in Latin America. By the end of l988 five regional centers are expected to be in operation. Rodale International has determined that the most efficient mechanisms to initiate this network for sharing regenerative agricultural information are as follows:
Bernard Woods of the Operations Policy Staff at the World Bank has said, ". . .forms of mass media hold great potential for rural development; they have a cost advantage and have been shown to be able to perform functions in which other communications modes have failed, but their potential has not been realized. . .forms of distance education and communication technology provide means of adult education and information transfer with application in all traditional sectors involved in rural development; these media are able to supplement traditional approaches and reach segments of rural communities little touched by earlier approaches." We must be daring in how we approach the rapid changes in communications technology. Foremost, we must constantly look at how media can assist in the process of decentralizing information and making sure it is available to those who need it.
We are at an important, and perhaps critical juncture. The current climate of supporting opinion, which is limiting funds available for development, may be, instead of a problem, a "window of opportunity," in which those of us committed to assisting our neighbors in the southern hemisphere, can not only realize the need to work more closely together, but can develop an agenda defining how we can work together, share ideas, techniques and strategies with each other. By so doing we can ensure that the programs we are involved with are being built upon foundation stones of success.