Farmers and Scientists: Partners in Research

A farmer-participation research project in Cauca, Colombia, funded by the W.K. Kellog Foundation, is involving farmers in the development of improved crop varieties. Referred to as IPRA (Investigaci—n Participativa para la Agricultura), the three-year project is being conducted by the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) and several Colombian agricultural research and development agencies.

Some 300 families are participating in the program. FarmersŃmen and womenŃwork hand in hand with agricultural scientists and sociologists to plan research and test ways to grow crops. Together they identify cultivated varieties of beans, cassava and maize that adapt best to the farmersÕ growing conditions and resources. The project is also testing ways to involve farmers in designing and evaluating agricultural technology and in analyzing their cropping problems.

Researchers, for their part, want to find cultivars that are resistant to insects and diseases and that need minimal amounts of fertilizer and agro-chemicals. Farmers, on the other hand, are also looking for varieties that are palatable, and that are easy to grow and sell. When these two points of view are integrated, research is more efficient, because scientists can verify their ideas with the farmers. By participating in the entire research process, farmers receive encouragement about the value of their own knowledge and experience, and thus are more likely to experiment with the technology developed.

An important aspect of the project is creating new ways to train agronomists in participatory research. Courses have been held to train them in sensitivity and communication methods. These techniques encourage farmers to express their honest opinions about a technology that is being discussed. The project is showing that when farmers become directly involved in the technology development process, research can respond to their needs and capacities in a more focused and realistic way. A 20-minute video program has been produced by CIAT to give an overview of participatory research. Information on this program and other training materials on participatory farmer evaluations are available from:

The IPRA Project
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