While the "green revolution" produced dramatic results in agricultural productivity in many parts of the developing world, it has fallen short in its promise of food security for the majority of smallholders, particularly those in Africa. Over the past ten years, researchers and development workers have begun to look for new mechanisms to efficiently develop and promote agricultural technologies that will help small holders escape the recurring cycles of poverty. Perhaps the most promising and exciting potential lies with the realization that farmers themselves have enormous capacity for research.
Farmers are by their very nature experimenters. Examples exist in West Africa of farmers adapting to new climatic conditions by experimenting with new technologies without outside stimulation or support. In Mali and Burkina Faso, farmers are looking to the drier north for both new adapted crop varieties, and land preparation and water harvesting technologies.
Many formal research organizations have made initial attempts at involving farmers in the research process. Much of this interest has been incorporated into the “Farming Systems Research/Extension” (FSR/E) methodologies. Unfortunately in many cases we have not gone far enough. We utilize farmers' fields, but not their indigenous knowledge.
Several initiatives of non-governmental organizations have proved successful in the development of participatory research methodologies. World Neighbors and the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction have been among the leaders in this area. Using methodologies that rely heavily on farmer participation, these NGOs have had significant results in developing appropriate technologies that farmers readily adapt.
As the cover story demonstrates, the more traditional agricultural research organizations are now moving in similar directions. In addition to CIAT, other international agricultural centers, including CIP, IRRI, CIMMYT, ICARDA and ILCA, are devoting a portion of their resources to actively involving limited resource farmers in their research programs. This initiative is to be applauded. Participatory research with farmers, while not replacing necessary long range basic research, will contribute to improving the efficiency of the limited research resources available.