Adopters? Rejectors? Or Key Partners?: Cameroon’s Rural Resource Centres offer a farmer-centred approach to extension work
Concern about the environment and sustainable management of natural resources alone does not motivate farmers to adopt new agricultural practices. Then what does? Studies conclude that communication between farmers, agronomists, extension agencies and scientists is crucial. Takoutsing et al studied the concept of the Rural Resource Centre (RRC) to find out whether and how the participation of farmers in these centres can provide new insights for the development of alternative and farmer-based extension methods. Indeed, they found out that these centres offer farmers a third option over and above being mere adopters or rejectors of new practices. Farmers can now be key partners of scientists and extensionists in designing, implementing and disseminating the new agricultural practices so vital for sustainably increasing agricultural productivity in the backdrop of declining soil fertility, reduced farm sizes, population increase and inadequate conservation measures.
Formal agricultural research has generated vast amounts of knowledge on land management and made recommendations for farmers. However, adoption of relevant practices has been low, largely due to the traditional extension approach used to engage farmers. The technologies promoted through most programmes are usually inappropriate for farmer conditions and circumstances, resulting in minimal impact at farmer-level despite positive feedback reported by implementing institutions. An innovative approach to extension, the Rural Research Centre (RRC), offers a solution to this problem.
The Agricultural and Tree Products Programme, implemented in the highlands of Cameroon by the World Agroforestry Centre and partners between 2007 and 2010, aimed to support smallholder farmers to reduce poverty and enhance environmental sustainability. This broad aim was achieved through RRCs.
RRCs are basically community-based centres used for training and demonstration of new practices. They focus on technology development and innovations geared to the specific physical, climatic, economic and social circumstances of smallholders—providing a comfortable environment for farmers to contribute and participate. On-farm demonstrations are conducted with resource-poor farmers, who act as resource persons for capacity-building and as extension agents to scale up practices to other farmers.
The RRC concept was conceived as an alternative to existing extension methods. RRCs contextualize needs and priorities; they values indigenous knowledge and emphasize joint learning between researchers, extension workers and farmers. In addition, RRCs also render key services such as access to market information, links with market actors particularly from the private sector, and exchange platforms for knowledge and information exchange among farmers and other stakeholders.
The current success of the approach stems from the fact that farmers, extension workers and researchers jointly implement the activities and their different aims are achieved simultaneously: scientific results for researchers, better agricultural practices for extension workers, and economic success and free choice for farmers.
During the three years of the implementation of the programme, a total of 186,646 improved plants were produced in various types of propagules; 35,800 marcotts, 11,100 cuttings, 46,323 grafts and 93, 323 seedlings. The total income generated from the sales of these materials for the year 2010 by the RRCs and farmer groups was estimated at US$65,000—an economic incentive that greatly enhances farmers’ participation. These authors argue that farmers’ decisions to adopt land management practices were mainly influenced by financial motivation. Lack of funds was found to be the main factor limiting farmers’ ability to change their management practices, followed by available time and workload.
The RRC strategy empowers farmers, improves their knowledge and skills, and increases their acquaintance with research. Now farmers can effectively influence the setting of the research protocol and facilitate its implementation on-farm. The approach is, in general, more demand-driven and client-oriented. The majority of RRCs and farmer groups continued to practice and promote land management options beyond the end of the program.
Some recommendations from the study:
- For successful scaling–up of technologies involve farmers in experimentation, demonstration and dissemination.
- Build farmer capacity to reduce the gap between them and other stakeholders and enhance their participation.
- More effective results are realized in group settings, so focus on empowering groups
- Contextualize extension approaches by taking local interests, farmers’ field conditions and indigenous knowledge into account.
- Take the action needed to enhance participation of women.
- Tailor training programmes to continuously update the skills and knowledge of farmers and stakeholders.
- Allocate more resources to public agricultural services.
- Conduct regular evaluations to identify and solve problems.
Takoutsing Bertin, Tchoundjeu Zacharie, Degrande Ann, Asaah Ebenezar & Tsobeng Alain (2014): Scaling-up Sustainable Land Management Practices through the Concept of the Rural Resource Centre: Reconciling Farmers’ Interests with Research Agendas, The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension.
Improving smallholder production systems, markets, productivity, sustainability and incomes is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner.