Lessons for Farmer-Oriented Research: Experiences from a West African Soil Fertility Management Project

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Donors, scientists and farmers all benefit when research and development projects have high impact. However, potential benefits are sometimes not realized. Our objective in this study is to determine why resource-poor farmers in Togo (declined to) adopt recommended practices that were promoted through a multi-organizational project on soil fertility management. We examine the processes and outcomes related to the adoption process. The project was undertaken in three villages in the Central Region of Togo in West Africa. The development and research processes that took place during the implementation of the project were critically analyzed using a conceptual framework that may be useful for improving the impact of future participatory projects. At the macro level, opportunities for innovation were not deliberately explored with participating farmers and other village members; consequently ‘‘pre-analytical choices’’ made during the planning phase resulted in practices that resource-poor farmers were, for a variety of reasons, unable or unwilling to adopt. From the outset, donors and scientists focused on soil fertility management, but failed to take into account the wider economic context within which soil fertility management took place. This was a major obstacle to the subsequent adoption of recommended management strategies. Scientists and donor partners measured the success of the Project in terms of crop productivity, but farmers’ choices were influenced by a complex mix of socio-economic, political and technical factors. We also illustrate the importance of selecting appropriate categories of farmers for a particular experiment. We conclude that for participatory research and development projects to be successful, it is not enough to develop technologies that ‘‘work’’ in a technical sense. In order to be scaled up and widely implemented, such technologies must also meet a variety of needs of resource-poor farmers and be acceptable from a socio-cultural point of view.
Agricultural research, Soil fertility, Technology, Farmers