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Engaging Farmers in Research and Scaling-Up

A Learning Workshop

World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi, Kenya, 19 - 30 September 2005

Jointly convened by AfNet and DMP and sponsored by CTA and others (see Vote of Thanks at bottom of this page), this hands-on workshop helped soil fertility and natural resource management scientists to develop farmer-participatory skills. It attracted forty participants from Botswana, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Why this workshop, and why now?

There is skepticism about impact from conventional approaches to natural resource management (NRM) research, which in the past tended to be complex, process-oriented and rhetorical. NRM successes, where they have occurred have usually remained local rather than spreading widely.

Experience in agricultural research-for-development in Africa has taught that the interventions that last and spread, are those that are 'owned' by their users. Participation by those users in the research, adoption and impact efforts is essential to gain true ownership.

DMP's new Phase II focuses on scaling-up the most promising technologies found during Phase I, to achieve wide impact that benefits the poor and the environment across dryland Africa. To accomplish this, DMP members need to work in a participatory manner with those that they serve.

Workshop goal

To create awareness and develop researchers' skills in farmer-participatory research and scaling-up of promising innovations, in order to empower and benefit large numbers of African farmers through these modern and more effective methods of outreach.


The workshop aimed to give participants the following experiences and skills:

  • Initial exposure to participatory research and scaling up/out, covering concepts, approaches, issues, methods and tools
  • Being able to communicate and relate more effectively and equitably with rural farmers

  • Thinking critically and reflectively about one's own role in research

  • Increasing the relevance and impact of integrated soil fertility and natural resource management research to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers

  • Building better teams for more effective research

  • Creating a community of learning and an ongoing network of support amongst participants

  • Identifying action plans and changes in personal approaches to research and interaction with farmers and stakeholders

  • Experience in applying these approaches with farmers in the field

Quick overview

The first two days built a community of learning within the group by encouraging them to think deeply about what is participatory and what is not. The rest of the first week studied successful and unsuccessful case studies, available technologies and how to design participatory research. Team-building exercises were included throughout the program to keep the energy high and dynamic. The week ended with a field visit to interact with farmers.

In the second week, the focus turned to action research and scaling-up and -out. Invited experts Elly Kaganzi, Pascal Sanginga and Jonas Chianu emphasized market orientation and profitability as intervention points for up-scaling.


Week 1

The workshop began with an interactive gathering of the hopes and expectations as well as challenges that the participants wanted to see covered during the workshop. They wrote their ideas on cards that were pinned on the wall so that all ideas could receive equal recognition. These revealed the participants desire for a participatory workshop in practice as well as theory.

Visiting presenters shared their experiences through group work and role-plays. In one of the first exercises, 'What is participatory and what is not?', participants built a large wall map describing what they thought are the key components needed to address poverty alleviation and sustainable natural resource management. This led into outdoor exercises and a discussion on building a community of learning.

Next, researcher's own insights from growing up in Africa were tapped by sharing their differing cultural norms to highlight and celebrate cultural diversity. This was followed by an interactive exercise on the fundamentals of participation and non-participation, in an attempt to define participation.

Practical challenges to participatory research were highlighted in a spirited role play on working with different vested interests in a village-level project. Next came group discussions on gender analysis, first in large same-gender groups, and then asking half the participants to role play as the opposite sex, which significantly deepened and changed the discussions.

The first week ended with field visits to villages near Meru and Embu in eastern Kenya. Six groups were created to try their own approaches to interactions with farmers. Some carried out in-depth discussions on cultural and social aspects; others engaged in village mapping and walks; and others in resource mapping.

As they reviewed the experience, participants reflected a desire to learn more about how to lead discussions, successful questioning techniques, managing dominant people, getting both women and men involved, and the need for time for a general settling-in and trust-building before applying more specific research tools.

Week 2

Week two focused on the potential for agro-enterprise, action research and technology evaluation, impacts, and scaling-up and -out. To keep it lively, outside team-building exercises and short icebreakers were introduced by facilitators. These ranged from exercises such as 'Trust Sitting’, 'Blind Man's Square', 'Knots' and the challenging final 'Spider' exercise.

The week began with a participatory session on the essential elements of a spirit of enterprise, marketing basics and participatory agro-enterprise development. This was followed by lectures, role-plays and group exercises on the design and planning of participatory on-farm experimentation, participatory technology evaluation, monitoring and evaluation, scaling-up, exit strategies, and policy issues, focused mainly on soil science research. Additional activities that week included a team-building exercise, personal reflections on what each participant had learnt, and personal action commitments on follow-up to the workshop. These ranged from determination to change interpersonal skills to creating workshop and training events back home.

Evaluation of the workshop

The final evaluation by participants was very positive. The group was active, friendly and energetic in their participation. They appreciated the participatory approach in contrast to more conventional, drier lecture approaches. They created an email list to stay in touch and keep sharing experiences and opportunities. French/English language skill differences created some difficulties but live translation would have adversely affected the spontaneity of the course. A challenge was to integrate the participatory approach into the styles of the invited speakers; more pre-course preparation time for this would be desirable.

Workshop organizers and facilitators

The workshop was ably organized by Ritu Verma, a social scientist and anthropologist at TSBF-CIAT, assisted by anthropologist Michael Misiko and five invited presenters: Sandra J. Velarde, Programme Officer, ASB; Regina Karega, Kenyatta University; and CIAT scientists Elly Kaganzi (Regional Agroenterprise Specialist), Jonas Chianu (Economist) and Pascal Sanginga (Sociologist). Three facilitators guided the workshop process: Sue Canney Davison, Pipal Ltd. Nairobi; and Twalib Ebrahim and Ezekiel Nguyo from the Depot (an NGO based in Nairobi).

Made possible by (thank you!)

Sponsors: Technical Centre For Agricultural And Rural Cooperation (CTA), West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (WECARD), African Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Environment Program/Global Environment Facility (UNEP/GEF), Desert Margins Program (DMP), Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF), and the CGIAR Systemwide Programme on Participatory Research and Gender Analysis (PRGA).

Organizers: The African Network for Soil Biology and Fertility (AfNet) of TSBF-CIAT, and CIAT's Enabling Rural Innovation (ERI) initiative; International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics - Niamey (ICRISAT-Niamey), and Centre d’Etude Régional pour l’Amélioration de l’Adaptation ŕ la Sécheresse (CERAAS).


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