Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Worldviews Apart: Agricultural Extension and Ethiopian Smallholder Farmers

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Worldviews Apart: Agricultural Extension and Ethiopian Smallholder Farmers

Article excerpt

We were standing in smallholder fields well off the beaten track, several hours down a bumpy dirt road followed by half a day of walking along muddy trails. It was the rainy season in the cereal breadbasket of the Ethiopian highlands. The fields had been planted several weeks before our arrival and were now covered with sprouts. We could see farmers meticulously removing unwanted growth as their fingers combed through the fields of several-inch high growth. I had joined a nongovernmental team that was out to assess the impact of their organization's work, which aimed to encourage smallholder farmers to adopt a new planting methodology. Research indicated that the new methodology could raise yields by 25%. Government agricultural extension workers and the staff of this international non-governmental organization had been actively promoting the new practice with training, demonstrations and advocacy.

Standing with our feet half sunk into the thick black soil, the team was confused. In most fields farmers had evidently not adopted the new methodology. Yet, in some fields, we noticed a small portion of land planted using the newly introduced technique. The team struggled to understand what was happening. Maybe farmers were not convinced by the potential yield increase? W ere the odd sections using the new techniques the result offarmers feeling pressured by government staff presence at the time of planting? Could it be that farmers did not understand the new planting methodology? Or maybe farmers judged that the additional workload required was not worth the gain? Viable explanations, all. I believe that it was not a lack of knowledge or clarity, nor was it external pressure, that best explains the puzzle that confronted us. The farmers and the agricultural advocates were worldviews apart.

This paper analyzes agricultural extension work, and its relative low adoption by farmers, in the Gojjam area of Amhara Regional State in the highlands of Ethiopia, and specifically focuses upon the most important cereal of the area: teff. The unfolding exploration of why farmers were not adopting practices that could significantly increase yield guides the following sections. After assessing the viability of proposed explanations, the paper draws upon the concept of worldview, and the differences between farmers and agricultural extension workers. A concluding section offers reflections on questions relating to evaluating what extension services are effective and how different approaches to making such assessments result in a range of different conclusions. Furthermore, this specific example provides insight into why adoption of agricultural extension services may be low throughout most of Ethiopia.

Researcher positionality and reflexivity are important, yet often under-explored, components of research (England 1994; Rose 1997). This paper does not present the results of a research project on agricultural extension. It offers the findings of a practice-based experiential process. I joined a team on an organizational learning assessment. As someone who had lived and worked in Ethiopia for several years - most of my time being spent with non-governmental organizations - and having an intermediate spoken level of Amharic, I attempted to convey meaning across linguistic and cultural divides. The experiences described in this paper were ones I specifically sought, as I was in the planning stage of a research project that would take place in southern Ethiopia to explore the reasons for low levels of farmer adoption of a range of services and programs.

The approach was guided by the organizational question of assessing adoption of the advocated practices, and was iterative in process. Interactions included individual discussions, focus group sessions and conversations at training events, with farmers, community-level extension workers and organizational personnel. The farmers with whom I spoke were not prearranged and the areas within the communities where data was collected were unplanned, and therefore the interviews, discussions and sample household surveys were random, but not systematically randomized. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.