In the overall development effort to assist smallholder producers and rural poverty alleviation, it is usually not enough just to develop and promote technology innovations suitable for the physical environment. Instead it is the development professional’s responsibility to take this a step further and sort out any constraints the farmers might have in accepting the technology within the total farming environment including the economic and social conditions. This could be the primary difference between research and extension workers in which the published technology is the end product, and development workers which, to be effective, must continue to acceptance. It has to recognize the recommended technology is based on physical potential and needs to be adjusted to the economic optimal level of inputs as well as what is operationally feasible to smallholders with limited labor and other operational resources to manage their lands.
There is a little emphasized component in some technology development/transfer models that addresses this concern. It is the process of integration, which is placed off to the side between extension and users in the accompanying figure. Normally integration is defined in terms of information, persuasion, and reinforcement, implying a refinement in the education/extension process. However, it could be expanded to include additional farm level participatory diagnostics of the resource limitations, and adjustments of the resource base and supporting infrastructure that will provide farmers with the additional resources needed to increase the extent of adoption, in essence moving the dotted line that runs from D through Integration and back to C, and having it run from D back to B in the figure. More emphasis on the integration process with additional participatory involvement could help identify the “Operational Constraints” in terms of labor, power, etc. and then identify some “Supporting Technologies” that need to be promoted or provided that would assist the farmers in overcoming the operational constraints and allow them to increase the percent of their holdings that can be utilized according to desired innovations. This would then assist in separating the extent to which delayed adoption represents a Lack of Knowledge vs. Lack of Means. Also, if more attention was given this component of technology transfer, the limitations in the Basic Premise most likely would have happened and been addressed early in the development effort and the overall development effort for poverty alleviation been considerably more effective.
Potato-Wheat in Malawi
A comprehensive example of integration of technology into a smallholder system, and how a comprehensive farming systems research program can effectively undertake integration studies, is illustrated by the efforts of the Malawi Adaptive Research Program to introduce potato-wheat sequential cropping. Using an annual set of on-farm field trials for periodic visits to the area and continuous informal discussions with the farmers, the adaptive research program started out with a traditional climatic evaluation that indicated the physical potential for potato-wheat sequential cropping in high altitude areas of the country such as Dedza Hills some 100 km south of Lilongwe, the capital. This was quickly confirmed with simple on-farm field trials. The potato-wheat sequence would improve upon a maize-wheat relay combination, in which the wheat was planted too late to effectively utilize the residual moisture, resulting in very low yields. Under normal research and extension procedures, the technology could have been recommended to the farmers for adoption. However, it is highly unlikely it would have been widely accepted. It was really necessary to undergo an iterative integration process over several years as the field trials continued. In the subsequent years the iterations in the program identified and addressed:
- Problems with fluctuating prices with the seasonal low at the peak potato maturing season in February resulted in farmers lifting only what they needed to meet short term cash requirements while storing most of the potatoes in the soil until the prices increased in June to August. Without good storage facilities, potatoes store better in the ground than lifted. With the potatoes occupying the ground it was impossible to plant wheat. The solution to this problem was promoting simple on-farm potato storage structures, which were being developed by the engineering research section that would allow the potatoes to be stored for up to four months, without weight losses exceeding 10%.
- The introduction of storage structures quickly highlighted the need to cure potatoes for a few days before storage, which was difficult in the wet season. Thus, it was necessary to modify the curing technology slightly to include curing with weather protection.
- Dribbling wheat seeds was too time consuming and costly to plant large areas as expediently as needed following potatoes for an economically viable wheat crop. Thus, it was necessary to introduce and test alternative planting technologies modified from upland rice cultivation in the Philippines (see photo right). The new planting technique helped reduce the time for wheat establishment and lowered the production cost to an economically viable level.
- One area was too isolated, located some four hours from the main road and next to the Mozambique border. At that time, Mozambique was embroiled in a civil war, making security a major concern for private truckers needed to haul the potatoes from the area. The only trucks going in and out of the area were United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) trucks contracted to bring in relief supplies and return empty prior to dark. During this period, potato production was temporarily not feasible, and farmers who previously grew potatoes left their fields fallow for most of the rainy season prior to planting wheat. Wheat, at least, could be sold at a modest price through the government marketing structure, but with a noticeable economic decline for the farmers. The potato-wheat sequential cropping promotion had to be curtailed because it was constrained by factors beyond the control of the adaptive research program, and thus the technology was not appropriate for that time. Hopefully, with the improved security resulting from the end of the civil war in Mozambique, the farmers can revert back to growing the more profitable potatoes.
- In areas not affected by security problems, concern developed regarding the quality and quantity of seed potato, and the need to multiply a new potato variety introduced into the area by the project. The problem originated from the farmers selling all potatoes, including the small ones that would normally not command good prices and are usually retained as seed potato, during August and September when the prices had increased substantially. However, there was a means for indigenous seed increase in wetter areas, and this included the new variety without project facilitating. It also provided some positive feedback on acceptance of project inputs. However, the bulking rate for potatoes is very low at 6:1, and it is difficult to get an adequate supply of seed potato. This lifting and selling all the potatoes was very much the opposite of four months earlier, when at maturity prices were too low and farmers retained as many potatoes as possible in the ground, hindering the planting of wheat. However, this problem was actually solved by the farmers as they were able to increase seed potatoes in the dambo (small wet land areas) within the area.
- Concerns developed regarding survivability of the introduced variety when the onset of the coming rainy season was delayed by three weeks or more. The seed potatoes of the introduced variety when dry planted in anticipation of the rains, as was the normal practice, deteriorate with prolonged exposure to the dry condition. This is in contrast to the local varieties that could tolerate the delayed onset of the rains. Also, there seemed to be a slow buildup of a virus on the introduced variety, which lowered the yield and increased the percent of potatoes too small to get a high market price.
The bottom line is that despite the physical fit to the environment, with careful analysis, several socio-economic and operational constraints were identified that needed to be overcome prior to large-scale farmer acceptance of the potato-wheat sequential cropping. Most of the constraints were eminently valid and indicated the farmers, regardless of limited formal education, were very knowledgeable of their system; highly market oriented, and understood the constraints imposed by limited resources and infrastructure support. The potato-wheat sequential cropping remained a physically appropriate technology, but promoting it required a full knowledge of the systems and sorting out the various constraints encountered. Many of these constraints were local or regional and would have to be evaluated at that level, and thus not something that national or international research efforts could address. The promotion of various supporting technologies, such as storage structures, planting methods, etc., will assist in overcoming these constraints and make the technology more appropriate. It also shows a combination of adjusting both the technology and the farming system into which it was being introduced to form a viable combination.
Last Revised: 11 May 2007.