Farmers flying a jumbo jet?

In this morning’s session, Boudy van Schagen, Knowledge Sharing Specialist at CIALCA, discussed communicating with farmers in a way that results in change.


“CIALCA is a about change—change of livelihoods. The question is, ‘How do we go about realizing the change?’,” he asked the audience.

An important aspect is to distinguish between what is knowledge and what is information.

“First of all,” he said, “they are not the same thing.  For me, information does not lead to action unless it is within a farmer’s domain of existence,” he continued.  Knowledge does.

Training farmers to fly a jumbo jet, he continued, is not knowledge. It’s information. Similarly, providing them with information on applying fungicide is not knowledge if they can’t afford it.

To have impact on a larger scale, Van Schagen argued, we need the researchers to be acutely aware of farmer realities. That way, scientific knowledge can have the kind of impact we all hope for.

One example presented at CIALCA this week highlighted the importance of understanding social and historic dimensions of farmer’s decisions. Researchers in Ethiopia were surprised by the absence of beans growing in an area where they would normally be prominent. On investigating further, they discovered this was due to high rates of theft from fields. Farmers feared retribution and reawakening dormant ethnic tensions if they exposed the thieves, so they simply stopped growing beans. “Had the researchers tried to reintroduce beans without understanding and addressing the underlying reasons,” says van Schagen, “their efforts would have been futile.”

Farmers Voice their Communication Needs

If researchers really want to have an impact on food security in Africa, they need to know the best communication channels for reaching farmers. At the CIALCA Conference in Kigali this week, Serah Kimaru-Muchai from Kenyatta University, presented the findings of a recent study in Central Kenya to identify the most effective methods. Here’s a clip with what she found.