Science - January 28, 2010

Information dissemination in Malawi misses the mark

Text:
Joris Tielens

Things are not working well for participatory farmer field schools in Malawi where woman farmers get together to solve problems in cassava farming. This picture emerges from research carried out by Midori Yajima from Japan.

The so-called 'participatory approach' of donors and non-governmental organizations (NGO) appears to be no more than old-fashioned top-down information dissemination, and this is not making much headway. Yajima graduated on Friday 15 January, having researched into the perceptions of farmers concerning their farms and the effects of AIDS.
In Malawi, participatory farmer field schools (FFS) are set up by donors and NGO's to teach farmers how to handle the consequences of AIDS and improve farming. Farmers are told how to increase their cassava harvests with integrated and environmentally friendly management of diseases.
Not interested
This approach has been a big success in Asia. However, woman farmers in Malawi, who are responsible for cassava growing, have neither shown any interest in, nor do they implement the new management measures. Yajima says this is because the suggested measures cannot be incorporated into the actual situation.  For example, the woman farmers do not have any time for the new measures because of a shortage of labour in this country stricken by AIDS. Moreover, there is no demand for higher production because there is no market for that. One of the measures is to remove plants affected by diseases, so as to prevent the spread of the disease, but the affected leaves seem to be just what is considered as a delicacy. Farmers do not consider AIDS as their biggest problem and take it as one of the risks they have to deal with.
Safety net
Yajima concludes that the FFS are participatory, as in Asia, but only in name, while in reality, they are just the same old sort of information dissemination to farmers which the government has been carrying out for decades in a top-down manner. And yet, she believes that FFS are effective if they become really participatory. In addition to giving information, they can act as a safety net for farmers affected by AIDS.

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