Wetenschap - 28 februari 2002

Rockefeller Foundation finances large research programme on participation

Rockefeller Foundation finances large research programme on participation

The American Rockefeller Foundation is financing a new large research programme at Wageningen University. It expects to support six PhD candidates each year from developing countries who will research issues related to farmer-participation.

The new programme, Participatory Approaches and Upscaling (PAU), will investigate how the impact of participation of farmers and other agricultural stakeholders in developing countries can be evaluated and how successful approaches can be upscaled. In the past, many development projects failed because they relied too much on the expertise and experience of external experts.

Nowadays, participation is the new buzz-word in development practice. Take for example, Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB), in which breeders develop new varieties of crops together with local farmers that are more suited to local conditions than the varieties developed by breeders alone. Yet the very nature of participation ? building upon local practice ? makes it hard to scale up the successes of participation. What can be successful in one case might not do well elsewhere. The new Rockefeller-funded research programme will focus on what factors determine the success of participation, so that lessons can be learned about the conditions required to use the approach elsewhere. The PhD candidates, who arrived last week in Wageningen from Africa, Mexico, China and Thailand, will study cases of participation in agricultural extension and technology development in their home countries

The Rockefeller Foundation is also financing a part-time position within Wageningen University to support the students and the programme. Dr Conny Almekinders is the coordinator, who will support the students through their research and encourage cohesion around the programme theme. Her research group, Technology and Agrarian Development (TAD), will host the new researchers; Professor Paul Richards will supervise the PhD students together with other Wageningen colleagues. Almekinders likens TAD, an interdisciplinary research group, to a spider in the web of Wageningen University, providing the students with support from various disciplines necessary for studying participatory approaches.

The researchers will spend half of their research period outside Wageningen, in the research institutes they come from - the sandwich formula. These institutes are often funded by the Foundation as well. Almekinders explains that the Rockefeller Foundation is aiming to build up research capacity in this way within developing countries. Almekinders: "The foundation chose Wageningen University because of the sandwich structure we offer. At American universities, students would have spend too much time on course work." There is however a PAU sister programme at Cornell University where a group of eight students have started their PhD studies, focusing on the technical issues in agricultural development.

The Rockefeller Foundation was founded in 1913 by the American industrial J.D. Rockefeller, who accumulated a personal fortune of over a billion dollars. The funding agency is well known for supporting the Green Revolution during the sixties and seventies. It is remarkable that the Rockefeller Foundation now so clearly directs it investments towards participation and people's own initiatives in technology development, instead of relying on technology developed scientifically and then imposed on farmers as in the Green Revolution. Almekinders believes a wind of change is blowing through institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation in favour of participatory approaches, which as a field of study and action seems to be on the rise.

Joris Tielens