Spreading the Wealth of Innovations

A farmer shares his experiences with other farmers at a workshop in Maputo, Mozambique. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

A farmer shares his experiences with other farmers at a workshop in Maputo, Mozambique. (Photo: Bernard Pollack)

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ in extension” writes Ismail Kimole, a teacher with the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF), in the December 2009 issue of ILEIA’s magazine Farming Matters. This seemingly simple point comes up many times throughout the issue, as each of its articles take a closer look at how successful agricultural innovations can best be shared with the people who need them the most.

From multi-media presentations in classrooms to demonstration plots on neighborhood farms, what is clear is that the more personal and practical the information on any innovation is, the more likely the practice will be adopted, shared, and spread. “Social and cultural factors need to be understood and respected when trying to get farmers to adopt new practices,” writes Kimole. And farmers need to see for themselves how a new practice will be applied to their own farm, and how that new practice will directly benefit their families, if they are going to be willing to take a risk of trying something new.

In Makuyu in the district of Thika, Kenya, Kimole describes how one innovation spread from a single farmer who participated in water conservation training by KIOF to six, without the aid of any formal information sharing. After noticing that their neighbor practiced a water saving technique that saved her harvest during a severe water shortage that caused many farmers’ crops to fail, six of her neighbors, during the next rainy season, started mimicking the way she had dug holes along the crop rows. 

Another example of the potential of farmer to farmer sharing is featured in Mireille Vermeulen’s article about System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Developed in 1980 in Madagascar, SRI is now used in 36 countries by farmers growing rice on land areas ranging from .5 to 20 hectares. Although scientists still don’t agree on whether or not the technique has actually been proven to increase crop yields, farmers are seeing the benefits and adopting the practice on their own.

But the larger question still remains, if the best way to reach farmers is through their community and by example, how does one approach spreading information about innovations that work to the largest possible audience?

The Africa Rice Center has been creating short videos, using local farmers to demonstrate a particular technique on film, and then disseminating them through their website and during educational presentations. Last week Danielle Nierenberg, co-project director of Nourishing the Planet,  visited a workshop in Maputo, Mozambique organized by Prolinnova, the Spanish NGO Centro de Iniciativas para la Cooperacion/Bata, and the National Farmers Union of Mozambique (UNAC) where famers gathered to share their experiences and learn from each other about different innovations being practiced in different communities. And ILEA itself presents an opportunity to compare and analyze innovations that are working all over the world through its website, magazine, and other publications.

To contribute your own ideas and experiences, suggest other ways that farmers can share their success stories with each other, or spread information about useful innovations, leave a comment below or fill out our agriculture innovation survey.  Just as important as an innovation that nourishes people and the planet is making sure that the innovation is actually being used and shared.

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