Adept at adapting : contributions of sociology to agricultural research for small farmers in developing countries : in case of rice in the Dominican Republic

F. Doorman

    Research output: Thesisexternal PhD, WU

    Abstract

    <p>This book discusses possible contributions of sociology and anthropology to agricultural research. It is based on investigations carried out from 1981 to 1985 in the Dominican Republic in the Adaptive Agricultural Research (AAR) project, a cooperative effort between the Agricultural University of Wageningen and the Dominican Ministry of Agriculture. The origins of this project can be found in the growing interest, during the last decade, in the potential benefits of the participation of sociologists and anthropologists in interdisciplinary research teams involved in applied agricultural research.<p>Chapter 1 reviews the state of the art of sociology and anthropology in agricultural research. On the basis of the literature, a number of roles for the non-economic social scientists are discussed, as well as various topics for sociological and anthropological research. Also, some of the problems of interdisciplinary research involving biological scientists, economists and noneconomic social scientists are examined.<p>In Chapter 2 the methodology of the AAR rice research is presented, and related to the diagnostic research methodology of the most well-known approach to small farm development: Farming Systems Research. Particular attention is paid to the introduction of the diagnostic case study in the research process, as a means to obtain, in a cost-effective way, a wealth of information on the how's and why's of farmer decision making.<p>In Chapter 3, background information is given on the Dominican Republic, Dominican rice cultivation and the three areas where the AAR rice research took place.<p>In Chapter 4, the linkages between Dominican rice researchers, extension agents and farmers are analyzed. It is shown that small Dominican rice farmers lack ways of indicating their needs for new technology to rice researchers, and therefore do not participate in the setting of research priorities. The virtual absence of an information flow from the small farm to the research level is described as a result of institutional constraints and the prevalence among officials of the stereotype of the small farmer as uneducated, traditional and backward. A result of the lack of communication is that an important part of the technology generated at the research station is not or only partly applicable in small farm production conditions.<p>Chapter 5 presents an example of the effectiveness of small farmer practices in obtaining good production results with limited resources. The case presented is that of the growing of a ratoon crop, i.e., obtaining a second rice crop from the stubble of the first - sown - crop. It is demonstrated that both from a micro and a macro point of view ratooning is an efficient way of producing rice, particularly in production systems that face constraints in access to irrigation water and machinery for land preparation.<p>Chapters 6 to 9 elaborate on the central argument of this thesis, which is that an important contribution of sociology and anthropology to applied agricultural research for small farmers can be made in the area of diagnostic methodology. Chapter 6 contends that in the first phase of diagnostic research, the reconnaissance, all potentially relevant factors should be appraised with the purpose of selecting for further analysis those that are found to have the strongest impact on farmer decision making. A framework for such an appraisal is presented, together with the results of its application to the three areas where AAR rice research took place. It is concluded that the principal factors influencing the decision making of the farmers. investigated are of an agro-infrastructural and economic nature: access to irrigation water, machinery for land preparation and credit, and plot levelling and drainage.<p>In Chapter 7, the weaknesses are discussed of the currently predominant diagnostic research methods in applied agricultural research: Rapid Rural Appraisal and the formal survey. It is argued that in most instances the combination of these two techniques is unlikely to yield the thorough understanding of complex small farm systems that is needed to establish guidelines for the development of adapted technology. Therefore, it is suggested to add a more qualitative and in-depth research method, the diagnostic case study. The inclusion of case studies in diagnostic research methodology also permits a more participatory approach to the development of technology for small farmers by incorporating the latter's perspective in setting research priorities and orienting research programmes.<p>In Chapter 8, it is argued that the fact that agronomists and economists are neither trained in qualitative research nor in the analysis of farmer perceptions, ambitions, goals and perceived needs, justifies the participation of sociologists and anthropologists in interdisciplinary teams involved in technology development. However, to function properly in such teams, the social scientist must be able to produce rapid results that can be used as a basis for technology design. Since the time available for diagnostic research is usually quite limited, this may mean that the social scientist will have to trade some scientific thoroughness for speed.<p>In Chapter 9, it is shown how the social science methods of case study and survey can be combined with agronomic trial research to create a more complete picture of specific small farm problems. The case presented is that of the late transplant of rice seedlings. Case studies provided information on the causes of the problem and the way farmers coped with it by adapting certain management practices; survey research yielded estimates of the number of farmers affected by the problem; and trial research resulted in quantitative estimates on yield losses and the effectiveness of farmer adaptations.<p>In Chapter 10, the categorization is discussed of the farmers of the three research areas according to the aforementioned five factors of plot levelling, drainage, and access to irrigation water, machinery and credit. It is demonstrated that for the overall research population, as well as two of the three research areas, the used method of categorization is effective in differentiating farmers on three important indicators for technology development: yields, cropping intensity and income earned from rice production. On the basis of these results, two general recommendation domains with "good" and "poor" production conditions are established and recommendations for the development of appropriate technology are made for each.<p>The conclusions of this book, presented in Chapter 11, start with a review of the research topics and roles of the social scientist, discussed in Chapter 1, that were taken into account in the AAR rice research. It is concluded that a mayor sociological contribution was made in the area of research methodology, by supplementing the information gathered through the "traditional" diagnostic methods of rapid appraisal and survey with the qualitative, in-depth knowledge generated by the case studies. Other important roles fulfilled by the AAR sociologist were that of an ex-post evaluator of the adoption and adaptation of new rice technology, that of a two-way translator and broker who fosters communication between biological scientists and farmers, and that of an indicator of needs for new agricultural technology. Of the topics for research mentioned in Chapter 1 particular attention was paid to the analysis of farmer decision making, motivation and perceptions, and to the analysis of local knowledge on rice cultivation. Other important research foci were household composition and organization, the linkages between farmers and officials, and farmer organization.<p>After a brief review of the conclusions regarding the desirability of the incorporation of local knowledge in technology development, some comments are made on the specific characteristics of the local knowledge of the investigated rice farmers. It is argued that in spite of the short history of rice farming in the research areas, a considerable body of local knowledge had already been developed, based for an important part on adaptations to constraints in production conditions. However, due to the fact that the research population consisted of a socially heterogeneous and atomized group of settlers with a western-Latin background, for whom rice was a relatively new crop, the influence of social and cultural factors on decision making in rice cultivation was relatively limited. In other situations, where specific cropping systems have formed the basis of existence for farming families for centuries, social and cultural factors will be likely to determine farmer practices and decision making to a much greater extent. Consequently, in development oriented research such factors will need more attention than was the case in the research reported here.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • van Dusseldorp, D.B.W.M., Promotor
    • de la Rive Box, L., Promotor, External person
    Award date29 May 1991
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Publisher
    Print ISBNs9789067541893
    Publication statusPublished - 1991

    Keywords

    • sociology
    • rural communities
    • farmers
    • rice
    • oryza sativa
    • dominican republic
    • agricultural extension

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