Is Agriculture Research for My Grandma?

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As is the case with most of the population in most African countries, my grandma lives in a rural area. Though she speaks the local language fluently, my grandma barely writes or reads. She and her village counterparts are facing two agricultural challenges.

First, indigenous crops are diminishing. Nutritious and organic food that the entire village could enjoy for years is becoming scarce. Second, indigenous knowledge is disappearing. The indigenous local agricultural experts who used to provide the community with knowledge have either become too old to help or, sadly, have died and taken their knowledge with them.

My grandma is looking for a substitute for the indigenous agricultural knowledge and nutrition-sensitive information. My grandma needs such research. The question is, does the process of gathering data help her to get what she wants and needs?

When researchers visit my grandma’s village to investigate the problems facing the people who live there, they enter the community knowing little about the cultural dynamism at play. In designing the research proposal they might have read what they could find about the community but, unfortunately, there is very little information about the people in most villages to be found in the entrant literature. Yes, the literature may provide information about geography and climate, but really there is little else about the rural  communities and their people. Often, the researchers are unable to speak the local language. So for the most part, they can only rely on information gathered within less than a week –  or, at most 10 days – that has very little local cultural or social context.

Culturally my grandma and her village peers have high respect for these visitors, but at the same time they fear them. They would neither embrace them nor want to waste their time. They willingly attend interview sessions and answer all questions. However the information they provide is not really based on facts and life experience. Most of the time they provide information they think will please the researchers. They may also bend facts to protect their privacy and cultural values.

Of course, the researchers are at fault for not doing what is needed to learn the stories behind the data they have gathered. They express gratitude to their respondents and leave with data that is either half-baked truth or fails to represent accurately the realities of the community. Because of time and financial limitations, researchers are not able to go back to verify the data.

My grandma and her village counterparts do not intentionally provide inaccurate information or deceive. However, they don’t trust strangers with their information. Also, for the most part, rural people are not aware of the value of research and how it can be used to solve their daily problems. At the moment, it is not clear whether she and her village are really benefiting from the incredible knowledge that is being generated through various studies.

The critical question is, should agricultural research be for grandma?  The answer is yes. The 3rd Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD3), which  convened in South Africa from 5-8 April 2016, emphasized that agri-food innovation and research should  not leave anyone behind. People like my grandma should be able to use agri-research to improve their livelihoods.

It is  incumbent on the researchers, when they enter communities, to take the time to talk with village leaders and their people to understand the problems they are investigating and how their research can benefit the community. Such relationship-building is critical and serves three purposes. First, it helps the local people to build trust and open up to researchers with tangible information, which in turn, will improve the quality data of the data gathered. Second, the process of engaging the people at the outset gives researchers the opportunity to connect the research with day-to-day life in the community. Such engagement will help the researchers design a project that is people-focused and concentrated on bringing solutions to smallholder farmers. …And that’s what this month’s GCARD3 Global Event was all about!

Blogpost by Jasson Kalugendo , #GCARD3 Social Reporter – jassonk(at)empowermentafrica.org
Picture courtesy Peter Casier/CCAFS

This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Global Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, 5-8 April 2016. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.


5 thoughts on “Is Agriculture Research for My Grandma?

  1. I am the Innovation Platform facilitator. And to me, this is fundamental issue. The author of this blog has touched this issue. However, it is not single and standalone issue. There are gaps in languages between different stakeholders of the agricultural research and innovation, and even between researchers. I do not talk about particular language, e.g. English, Russian or Uzbek. I am talking about the language we are communicating with. Many researchers speak languages that other grass root, e.g. field, lab researchers and technicians do not understand. My mother also lives in rural area and practicing small scale farming. However, I can’t explain in her language what is my job, even we are speaking the very language, i..e. Uzbek. I think we should leave our podium’s language and speak the language of farmers, smallholders, if we are going to re-search and change their lives. I think we should focus not only on producing research papers based on “investigating and how … research can benefit the community”, but on how we can really contribute to changing the lives and livelihoods of farmers, especially smallholders.

  2. Jasson narrates a hypothetical story very close to reality. What normally goes into research is existing knowledge and experiences, financial capacity and clear and realistic expected outcomes and impacts, all linked to the socio-cultural environment in which the research is being carried out. Our current situation and research designs are not helpful because the situation forced on us is not supportive- we work in the short term mode (months to a few years); we have very limited resources that force us to have very limited engagement time (and numbers) with our partners and target beneficiaries; we think mainly in the experimental and project mode (not program) and quite often because we do not understand the cultural values and norms, we ask very queer questions to our respondents- the number of children, wives, goats or cows much of which is actually ‘tabu’ . In many traditional cultures, you do not ‘count’ children or goats…otherwise the evil spirits may hear and take away some! It is not surprising therefore that Jasson’s grandma does not tell all the truth when confronted with these researchers’ questions. Research on these and other gender issues need to be built on socio-cultural foundations, a clear knowledge of which is a prerequisite for obtaining quality research information.

  3. It is an interesting piece of article. Author’s words have spoken the truth about researches and their outcomes to the communities. I find it interesting that a lot of researches that are conducted are said to be useful to solve problems faced by communities but on the contrary they are produced to meet needs of the sponsors leaving behind a major important part, beneficiaries.

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