Investigating discouraging and encouraging emic reasons to apply eco-efficient farming methods : a participatory study with indigenous small-scale farmers in Ratanakiri, Cambodia

University essay from SLU/Department of Biosystems and Technology (from 130101)

Abstract: In 2008 the most extensive evaluation of global agriculture in human history notable named “agriculture at a crossroad” was published, indicating that agroecological small-scale farming systems could be a path to follow in the future in order to secure a sustainable food supply. Yet it is claimed that there is a gap between knowledge regarding the methods used for agroecological farming and its application by farmers. Through my literature review I discovered that many studies devoted to this issue have not investigated the underlying interconnected sociocultural explanations. It is critical to investigate the emic (i.e. how local people thinks) perception of farmers in order to understand their decision-making process regarding agroecological methods. This is the root of (driver behind) Farming Systems Research (FSR), which was one key branch within participatory RD&E. Furthermore, when examining the history of agroecological adapted farming systems, one can observe that they have been based on innovations produced by farmers in a continuous set of experiments. Encountering farmers’ emic perceptions would provide valuable understanding in order to encourage the development of agroecological solutions. This thesis is a case study conducted using action research with the objective to induce an empowerment process in which comprehension is gained in respect of emic perceptions of farmers. The field study is undertaken in Ratanakiri province in Cambodia. Due to a rapid transformative process, the indigenous small-scale farmers in this province have experienced significant changes in recent decades. Land grabbing and pressure, deforestation, and land privatization undermine traditional land management systems. Therefore, shifting cultivation is progressively being replaced by more intensive monoculture cultivation. This leads to decreasing soil fertility, which threatens the agricultural productivity of small-scale farmers. Extension actors involved in agricultural development are teaching small-scale farmers in this area several methods of soil improvement. They now observe that indigenous farmers do not often apply these methods. In my master’s thesis, I facilitated a collaborative learning process by applying participatory video making in order to investigate the following research question: What are in the emic perspective of indigenous famers the discouraging and encouraging reasons (not) to apply eco-efficient methods? The results suggest that a crucial barrier is the inferiority–superiority dynamic between external teachers and indigenous and the ignorance of the interrelatedness of farming with cosmology. Extension actors ‘meddle on the natives’ turf’ by trying to integrate eco-efficient methods into their cosmologically framed cropping system. As critical components (of the learning process), indigenous people may function as teachers, creating a credible synthesis of local affiliation, as well as proven and field-tested eco-efficient methods. Therefore, like it is advocated in the field of participatory RS&E, I am suggesting the transformation of the role of extension actors from being a teacher to becoming a facilitator of empowering processes in which farmers are becoming involved in a transdisciplinary, participative systemic and action-oriented research process wherein farmers conduct farm trials.

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