Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • P. J. A. VAN ASTEN (a1), S. KAARIA (a2), A. M. FERMONT (a1) and R. J. DELVE (a3)


Farmer participatory research (FPR) approaches are now considered mainstream and are especially applicable for developing appropriate technology options in complex, diverse and risk-prone regions, where local adaptations are crucial. Although the advantages of using farmer knowledge to guide scientific research are numerous and well documented, the challenges and potential pitfalls that befall biophysical researchers, in particular, when using FPR approaches have received much less attention, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Our experiences show that in certain cases, the methods used to collect farmer knowledge are flawed, leading to inaccurate or incomplete information being gathered. This potentially leads to the development and promotion of unsustainable, unprofitable or socially unacceptable technologies. This paper uses a series of examples to illustrate that discrepancies between farmer and researcher observations may occur because (i) farmers and scientists may not have sufficient insight into the systems complexity, (ii) farmers and scientists use different reference frameworks, and (iii) methodological errors may lead to farmers intentionally or unintentionally providing false or ‘desired’ information to achieve (short-term) benefits. This paper concludes by providing guidelines to improve the integration of farmer and scientific knowledge in order to develop appropriate technology options that are both environmentally sound and adaptable to local conditions.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author:


Hide All
Ashby, J. A. (1990). Evaluating Technology with Farmers: A Handbook. CIAT Publication no. 187. Cali (Colombia): CIAT.
Ashby, J., Braun, A. R., Gracia, T., Guerrero, M. P., Hernandez, L. A., Quirós, C. A. and Ro, J. I. (2000). Investing in Farmers as Researchers; Experience with Local Agricultural Research Committees in Latin America. Cali, Colombia: CIAT.
Barrios, E., Delve, R. J., Bekunda, M., Mowo, J., Agunda, , Ramisch, J., Trejo, M. T. and Thomas, R. J., 2006. Indicators of soil quality: A South-South development of a methodological guide for linking local and technical knowledge. Geoderma 135:248259.
Bentley, J. W. (1989). What farmers don't know can't help them: The strengths and weaknesses of indigenous technical knowledge in Honduras. Agriculture and Human Values 6:2531.
Bentley, J. W. (1994). Facts, fantasies, and failures of farmer participatory research. Agriculture and Human Values 11:140150.
Briggs, J. (2005) The use of indigenous knowledge in development: problems and challenges. Progress in Development Studies 5:99114.
Brokensha, D., Warren, D. and Werner, O. (1980). Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Development. Lanham: University Press of America.
Chambers, R. and Jiggins, J. (1986). Agricultural Research for Resource-poor Farmers: the farmer-first-and-last-model. IDS Discussion Paper, No. 220. Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.
Chambers, R., Pacey, A. and Thrupp, L. A. (1989). Farmer First; Farmer Innovation and Agricultural Research. Intermediate Technology Publications: London.
Defoer, T., Budelman, A., Toulmin, C. and Carter, S. (2000). Building common knowledge: A Textbook for Participatory Learning and Action Research (PLAR). In Managing Soil Fertility in the Tropics: A Resource Guide for Participatory Learning and Action Research, (Eds. Defoer, T., and Budelman, A.), Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute.
Dildy, G. A., Paine, A. R., George, N. C. and Velasco, C. (2004). Estimating blood loss: can teaching significantly improve visual estimation? Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 104:601606.
Fermont, A. M. (2001). Rice Cultivation and Soil Degradation in the Bignona Valley, Senegal: Developing management options for rice cultivation on degraded soils using a participatory approach. St. Louis (Senegal): West Africa Rice Development Association.
Fermont, A. M. (2002). Amélioration de la riziculture sur des sols dégradés dans la vallée de Bignona, au Sénégal: Résultats de l'hivernage 2001/2002. St. Louis (Senegal): West Africa Rice Development Association.
Gaidashova, S. V., Okech, S. H. O., Gold, C. S. and Nyagahungu, I. (2005). Why beer bananas? The case for Rwanda. Infomusa 14:26.
Gold, C. S., Karamura, E. B., Kiggundu, A., Bagamba, F. and Abera, A. M. K. (1999). Geographic shifts in highland cooking banana (Musa spp., group AAA-EA) production in Uganda. International Journal of Sustainable Agriculture andxWorld Ecology 6:4559.
Grossman, J. M. (2003). Exploring farmer knowledge of soil processes in organic coffee systems of Chiapas, Mexico. Geoderma 111:267287.
Haefele, S. M., Wopereis, M. C. S. and Donovan, C. (2002). Farmers' perceptions, practices and performance in a Sahelian irrigated rice scheme. Experimental Agriculture 38:197210.
Homann, S. and Rischkowsky, B. (2001). Integration of indigenous knowledge into land-use planning for the communal rangelands of Namibia. Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor 9:69.
Kaaria, S., Njuki, J., Abenakyo, A., Delve, R. and Sanginga, P. (2008). Assessment of the Enabling Rural Innovation (ERI) approach: Case studies from Malawi and Uganda. Natural Resources Forum 32:5363.
Lindbo, D. L., Vepraskas, M. J. and Rhoton, F. E. (2001). A field method for determining percentage of coated sand grains. Soil Science Society of America Journal 65:949953.
McMaster, D. N. (1962). A subsistence crop geography of Uganda. The World Land Use Survey. Occasional Papers no. 2.Bude, UK: Geographical Publications Limited.
Moller, H., Berkes, F., Lyver, P. O. and Kislalioglu, M. (2004). Combining science and traditional ecological knowledge: monitoring populations for co-management. Ecology and Society 9:2. [online]
Nederlof, E. S. and Dangbegnon, C. (2007). Lessons for farmer-oriented research: Experiences from a West African soil fertility management project. Agriculture and Human Values 24:369387.
Njuki, J., Kaaria, S., Sanginga, P. C., Murithi, , Njunie, M. and Lewa, K. (2008). Building capacity for participatory monitoring and evaluation: integrating stakeholders' perspectives. In Innovation Africa: Enriching Farmers' Livelihoods. (Eds Waters-Bayer, A., Kaaria, S., Njuki, J., and Wettasinha, C.). London: Earthscan Publishers.
Okali, C., Sumberg, J. and Farrington, J. (1994). Farmer Participatory Research, Rhetoric and Reality. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.
Okech, S. H. O., Gaidashova, S. V., Gold, C. S., Nyagahungu, I. and Musundu, J. T. (2005). The influence of socio-economic and marketing factors on banana production in Rwanda: results form a participatory rural appraisal. International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology 12:149160.
Peters, D. and Peters, J. (1998). Barriers to Farmer Participatory Research: Moving from Constraint to Opportunity. Bogor: International Potato Center East, Southeast Asia and Pacific Region (CIP-ESEAP).
Quansah, C., Drechsel, P., Yirenkyi, B. B. and Asante-Mensah, S. (2001). Farmers' perceptions an management of soil organic matter – a case study from West Africa. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 61:205213.
Richards, P. (1985). Indigenous Agricultural Revolution – Ecology and Food Production in West Africa. London: Hutchinson.
Steiner, K. G. (1998). Using farmers' knowledge of soils in making research results more relevant to field practice: Experiences from Rwanda. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 69:191200.
Sutherland, A. (1999). Linkages between farmer-orientated and formal research and development approaches. AgREN Paper 92a. London: ODI.
Taulya, G. (2005). Effect of topsoil depth on banana yields in Uganda. MSc thesis. Makerere University Kampala, Uganda.
Thapa, B. (1994). Farmers ecological knowledge about the management and use of farmland tree fodder resources in the mid-hills of eastern Nepal. PhD thesis, University of Wales, Bangor, UK.
Thrupp, L. (1989) ‘Legitimatizing local knowledge: ‘Scientized Packages’ or empowerment for Third World people’, In Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Implications for Agriculture and International Development: Studies in Technology and Social Change No. 11, 138153. (Eds Warren, D. M., Slikkerveer, J. and Titilola, S.) Ames: Iowa State University, Technology and Social Change Program.
Van Asten, P. J. A., Barro, S. E., Wopereis, M. C. S. and Defoer, T. (2004) Using farmer knowledge to combat low productive spots in rice fields of a Sahelian irrigation scheme. Land Degradation and Development 15:383396.
Veldhuizen, L., Waters-Bayer, A., Ramirez, R., Johnson, D. A. and Thompson, J. (1997). Farmers' Research in Practice. Lessons from the Field. ILEIA. London: Immediate Technology Publications.
World Bank (2007). World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development. World Bank. Available on-line from


  • P. J. A. VAN ASTEN (a1), S. KAARIA (a2), A. M. FERMONT (a1) and R. J. DELVE (a3)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed