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1.1. Why study the social impact of IPM?

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM), sometimes referred to as the Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) approach[1], aims at helping farmers to take independent, well-informed crop production and management decisions. It achieves this primarily through participatory, season-long, farmer field schools, which help farmers and extensionists working together to better understand what goes on in the fields. Rather than being lectured by outsiders, field schools help farmers uncover and strengthen their own local knowledge.

The central question of our study has been: what is the social impact of the field schools, and of IPM? There are two main aspects to consider when studying the social impact of IPM.

Hitherto, most attention has focused on the yield increases and reduction in production costs resulting from IPM. This narrower economic perspective, however, has neglected certain other benefits emanating from the approach. For example, both farmers and extensionists indicate that once field schools have started meeting regularly, addressing a wide range of issues, farmers’ attitudes and competencies change. This process is complex but real, just as attending a regular school changes a pupil’s position in society in complex but tangible ways. The ambition to find out how these processes work exactly was our first motivation to study the social impact of IPM.

The changing macro-context of IPM was a second consideration. Liberalisation, State disengagement, public service reform, and a new sense of urgency about empowerment and good governance, form the macrobackground against which IPM activities are set. The changes at that level affect farmers locally in concrete ways. Extension and local research systems get weaker and smaller, depriving farmers of a source of advice. Adequate information about inputs and prices may become hard to obtain. Market actors emerge and grow strong, with new demands and constraints placed on farmers, on their local organizations, and with implications for the way they produce their crops. Under the given conditions, being an efficient, capable, farmer implies an increasing reliance on knowledge developed and shared locally with other farmers.

This paper aims at clarifying the above issues by:

1.2. Enhancing farmers' knowledge through IPM: a brief introduction

This section first outlines the principles of IPM, and then describes the type of challenges that led to its creation.

IPM is a participatory approach to crop production and protection. The approach is based on ecosystem management and aims to maintain a natural equilibrium. As such, it reduces the risk of damage by pests. IPM helps farmers to enhance their understanding of the agro-ecosystem and develop capacities to take well-informed, independent decisions on how to manage their crops more efficiently, and in a more sustainable manner.

An important tool to support farmers in understanding and applying IPM principles is the season-long farmers’ field school (FFS). A field school is a discovery-based learning process in which farmers themselves design and carry out field experiments to find solutions to problems they have encountered in their fields such as soil degradation, on-farm water management, diseases and pests. Field schools have four key principles:

i) Grow a healthy crop;

ii) Observe the field regularly;

iii) Conserve natural enemies; and

iv) Farmers are experts in their own fields.

Depending on the type of crop, groups typically consist of 25 farmers who gather for 5-6 hours on a weekly (rice, vegetables) or monthly basis (in the case of bananas, for example). In their first season, groups are supported by a facilitator, usually an IPM-trained extensionist.

In 1980, the first FAO IPM Programme on rice was launched in Asia. The Programme gradually spread to other Asian countries and was expanded to include other crops, particularly cotton, cabbage, French beans, and soybeans. Beginning in 1997, with additional support from donors, the programme was extended to countries in Africa and Latin America[2].

IPM programmes aim to reduce pesticide use to a minimum, to lessen the negative impact of agro-chemicals on the environment and health, and to decrease production costs. Through improved crop and pest management, IPM farmers may achieve substantial savings on pesticides while maintaining or even increasing yields. Farmer Field Schools in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and, have resulted in savings for rice farmers of over US$90 per hectare, with yields maintained or increased. Profits have increased by over 25 percent[3]. In the National IPM Programme in Viet Nam, for example, typical yield increases in 5941 field schools, involving 173 600 farmers, were in the range of 5-10 percent with reduced pesticide use. Benefits amounted to an average of US$40 per hectare[4]. The experiences in South-East Asia have shown that these benefits are sustainable in terms of agricultural practices. In the Asia Programme, field schools and other farmer-to-farmer extension activities are often financed locally and receive voluntary contributions from the farmers themselves. Field school running costs differ from one country to another but fall in the range of US$10-15 in Indonesia[5] to about US$20 per farmer in Mali[6], with costs coming down after the initial season[7]. Even more substantive savings occur when farmers themselves are given responsibility for facilitating field schools.

IPM field schools aim to strengthen farmers' technical knowledge, as well as their organizational, management, and communication skills. By being able to access and process field and economic data independently, field school farmers learn how to communicate better and present findings to others. By documenting their field observations in writing and through drawings, farmers become aware of the knowledge they possess on (local) production constraints, including diseases and pests, water and soil problems, and social impediments to intensification of production (labour shortages at peak periods, etc.). Groups critically review field findings by individual members of the group and expose farmers to knowledge and experiences of other farmers in a structured way. This, combined with their enhanced analytical capabilities, increases the self-consciousness of farmers. It also makes them more outward looking and more critical towards externally imposed solutions to their problems.

1.3. The setting: IPM and the Office du Niger irrigation system in Mali

The objective of this study is to look at real changes occurring in the field. Therefore, the social impact of IPM is assessed through a case study, with a timeline (or before and after) type of analysis.

A key question was where to undertake the case study. The more dynamic the case context, the more difficult it would be to distinguish changes caused by field schools. Locations where hectic political strife or violent conflict was present were therefore ruled out. So were locations where large controversies and politico-commercial conflicts about, for example, pesticide and fertiliser were raging[8]. The case eventually selected was the Office du Niger rice irrigation system in Mali, West Africa.

This section explains what is the Office du Niger, and provides some characteristics on the project. The remainder of this section is then devoted to justifying the suitability of the Office du Niger for the case study purposes.

Some characteristics of the case

The Office du Niger is the largest irrigation scheme in West Africa. Some 65 000 hectares of land are presently irrigated. Mainly rice is produced; with a single rice harvest per year common, although a minority of farmers do cultivate a second rice harvest or vegetables in the dry season. Yields are 4-5 tonnes of paddy per hectare for non-rehabilitated parts, while around 5-6 tonnes per hectare is common for areas rehabilitated by donor projects, the variations due to local differences such as in the state of the irrigation system and the soil.

The majority of farming families in the Office du Niger (presently some 20 000, the total population being around 200 000 and growing) have a three hectare plot. An average family musters just enough labour, equipment, and capital to farm these three hectares. A typical family:

Many families are short of one or more of the necessary resources (oxen, equipment, money, or manpower), resulting in less intensive agriculture than the suggested model practice[9]. Limited pest problems and the high cost of agro-chemicals limit their use in the Office du Niger. Herbicides are applied more widely than insecticides[10].

There are many types of farmer organizations in the Office du Niger area, of which co-operative is the most significant at the village level. Co-operative performance varies. At levels higher than the village level, there is an array of participatory committees of State organizations, farmer unions, and the local Chambers of Agriculture.

Management of the system is shared between farmers’ formal or informal organizations and the parastatal organization that bears the name ‘Office du Niger’ (the area is called Office du Niger as well). This organization functions as the irrigation service, the development authority, and the official extension service at the same time. In 1993-1994, the Office du Niger was completely restructured and its operations decentralised. Staff numbers decreased from roughly 3 000 to about 350.

The relevance of the Office du Niger as a case study

There were several considerations in selecting the Office du Niger as a case study to assess the social impact of IPM:


The Office du Niger is well-documented since the State, helped by several donor projects, has been collecting physical, economic, and social data (e.g. on rice production and the functioning of co-operatives) for several decades. The actors, both within and outside the farmer world, can be readily identified. There are no major controversies or divides that could reduce openness and limit the opportunity of carrying out a study to an acceptable level. Furthermore, farmers and the irrigation/extension service agreed with the objectives of the IPM pilot. The programme was therefore not controversial.


Is the Office du Niger a good place to find evidence on the social impact of IPM? The case is geographically, economically, and socially, well defined. The irrigation system is much smaller than most of the well-known systems in Asia. This reduces boundary problems and helps in coping with the inevitable diversity within a case. The fact that there is, nowadays, little controversy or upheaval makes for a relatively undisturbed background in which study social change.

Significance for the broader discourse.

The proposition here is that the Office du Niger case, for all its cultural and other particularities, reflects typical State-farmer relationships. This history can be summarised as follows:

i) Complete domination of farmers by an oversize State bureaucracy in colonial and socialist times;

ii) A 15-year long process, starting in 1984, of donor-driven liberalisation and State disengagement; and with farmer participation that took years to function effectively;

iii) A State bureaucracy (especially its extension staff) in search of an approach and culture to suit the new circumstances shaped by state disengagement and decentralisation.

The argument here is that the Office du Niger is typical in terms of the sequence of events and the state of affairs. Based on this assessment, it was concluded that the Office du Niger case met the requirements to study and analyse the impact of an IPM programme.

1.4. Set-up and methodology of the study

The phrasing of the main question in Section 1.1 implies that not much is known about the social impact of IPM. The study is therefore mainly qualitative, with many explorative aspects. For example, what is the best set-up for an explorative timeline or before/after study? Gathering data from early in the field school programme and comparing that with data collected later provides an opportunity to analyse when, where, and how, changes occurred; and helps determine if the changes were caused by field schools or by other things going on at the same time. Since some programme effects take time to manifest themselves, this second measurement should be done after the programme has been going on for several seasons/years. Unfortunately, this was not possible.

The resources available for this study allowed data to be collected both during the first season of field school exercises, and one year after their completion. During the second field period, no formal IPM programmes were running, providing a good opportunity to assess which changes were likely to last.

The study was carried out during the following agricultural seasons:

In both periods, the researchers spent a month in the field, helped by two or three surveyors. (Details of the data sources can be found in the tables of Annex 2.)

In 1999 study focused on the field school execution, on the profiles of field school participants and their the villages, and the institutional context. Six villages were selected for in-depth review, of which:

Financial indicators that were used to determine performance/level of activity in the preliminary stage of the study included balance sheet analysis (especially debt burden) and cashflow.

The logic behind the choice of the six villages was the following. The social impact of IPM would be manifest in a variety of ways in the Office du Niger area, and the six villages chosen are typical of the Office du Niger area as a whole. They will be similar to other villages in important respects since the area is quite homogenous in terms of size, demography, access to markets, access to extension services and projects’ advice. However, there are considerable differences in the state of the irrigation and drainage systems, and in the performance of the villages’ farmers’ organizations within the area; the six villages were chosen to reflect these differences.

The survey held at the completion of the 1999 field schools involved all of the 23 field school groups. In contrast, the survey in 2000 was more extensive, involving a total of 116 former field school farmers representing all 23 field schools. In addition, 35 female farmers were interviewed, out of which 10 were field school participants, and 25 formed a control group. The farmers interviewed were selected using the criteria of geographical coverage, gender, and class; in order to gain an impression of the opinions of different farmer groups on IPM and its wider context.

The principal aim of the study in 2000 was to check the reliability of the earlier findings, to enhance the potential for generalisation of the results, and to tackle specific themes such as gender issues and dissemination of knowledge to farmers who had not attended to the field schools in 1999 (i.e. the majority of farmers in the Office du Niger area). Therefore, observations and semi-structured interviews were also held in all 23 former field schools alongside the pre-structured survey.

[1] In this document the abbreviation IPM is used to mean Integrated Production and Pest Management.
[2] With the establishment of the Global IPM Facility (hereafter referred to as ‘the Facility’) in 1997, FAO, in collaboration with UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank, and financially supported by the Governments of the Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway, began supporting IPM initiatives in Africa and Latin America. In 1999, as a follow-up to several FAO-funded IPM pilot initiatives in Burkina Faso, Ghana, the Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali, the Facility helped initiate a pilot IPPM project on rice in the Office du Niger in Mali.
[3] Ter Weel and Van der Wulp 1999 p. 12.
[4] FAO Intercountry Programme for IPM in Asia (1996), p. 15.
[5] FAO Technical Assistance Indonesia National IPM Programme (1998), p. 258.
[6] Nacro 2000.
[7] Field school running costs in the Office du Niger were reduced to US$16 per farmer in the wet season of 2001 due to increased farmer contributions and reduced expenses for facilitation and materials. Source: Global IPM Facility 2001.
[8] In one way, the ‘rampant conflict about pesticides’ scenario would offer excellent opportunities for analysis of the social impact of IPM. However, since this study was a pilot, both themewise and methodologically, it was more appropriate to test the idea in more stable surroundings, less prone to sources of bias.
[9] Jamin 1994 passim.
[10] INSAH 2001.

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