If farmers were resisting efforts to convince them to use "improved" technologies, but were still able to develop an agricultural system that was performing better than what science could develop and offer them, what were they doing right? In this case study of agroforestry systems in Rwanda, Dr Christoffel den Biggelaar attempts to clarify both that question and its answer. This document is based on a long-term, in depth study, in which Dr den Biggelaar aimed to gain an understanding of what farmers knew and how they obtained and further developed knowledge. It reflects a spirit of learning from farmers about their tree growing practices.
Top-down extension strategies have proven to be inappropriate for community forestry, with a very low adoption rate by farmers of methods presented by research stations dealing with forestry and agroforestry. The concern of community forestry is to find the right ways to learn what farmers are already doing and support them.
This case study is the first in a series of publications on the topic of farmer initiated research and experimentation - farmers' spontaneous experimentation and farmer-led research and extension processes. The goal of the series is to determine more effective ways in which farmers can be supported in their own processes of experimentation and knowledge sharing, while at the same time working towards a consolidation of local forestry knowledge.
Other case studies are being conducted in Africa, Asia and Latin America which focus on the role of trees in farmers' lives, the current management/use of trees within farming and economic systems, how farmers experiment to make better use of tree and forest resources, how they share their knowledge with other farmers, and how intermediary groups and research and extension institutions support these local initiatives.
The material from these studies will form the basis of regional synthesis papers which will focus on the approaches, methods and tools needed by research/extension institutions to design supportive research and extension strategies that both understand and respect local realities, processes and organizational capacities.
Both the case studies and regional synthesis papers will be inputs to an international conference which will be held in collaboration with The Indian Institute of Management - Ahmedabad, India in 1997. It is anticipated that out of the conference will come a Community Forestry Note and a strategy for FAO and other collaborating institutions in support of farmer initiated research and extension.
Through her leadership and support, Marilyn Hoskins, the former Senior Community Forestry Officer, Forestry Policy and Planning Division, and former coordinator of the Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTPP), made a valuable contribution to the development of this complex topic. Jean-Marie Laurent provided detailed comments on the text, based on his experience in both backstopping and coordinating activities on this topic world-wide.
The publication of this case study is partly funded by the Forests, Trees and People Programme. Within the FAO Forestry Department, the Programme is coordinated by Katherine Warner, Senior Community Forestry Officer, Forestry Policy and Planning Division.
The idea for this research developed during years of working as a horticultural teacher in Burkina Faso and as an extension agronomist in the People's Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The difficulties of convincing farmers to adapt "improved" technologies made me realize that perhaps the technologies were not really "improved", which was borne out in some on-farm trials showing that the local varieties and methods of production were out yielding what the projects could offer farmers. Were farmers doing something right? I finally had to admit that perhaps they were, but what? How could they develop an agriculture that was performing better than what science could develop and offer them, without the aid of fancy laboratories, sophisticated plant breeding techniques and field trials, and statistical analyses? I think the first step was to realize that farmers' agricultural practices are not random acts of planting seeds and tending livestock, but are deliberate, well-reasoned choices based on extensive experiences with and observation of locally available resources. It is not that farmers are not open to new ideas and technologies, indeed; I found quite the opposite as evidenced by the many exotic crops and trees widely cultivated by small farmers in Africa. However, like consumers everywhere, they are critical of what is offered to them and choose only those technologies that appear the most useful and/or profitable for their specific conditions.
African agriculture, therefore, is not traditional, backward or stagnant but, on the contrary, very adaptable, vibrant and dynamic. The dynamic nature of agriculture, then, formed the backdrop for my research on agroforestry systems in Rwanda. The aim of the study was to understand what farmers know of agroforestry and how they obtained that knowledge and continue to add to it. Field research was carried out in the southern prefectures of Butare and Gikongoro between February and December, 1992. During that period, the situation was tense at times due to clashes between supporters of various political parties, the bombing of taxies, markets and other public places, and periodic fighting between the army and RPF troops along the front lines in the northeast of the country. Nothing, however, prepared me for the violence ensuing in April, 1994, shortly after I defended my dissertation. The pictures and stories of the massacres taking place in the country, which were particularly severe in Butare, at first took away any incentive to incorporate the comments and recommended changes in the dissertation. As the body counts mounted, I kept asking myself questions about the purpose of my dissertation: Why should I finish it? Who will benefit from it? Would people even be interested in the information if all they can think of is survival and revenge? Will people outside Rwanda be interested if they only know about its genocide and refugee crisis? However, after several weeks, I realized that there were still farmers in Rwanda who wanted to pick up the pieces of their lives and who needed support. Many refugees who escaped massacres in 1959 and 1973 were returning and would need support as well in order to re-establish their lives in a country many had never seen. I finally managed to face the dissertation again and complete it. I convinced myself that knowledge written down is knowledge preserved and that completing the work would be the least I could do for the farmers and/or their descendants, friends and relatives who shared their knowledge and wisdom with me and who may not have survived the massacres, disease, famine, homelessness and life in the refugee camps. For those who have survived, I hope that the dissertation and this case study based upon it will be of help to re-establish your lives as farmers and/or experimenters.
The field research for the dissertation was made possible through grants from the Regional Program for the Improvement of Beans in the Great Lakes Region (East Africa) of the Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), the Characterization and Impact Programme of the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) with funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, Michigan State University. In particular, I want to thank Drs. Louise Sperling and Urs Scheidegger of CIAT and Dr. Steven Franzel, Mr. Amadou Niang and Ms. Erika Styger of ICRAF for their support and ideas shared in numerous discussions. I also want to thank the Département de Foresterie of the Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda for their hospitality as the host institution for this research, in particular Isaac Kabera and the late Anastase Gahamanyi. Special thanks also to Audace Karekezi and François Rugema, my research assistants and translators in the field. My thanks also go to Jean Baptiste Kayigamba, Eugene Murekezi and Esdras Bucyobukiro for transcribing and translating the tapes of the community interviews and focus group meetings. I want to thank the authorities of Maraba and Karama for their hospitality in carrying out this research in their municipalities (communes), and the numerous women and men in Kibingo, Maraba and Simbi districts for sharing their knowledge and wisdom with me, without which this dissertation would never have been written. While I cannot mention everyone individually, I would like to express my gratitude to the local tree experts who gave so much of their time and themselves to me: Bizinda, Gahirima, Gasamunyiga, Gasherebuka, Gihanga, Gisanabatwa, Habimana, Habiyeze, Kajeguhakwa, Kanamugire, Karwera, Kinyangote, Mugemanyi, Mukabatsinda, Mukakalinda, Mukeza, Munderere, Munyantunda, Munyashongora, Mutaganda, Mwererankiko, Ndereyehe, Ndibwami, Ngezenubwo, Niyonambaje, Niyoyita, Nsanzabaganwa, Ntamushobora, Ntawukuliryayo, Ntawuziyambonye, Nyabyenda, Nyilikindi, Nyiradore, Nyirakamegeli, Nzigiye, Ruberwa, Ruvuzampana, Ruzibukira, Rwamurara, Sebahunde, Sebashi, Sebera, Serinda, Vuguziga, and Zigama. To all, MURAKOZE CYANE!!!
I also thank my dissertation guidance committee members, who provided many valuable comments and support to strengthen this study with a multi-disciplinary perspective: Dr. Mary Andrews (Human Ecology), Dr. Lawrence Busch (Sociology), Dr. Michael Gold (Forestry) and Dr. Richard Harwood (Chair of Sustainable Agriculture, Crop and Soil Sciences). My thanks also go to Dr. Paul Roberts, Assistant to the Dean in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, for the research assistantships under the USAID Title XII Program Support Grants which helped support me during my Ph.D. program.
The views and judgements expressed in this case study are entirely those of the author, and should not be attributed in any manner to FAO, ICRAF, CIAT, ISAR and Michigan State University, to members of their Boards of Executive Directors, the countries they represent nor to their affiliated institutions.
Although Rwandan farmers have used trees for numerous purposes for centuries, the active planting and management of woody vegetation on farms is a relatively recent innovation. The goal of this research was to determine and understand farmers' processes of agroforestry knowledge generation underlying these changes in resource management and usage. In particular, the study focused on farmer experimental methods related to the integration of trees on the farm.
The research focused on a group of 44 locally-identified tree experts, chosen in a two-stage process using a ranking game and community interviews. A comparison group of 70 farmers was chosen randomly from those identified in the game as less knowledgeable about agroforestry. Methods used to study knowledge/technology generation included biographical case studies of tree experts using repeat visits, tree inventories and a socio-economic survey of both tree experts and comparison farmers, guided farm tours, participant observation, and community and focus group interviews.
Ranking game participants identified tree experts as farmers cultivating a diversity of trees on their farms in accordance with the Bantu-Rwandan philosophical meaning of knowledge: "Knowing a plurality of objects or notions". In both the ranking game and socio-economic survey, results showed tree experts had more land, trees and tree species, but the tree density on comparison farms was more than two times higher. This points to a differentiation in knowledge between tree experts and comparison farmers.
Comparison farmers did have knowledge about trees and tree cultivation and understood the need for and importance of trees. But they had little land and resources and followed a different agroforestry development strategy. The smaller the farm, the more they concentrated on fewer, less-competitive species, resulting in complex systems of low diversity with a high degree of integration of trees and crops. Low diversity/high tree density systems require farmers to have a higher level of management skills and greater knowledge of the various components and their interactions. Therefore, the agroforestry knowledge of tree experts and comparison farmers may indeed be different, confirming the initial conclusions of the knowledge ranking exercise. This study thus observed a difference in both agroforestry systems and agroforestry knowledge between individuals and groups of individuals.
As the nature and content of agroforestry knowledge varies among (groups of) individuals, the assumption that only some farmers (in this study, locally-identified tree experts) experiment proved incorrect. In reality, farmers in each of the "knowledge groups" created by the ranking game participants were engaged in the generation of their own particular kind of knowledge of trees and tree cultivation, although not all farmers were equally active experimenters. Relying on local perceptions that the persons most knowledgeable about trees and tree cultivation are the most active experimenters may, therefore, not provide satisfactory results. There are multiple ways of knowing about trees and tree cultivation, and each is based on, and evolves from, its own forms of knowledge production.
This research found that almost all farmers in the study areas practice agroforestry. However, no two farms had a similar agroforestry system because the farmers designed their own systems to meet their multiple needs using available resources. This individuality was reinforced by a large species diversity, multiple reasons for planting trees and the many uses farmers have for trees.These factors have led to diverse agroforestry systems with very complex arrangements of species over space and/or time. The individual agroforestry systems resulting from these differences in resources, objectives and contexts require better farmer and researcher collaboration to identify problems and opportunities and to develop a range of technologies that reflect these differences.
The plants found on the farm in the indigenous agroforestry systems that the farmer-consultants called "trees" included not only trees and shrubs but also annuals and perennials. The latter ("don-trees" by Western world definition) contributed to the species diversity found in the study areas and gave an additional layer of complexity to the indigenous systems. These "non-trees" should not be ignored. They provide significant benefits to the farmers and often are grown in specific niches not usable for crops or trees.
Farmer-consultants were well aware of, and sensitive to, the biological interactions of trees, crops and soils. These interactions were the main criteria used in decisions about where to plant species within the farm and/or the field, and then to evaluate performance. However, farmers cited utility and other tangible benefits as the primary reasons behind species choice.
Farmers considered agroforestry the only solution for obtaining tree products in the future. With the increasing competition between trees and crops for a limited land base, farmers recognized that decisions concerning species selection and arrangements were becoming more and more difficult. The present differentiation of agroforestry systems will, therefore, become even more pronounced in the future with increasing fragmentation of farms. In view of the continued decrease in farm size and farmers' sensitivity to biological interactions, farmers repeatedly stressed that it was imperative to find species and arrangements with the least negative influence on crops and soils in order to further agroforestry practices.
Regarding farmer experimentation, it was difficult to distinguish new from existing practices or to differentiate experiment from normal practice in farmers' fields. Farmers considered each season an "experiment" in which new knowledge is obtained and new ideas are generated. The tree experts consulted in this study, therefore, considered the process of gaining knowledge through experimentation (igerageza) to be a part of everyday agricultural activities, not separated from them as is the case in the scientific knowledge system. However, in spite of the interweaving of experimentation and normal production practices, experimentation was a conscious effort on the part of the farmers to build upon the body of endogenous agroforestry knowledge.
The tree experts did not use specific research methods and procedures for experimentation with trees and tree cultivation. Trees take several years to mature or to yield usable parts, so most farmers (even those with large farms) could not afford to tie up land for experimenting with new tree species or arrangements. Thus, tests of new tree species or tree management methods were integrated within existing fields and crops which explains the interweaving of experimental and everyday agricultural activities.
Farmers faced a fundamental problem with the supply of new technologies to test on their farms. To experiment and develop agroforestry systems, it is necessary to have a range of technology options available and accessible. Farmers are able to make qualified assessments of what can (potentially) work in their individual situations, but they are obviously limited to their immediate surroundings as a main supply for information and ideas.
The diversification of species and the resulting increase in complexity of land use systems resulting from farmers' experimental efforts have been a deliberate strategy of farmers trying to overcome ecologic and economic uncertainties and looking toward a better and more secure livelihood. There was an implicit understanding that not experimenting with new ideas would lead to stagnation and would compromise an already precarious existence.
The major difference in knowledge production between experimenting farmers and scientists is not in experimental procedures and trial evaluations, but the way new knowledge and technologies are validated. In the scientific knowledge system, the primary aim of experimentation is the advancement of knowledge. Validation comes from active communication of experimental results to fellow scientists and researchers. By contrast, knowledge production in the endogenous agroforestry system is primarily use- and user-oriented. Validation comes from other farmers (neighbours and friends) who imitate the new ideas/knowledge. In other words, efforts are validated by the final technology users, not by fellow experts. However, there was not much active effort to share new knowledge.
There is also a difference in how experimenting farmers and scientists distribute and communicate knowledge. Communication networks for knowledge sharing and distribution were neither very extensive nor very well-organized. Farmer-consultants identified this virtual absence of local communication and information exchange networks as a major barrier to agricultural and agroforestry development. Better communication is needed (1) among farmerexperimenters to enhance endogenous agroforestry knowledge production through the sharing of methods, procedures and results, and (2) between farmer-experimenters and the general farm population to disseminate the results of knowledge and technology generated.
Related to methodological issues:
- Future studies of endogenous knowledge of agroforestry should combine qualitative and quantitative, participatory and formal data collection methods to provide both complementary and supplementary perspectives.
- Future studies of farmers' experimental activities and knowledge production processes should not rely exclusively on the farmers identified by other community members as the most knowledgeable about agroforestry. A sample of farmers from different "knowledge groups" identified by a ranking game may better cover the wide range of agroforestry knowledge and associated knowledge production processes among (groups of) individuals.
- Future studies of agroforestry should follow the farmers' definition of trees and should not assume that "non-trees" are weeds of no value.
Related to furthering agroforestry practices in Rwanda:
- Extension workers should initially focus on women farmers to convince them of the benefits of new tree species and other agroforestry technologies, and subsequently explain to the men how to put these improved technologies into practice on their farms. As many species (especially medicinal and fruit trees) were planted by the men on the suggestion of their wives, this would not involve a major change in practices for the farmers. It would, however, involve a change in the habits of extension workers who primarily talk to men. Involving both men and women in the decision-making process about new species, where and how to plant and manage them, would make new agroforestry technologies more acceptable to, and adoptable by, a wider range of farmers.
- Researchers and extensionists should consider the multiple goals and needs of farmers, and differences in availability of and access to resources, in the search for new species and intercropping arrangements.
- With the help of participatory approaches, local people and communities should identify, implement and evaluate their own priorities for tree growing, which will generate more reliable research and extension agendas than top-down approaches.
The following recommendations related to furthering agroforestry practice were made by the farmers themselves:
- There should be more research on suitable species to increase the options available to farmers. The availability of a variety of tree species (both indigenous and exotic) and tree management options enhances the traditional strategy of diversification to overcome economic and ecologic uncertainties. Farmers prefer a cafeteria system of new species and technologies for a range of biophysical and socio-economic conditions from which they can choose according to their needs, goals and resources.
- New tree species to be introduced should be compatible and non-competitive with crops and non-shading; have tap roots and the ability to be used as live stakes; and according to many of the very small farmers, should produce fruit and (fuel)wood simultaneously.
- Research and extension should ensure that new technologies (species) are made more accessible to farmers.
Related to farmer experimental practices:
- The multinational organizations and international research centres should develop and distribute visual documentation (video, film, cd-rom, etc.) of indigenous agroforestry systems and practices from around the world, and of farmers' experimental methods and procedures related to the development of same, to serve as a source of ideas for farmers' own experimental activities.This visual documentation should be accessible to institutions and persons interested in furthering farmer research and extension practices.
- Researchers and scientists involved in agroforestry technology development should be evaluated in terms of the acceptance of their results by farmers instead of by the number articles published scientific journals. This would go a long way towards increasing collaboration between the researchers and farmers and lead to development-oriented, rather than knowledge-oriented, research.
Related to enhancing informal extension networks:
- There is a need for persons with both endogenous and Western knowledge of agroforestry systems to find new methods to share information with farmers in an informative, non-prescriptive manner that treats farmers and their knowledge with respect. Possible means to accomplish this are guided farm visits and community and/or focus group discussions.
- Research, extension and NGO's should stimulate the formation of groups and/or networks of experimenting farmers which may or may not be technology and problem specific. These could take the form of study clubs in which farmers can discuss specific problems and work out solutions together. The group or club members can test the solutions on their own farms using their own experimental methods and then communicate their results to the larger community. Researchers, extensionists and NGO personnel should, however, only act as facilitators and resource persons.
Both farmer-derived and researcher-derived agroforestry knowledge and technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, and both have a role to play in developing and furthering agroforestry technologies and practices. The major strategy to enhance farmer research will, therefore, be a synthesis of the two knowledge systems that takes the strengths and weaknesses of each into account.
The greatest strength of formal (Western scientific) research is its access to information, ideas, and technologies. Formal research, therefore, has an important role in agroforestry development in increasing the options (species, management practices) available to the farmers. The design of specific agroforestry systems is best left to the farmers who are more skilled in incorporating technologies generated by each of the knowledge traditions in ways that are locally applicable and beneficial.
This study concludes that collaboration between knowledge systems may be beneficial for both and, thus, it is important to understand the processes of knowledge production. For this reason, this study has been short on specific details about particular agroforestry systems, tree arrangements, species uses, etc.; the latter are only facts used to help understand the logic of, and reasons behind, what farmers do. By themselves, facts (tree species, agroforestry systems, cropping arrangements) are meaningless. It is people who give meaning to them. Future studies of endogenous knowledge systems should, therefore, give less emphasis to collecting facts and more to process-oriented research to discover the logic and reasons behind such classifications, uses, or specific agroforestry systems and practices.
Synthesis between knowledge systems will increase the effectiveness of ongoing scientific agroforestry research and development as well as empower, legitimize and enhance the existing endogenous capacities for identifying problems and developing solutions. This synthesis should not lead to a formalization of farmer experimental methods nor to a relaxation of the rigor of scientific research. The goal of the synthesis is to build upon the comparative advantages of each knowledge tradition, leading to a participatory and collaborative strategy in agroforestry technology development. Such a strategy will assure that technologies are client-oriented, culturally appropriate and acceptable, and grounded in local dynamics of socio-economic and agroforestry development.