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Monday, March 8, 2021

Recommendation for Bridging the Technology Application Gap in Gambian Agro-Rural Setting: A message for the Transition Government and GAF in Particular.

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Suruwa B. Wawa Jaiteh

Your Excellency, Adama Barrow; Evidence from detailed case studies and analysis of the patterns of small-farmer adoption of introduced technologies teach us two fundamental lessons:
1) That, we must recognise that agricultural development and the transfer of improved technologies to small farmers is a complex process of socio-economic change, and
2) that, we must allow for this complexity in research, technology design and project implementation to inform our future decisions.

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This is clearly not a new insight for those who have been professionally trained and spent the best part of their life working in agricultural research and development.

Yet, the frustration of having technology transfer and development projects fail, in succession, because the importance of critical social and economic dimensions were either understated or ignored is also far too familiar.

For GAF to self-assess their capacity as “able and competent enough” to turn around this unfortunate scenario, is a threat to the principles of transition and good governance.

What the average Gambian, the transition Government and, GAF in particular, should understand is that in actual project implementation and/or in a case study or review, what is clearly illustrated is that technology is not neutral.

Technology transfer, cannot be accomplished as a surgical operation in which weak organs are simply replaced by new, more efficient ones, although this is the common model employed.

Successful technology transfer, takes place within a social and economic system which bestows upon the technology numerous dimensions that determines its eventual viability in meeting specific goals.

Furthermore, an introduced technology often has multiple repercussions within the system.

These can only be predicted with a thorough knowledge of the system into which the technology is being introduced. Even then, results are sometimes not those anticipated.

Due to time and monetary constraints on research and project development and the need to meet policy goals, adequate recognition of complexity and attention to specific national conditions have been sacrificed.

Problem definition and proposed solutions have been generated on the basis of broad assumptions and general national policy objectives, rather than knowledge drawn from investigations in the field with the small-farmers, the programmes/projects are designed to benefit.

While this conflict may never be fully resolved, specifically with donor and lending institution funded programmes, there are ways to ameliorate it.

It is most important to narrow this knowledge gap between the actors in the process and to bring the “voice” of the small-farmer—–
the technology user—–into the production research and development process.

In any technology design and transfer programme, an on-going dialogue should be established between the small farm-families and the development practitioners. The farm families are experts on their physical, economic, and social environments and their farming systems.

They know the goals they are trying to meet, the resources and factors of production they have available, and the critical factors and pressure points affecting production.

In addition, they have evaluated the results of experiments and adjustments they have already made within their production system in response to changing economic and environmental conditions.

Finally, the farm family has the local knowledge base for anticipating and evaluating some of the possible social and economic impacts of introducing a new technology.

The agricultural scientists and project designers, on the other hand, are experts in the array of potential solutions to agricultural problems and constraints, in testing and adapting technologies within specific environments, and in evaluating the feasibility of instituting specific technological innovations within the context of the national society.

The union of these two systems of knowledge and experience provides a more adequate context in which to develop technology which will be viable and beneficial within the small-farm system while at the same time conforming with national policy objectives.

Uniting the two knowledge systems is not an easy task and the mechanisms for integrating the small-farmer into the process of technology design are still experimental. However, if technology transfer is accepted as a complex process of socio-economic change, then there is no other real alternative.

This objective can be reached in four basic steps and/or pathways, each of increasing specificity and approximation of the small-farmers’ voice.

While the integration of all four is the ideal, the use of any one of the steps or pathways would enhance our ability to reach the small-farm family more effectively and thereby establish a stable and sustainable national agro-rural development process.

The Way Forward
Pathway/step 1. Learning about the client: who is the small-farmer?
Your Excellency, since technology transfer is a complex process of socio-economic change for the better, but has instead made our resource-poor rural farm-family poorer, there is need to comprehensively integrate the small-farmer into the process of technology design and, testing in a “pilot phase.”

This, among other things, will:
1.provide a set of guidelines and conceptual tools, which will enable policy and decision makers to better comprehend the situation of the small-farm family, the possible socio-economic constraints they may confront in attempting to increase agricultural production, and the socio-economic factors which typically influence the transfer of technology;
2. Point out typical pitfalls in technology design and transfer resulting from an inadequate understanding of the organisation of small-farms and their socio-economic factors and constraints.

3. Outline the critical minimum of information that should be controlled for problem definition and project design.

Step 2. Integration of the small-farm family’s circumstances into the Project Process
We need to recognise that there is a basic picture of the small-farm that ought to be assembled for problem definition and the design of technology development and transfer programmes. Attention must be give to socio-economic as well as technical and environmental factors.

The required actions must include the following:
1. Develop a checklist of essential socio-economic questions and issues for professionals to consider and evaluate in problem definition and in project design, monitoring and evaluation.

This provides a way of pre-screening possible technological changes.

2. Develop and evaluate methods to efficiently collect the information
necessary for understanding small-farm circumstances.

Step 3. Small-Farm Family Participation
The third step follows on the diagnostic phase and fully integrates representative small-farm families into the development process.

They should be involved in problem definition, the design of possible solutions, and evaluation of proposed technological solutions.

Full participation of small-farmers in the development process not only enhances the design of appropriate technology, but also enables farmers to sustain the changes after the programme/project has been formally terminated.

Step 4. Analysis and Evaluation of Adoption of Introduced Technologies
This step is too often abandoned.

Our all time failure in donor and lending institution funded development programmes, illustrate that much can be learned about technology transfer if adoption patterns are analysed and small-farmers participation and adaptation of the technology to their specific conditions are documented and evaluated.

If this information is not collected it will be very difficult to evaluate the success of technology development and transfer projects.

Evaluation criteria for technology development, thus, remain those of the donor and lending institution, such as the amount of money made available or the number of projects launched, rather than the ability of project to meet farmers’ needs.

This perpetuates the technology applications gap and escalates rural poverty.

Some of the criticisms of donor and lending funded and supervised agricultural and rural development programmes/projects are their high costs.

A major step towards reducing this cost is in the use of competent “domestic capacity,” capable of using relevant information and data so that funds are not squandered on “reinventing the wheel”.

Furthermore, the paper argues that a major cause of the technology applications gap is the development experts’ failure to recognise the farming household (in its social and economic dimensions) as the relevant unit of analysis for understanding decision-making with respect to technology adoption and choices between alternative production strategies.

It is important to note that, with the new found authority of a participatory democratic government, for the transition government to be relevant, it must invest in a complete restructuring of the Ministry of Agriculture so that the restructured institution can be adequately reinforced with the means and the powers to formulate a functional agricultural development master plan.

This master plan must be complete with steps and pathways that would be truly a response to national realities.

The restructuring effort towards a comprehensive transformation of the agriculture and rural sector, must begin with a searching analysis of national economic problems.

Why had our development programmes failed in the past and are continuing without a structured agenda? Why was the national economy perennially in crisis? How can the agro-rural economy break out of the present stagnation and drift.

The agro-rural development master plan must be designed to reflect links to the signal orientation of the national development effort.

And it is only in this context that we can truly appreciate the institutional changes effected, the kind of growth we can target, and the heightening of all prospects around for the national economy.

This is development.

This is what we expect from the transition Government.

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