Institutionalizing Participatory, Client-Driven Research and Technology Development in Agriculture


  • Jacqueline A. Ashby,

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      Jacqueline Ashby(International Food Policy Research Institute, 1200 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA) is a sociologist whose recent fieldwork involves participatory R&D with farmer research committees and community-based watershed management organizations. An important focus of her work has been developing training materials on participatory research methods, which are available in Spanish, English, Portuguese and French from The IPRA Project, CIAT, AA6713, Cali, Colombia, South America.

  • Louise Sperling

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      Louise Sperling(E 11/2 Vasant Vihar, New Delhi 110 057, India) presently works in Rwanda, monitoring agricultural recovery, and in South Asia, co-leading an effort to encourage diverse use of genetic resources on-farm. From 1988 to 1993 she was anthropologist for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture's Bean Program covering regions in East, Central and Southern Africa.


This article identifies key characteristics of participatory research and development(R&D) in the agricultural sector: it is client-driven, requires decentralized technology development, devolves to farmers the major responsibility for adaptive testing, and requires institutions and individuals to become accountable for the relevance and quality of technology on offer. Through case study material drawn from Latin America, Asia and Africa, the article then reviews ways by which institutions have responded to these characteristics and raises issues for further elaboration. Steps need to be taken, in particular, to safeguard equity, both between the more and less vocal groups of farmers, and between the requirements of present and future generations (the latter referring particularly to environmental concerns). It is argued that participatory R&D alone is insufficient to deliver innovations relevant to diverse client groups: policy mechanisms are required to define which clients are to participate, whose agendas are to drive the process, and what organizational innovations are needed to move agricultural R&D in these directions.