Engage farmers in agricultural research
Tom MacMillan, director of innovation at the Soil Association, Bristol, UK, and Tim G. Benton, who leads the United Kingdom's Global Food Security programme and is professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds, UK, argue that the next wave of agricultural innovation must be at smaller scales and engage farmers directly in scientific research efforts. Enhancing farmers' own R&D could reap big rewards for minimal extra cost as farmers everywhere are practical experimentalists who understand the idiosyncrasies of their land. Technologies not invented by farmers – new kit, seeds or chemicals – are almost always adapted by farmers to fit their circumstance but such essential contributions are rarely recognised in official assessments of agricultural R&D. These count farmers as users, rather than makers, of knowledge. Some of the best returns can come from helping farmers to assess their own ideas. Until now, such initiatives have been at arm's length from formal science, and almost exclusively in the developing world. The authors' involvement in a farmer-focused innovation programme in the UK has convinced them that such participatory R&D could also boost agricultural innovation in rich countries.
Editor’s note: Interesting development. For many years this participatory R&D approach was promoted for the Southern research community and perhaps, with this development, it will be more widely embraced by all scientists striving to make a difference and enhance the impact of research.
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