Activity 3: Field Crop Survey and Cropcheck

Responsible Researcher: Van Touch

Aims 

Agricultural researchers have traditionally gained knowledge through designing and implementing scientific experiments and then packaging and passing on research findings to farmers via extensionists. In this process, farmers are not given many opportunities to participate in the learning process but are expected to take up the research outputs. Webber and Ison (1995) suggest one missing ingredient limiting the adoption of innovations in agriculture is that farmers are not allowed to engage in formulating questions, exploring, learning, and developing an understanding and knowledge from their own worldview. As a result, the adoption of agricultural research technologies and innovations by farmers at a broader scale have not lived up to expectations.

Following Guerin and Guerin (1994); Martínez-García et al. (2013); and Zeweld et al. (2017), key priorities for improving adoption of sustainable practices and agricultural innovations are the involvement of farmers along with training of extensionists and farmers. Whereas, Piñeiro et al. (2020) summarises three positive outcomes of productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability as the highest motivations for farmers to adopt the promoted practices and technologies”, Borges et al. (2019) found that farmers’ intention of adopting new practices is influenced by their perceptions about their own capacity, economic benefits (i.e., productivity and profitability) and social pressure. 

Adding on to the above statements, from the late 2000s to early 2010s, I was a practising field agronomist working with Cambodian and international teams to promote new farming practices and technologies to Cambodian farmers. Improved farming practices and technologies that we promoted were proved locally to have positive effects on sustainable productivity and profitability. As a team, we tried several communication methods including on-farm trials, field demonstrations, farm walks, field days, farmers’ training and regional radio broadcasts. However, only a small number of farmers actively participated and implemented the introduced practices and technologies  and saw any beneficial outcomes (including behaviour, farming practices, productivity and profitability) . Behaviour changes and beneficial outcomes were not seen to improve at a larger community level. In contrast, the regional productivity and profitability were reported to gradually decline. 

Based on our prior experiences along with our review of literature, we propose a field research activity called “Farmer Field Survey and Cropcheck” as an alternative approach to the conventional Farmer Field School. This proposed field activity should have the potential to address these long-standing issues and challenges. Within this activity, researchers will work closely with extensionists and farmers to understand their interests, needs and perspectives. Farmers will be research collaborators as part of a participatory action research approach. Our aim is to work with farmers and local extensionists to co-design approaches to sustainably increase cropping productivity and profitability within the lowland and upland cropping systems in Northwest Cambodia where rice, cassava and maize are the main crops in the areas. This study should also provide additional information and verification (i.e. triangulation) to what has been shared by farmers and key stakeholders during interviews and focus group discussions undertaken as part of the other project activities. 

Sub-Research Questions

This field work is designed to answer the following research questions:

RQ3.1: What have farmers done and what are farmers doing on their lands?

RQ3.2: What are factors affecting yield and gross margin components under actual farmers’ circumstances?

RQ3.3: How can the co-designed approaches to lifting productivity and profitability be trialed by a larger number of farmers based on their own interests and evaluations? 

Approaches (Methods)

  • Large area farm walks and field surveys
  • Random individual interviews
  • Ground cover analysis using satellite images and ArcGIS
  • Field benchmarking (Cropcheck)
  • Farmer meetings and village workshops

As part of household engagements, ‘field walks’ will be conducted each year to account for existing on-farm practices. These walks will identify past and ongoing practices, the presence of pest and disease, and recent changes to crops. During field walks with farmers, researchers will discuss neighbour practices to identify who farmers observe and whether they replicate their neighbours’ practices. Finally, researchers will explore any ‘residual’ evidence of practice change in order to identify any past experiences with extension, discussing what the farmer did and why they undertook change.