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«Biotechnology-Assisted Participatory Plant Breeding: Complement or Contradiction? PPB Monograph No. 3 Ann Mane Thro and Charlie Spillane 1 7 ...»

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The agencies themselves can do much to ensure that the needs and priorities ideotified through farmer parlicipatory priority setting are translated into research. They can a ctively seek biotechnology projects for funding which are firmly based 00 addressing needs 'as iden ti fied by farmers'. Rescarchers find it casier to generate technology-driven project proposa ls than demand-driven ones, so if demand-driven projects a re not a ctively sou ght it lS highly likely that they will be, or at least seem to be, in the minority. Funding exc1usively technoIogy-driven proposals can only widen the gaps bctwecn biotechnologists, small-scale farmers, and the public, a s the recent public rcla tions problems of seve ra! private-sector companies show.

The originators of participatory needs assessment ¡ntended it to differ from conventional methods, not only in the quality of information provid cd but also in terms of shifting the balance of power in research planning. Questions of power make a r eal diffcrence in determining the outcornc of the planning process (Lukes, 1974; A. Sutherland, pcrs.

cornm.). In most cases, research follow-up on priority setting remains an external decision, dependent on actors other than the farme rs. The DGIS has gone further than most agencies in putting dec isions into farmers' hands. But even in these programs, the final 'green light' rests with the funding agency.

Interdtsctplinartty and the dtviston of labor

Like all skills, participatory research cannot be done well without training and practice (Farrington. 1997; Hagmann et al, 1998). Yet few plant breedcrs and biotechnologists have trained in, or had an opportunity to practise, participatory research methods. If al!

specialized biological scientists were to conduct participatory research to identify needs in which their spccialization might make a difTerence, this would be wasteful, because it wouId n egate the comparative advantages due to research specialization (O. Henshaw, pers. comm.).

Yet if biotechnologists do not get involved in needs assessment, they lay themselves open to the accusation of being 'remote from the needs of the farmer'. From there it is but a stcp to the widely held opinion Needs Assessment and Priority Setting that biotechnology has nothing to offer resource-poor farmers. This merely perpetuates the existing failure to cornmunicate fue results of needs assessments lO biotechnologists: why bother?

Interdisciplinary collaboration between 'upstream'biotechnologists or other specialists and 'downstream' on-farro participatory researchers probably offers the best way fonvard. It may well be more effective to involve upstream researchers through better coromunication than by trying make thern come out of the laboratory to enter directly into the participatory research processes. Other rescarchers may be better at this.

A critical mass of interdisciplinary researchers organized as a tcarn or in a decentralized network may be the most efficient approach (Cornpton, 1997). The capacity for such work exists only in a few research ins titutions, such as the COlAR centers. Sorne cornmentators have suggesled that certain tcams could serve as go-betweens for laboratories and farmers and as fora for interdisciplinary cornrnunication and research planning (O. Henshaw, pers. comm.).

Thcse fora or tearos could serve multiple functions:

–  –  –

An interdisciplinary teaffi that served as a more or less stable link between downstream and upstream re search would have access to biotechnologists with differcnt speciaJizations, to whom would be circulated th e range of problems identificd through participatory research with fa rmers. These biotechnologists could then involve themselves and their colleagues according to their comparative adva ntage. This approach could providc continuity of attention and in te raction, while alleviating the time-drain on individual farmers, biotechnologis ts, and other resource persons.

In the long ron there may be an opportunity to re-design institutions by creating structures in which participatory priority setting is linked to research planning and financing in ways that change internal accountability. This may be more effectlve than ttying

–  –  –

to a chieve responsive resea rch by persuasion (P. Richards, A. Gupta, pers. cornms.) or by the example of a few s pecia l projects. Many commen tators pointed to the isolating efTect of cllrrent institutiona1 arrangements, suggesting a wides pread necd for, an d a growing accepta nce of, a re sea rch environment that a ctively promotes farmer con tact an d research re sponsiven ess (M. Altman n, M. A. Jorge, pcrs.

comms.). I-Iowever, althou gh in stiluti ons can change, th ey tend to so only slowly, even in respo n se to crisis. More inter im solu tions, s uch a s task-dedicated interdisci plinary teams, ar e therefo re nceded.

Research agendas

It has becn said th a t a difficul ty with the uptakc of resource-poor farmers' priorities by the bio tech nology rescarch cornmunity is ofte n not that needs can not bc s uffi ciently generalized to m ake biotechnology m vestment practical bu t that m ost biotech nologists continu e with a prc-determ in ed agend a regardless of needs assess ment exercises (S. Bickersteth, pers. cornm.). Oflen, however, an agen da th a l may be labelled 'pre-determined ' s imply refiects insti tu tional circuffi stances that fa vor other u ses fo r extrem ely lim ited fund s.

Th rou ghout the public sector, most needs asses sment wi th resou ree-poor farmers is institu tiona lly separated fro m biotechnology research planni n g a nd, especiaJly, fin ancing (S utherland e l a l, 1998).

In the pri vate sector, R&D fun d s a re al located whercve r it is thou ght they will gencra te the bes t re turn on investment. The DGIS has made an explicit attem pt to link participatory priori ty setting LO rcseareh plan ning and fi nan ci ng, through an advance budget al location to its country program s for the collaborative developmen t an d implemen tation of projects based on farmers' prio riti es. Simila rly, DG IS provided a budget for com peti tive 'seed mon ey' grants for projects to follow up CBN's parti cipato ry priority setti ng.

Most biotcchnologi s ts specialize in one or a few topies a nd are t hu s a highly differentiated group regardi ng resea rch objectives a nd agendas. The more specia lized a re search er, !he stro nger th e costben efit implications th a t prevent him or h er from takin g on a new ar ea of research. The 'rescarch topic inelasticity' of many re searchers mean s that involvin g a 'toke n ' biotcchnologi sl in a tea m in lending to use a needs assess mcnt to develop a more releva nt resea rch agenda may be less effective than having a cecs s to a 'portfolio' of biotcch nogisls with differe nt spcciaJizations. CBN's expcriences demonstrate lhat linking a broad range of complernenta ry ancl networ ked biotechnology experti se to far m-Ievel necds asscssments can play a u seful part in priority setting and the tran s fer of identified problems to lhe most relevant researchers.

Needs Assessmenl and Prion'ty Setting

–  –  –

Simply attaching a socio-economist or a biotechnologist to a team does not necessarily make it interdisciplinary (e.g., Ma.'CWell, 1984; Horton, 1984). Appropriate incentives to work in this way must be in place.

Many scientists whose professional rewards depend on scientific accuraey, acadcmic publications, and access to grants tend to a void involvement in farmer participatory research because the los5 of control over re5earch variables may jeopardize pu blications and other measures of professional suceess (Baker, 1991). Few pu blic-sector agrieultural researeh institutes have incentive systems which reward teamwork or those scientists who meet the needs of clients (Collion and Rondot, 1998). The adoption rates of erop varieties by farmers and olher indicators of client satisfaction with the products of erop improvement research are valid research variables (Farrington, 1994), but data on them only become available long after the research has been done.

Innovative ways are nceded oC using such data tO 'construct reward systems for scientists ¡nvolved in PPB.

Can pri.ortties expressed by farmers be sufficiently generalized?

The authors have argued that biotechnology can provide useful tools to help PPB address site-specific and differentiated target group needs.

Sorne commentators (J. Jigge ns, S. Beebe, pers. cornms.) have pointed to thc problems associated with seeking to identify generalized research objectives for PPB. This can be seen as tantamount to prejudging the needs of farmers in locations other than that in which the research is being conducted-precisely the opposite of the undcrlying philosophy of participatory research (J. Jiggens, pers. comm.). Sut if needs are interpreted as purely location-specific, the broad applicability that justifies investment in research to meet them 1S lost (S. Beebe, pers. comm.).

Few laboratories will be able to devole resources to projects with results that will be only narrowly applicable. If, by working together, farmers, professionals in plant breeding, and experts in participatory research and the social sciences can define valid large-scale objeetives, participation by laboratories becomes much more likcly. The link to a specific loealion need not be 10st; in fact it becomes, for the laboratory, the model system in which the real-world applicability of the innovation can be tested.

One principie for involving upstream laboratories wiU be to link them to projects that extend all the way to the local level, including participatory activities with farmers. Dn-site collaborators in PPB projects, including farmers and professional breeders from nationaL or international programs, will be vital in lhe process of adapting upstream innovations to local germplasm requirements, praetices, and Biotechnology-Assisted PPB: Complement or Controdiction.?

systems, and feeding informaban back to the laboratory on what works.

The se collaborators will also playa vital role in analyzing whether the project can scale up successfully.

A generalized list of priorities would, then, be helpful in harnessing limited global biotech nology capacity cost-effectively in the interests of resource- poor farmers. In biotechnology il is often the case that an approach to solving a problem, once d evelo ped. can be tran sferred to other varieties or species. In these circu msta nces a generalized list mi ght be especially u sefu l. Such lists can be tentatively drawn up o n the basis of corn mon features in the res ults of Ule participatory nceds assessments so far carried out. For exarnp le, the DG IS found common priorities arno ng farm ers in different countri es for planting material, yie ld, drought toleran ce, disease re sistance and quality characteri stics.

Similar re sults were obtain ed from CBN's needs assessmenl with fa rmers over 5 years (Box 4).

Findings on needs in these biotechnology-specific priori ty-setting excrcises are similar to the needs and priorities identified through othcr participatory exercises. For example, the priorities identifi ed for phaseolu s beans in Malawi included yield, cooking quality. maturity.

and yie ld sta bili ty. Thus, for most crops, a list similar to the follo wmg generaJized list of resource ~ poor farme rs' priorities mi ght ulti.mate ly


Yield stability (generalLy via toleran ce of stresses such as drought, flood, saJi nity, toxic or deficient soil rninerals) Mul ti ple disease andjor pe st resistancc Suitab ility for the cropping system (flexib ili ty, roaturity, crop architecture, etc.) Box4 Summary of cassava farmers' concerns expressed to CBN Sub-Saharan Africa (food security) Planting material. viru s resistance, ¡nseet res istanee, drought toleranee, cooking quah ty with high yield, cyanogenesis management (hu man health) Improved products, markets and prices.

Soulheast Asia (cash crop on non-rice soils)

• Markets, prices (for starch and new prod uctsl, cyanogenesis management

• Yield per se. production costs including labor. acid soillolerance.

Tropical Americas (food security and cash erop) Markets, prices (starch, new products. supply) Planting material, quality, yield, drought tolerance. resistance to bacteria, rungi, insects and vi ruses Cyanogenesis management (water quality).

Needs Assessment and Priori.ty Setting

–  –  –

A biotcchnology laboratory wishing to con tribute to resource-poor farming in developing countries might examine this list [or topics related lO ¡ts expertise. However, although such a list can be produced ror u se as a first step in planning, it is only a first step a nd too general for the purpose of developing colla borative projects. Biotcchnology research [or resource-poor farmers should be linked wh enever possible to the n eeds of a targct locatian. Cantacl and interactionparticipatian, in fact-are necessary lo verify that the solution offercd will meet a real need ar apen up a n ew oppartunity. Lc'1boratories can effici ently access farmcrs for participation through relevant n etworks, if these exist, or through contact with a region al or nauon al interdisciplinary rorum, center or programo Research tha t is so far upstream that it cannot yet be linked to specific farmers could still be conducted interactively with s uch fora to ensure relevance and ultimate uptake.

Doing the Work or Directing It?

It is nol yet certain that farroer participa tion in the time-consumin g day-to-d ay tasks of plant breeding is 'empowering' in the sense that farmers perceive it to improye their lives. Givi n g farrocrs a say in public-seclor researc h directions and deeision making may be much more 'empowe ring' than expecting su eh farmers to aClua lly co ndu ct the research (Bebbington et al, 1994; Gubbe ls, 1993; Merrill-Sands and Collion, 1994; Tendler, 1994). There is a dangor th a t overadvocacy of the lattcr approach could, if the resulting re search were perceived lO be incfTective, lead to reduced fund ing..

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