Providing Climate Technology To Farmers

Although advances have been made in applying climate information to agricultural production and risk management, the communication of this information and technology to farmers holds particular challenges. Three of these challenges can be posed as questions:

1. Are the farmers, for whom the technology and tools are designed, able to learn in the context of how the information is presented?

2. Is the current extension model capable of changing practices?

3. Are we overstating the benefits of technology in providing farmers better control over their environment?

The answers to these questions cannot be explored in detail in this chapter, but some of the difficulties can be highlighted.

Property planning workshops and courses are conducted in each state, usually bringing farmers together to work in groups. This is an efficient way of dealing with the number of farmers involved but carries inbuilt difficulties and deficiencies. Shrapnel and Davie (2000) have identified that many farmers have personality profiles that, while enabling them to cope with the isolation that characterizes rural life, inhibit their ability to work with others in groups. They contend that the following elements are essential for the development of sustainable agriculture practices:

• Farmers must want to change.

• Farmers must know how to change.

• Farmers must have the necessary material resources to bring about change.

• Farmers must have the necessary psychological resources to bring about change.

These factors apply particularly to their ability to access and integrate information and technology in the area of climate. Climate workshops and technology transfer in group settings may not be relevant for farmers because groups are not the preferred method of learning for many rural people. So the questions remain: Are groups the best vehicle for communicating climate (or other) information to farmers? If not groups, how do researchers impart climate information?

The conventional method of promoting advances in technology to the rural community has been based on the linear extension model:

Research knowledge ->■transfer adoption diffusion

This extension process has been widely criticized for its numerous false assumptions and limited applicability (Roling, 1988; Russell et al., 1989; Vanclay, 1992; Vanclay and Lawrence, 1995). Studies on the effectiveness of this model showed that research results were adopted by only a specific minority of farmers and that for the majority it was not a viable strategy for agricultural improvement. Nor, they contend, do different conceptual models such as those based on the idealized "farmer-led" model fare any better when it comes to adoption of technology.

The hypothesis of these social researchers is that farmers will do what they want to do anyway, and a more "helpful" role is to "work with" farmers in a supporting role, encouraging their enthusiasm and seeking to understand rather than to influence. This is obviously not the role of research or conventional extension workers. The authors also warn that this is not the only recipe for working with the rural community, but it is a system that does engender mutual understanding and trust between the various stakeholders.

The third question raised in this section is that of overstating the role of technology to farmers. The technocratic nature of traditional research and extension has been criticized for often reducing and masking the complexities of rural situations (Cornwall, Guijt, and Welbourn, 1994) and for its uncritical acceptance of technological innovation as a liberating agent (Buttel, Larson, and Gillespie, 1990; Vanclay, 1992; Vanclay and Lawrence, 1995). This criticism has been acknowledged and, in some cases, produced a reaction as described by Ridge and Wylie (1996b):

In many cases, the researchers are not familiar with farm decision making and are not confident to express opinions on benefits to producers, while in other cases, the claimed benefits of a change in practice cannot be realized because researchers have failed to appreciate the practicalities of the situation that the farmer faces. (p. 11)

The desire of all those working in the area of climate studies is to make forecasting tools more reliable and more available to landholders. It is a noble aim, but a gap remains between availability and adoption. The existence of a form of technology and its use implies certain choices that are found in economic and social processes. Consequently, the form of technology may or may not act as a liberating agent, and this is dependent on the social and economic positions of those using or adopting it. The statement is supported by the findings of Hayman, Cox, and Huda (1996).

We are surrounded by tools for forecasting and reducing risks from climatic extremes and by decision support systems that are increasingly sophisticated and useful. How these tools and technologies are best made available and used by farmers is a vexed question that this section has attempted to highlight. Some fundamental philosophical questions are also raised that are being addressed and examined by many researchers in various fields of sociological studies.

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