| Animal-Drawn Wheeled Toolcarriers: Perfected yet Rejected |
|8. Implications, Lessons and Conclusions|
8.2.1 Overall approach
The methodology of almost all toolcarrier research programmes reviewed has been similar, being based on the development of high quality (high cost) solutions proven competent under optimum on-station conditions. For example ICRISAT researchers have described their own approach as follows:
"The path which the Vertisol technology development at ICRISAT has followed is essentially one which from component research to package and system design remained within the research station in Patancheru and then entered into farmers' fields, with the effect that many constraints were understood only at the stage where farmers were confronted with the technology." (van Oppen et al., 1985).
The results of the programmes have also been similar. For example Ahmed and Kinsey in a review of farm equipment in eastern and central southern Africa stated:
"A common finding is the inappropriateness —on the grounds of multiple criteria — of many products produced by farm equipment research and development. It is interesting, for example, that the animal-drawn toolbar, which is reported to be widely used in West Africa, has not been accepted by farmers anywhere in eastern Africa. Yet research and development on toolbars date back some 20 years in the case of Uganda, and a decade or more in other countries. Either adaptive research has failed in this instance, or promotional efforts have been ineffective or aimed at the wrong farming systems." (Ahmed and Kinsey, 1984)
Promotional effort has seldom seemed lacking, but what has often been missing has been a detailed knowledge and sympathetic understanding of the prevailing farming systems. Researchers have seldom ascertained farmer reaction to previous schemes, they have often had a top-down approach, and have tended to work on implements designed for technical excellence in on-station conditions far removed from local realities. It is now clear that all the programmes reviewed would have benefited from much more contact with farmers at all stages.
8.2.2 Analyses of previous experiences
The majority of wheeled toolcarrier programmes have been based on enthusiasm for the relatively new toolcarrier concept and the researchers' own innovative design features. Comprehensive literature reviews have been very few but, as already discussed, simple literature searches would have revealed mainly optimistic reports. There seems to have been very few attempts to understand the actual field experiences of previous initiatives.
It is instructive to see how the international research centre ICRISAT approached the issue of analysis of experience. From its early stages it tried to maintain a global vision by testing wheeled toolcarrier designs from several countries and collaborating with acknowledged experts in the technology from France and Britain. It also gradually assembled documents and reports from several (Anglophone) countries and a review of these was published eight years after the start of the programme (Bansal and Thierstein, 1982). Clearly some genuine attempts were made to analyse previous experience, but (with the expertise of hindsight) the methodology could have been improved.
Firstly, as is normal in any programme, the external collaborators were those already associated with promoting the technology. In the early stages of technology identification, it may also be valuable to seek the advice of those without vested interests but with practical experience of working with smallholder farmers - perhaps those in extension rather than research and preferably the farmers themselves. One effective way of doing this is through field visits and discussions with both farmers and extension workers, and another is through multidisciplinary "networking" meetings involving not just agricultural engineers but extension personnel and research scientists. Secondly, while analysis of experience should be ongoing, a good understanding of previous lessons should be achieved before a programme is so committed that changes in direction are difficult. From the various case histories reviewed in previous chapters it is clear that in many instances a few weeks or months of letter-writing and reading reports to establish previous lessons could have saved not only money but many months or years of unproductive work.
Thus future research initiatives should start with a detailed analysis of existing experiences, with information obtained not just from publications but from farmers themselves or those closely in touch with the farmers. Such analyses, combined with a knowledge of the target systems, should lead to precise definitions of the required task and the available resources that are necessary to ensure that equipment will be appropriate.
8.2.3 Domineering (top-down) approaches
Very many of the programmes reviewed have been based on the principle that: "you have an inefficient system of agriculture; we know the answers". Equipment has been designed and built in France, Britain and Canada and flown out to research stations in developing countries. On research stations staff have tried to develop technologies that will make peasant farmers toolbar-minded and so prepare them for the ascent of notional mechanical ladders leading quite rapidly to four-wheel tractors. There has been little attempt to understand the realities of the farming systems and the ways in which existing practices may be highly efficient in their environmental context.
Colonial domineering approaches in the late 1950s and early 1960s might be explained (some would say justified) by the prevailing social attitudes of that era. However, unfortunately this is not merely an historical problem, for this "top-down" attitude pervades many modern programmes. As recently as 1986, a wheeled toolcarrier programme was justified as a means of proving that equipment appropriate to the needs of the African farmer could be cheaply and efficiently designed in Canada. Not surprisingly it totally failed to demonstrate this.
The problem is not only one of expatriates being patronizing to Third World nationals, for the attitude that researchers and extension workers know best can probably also be found within every national programme. For example a booklet for extension workers describing the use of work oxen, single purpose plows and wheeled toolcarriers starts with the sentence, "The average Ugandan farmer has a small farm; he has a low income, and little farm knowledge know-how'). (Akou, 1975). Similar phrases occur throughout the world. Some are merely shorthand for saying that farmers are unfamiliar with modern industrialized agricultural technology, but some imply that the farmers have insufficient knowledge and understanding of their own farming systems. As has been apparent in this review and many other studies, the "failures" of research and extension programmes are generally due to the professionals themselves not understanding the farming systems, and trying to impose on them technology that the farmers consider inappropriate.
It should now be clear that research and development programmes should start with a humble approach and an understanding of local farming systems derived from discussions with farmers. Programmes should work closely with the farmers and jointly identify and evaluate methods of improving farm productivity and incomes.
8.2.4 Pursuit of technical excellence
In most of the case histories reviewed, attempts have been made to develop high quality implements, and thereby high cost solutions to problems. The objectives have been laudable - to produce high incomes for farmers. However this pursuit of technical excellence and high-input, high-output farming systems has not been proven appropriate. Farmers require technology that is effective and affordable, which can be maintained in their villages and which provides reasonable convenience at an acceptable risk. Wheeled toolcarriers though often technically effective have not been shown to provide this combination, whereas some more simple implements have. The more simple implements may not have led to dramatic improvements in production or farmers' incomes, but they have been sustainable.
The lesson appears to be that technology that is intrinsically excellent may not be appropriate. This is not just an observation on wheeled toolcarriers for in other fields of agriculture there are close parallels. Exotic or crossbred cattle may seem ideal draft animals, but farmers require animals that can be conveniently maintained under village conditions, without too great an investment or risk. In most cases this means that adaptability and affordability are more important than genetic excellence. Similarly high yielding crop varieties that need high levels of inputs have often been judged by farmers to be inferior, in the prevailing circumstances, to lower yielding but well-adapted varieties. This does not mean that technical excellence is not important, but that it should be developed in such a way that it is appropriate to the prevailing environment.
8.2.5 The lack of realism of on-station research
Almost all the programmes reviewed have started as research station studies. This is quite normal. However it appears that few, if any, of the studies were replicated on farmers' fields at an early stage. As a result equipment and cultivation systems were designed and tested ir highly unrealistic conditions. The draft animals maintained on research stations are often one-and-a-half to two times the weight of village animals. As a result operations easily performed with two animals on station have been considered excessive for pairs of animals owned by farmers. There have also been examples of research stations using tractors as surrogate oxen in testing wheeled toolcarriers. Research station fields have been cultivated for long periods and are generally relatively smooth and free of obstructions. Meanwhile outside the perimeter fences farmers' fields are often irregular in shape, uneven in surface and contain trees, stumps or roots that have to be avoided. On research stations fields are close and access is easy, while farmers may have to travel considerable distances, often negotiation slopes, valleys or water courses, to reach their fields. Simple repairs such as minor welding and punctures that are quick and routine on station can cause a smallholder farmer to lose hours or even days. Research programmes ensure adequate labour is available for operations at the optimal time, but in villages there may be more urgent matters that are integral to the farming systems and which have to take priority. On research station seeds are often graded and regular and so ideal for mechanized seeding, whereas in villages seeds may be variable in type and quality and of mixed sizes. Sites for research stations have often been selected for their good soils, reliable rainfall and easy access to water and main roads, whereas the reality of most villages is very different.
In all the cases reviewed wheeled toolcarriers worked well on the research stations, yet in none of the cases did wheeled toolcarriers work sufficiently well under normal village conditions for farmers to continue using them.
In all countries there are innovative farmers willing to try out equipment if they perceive it might be useful (and if they do not, that is itself a valuable lesson). Researchers should work with such farmers from the very first year of trials, so that even if trials are mainly based on station, there are replicates carried out by farmers themselves. (Compensation arrangements in case of failures can usually be negotiated easily.) While cooperation with farmers close to a research station may be convenient, it is extremely salutary to try to maintain prototypes in working order in isolated villages. Having gained farmer cooperation, it is essential to ask the advice of such end-users at all stages of research and development from appraisal to evaluation.
Ideally work should continue with several farmers over several years. It is most important to resist the temptation of many researchers to reject on-farm experience in any given year as "atypical". Almost by definition, no cooperating farmer will be typical yet their experiences must be evaluated. Indeed there is no such thing as a typical farmer nor even an average year. Events described in research reports as "atypical" such as dry years and wet years, droughts and floods, pest damage and losses of animals and even social upheaval are actually representative of the realities of rural life. Calamitous events have to be survived by the farmers. Thus, while it may be unrealistic for innovations to be adapted to the worst catastrophes, they certainly should not be designed only for "above average" years.
8.2.6 Interdisciplinary feedback and farmer involvement
The many models of wheeled toolcarriers have naturally been designed by agricultural engineers. Frequently individual professional disciplines remain isolated, and there have been numerous examples from all over the world of agricultural engineers working alone as they develop equipment (or re-invent the wheel). In the case of wheeled toolcarriers, while some prototypes have been built by agricultural engineers working alone, some of the major programmes have been the responsibility of broadly based teams involving agronomists and social scientists as well as engineers. Thus the Botswana research was in the context of a farming systems programme, and the important ICRISAT involvement was the responsibility of the multidisciplinary Farming Systems Research Program.
The common and generally justified criticism of inappropriate single disciplinary studies is not valid in the context of wheeled toolcarrier development. Indeed it may well be argued that the close involvement of economists was positively disadvantageous. In all cases economists managed to produce economic justification for wheeled toolcarriers, and this justification was probably the major reason why many of the wheeled toolcarrier programmes in Africa, Asia and Latin America continued with such single-mindedness even after negative farmer feedback was apparent. In the circumstances it seems rather hollow to talk about a need for closer interdisciplinary collaboration at all stages.
Something clearly must have been missing to allow so much time to be devoted to developing and refining equipment that the farmers found inappropriate. The repeated theme that is emerging is that there was no representative of the farmers in the teams. Historically much of the agricultural equipment developments have arisen from the innovative ideas of farmers, often working closely with village blacksmiths or local equipment workshops. Innovations have developed from specific problems and attempts to find suitable solutions.
While farmers in developing countries are constantly being innovative and carrying out research themselves (Richards, 1985), their rate of progress is considered too slow for modern governments. Resources are allocated to speed up development. Most programmes, instead of trying to accelerate existing innovative processes, have tried to impose solutions developed in different circumstances. The economists' models of profitability would not have lasted long in discussion with highly practical but resource-poor farmers who unfortunately cannot simply remove problems by assumptions.
It seems evident that multidisciplinary teams must include farmers' realism somehow. Farmers are likely to give the most valuable information in their own environments, among their own peers. It seems essential that research programmes should regularly discuss farmers' problems' ideas and reactions while visiting their villages and fields. Farmers should be given the respect, honour and attention generally reserved for external consultants.
The repeated reference to farmer involvement should not be taken as a quick panacea, but as part of a long-term methodology. The author remembers with humility farm visits in Mali in 1986. One farmer was clearly happy to be testing a wheeled toolcarrier and was delighted with the associated prestige and international visitors. Like many farmers he was not prepared to be damning and dismiss the technology lightly, and indeed he tried to be as encouraging as possible, yet it was apparent from discussion and from the reports of the researchers that the Nikart under test was inappropriate to the local situation. However while it seemed easy for the external people to dismiss the toolcarrier there appeared to be no easy alternative solutions to suggest that would allow the innovative farmers at least some hope of raising their standards of living. The farming systems team was working closely with villagers, but the seemingly valuable combination of farmers, research team and consultant found it much easier to cite problems than devise solutions.
8.2.7 Methodological principles for future farm equipment research
From the lessons of the wheeled toolcarrier research it is clear that future animal traction or farm equipment research should be:
- carried out with much more-involvement with farmers who might usefully be regarded as "consultants" in problem identification, definition of requirements and very early evaluation of prototypes,
- based on a clearly defined need derived from a knowledge of local farming systems and socio-economic conditions,
- based on studies of actual field experience of previous initiatives.
At the international networkshop "Animal Power in Farming Systems" held in Sierra Leone in September 1986 (Starkey and Ndiame, 1988) a group discussed the stages required for effective farm equipment development. An edited version of the group's proposed methodological steps is as follows:
1. Identification of needs: study of the farming system in which equipment will be used, and context of work for which it will be selected or developed.
2. Operational requirements: definition of exactly what the equipment is required to do.
3. Specifications: clear listing of weight, draft, size, working width (requirements, limits), affordable costs, technical level of users, maintenance requirements, working life.
4. Study' of options: review of available equipment (locally or from other countries) that meet specified requirements.
5. Selection of design. If none available development of new prototype or adaptation of existing equipment.
6. On-station testing and evaluation of selected design.
7. On-farm testing and evaluation with farmers.
8. Standardization of appropriate design, with formal drawings.
9. Small batch production and distribution to farmers.
10. Further on-farm evaluation with farmers to establish durability and suitability.
11. Economic studies and assessment.
12. Large-scale production and extension.
This list should not be taken as definitive (for example socio-economic determinants such as risk have not been cited and economic evaluation should be considered a more continuous process) but it is helpful for identifying a desirable methodological sequence. Stages 1 to 3 (identification, definition, specification) will be highly area-specific and require close work with farmers. Stage 4 (review) is most important to prevent the unnecessary repetition of research. However, most of the programmes reviewed here have tended to start immediately at stage 5 with prototype development. They have then spent time at stage 6 (on-station testing) before jumping quite rapidly to stages 9 and 12 (batch production, large-scale production and extension). Steps 10 and 11 (detailed on-farm evaluation and economic evaluation) have generally been neglected.
This list quoted was produced at the "Animal Power in Farming Systems" networkshop with equipment development in mind, but many of the methodological stages are comparable with those in other fields of development. To conclude this section and at the same time to broaden its scope, the summary of another of the discussion groups at the same networkshop appears highly relevant to this review. Charged with deliberating the subject of animal traction research methodology, the group agreed that a multidisciplinary and farming systems approach was important and that more emphasis should be placed on social and economic issues than has been common in the past. To prevent technically excellent but inappropriate techniques being developed from the very first year of research programmes there should be replicates of any on-station trials or development work on some farmers' own fields. Finally farmers should be closely involved in planning and evaluation at all stages of a research programme.