Participatory agricultural research methods: theory key to gain wider acceptance

An example of participatory agricultural research with CIMMYT in Kenya / Photo: CIMMYT

This post was drafted by Terry Clayton based on contributions by Paul Sillitoe (Durham University) at the Participatory Agricultural Research: Approaches, Design and Evaluation (PARADE) workshop held in Oxford from 9-13 December 2013.

What must we do to gain wider acceptance of participatory agricultural research methods within the mainstream of  the CGIAR system and beyond? This was one of the topics of discussion at the PARADE workshop.

Professor Paul Sillitoe (Department of Anthropology, Durham University) believes the answer to the question will in no small part depend on addressing some of the deep-seated contradictions within development discourse. In his opening keynote, Professor Sillitoe outlined the deeply entrenched incongruities that PAR practitioners must resolve, or at least acknowledge. The list is long (17 points in all), which underscores how deeply conflicted our discourse is.

Why it matters
Theory without practice is sterile; practice without theory is blind” – Marx, Karl. Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, Jan. 1844, MECW, Vol. 3, p. 182.

Researchers who understand the value of the contributions that PAR approaches and tools have to offer will recognize in Professor Sillitoe’s list the source of much of the resistance and pushback they experience in their battles for legitimacy, funding and space to publish results. Why, for example, have participatory approaches not enjoyed the success anticipated by its many supporters? Professor Sillitoe suggests that, among other things, “We have to combat the portrayal of local knowledge opposed to scientific knowledge more effectively. We need to focus on the interface where knowledge negotiation occurs; on processes where local practices confront and influence and are influenced by science. The implication is not that we seek to translate local knowledge of farming into that of agricultural science. Rather, interaction should produce hybrid knowledge drawing on scientific and local perspectives.”

Talking to people in the workshop, it is clear that already we have numerous examples of such ‘hybrid’ knowledge from the use of such tools as … (To read more click here)

More slides about participatory agricultural research in the CGIAR can be viewed here.