Participants at the Techfit workshop , which started today in the northern India city of Dehra Dun, were given very clear guidance in the opening speech: “You should develop the tool from a very practical dimension and not an ivory tower tool that can gather dust” advised chief guest Mr. Rajiv Gupta. Mr. Gupta is Permanent Secretary and Forest and Rural Development Commissioner in the Government of Uttarakhand State.
Animal husbandry plays a pivotal role in this hilly and heavily forested state’s rural economy and Mr Gupta promised that the state government would be interested in using the tool when it was developed.
The process to start developing that tool today involved the 20 or participants engaging in an intensive programme which combined plenary discussions, a few presentations, sharing of examples of practical experiences in Africa and Asia, and some group work sessions. This provided both food for thought and some roughly-hewn building blocks which will be further refined and used to build the tool tomorrow.
By the end of day one, the group had:
Recognised that within the group there was a good mix of natural and social scientists and that between them had a wide range of experience of feed technologies and approaches to introducing them to farmers.
Clarified that although the overall objective was to develop a generic tool that could be used globally for all livestock species. Initially, however, it might be simpler to focus on ruminants only. And that the tool’s intended audience was development workers and researchers – not farmers or policy makers, although clearly they will be interested in the tool’s outputs.
Generated and tested a matrix which enabled feed technology options to be categorised with the ‘what’ (targeting quantity, quality or seasonality of feed) in one dimension and the ‘how’ (introduction of new feeds options on farm, e.g. dual purpose crops; making better use of existing feeds on farm, e.g. pulverising straw; or importing feeds onto the farm, e.g. buying-in concentrates or fodder) in another.
Produced a set of categories and some examples of factors that could impact on uptake of technologies:
- Natural resource and land use: land tenure and size; common property management; agro-climatic and farm system setting and variability;
- Complementary technologies: cropping intensity, type and mechanisation; animal breed and health; irrigation and water conservation
- Cost/benefit (economics): labour seasonality; labour cost and availability; economic return to technology; trade-offs and opportunity costs
- Tradition and culture: gender roles and distribution of benefits; risk mitigation options; user risk aversion; livestock keeping mindset and objectives
- Market linkages and demand: product prices; market performance and concentration
- Institutions and policies: public investment choices; regulations on quality etc; enabling environment for private actors
- Capacity: knowledge and capacity of service and extension actors; collective action and organisation; user knowledge and skills
- Infrastructure: credit; seed systems; other input supply and repair
- ‘Density and clustering’ of livestock activities
Identified some factors associated with successful uptake of feed technologies that emerged from practical experiences of some participants:
- focus was often on modifying existing approaches rather than introducing entirely new technologies
- linking training to technology promotion improved uptake
- technologies for which the impact was rapidly apparent were more attractive to farmers (one participant suggested that a technology needed to generate at least a 25% increase in income or productivity to be worth considering)
- solving farmers cash flow problems, e.g. through functional milk hubs, enables them to invest in technologies
- uptake was higher when farmers were more business oriented
- providing farmers with information so they could make informed choice was critical – and fora existed to facilitate engagement with farmers
- the level to which farmers had been exposed to new technologies and options varied considerably and had implications for targeting
- it was hard to involve poor small-scale farmers in participatory research: more resource-rich famers could, however, act as ‘test beds’ to demonstrate technologies to their poorer neighbours
From the examples shared, it was apparent that ad hoc approaches to technology selection dominated, which included top-down decision making, promotion of pet technologies and building on what farmers already did. To the relief of the workshop organisers this reinforced the need for a more systematic approach – a need the workshop aims to address.
So, by the end of day one a good foundation has been laid on which the tool can be built. But clearly day 2 will require some creative thinking and hard work to cope with the complexities and issues that had emerged during day one and to meet the brief for a practical tool.
The 4-day Techfit workshop aims to ‘develop and test an analytical framework that can be used to collect, structure, screen and prioritise possible feed technologies and interventions from multiple angles technical, institutional, social and economic’. http://techfit.wikispaces.com
Contributed by Keith Sones