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TO CONTROL OR NOT TO CONTROL: HOW DO WE LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW AGRONOMIC INNOVATIONS PERFORM ON FARMS?

  • RIC COE (a1), JOYCE NJOLOMA (a2) and FERGUS SINCLAIR (a1)
Summary

Our paper ‘Loading the dice in favour of the farmer: reducing the risk of adopting agronomic innovations’ revealed mean increases but also large variation in the impact of four agroforestry practises on maize yield, as experienced by farmers in Malawi. This prompted a response from Sileshi and Akinnifesi that was critical of the data and methods used. Their main concern was that farmers did not necessarily manage crops identically in plots with and those without trees, so the yield differences that we measured may be partly caused by these differences in crop management. We argue here that it is valid and useful to look at the actual effect on crop yield of farmers having trees intercropped with maize, rather than controlling for how the crop is managed, because this is what happens in the real world. Farmers respond to having trees in their field by treating their crop differently, so this is part of the system response to having trees in fields. Attempts to eliminate this will result in measuring an artefact rather than the real impact of trees on crop yield. By doing this, we revealed important variation in the impact of trees on crop yield amongst farmers, and we argue that it is important to explore, assess and communicate to farmers and development actors the extent and implications of this variation. Understanding the contextual factors that determine who is likely to benefit most from an innovation and for whom it is less suitable can then be incorporated in scaling up, so that targeting of innovations and the appropriateness of messages given to farmers are continuously refined.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
§Corresponding author. Email: r.coe@cgiar.org
Footnotes
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Contact address: World Agroforestry Centre, PO Box 30677, 00100 Nairobi, Kenya.
Footnotes
References
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Coe, R., Njoloma, J. and Sinclair, F. (2016). Loading the dice in favour of the farmer: reducing the risk of adopting agronomic innovations. Experimental Agriculture. Published Online. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0014479716000181.
Coe, R., Sinclair, F. and Barrios, E. (2014). Scaling up agroforestry requires research ‘in’ rather than ‘for’ development. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 6:7377.
Kamanga, B. C. G., Waddington, S. R., Robertson, M. J. and Giller, K. E. (2010). Risk analysis of maize-legume crop combinations with smallholder farmers varying in resource endowment in central Malawi. Experimental Agriculture 46 (1):121.
Sileshi, G. W. and Akinnifesi, F. K. (in press). Comments on Coe et al. (2016) – ‘Loading the dice in favour of the farmer. . .’ Experimental Agriculture.
Sileshi, G., Akinnifesi, F. K., Ajayi, O. C. and Place, F. (2008). Meta-analysis of maize yield response to woody and herbaceous legumes in sub-Saharan Africa. Plant and Soil 307 (1–2):119.
Sileshi, G., Akinnifesi, F. K., Debusho, L. K., Beedy, T., Ajayi, O. C. and Mong'omba, S. (2010). Variation in maize yield gaps with plant nutrient inputs, soil type and climate across sub-Saharan Africa. Field Crops Research 116 (1–2):113.
Sinclair, F. L. (2017). Systems science at the scale of impact: reconciling bottom-up participation with the production of widely applicable research outputs. In Sustainable Intensification in Smallholder Agriculture: An Integrated Systems Research Approach. (Eds Oborn, I., Vanlauwe, B., Phillips, M., Thomas, R., Brooijmans, W. and Atta-Krah, K.). London: Earthscan (in press).
Sirrine, D., Shennan, C., Snapp, S., Kanyama-Phiri, G., Kamanga, B. and Sirrine, J. R. (2010). Improving recommendations resulting from on-farm research: agroforestry, risk, profitability and vulnerability in southern Malawi. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 8 (4):290304.
Sumberg, J., Thompson, J. and Woodhouse, P. (2012). Why agronomy in the developing world has become contentious. Agriculture and Human Values 30 (1):7183.
Tiwari, T. P., Brook, R. M. and Sinclair, F. L. (2004). Implications of hill farmers' agronomic practices in Nepal for crop improvement in maize. Experimental Agriculture 40:121.
United Nations (2015). Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 70/1.
Vanlauwe, B., Coe, R. and Giller, K. E. (2016). Beyond averages: new approaches to understand heterogeneity and risk of technology success or failure in smallholder farming. Experimental Agriculture. Published Online. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0014479716000193.
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Experimental Agriculture
  • ISSN: 0014-4797
  • EISSN: 1469-4441
  • URL: /core/journals/experimental-agriculture
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