Dr Julian Prior (right) with some of his MyLife team. Photo: Reianne Quilloy (from IRRI)
Fish, crops and livestock may be the bedrock of food security, but what about the farmers who breed and cultivate them? The MyLife project – the last to be added to the MyFarm program – has shifted the research focus onto the decisions farmers make, and the extension strategies in place to support them. The project’s objectives are threefold: to understand farmer livelihoods and farmer decision analysis; to improve farmer extension mechanisms and identify pathways to adoption; and institutional capacity and human resources development. But project leader Julian Prior says the project’s methods differ from other projects in their focus.
“The traditional system is where the researcher does the research, identifies new technologies and new practices and tells farmers about it,” he says.
“That's still relevant, but the limitation of that system is that often the research is focused on the areas that the researchers think are important, all the areas where the researchers have knowledge or expertise, and not necessarily on the farmers' needs.”
More often than not, he says, the research outcomes are irrelevant or unusable for smallholder farmers, whose subsistence lifestyle does not allow for mistakes or risk-taking.
“What we are doing in our project, and this is more modern methods of research and extension, is rather than focusing on the technologies, we focus on the farmers first - find out more about the farmers, what are their needs, what are the systems they're managing, what are the threats to them,” he says.
“Poor farmers in developing countries can't afford to make mistakes, so if they have a failed season, it can completely destroy the whole household livelihood. We have to be very cautious with what we encourage them to do.”
In terms of impacts on livelihoods, the project now has several research and extension staff trained in participatory rural appraisal methods – newfound knowledge that is already finding its way into government policy.