Farmer First

In July 1987, some 50 social and natural scientists of roughly equal numbers met at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, UK, for a workshop on ‘Farmers and Agricultural Research: Complementary Methods’, later more generally known as the ‘Farmer First’ workshop (Chambers et al, 1989).

That event marked a key moment in the development of approaches to farmer participation in agricultural research and extension, drawing together experiences from a diverse range of individuals and organisations from both North and South. Since then, methodological, institutional and policy experiments have unfolded around the world, aimed at “putting farmers first”.

Twenty years later, in December 2007, some 80 agricultural practitioners, researchers, farmer leaders and donor representatives gathered at IDS to reflect on the achievements, failures and missed opportunities of the past two decades, assess the current state of farmer-centred research and development (R&D) and consider prospects for the future. The gathering aimed to critically examine how these participatory experiments have panned out, particularly at a time of renewed interest in „agriculture for development? and the widespread recognition of the need for effective R&D systems. What has worked, what hasn?t and why? Moreover, given the radically changed contexts facing poor farmers in the developing world today – including increasingly globalised and vertically integrated agri-food systems, changed configurations of public and private R&D, and new governance arrangements affecting innovation systems – how should the challenges and priorities of farmer participation in agricultural research and extension be seen in the 21st century?