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Understanding FLDs

        Seeing is Believing is the premise of FLDs. Frontline Demonstrations can be an effective part of an effort to promote particular agricultural technologies and management strategies. For organizing FLDs it is required to have clarity on concepts of FLDs and technology adoption process.

        The related terms were already discussed in previous chapter. Many a times FLDs are confused with on-farm research programs. FLDs are generally intended to validate proven technologies in the farmers' fields with direct involvement of the scientists. Where as on-farm research has a different objective i.e., to generate new technologies using randomized treatments and control of treatment effects.

        After research has shown that a particular technology works, FLDs can illustrate how the technology can be adapted locally for increased efficiency. FLDs often reduce the risk and learning costs of changing practices for the host farmer and community. FLDs also provide important feedback to the agricultural research institutes, universities, researchers and agricultural departments to stimulate new research or for refining the technologies.

PROMOTING CHANGE THROUGH FLDs

        A FLD should be part of a comprehensive extension education program. There are a number of limitations to consider when deciding whether a FLD is an appropriate tool to use in a particular area. As neither farms nor farmers can be considered a homogeneous group, one FLD can't be expected to be relevant to all the locations in a region. Some farming communities will be impossible to reach directly through FLDs alone simply because they do not host FLDs or attend field days. Some prefer learning from other sources like technology bulletins and news papers; others dislike the social aspects of field days; others may stay away because they don't have a good relationship with local extension agents/ FLD farmers. Some farmers may simply avoid any event sponsored by an agricultural university/institute or government agency.

        However, FLDs may draw a different set of farmers than the FLD planners expect. They may assume, for instance, that farmers are unfamiliar with the FLD practices, and then design the FLDs accordingly. But the opposite may be true.

        Many extension efforts seem to be based on the assumption that if information is given to the farmer about a recommended practice, he or she will "see the light" and adopt the new practice. In fact, the farmers may be in an information- overload situation. Farmers ignore or screen the majority of the information reaching them while only a small portion enters into a decision-making process. Hence instead of information provision, one needs to show the results in the farmers' fields.

        It is in this information jungle that intended messages and technologies must compete. Consequently, to be competitive, the FLD planning must have some understanding of how decisions to change behavior are made, and which factors influence those decisions.

DIFFUSION AND ADOPTION PROCESS

        Research on the diffusion of innovations has shown that changes in long-standing practices do not come quickly. There are two processes which influence the technology dissemination. One is Adoption process and second one is Diffusion process.

Understanding the Adoption Process

        As a popular definition goes, adoption is the process of making use of a new technology as the best course of action available to a farmer. The adoption process should be preceded by a diffusion process of communicating the innovations over a period of time among the farming system. This definition clearly shows that there are four essential components of the diffusion of a technology. One is Innovation i.e., technology. Second is time dimension, third is communication channels and finally the fourth dimension is farmers in a social system.

Innovation

        An innovation is a technology/variety/ a procedure that is perceived as new by the farmers. Here perceived newness is important compared to the absolute newness. Technology as an innovation has different attributes that influence the adoption. These attributes include relative advantage (advantageous over the existing technology/practice), compatibility (degree to which the new technology is compatible with the existing system), complexity (degree of understanding the technology), observability (degree to which the results of a new technology are readily observable), predictability (degree of consistency in performance) and divisibility (degree to which the technology could be tried on a limited scale). All these attributes contribute to the way technologies are being adopted by the farmers.

Time Dimension

        With respect to the diffusion, there are two dimensions. Time taken by a technology to reach out to the average individual of a farming community is measured by the rate of diffusion. For all the technological innovations, the rate of diffusion follows a sigmoid curve. And the point of inflection signifies the take-off stage of the technology in a society. The diffusion curve will be slow in the initial stages and will move fast in the later stages and finally will be slowed down at the end.

        Another dimension of the time is the rate of adoption of the technologies by the individual farmers of rice regions. The rate of adoption will take a normal curve with different categories such as innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. All these categories represent the farmers based on their readiness to accept the technologies as the best course of adoption available. It is essential to understand the stage of the technologies in various rice regions of the country based on these two dimensions. This will enable us to plan accordingly.

Communication channels

        Effective information dissemination is one of the most crucial components in the diffusion process. There are several communication channels available for popularizing the technologies different regions. The extension functionaries of state department of agriculture form the basis for communicating the knowledge, skill and favorable attitude of the technologies to the farmers. However there are other channels such as private sector agencies, dealer networks, peer groups, farmers' organizations, non governmental agencies, market agencies, millers who keep influencing the farmers' adoption behaviour. All these channels make use of one or combination of few extension methods for popularizing the technologies. Different extension communication methods are available for both public and private agencies. These include Individual contact- Farm and Home visit, Mini-kit trials, Group contact- Group meeting, result demonstration, method demonstration, study tour, field days, small group training, dealers networking. Mass contact- Campaign, Newspaper, Radio, Television, Films, Exhibition, Printed materials, Seminar, Printed materials. Effective extension strategies should take into account these methods and the stages of adoption and when to use what.

Farmers' related Factors:

        The important but often neglected component in the whole chain of technology development and technology transferring is the farmers' related factors. The characteristics of the farming system, socio¬economic, political, institutional factors influence the adoption of technologies in any region are often taken as granted. If the social researches are properly planned to regress upon the extent of contribution of these factors on the over all adoption of the technologies, that will have tremendous impact on the technology dissemination programmes.

Understanding the Diffusion Process

        While farm communities are clearly not the only group adopting innovations, rural sociologists have studied diffusion of innovations more than other social researchers. In 1962, Everett Rogers' "Diffusion of Innovations" introduced the classical model for the innovation decision-making process. While his model has since been modified several times, various versions show adoption as a process that occurs in stages over time. As applied to the agricultural technologies these are:

        Stage1 : Awareness: gaining knowledge of the resource problem and/ or alternative practices.

        Stage 2 : Evaluation: using available information to weigh the pros and cons of the recommended practices, such as their profitability, acceptability to family and social network, and benefit to the environment.

        Stage 3: Trial and adaptation: beginning to use a practice, adapting either one's operation or the technology to increase agronomic and economic efficiency.

        Adoption-diffusion research helps understanding why farmers often do not immediately use new technologies. This theory is relevant to understanding that some innovations may take much longer to be widely adopted than others. For example, the adoption process will be slower if a practice is incompatible with present farming systems. If these factors are compounded, farmers may well decide that their current methods are best.

        Extension scientists consider that for behavioral change to take place, three things should be present:

  • Knowledge of the problem, its causes, and recognition of its relevance to the individual;
  • Knowledge of solutions to the problem; and
  • Positive attitudes toward the change.

        Historically, the thrust of agricultural communication efforts has been on the technical aspects of recommended practices rather than on building problem awareness. But building awareness of the problem and its causes is a critical step toward change. If farmers don't perceive a problem, it is unlikely they will seek information on it or rank the problem very high relative to the many other challenges of farming community.

        In a number of extension surveys, farmers have indicated their belief that the farther one moves from their own operations, the more serious the problems become. Farmers will adopt new practices when they perceive the practices as being in their own best interest. Experience and theory suggest, however, that farmers will not adopt practices for a number of reasons related to personal, technological, social, political and economic factors.

        Some farmers may be unable to adopt a new practice because of the following reasons.

  • It is too expensive to adopt.
  • The labor requirements are too high.
  • The costs of obtaining valid information are too high.
  • Information on the practice is lacking.
  • They lack the managerial skills necessary for the practice.
  • The operation or underlying principles of the practices is too complex.
  • Someone else (such as a miller, banker, landlord or family member) actually controls the decision to change practices.
  • Their planning horizon is shorter than that needed to implement or receive benefits from changing practices.
  • They lack adequate technical support (such as agribusiness, extension agents or other farmers) for the practice.
  • New practice is not consistent with their production goals.
  • They are completely unfamiliar with the practice.
  • The information is judged irrelevant to them or their farm.
  • Its appropriateness to the physical setting is not established.
  • They have gotten conflicting or inconsistent information about it.
  • They believe in and are satisfied with current (traditional) practices.
  • It has greater real or perceived risk of negative outcomes than their current practice.

        FLDs can be a good tool to address some of these constraints of adoption. FLD field days can allow farmers to gather relevant and understandable information relatively quickly. By seeing the practice used on a local farm, farmers may find ways to adapt the practice that will lower its costs or reduce its complexity. Results of a FLD on a real farm can clarify information conflicts and show that a practice is relevant to the area. In addition, FLDs may promote general awareness of a new technology.

        On the other hand, FLDs are not well suited to practices with high risks of negative outcomes (e.g. results are highly weather-dependent). FLDs are also not likely to be successful in increasing farmer adoption when the technology is too expensive (ex; Tractor), requires more labor than is available, or requires a longer-term commitment than the farmer can make, or when the farmer receiving FLD results is not the real decision-maker for the practice.

        Various factors that cause farmers to be unwilling or unable to adopt recommended technologies/ varieties show how critical it is to know the farmers and target messages accordingly. These factors also reinforce the importance of making FLDs and field days only part of a larger and more comprehensive communication effort.

TARGETING THE TECHNOLOGY/MESSAGE

Identifying the Problem

        The first step of any FLD program is collecting and analyzing information to design FLDs. This may include a review of secondary data, informal surveys consisting of farmer interviews and field observations, and formal surveys with a questionnaire. The purpose of these activities is to gather enough information to describe the basic features of the area where FLDs are planned to be organized, to identify problems that limit farmers' productivity, and to begin considering possible improvements in farmers' practices. The information collected from the diagnostic activities can be used to design the FLDs. The diagnostic activities should not end even after the first on-farm FLDs are planned. Many FLDs are designed for diagnostic purposes, and during the demonstration stage the need often arises for further diagnostic activities, including observations and formal studies.

        Planning a demonstration may begin with the selection of the FLD team from cross section of disciplines. Apart from the team of scientists involved in the FLDs, it is advisable to include state department officials, specialists, concerned farmers, local dealers, and other cooperating individuals who will help do the work.

        Each of the FLD team members are supposed to be progressive, aware of the problems that need to be addressed, willing to attend meetings and help gather support for the FLD activity, and known for their leadership ability. To enhance the success of any demonstration this team must clearly define the goals of the demonstration. Everyone involved needs a conceptual model of the demonstration and needs to know exactly what is expected of each of them.

Choosing Demonstration Technologies

        One very important responsibility of the FLD team is selection of the technology to be demonstrated. The technology to be demonstrated must fit a definite need of farmers of the region. It should be practical, relevant, and manageable, so that some type of answer can be obtained. The FLD technologies among many others may be;

  • The varietal/hybrid technology that could have rela-tive advantage over the existing varieties
  • Crop rotations that mitigate weed, disease, insect and other pest problems; increase available soil nitrogen and reduce the need for purchased fertilizers; and, in conjunction with conservation tillage practices, reduce soil erosion.
  • IPM, which reduces the need for pesticides by crop rotation, scouting, weather monitoring, use of resistant cultivars, timing of planting, and biological pest controls.
  • Management systems to control weeds and improve plant health and the abilities of crops to resist insects, pests, and diseases.
  • Soil and water-conserving tillage.
  • Any other technology that results in enhanced production, saving of input costs, reducing drudgery and protecting the environment.

Developing Problem Awareness

        The initial and most basic step toward accepting and implementing change by farmers is becoming aware that both a problem and a viable solution exist. This awareness lays the groundwork for the next stage in the adoption process, evaluating and acting on this knowledge by attending an on-farm FLD field day, for example. Often FLD planners do not provide adequate attention to this stage of increasing awareness.

        The media are effective means for increasing awareness of resource problems. Studies show that farmers become aware of the impact of agricultural technologies through easily accessible information. In the agricultural community, the best way to increase awareness is through TV, Radio, Farm magazines and newspapers.

        Farmers also get general-awareness type of information from Agriculture Department personnel, extension officers, NGOs, university extension specialists, pesticide dealers and fellow farmers.

Choosing a FLD Farmer

        Once the technology has been selected, the next step is to select FLD farmer and FLD site. The success or failure of a demonstration may well depend on the ability of the FLD team to locate a farmer and a situation that meets acceptable demonstration criteria.

        The enthusiasm of the FLD farmer to undertake the FLDs is very important aspect. FLD farmers who volunteer are more likely to be enthusiastic and successful in their efforts. If potential FLD farmers are generally respected in their community, the FLD results will be perceived as good by the fellow farmers. Otherwise, one will end up with a good demonstration that nobody believes. Hence there is a need to select a FLD farmer who is respected as a community leader. Further, FLDs work best when the FLD farmer is representative of the socio-economic and agro- climatic conditions in which an average farmer in that area operates. For example, FLDs directed at small and marginal farmers should be conducted in the fields of small and marginal farmers only.

        It may be noted that the most successful FLDs are conducted on farms where dramatic improvement can be demonstrated. The demonstration is less likely to be useful if the farmer is already an expert in using the technologies to be demonstrated.

CHOOSING FLD SITE

        Demonstration site should be chosen in an area accessible to farmers who need the technologies. It is important to consider as many factors as necessary to select an appropriate site. Whenever a demonstration is conducted it is a good idea to obtain the cooperation from different sources of critical inputs such as hybrid seed, implements, pesticides and fertilizers etc., so that they are made available to the farmers who opt to adopt the technologies subsequently. Finally, the site should be easily accessible and should preferably be on road side.

SIZE OF THE PLOTS

        The decision to use small plots versus field strips may depend on the individual farmers' landholding and various other factors. But in case of Compact Block Demonstrations of Macro-Management Scheme of Ministry of Agriculture, the FLDs are to be conducted in a compact block of four hectare each. If the compact blocks of four hectare are not available, then plot size of one hectare may be used.

        Small-plot FLDs are advantageous when seed or other materials are in limited supply. Field strip FLDs involve what is referred to as the border effect. This means plots should be wide enough to permit harvesting representative samples of a treatment and avoid side effects from adjacent treatments. For example, FLD on Direct Seeded Rice using Drum Seeder should be demonstrated using field strips for better visibility of impacts.

FLD FIELDS

        In FLDs, as in on-farm research, it is important to know that observed differences in yields among treatments are due primarily to the different practices rather than to differences in conditions within the field. Therefore, the field needs certain uniform characteristics and management practices. To avoid problems interpreting results, the following factors should not vary: soil types, slope, drainage patterns, soil compaction, insect infestations, tillage history, weed infestations, soil fertility and pH, herbicide carryover, fertilizer or manure application. In addition, an ideal site will be highly visible from a well-traveled road. If an appropriate field for the FLD cannot be found on the farm, then some alternate arrangements may be made in neighboring villages.

        Each FLD field should be clearly marked with a Display Board featuring the FLD farmer (s) name, technology demonstrated, Season, Scheme (eg: Macro-Management Scheme of Ministry of Agriculture), Coordinators (eg: Directorate of Rice Research) and local agency involved (FLD center's name).

PROVIDING PERSONAL ASSISTANCE

        Because of highly variable situations, individual attention is needed to tailor recommended practices to specific situations and to help reduce the level of uncertainty and risk. This one- on-one attention is time consuming, but efforts are rewarded when more farmers actually adopt the practices. Sometimes, a specific step in adopting a practice lends itself to on-farm visits and an offer of service may be critical in changing practices. For example, nutrient management advises may influence the capacity of application of FYMs.

FARMER-TO-FARMER NETWORKING

        While factual and persuasive information plays a critical role in influencing behavior, the actual decision to change behavior generally is based on the actions or suggestions of peer farmers. Facilitate communication between farmers by helping interested farmers set up farmer networks, either informally or as a more formal nonprofit organization; problems, real or perceived, are often linked to the adoption or adaptation of recommended practices, so try focusing these farmer groups on problem-solving activities. Farmers can discuss how the demonstrated practice fits into their overall farming strategy, mini-tours build relationships between the FLD scientists and farmers, as well as encourage farmer-to farmer networking.

PROMOTING THE FIELD DAYS

        FLDs are particularly valuable at the evaluation stage in the adoption process when farmers look for local information to judge a new practice. Major opportunities to spread the message about the demonstrated practices to other farmers as well as the media occur at gatherings at the FLD fields during the crop season (field days) and at meetings or other events following harvest.

        There are several tips for promoting field days and other FLD events and on presenting FLD information to farmers in effective way. However, the one-shot approach, in which field day is the primary mechanism for transferring information to farmers.

        It is required to develop a good relationship with the media. Reporters and editors are always looking for good story ideas. Printed articles increase credibility, awareness and interest in the practices demonstrated. It is essential to invite local news reporter to the FLD field day, and having photographs available to offer for their use.

        During field days it is good to highlight any potential economic benefits. Care should be taken not to exaggerate or make claims that are misleading or untrue. One may use statistics whenever possible. The resource problem should always be discussed as it relates to the farmers in the targeted area, and then introduce a solution. Once the farmers attend the field day or meeting, the challenge becomes effectively presenting information about the demonstrated practice and FLD results.

        It is essential to make the FLD message clear and simple. If there are too many variables and messages, then farmers will not be able to use the information to make sound evaluations of the demonstrated management practices.

Record keeping for a FLD work

        Because the FLDs highlight the profitability of recommended technologies/varieties, the record keeping at field level and village level is very important. This is essential to show the cost-benefit analyses of FLD technologies at field level. A booklet for pilot testing in the FLD areas in Andhra Pradesh has been developed by the Directorate of Rice Research, Hyderabad.

Writing about the FLD results

        When field days are held before harvest, yield figures are not available. Thus following through to the audience and others with FLD results is extremely important. Publications with FLD results can also provide a valuable mechanism for extending the learning benefits of the FLD to more farmers. So far, only the comprehensive FLD reports are prepared by the DRR on FLDs on Rice. But individual FLD centers are not preparing the FLD reports on the technologies demonstrated. This kind of report in the local languages and distribution to various agencies will help fastening the pace of technology adoption.

Tips for Conducting Successful FLDs

  • The farmer is the key to the success of a FLD, not the layout of the FLD plot or the practice being demonstrated. Take the time to find the right FLD farmer, and don't force an unreal¬istic plan on the farmer. Agree on the FLD guided by the farmers' needs, capabilities and interests applicable to their local conditions.
  • Identify specific goals and keep the FLD simple. Too many practices make a FLD difficult to manage and explain and can result in nullifying the afforts.
  • Maintain good communication with everyone on the FLD team. The team should essentially have scientists from several disciplines such as Agricultural Extension, Plant Pathologist, Entomologists, etc., in planning as well as in the technical aspects of the FLD.
  • Reserve plenty of time for visits and discussions with FLD farmers. Match the farmers' commitment and enthusiasm with your own. Often the FLDs are perceived as an effort to distribute the critical inputs to the farmers. This perception needs to be changed.
  • Select a field that is uniform in characteristics.
  • Monitor the plot frequently through out the season.
  • Remember that yield and net returns are critical to farmers when they consider changing practices. Plan ahead on how to let field day attendees and other farmers know what has been learned from the FLD projects, and then follow through.
  • Work with a FLD farmer through at least two growing seasons. These farmers are valuable allies and potentially persuasive spokespersons, so try to maintain contact with them even after they are no longer formally connected with the program.

Tips for a Successful Field Day

  1. Always invite the FLD farmers and farmers from neighboring villages to be on the program.Farmers too often end up being "talked at" by NGO staff and scientists. If possible, the host farmer should be the one to describe the FLD and the technologies demonstrated.

    If the FLD farmers are selected carefully, he should be more aware of what questions might be on the minds of attending farmers. He will be potentially more persuasive compared to an outsider i.e., FLD scientists/NGO personnel.

  2. Give appropriate attention to publicity for the event. Publicity can make or break an event, so be sure to plan it well in advance.
  3. Extend personal invitations. Instead of using circulars, encourage neighboring farmers to attend a field day by sending personalized letters signed by the FLD scientist or the FLD farmers.
  4. Keep it interesting and fun. Select good speakers, not just knowledgeable people. Keep presentations short: 10 minutes for each speaker, plus 10 minutes each for a question-and-answer period.
  5. Include plenty of time for informal questions and one-on-one discussions. The best interaction often comes after the formal presentations, so be sure to include time for farmers, university researchers and the local team to talk one-on-one. List the informal discussions or question-and-answer items on the programme schedule.
  6. Include timely topics and topics of local concern. Try to use the field day as an opportunity to discuss topics pertinent to the local agricultural problems and other technologies available in the research institutes.
  7. Always have attendance sheet or sign-up sheet. A sign-up sheet should have columns for name, address and telephone number. Make copies of the sign-up sheet and share them afterward with local NGO or other agency involved in conducting the FLD.
  8. Provide additional incentives for coming. Farmers have many activities and events vying for their time, so the more appealing the event, the more likely they'll choose it over something else. Field days may include exhibition, lunch or snacks, machinery demonstrations, free soil testing.
  9. Include private sector people if possible. Include local private sector personnel, such as seed producing companies, cooperative society personnel, NGOs and department personnel. They too, learn from the FLDs, and are themselves highly regarded sources of information for the local farmers.
  10. Send the FLD results to the local agencies and farmers' groups in local language as soon as they are available. FLDs validate practices by showing that they work on local farms, yet field day attendees often cannot see the results of a FLD until after harvest. Send results as soon as possible and make sure they are easily understandable.

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Concept : Dr. Shaik N Meera (Senior Scientist & CPI)      Copyright © 2010-2012 by DRR Hyderabad. All Rights Reserved.