Gabriele Stoll
Natural Crop Protection in the Tropics
Letting Information Come to Life
Letting information come to life
Learning and Changing:
Helping farmers move to natural pest control
by Catrin J. Meir

In late 1991, Zamorano, the Panamerican School of Agriculture, based in Honduras, began offering a three day training course in pest control without pesticides to smallholder farmers from Central America. This course was the brainchild of anthropologist Jeffery Bentley, who proposed that scientists should try to fill the gaps in farmers' knowledge in areas where farmers knew little, and learn from farmers in those areas where farmers knew a lot. The Natural Pest Control Course, as it came to be known, was developed by Bentley, Gonzalo Rodríguez and Ana González, and helped farmers to learn about insect biology and about natural enemies. The objective of the training was to stimulate farmers to adopt, adapt and invent natural control techniques and thus to help farmers improve their standard of living through increased productivity and reduced exposure to pesticides. The course was highly participatory and innovatory in its approach and was attended by farmers from all over Central America: by 1995 approximately 6 000 farmers had been trained.
 The following discussion uses the experience of the Natural Pest Control Course to examine how training can bring information alive for farmers. It then outlines what changes farmers can make with the new ideas if this is achieved, and summarizes the impacts these changes can have on farmers' productivity and pesticide use. The discussion then looks at the process of change farmers go through as they alter their pest management strategies to adopt natural control techniques, and what makes some farmers adopt and others reject these techniques.  The discussion concludes by presenting an outline of what can be done to encourage and support the process of farmer adoption of natural control techniques.

Bringing information alive
Most people do not act on information alone: the information must have some meaning for them. Traditional approaches to teaching have mostly not valued what pupils or trainees already know, or involved them in what will be taught. Nor have such approaches taken into account that sitting writing whilst someone else talks is not an effective way to learn. In fact, it is frequently boring – think of school! Such 'teaching' is most unlikely to motivate people to use the information presented. If this is so for those of us who are accustomed to working with the written word, imagine how much more it must be true for farmers whose needs are practical, who are used to sharing information by talking and demonstration, and who are often intimidated and physically uncomfortable in a classroom situation.
 To be successful at initiating or promoting change, farmer training must, therefore, be the complete opposite of what most of us think of as 'school'. It must value farmers and their knowledge, and build on this to create an environment in which learning is maximized. It must present information that interests farmers, in a form which they can easily assimilate. It must actively involve the farmers in the learning process, and use a variety of different media to present ideas. And above all, it must be interesting, exciting and motivating: information must fire the imagination – it must come alive!
 The following paragraphs examine how these goals can be achieved in pest management training courses for smallholder farmers, by looking at some aspects of the technical content, the methodology (including the trainer-farmer relationship) and the activities and materials of training. (For a more complete analysis, see 638). These aspects are illustrated by examples from the Natural Pest Control Course, together with farmers' reactions to the course as illustrations of its success at helping farmers learn and at motivating them to use the new information.
Farmer adoption of Natural Control Techniques (NCTs):
Steps in the process of change
The printed version contains more information about the following themes:

Training methodology: The 'How' of farmer training

The 'What' of farmer training: Technical content

The 'Which' of farmer training: Activities and materials

Changes farmers made with the new ideas: Adoption, adaptation and invention of natural control techniques

The impact of natural control: Better productivity and reduced use of pesticides

The process of change: What makes farmers adopt natural control techniques?

How can the process of change to natural control techniques be supported?