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Human and Social Capital in the Diffusion of Low External Input Agriculture

One of the strongest currents in discussions about the future of agriculture is the move toward low external input technology (LEIT). These are technologies that rely on local resources, particularly knowledge and labour; encourage adapting solutions to individual farm conditions; and promote a vision of farm stewardship. Human and social capital are particularly important elements for LEIT, as farmers’ knowledge is used to adapt solutions to local circumstances, knowledge of techniques and principles spreads from farmer to farmer, and group action enhances the efficiency of technology generation and adaptation.

There is little doubt about the potential contributions of LEIT to small farm agriculture, but there is relatively little information regarding actual uptake and diffusion. This is a particularly important gap, given that many observers feel that the successful experience of utilising such technologies builds human and social capital and contributes to further innovation and group action.

A project managed by ODI and supported by ESCOR attempts to examine some of these issues. The strategy is to select three cases of past, successful LEIT activity and to revisit these to assess current commitment to the technology, examples of additional innovation, and evidence of diffusion beyond the original project area. The three examples chosen are:

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in rice in southern Sri Lanka, a programme managed by the Department of Agriculture with input from FAO
  • Soil restoration in Honduras, including the use of minimum tillage, contour hedgerows and cover crops, promoted by several NGOs Soil and water conservation in western Kenya, part of a nationwide programme implemented by the Soil and Water Conservation Branch of the MOA and featuring participatory planning through catchment committees.

The basic fieldwork, including farmer surveys was completed by the end of 2003 and the data analysed and initial conclusions discussed in a workshop in mid-2004.