Seeing below the surface: making soil processes visible to Ugandan smallholder farmers through a constructivist and experiential extension approach
Ugandan smallholder farmers need to feed a growing population, but their efforts are hampered by declining soil fertility rates. Agricultural extension can facilitate farmers’ access to new practices and technologies, yet farmers are understandably often hesitant to adopt new behaviors. New knowledge assimilation is an important component of behavior change that is often overlooked or poorly addressed by current extension efforts. We implemented a Fertility Management Education Program (FMEP) in central Uganda to investigate smallholder farmers’ existing soil knowledge and their assimilation of new scientific concepts into their knowledge framework. Qualitative data were collected through participant observation, farmer interviews, and focus groups, and coded for using a priori and emergent themes. Our exploration revealed some notable similarities between farmers’ soil knowledge and scientific concepts, particularly in regards to soil health concepts, a discovery that could facilitate communication between extension agents and farmers. However, certain scientific concepts are either unknown to farmers or discordant with existing soil knowledge; these concepts are unlikely to be assimilated by farmers without convincing and concerted extension efforts. Importantly, we found that the combination of new scientific knowledge and hands-on experimentation with novel practices gave farmers far greater confidence in implementing improved soil management practices. Our study provides evidence that extension programs should engage directly with farmers’ existing soil knowledge to develop their understanding of key biological concepts and confidence in implementing improved practices.
KeywordsAgricultural extension Experiential learning Soil fertility management Uganda Smallholder farmers
Community Based Organization
Fertility Management Education Program
Integrated Soil Fertility Management
National Agricultural Advisory Services
- NRCS USDA
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Training and Visit
We are indebted to the farmers involved in this study who volunteered their time, land, and labor to this study and who were willing to engage in countless discussions on soil with us. We are grateful to Mugagga Kayondo and George Ojwang for their skillful field assistance. Financial support for this research was provided through a graduate scholarship to the first author from the National Security Education Program and the Horticulture Innovation Lab. The Horticulture Innovation Lab is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, as part of the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future. The contents are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. This research was conducted by the first author in partial fulfillment of a Ph.D. degree in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Barrera-Bassols, N., and J. A. Zinck. 2000. Ethnopedology in a worldwide perspective: An annotated bibliography. Netherlands: ITC Publication.Google Scholar
- Braun, A., and D. Duveskog. 2008. The farmer field school approach—history, global assessment and success stories. Background Paper for the IFAD Rural Poverty Report. http://www.ifad.org/rural/rpr2010/background/1.pdf. Accessed 8 Sep 2017.
- Brosius, P., G. W. Lovelace, and G Marten Gerald. 1986. Ethnoecology: An approach to understanding traditional agricultural knowledge. In Traditional Agriculture in Southeast Asia: A human ecology perspective, ed. Gerald G. Marten, 187–198. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
- Giller, K. E., P. Tittonell, M. C. Rufino, M. T. van Wijk, Shamie Zingore, P. Mapfumo, S. Adjei-Nsiah, M. Herrero, R. Chikowo, and M. Corbeels. 2011. Communicating complexity: Integrated assessment of trade-offs concerning soil fertility management within African farming systems to support innovation and development. Agricultural Systems 104: 191–203. doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2010.07.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Glaser, Barney G, and A. Strauss. 1967. The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company.Google Scholar
- Holland, D., W. Lachicotte, D. Skinner, and C. Cain. 1998. Agency and identity in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Kolb, D. 1984. Experiential learning as the science of learning and development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
- Leeuwis, C., and R. Pyburn. eds. 2002. Social learning for rural resource management. Wheelbarrows full of frogs: Social learning for rural resource management, 11–21. Assen: Koninklijke van gorcumGoogle Scholar
- Merriam, S. B. 2009. Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
- Misiko, M., P. Tittonell, K. E. Giller, and P. Richards. 2011. Strengthening understanding and perceptions of mineral fertilizer use among smallholder farmers: Evidence from collective trials in western Kenya. Agriculture and Human Values 28: 27–38. doi: 10.1007/s10460-010-9264-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Mugwe, J., D. Mugendi, M. Mucheru-Muna, R. Merckx, J. Chianu, and B. Vanlauwe. 2008. Determinants of the decision to adopt integrated soil fertility management practices by smallholder farmers in the Central Highlands of Kenya. Experimental Agriculture 45: 61. doi: 10.1017/S0014479708007072.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- NRCS. 2015. Soil Quality Test Kit. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/health/assessment/?cid=nrcs142p2_053873. Accessed 8 Sep 2017.
- QSR International. 2012. Nvivo qualitative data analysis Software. Melbourne: QSR International Pty Ltd.Google Scholar
- Rogers, E. M. 1983. Diffusion of innovations. London: The Free Press.Google Scholar
- Rushemuka, N. P., R.a. Bizoza, J. G. Mowo, and L. Bock. 2014. Farmers’ soil knowledge for effective participatory integrated watershed management in Rwanda: Toward soil-specific fertility management and farmers’ judgmental fertilizer use. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 183: 145–159. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2013.10.020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Uganda Bureau of Statistics. 2006. National household survey, agricultural module. Kampala, Uganda.Google Scholar
- Wadsworth, B. J. 1996. Piaget’s theory of cognitive and affective development: Foundations of constructivism. USA: Longman Publishing.Google Scholar
- World Population Data Sheet. 2013. Population Reference Bureau. http://www.prb.org/pdf13/2013-population-data-sheet_eng.pdf. Accessed 8 Sep 2017.