Supporting strategic thinking of smallholder dairy farmers using a whole farm simulation tool
This article investigates how a one-to-one support process based on the use of a whole dairy farm simulation tool helps both farmers to reflect on their production strategies and researchers to better understand the farmers’ contexts of action and decision. The support process consists of a minimum of four discussion sessions with the farmer: designing the Initial Scenario and formulating a diagnosis, building and simulating the Project Scenario corresponding to the objective targeted by the farmer, building and comparing alternative scenarios proposed both by the farmer and the researcher, and evaluating the process with the farmer. The approach was tested with six smallholder farmers in Brazil. It is illustrated with the example of one farmer who aimed to develop his milk production by more than doubling his herd size on the same cultivated area. Two other examples illustrate the diversity of issues addressed with this approach. The first estimates the sensitivity of economic results to price variations of milk and concentrates. The second compares two scenarios in terms of forage supply autonomy. The discussion assesses the outcomes of the approach for farmers in terms of response to their specific issues and of knowledge acquired. The research outputs are discussed in terms of the value and limits of using simulation tools within both participatory action research and advisory processes.
KeywordsScenario analysis Price sensitivity Participatory approach Learning process Brazil
The authors would like to thank the livestock farmers from Unaí-MG who participated in the study and our colleagues at Embrapa Cerrados for their welcome and support. We are grateful to Grace Delobel for translating this paper from French to English. This work was partly funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche under the Systera Program: ANR-08-STRA-10 (ecological, technical and social innovation processes in Conservation Agriculture).
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