Farmers are one of the many groups being affected globally by the impact of climate change. Crops are affected by diseases or environmental disasters such as flooding, cyclones, snow storms, droughts, etc., resulting from extreme weather conditions and leading to crop loss.
Scientists worldwide continuously conduct fundamental scientific research to unravel plant life and build hypotheses to understand plant life. While others incorporate the hypotheses built to produce improved plant varieties that are environmentally resilient, some scientists collect Earth’s data through satellites to make future environmental predictions to assist with agricultural practice decisions. There are also new farming technologies invented by scientists to make farming easier and more sustainable. But aside from research publications, scientists need to work with farmers and enlighten them on the latest improved breeds and new and sustainable farming technologies to adjust to the adversities of climate change. There is the need for scientists to extend interdisciplinary research approaches to farmers. Plant scientists, earth scientists, agronomists, agricultural extension workers, computer scientists, etc., could come together to enlighten farmers on the latest approach to sustainable farming systems.
Scientist-farmer communication gap could only be bridged through the appropriate media to achieve a win-win and lasting outcome. This communication will help farmers adopt better agricultural practices and improve agricultural productivity. This will not only improve crop production but also the farmers’ economic status (Krishnan, 2020). Farmers will also help scientists test their hypotheses in real-world scenarios through this communication.
Some of the ways found to be effective for scientist-farmer communication are:
Field or plot demonstrations
Field or plot demonstrations aim to take new scientific innovations out of the laboratory and make them applicable to farmers’ everyday experiences. They are a crucial technique that involves practical exhibits and explanations of how innovations of scientist’s work. They provide an ideal learning environment for farmers to see plants or new technologies themselves, interact with scientists and extension workers in the field, and get their doubts clarified (Pappa et al, 2018). Having first-hand experience of scientific innovations helps farmers build trust in scientists and their work. In turn, scientists can gather valuable feedback from farmers on exhibited technologies to understand their needs, preferences, and usage.
It is estimated that over 50% of the world’s population currently uses social media, spending an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes on it daily (Chaffey, 2023). Additionally, farmers are now more electronically connected than ever, with cell phones becoming an increasingly vital tool for their businesses. The widespread adoption of digital technologies, particularly cell phones, provides a unique opportunity to deliver high-quality agricultural information to farmers in developing countries at scale.
Farmers are increasingly turning to social media to access a wide range of resources such as articles, photos, videos, podcasts and more. They use various social media platforms to gather information, seek advice from other farmers, discover new ideas and connect directly with brands. Scientists can leverage social media to bring their research or its findings to farmers. However, when analyzing data from social media, researchers must prioritize ethical considerations, minimize harm, and strive for fairness.
Aside from the use of social media, researchers can also use traditional media to reach farmers. This includes radio, television, newspapers and other prints. Broadcast media has the capability to spread information to large audiences efficiently. For example, radio is an essential source of timely agronomic information for rural parts of any country. Radio broadcasts are an effective way to reach busy farmers who cannot attend in-person training or meetings.
Television is widely recognized as one of the most significant and effective means of communication in rural areas of developing countries. Especially in regions with relatively low literacy levels, the choice of communication media becomes critical. Television can be vital in spreading awareness, educating people, and promoting social and economic development by providing vital information and entertainment to the rural population. In this regard, television is a significant tool for disseminating information on modern agricultural technology to both literate and illiterate farmers. This is because the content tends to be applied and “stick”. Researchers or scientists can share their research or findings with farmers and interact with them through radio and TV by granting live interviews or having programs that air regularly to interact with them. Additionally, they can set up columns or pages in newspapers and other print media to regularly share innovations with farmers.
Work with Agricultural Extension Officers
Agricultural extension officers act as a link between scientists and farmers. They mostly act as facilitators and communicators, helping farmers make decisions and ensuring they use the right information to attain the best results in terms of sustainable output. Farmers are more likely to trust extension officers since they work closely with them (Pappa et al, 2018). Researchers can leverage this to gain farmers’ trust too.
Using roleplaying, scientists or researchers can educate farmers and pass good information effectively. This model is also an entertaining way of learning as farmers involved will play a game or, in other cases, act out a play or drama with the researcher’s core message. The rest of the farmers serve as the audience and observe the game, play or drama to be educated or informed. The more times farmers play the game, their perceived appropriateness of the game in informing or educating increases. This, however, requires good planning and practice to make the required impact.
Community outreaches/Farm visits
Visiting farmers’ communities and farms helps researchers connect to the daily lives of farmers. It also helps in appreciating their efforts and understanding their challenges. While scientists may use this approach to share their work, they also get informed first-hand on issues farmers want addressed, shaping their research. Scientists can also pick direct feedback and data from farmers or their farms for their work. Farmers are also likely to build trust and feel more connected with scientists when they (scientists) show interest in their welfare and work.
Sharing animations in local languages and making it freely available online for farmers
Animations are an effective tool for simplifying complex concepts visually. Scientists can use this approach to explain their research to farmers, especially those with low literacy. Using information and communication technology (ICT) and local farmer organizations as channels, this approach can bridge the gap between research and impact by providing scientific knowledge to low-literate farmers in developing countries at a low cost or for free. However, the success of this approach is contingent on the effectiveness of the animated educational material in inducing learning and behavior change among the targeted audience. The animations can be easily accessible by a download option onto a device through an App and then played at any time, including when the device has no access to the internet (Bello-Bravo et al, 2017). Making this material free increases reach to a larger population of farmers.
Communication is regarded as incomplete without feedback from the recipient. Scientists should endeavor to receive feedback from farmers after communicating and consider refining such feedback for building climate-resilient crops.
- Krishnan A. (2020) Taking science lessons out to the farmers. IndiaBioscience. Posted on Mar 02, 2020 in AGRICULTURE and PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. Accessed 21st September, 2023. https://indiabioscience.org/columns/conversations/taking-science-lessons-out-to-the-farmers
- Pappa, E., Koutsouris, A., Ingram, J., Debruyne, L., Cooreman, H., & Marchand, F. (2018). Structural aspects of on-farm demonstrations: Key considerations in the planning and design process. International Journal of Agricultural Extension, 6(3), 79-90. https://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/6338
- Chaffey, D. (2023). Global social media statistics research summary 2022 [June 2022]. Smart Insights. https://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social-media-strategy/new-global-social-media-research/
- Bello-Bravo, J., Tamò, M., Dannon, E.A. & Pittendrigh, B.R. (2017). An assessment of learning gains from educational animated videos versus traditional extension presentations among farmers in Benin. Information Technology for Development, 1-21. https://doi.org/10.1080/02681102.2017.1298077
About the Authors:
Dennis Baffour-Awuah is a science communication enthusiast who has many years of experience practicing broadcast journalism in Ghana, and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. He loves to be referred to as the pop scientist because he loves to blend pop culture and science as a lifestyle. You can find him on Twitter at @dennisgameplay.
Idowu Obisesan is currently lecturer at Bowen University Iwo, Nigeria, and a 2023 Plantae Fellow. She is interested in legume sustainability (the effects of abiotic and biotic stresses on plants) and medicinal plant research. You can find her on Twitter at @IdowuAobisesan.