The Link Between Plant Scientists and Farmers

Introduction: Modern agriculture is faced with a plethora of challenges ranging from weather extremes such as floods, drought and heat waves due to climate change to depletion of arable land due to urbanization and soil erosion. Additionally, pests and diseases exacerbate crop loss, adding to the complexity faced by farmers worldwide. Optimizing crop productivity while minimizing resource inputs, including water and fertilizers, requires the implementation of precision farming techniques. Therefore, various technologies are being developed by plant scientists that integrate scientific innovation and sustainable practices.

(a) Plant breeding: This process of selecting plants with positive genetic traits can produce desirable effects. It enables the creation of new plant varieties with improved traits. This is achieved through controlled mating of selected individuals and then selecting certain individuals among the progeny. Breeding is crucial for the development of stress-resistant, high-yielding crops and for improving quality factors that can have a positive impact on people’s lives worldwide.

(b) Irrigation: Various irrigation methods have been developed to ensure consistent water availability for crops while reducing water waste. Efficient use of water is crucial to maintain crop productivity particularly in areas with insufficient rainfall. Moreover, the effect of drought and heat stress on crops can be mitigated by effective irrigation techniques. Drip irrigation and subsurface drip irrigation are used for precise and targeted water application to plant roots. For large-scale agricultural applications, sprinklers are employed to simulate rainfall. Interestingly, the rate, pattern, location, and timing of water application can be modulated in variable-rate irrigation systems based on soil variables such as topography, moisture levels, etc. This helps to reduce overwatering thus conserving water and preventing nutrient run-off. It also improves crop yield and reduces weeds and diseases associated with overwatering.

(c) Drones and smartphone apps: Plant scientists have been working to apply cutting-edge technology to be able to collect data for more efficient agricultural solutions. Some of these include smartphone apps to increase disease forecasting and diagnostics, drone technology with artificial intelligence-based information tools for irrigation, spray application/ plant health and general on-farm monitoring of activities or trends.

A recent study based in Malawi, by McCarthy et al, 2023, highlighted the review of efforts to improve agricultural efficiency by using drone technology to improve on farm knowledge and mitigate risks and challenges. . From the farmers’ perspectives, one of the bottlenecks for the implementation of drone technology was the necessity for legislation and a regulatory framework from policymakers on data privacy and security. Another factor in considering the linkage between farmers and scientists for the use of drone technology is that commercial farmers had more trust in government agencies to handle drone data. Therefore, for some technologies developed by plant scientists to be implemented by farmers, policies may need to be established before farmers will fully adopt them.

In some cases such as in Ireland, in a study by (Kenny et al, 2021) it was indicated that other barriers to smartphone and app use among farmers included a lack of comfort with emerging technologies and poor broadband internet availability. Therefore, support networks to aid farmers in troubleshooting, infrastructure, and service suppliers have a role to play in ensuring that the link between developers (research scientists) of agricultural smartphone apps and farmers is established. These may be extension officers and educators who can develop training courses to provide support.

This highlights another point: smallholder, subsistence farmers are less likely to absorb the shock of losses due to field experimentation risks. Different types of farmers must be considered when designing research studies for field collaboration, and appropriate mechanisms must be established to minimize the negative impacts of collaborations between plant scientists and farmers.

(d) Harvesting technology: Harvesting crops involves several steps, including digging, lifting, winnowing, stocking, and threshing. Some steps can be combined or eliminated depending on the system used. In recent years, the development of harvesting machines has spurred many researchers to explore ways to improve the process by incorporating new technology, enhancing cultural practices, automating field operations, and upgrading the quality of the workforce.

Several technologies have been developed and applied before and after harvesting to improve crop quality and extend their storage period. Pre-harvest treatment enhances crop quality before harvesting and extends their shelf life during post-harvest storage. Post-harvest treatment, on the other hand, prevents crop quality from deteriorating until consumption by consumers. Various types of pre- and post-harvest technologies are available, and their effectiveness may vary depending on the target processing or environment.

Importance of bidirectional communication between plant scientists and farmers, associated challenges, and potential solutions

We reached out to plant scientists Dr. Federica Brandizzi, Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University, Dr. Daniel Osei Ofosu, Research Scientist at Ghana Atomic Energy Commision, and Dr. Richard Dixon, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at University of North Texas. We also got in touch with Mr. Aaron Akukah, Founder of Globveg Farms in Ghana to incorporate perspectives of farmers on this topic. In this section, we summarize their views and opinions on the importance and challenges associated with two-way communication between plant biologists and farmers based on their experience in this domain. They unanimously agreed that it is of pivotal importance to maintain a bidirectional transfer of knowledge between scientists and farmers. This helps the scientists to understand the agricultural priorities and challenges faced by the farmers based on which researchers can develop targeted and effective solutions to improve crop productivity, sustainability, and resilience in the face of climate change. As pointed out by Dr. Dixon, the challenges extend beyond crop yield loss and stress tolerance. Scientists also need to be aware of the local and regional challenges faced by the farmers. Furthermore, direct interaction with farmers helps scientists in discerning the most effective way to disseminate the research findings, technologies, and best practices which paves way for expedited adoption of these solutions. However, farmers also need to be aware of the challenges encountered by scientists such as lengthy research timeline, difficulties in working with non-model species, and issues of intellectual property protection. Furthermore, limited federal and/or corporate support for research related to agronomic traits deemed as “less important” or “second-tier” often hinder scientists from adequately addressing specific needs of local farmers.

We further inquired about the challenges that the scientists and farmers face in effectively communicating with each other about research findings and recommendations. Notably, all of them mentioned that language barriers due to the use of jargon and lack of clarity in terms of research relevance and expectations have created a huge gap in effective communication with the farmers. Dr. Ofosu raises an important issue here by saying, “In the past, findings from scientific work were not made available to farmers. Hence, there appeared to be some disconnect between what scientists were doing and how those benefits farmers. Engaging with farmers now has the impression that scientists are trying to force alien findings and recommendations on farmers. There are usually no local words or phrases for terminologies and concepts that I use in my work. Often, I am forced to use descriptions in the local language which may not convey the messages fully. This creates a huge gap.” He further added that traditional knowledge and practices sometimes conflict with scientific recommendations which creates resistance or skepticism among the farmers. Farmers have a clear thought in their mind about what would be helpful for them, it is the responsibility of the scientists to clearly communicate whether it is attainable or not. This will help to address the reliability issues pointed out by Mr. Akukah. He further identified accessibility as a potential barrier to adopt recommendations from scientists. Financial limitations, busy schedules of farmers, especially during peak farming seasons, and geographic locations often hinder them from attending workshops, seminars, or training sessions organized by scientists.

Various strategies were proposed to bridge the gap between research and practical applications in the field. Dr. Brandizzi states, “Implement the five C’s of communication: communication should be clear, correct, complete, concise, and compassionate.” In this context, Dr. Ofosu proposes integrating community communication modules into training of agricultural scientists since their technical expertise does not suffice for communication with the non-scientific audience. Moreover, Dr. Ofosu highlights the importance of investment in extension services and training of extension officers to establish consistent channels of communication between researchers and farmers. However, Dr. Dixon emphasizes on the need to extend the communication all the way to the principal investigators and bench scientists to facilitate comprehensive exchange of information throughout the research process. Additionally, most of them agreed that information transfer through the internet, digital technologies, radio, and text messages can be instrumental in enhancing communication between researchers and farmers, particularly in remote and underserved areas. These tools will enable farmers to receive timely information about weather forecasts, pest alerts, and optimal agricultural techniques directly on their mobile devices. Thus, they can make informed decisions based on real-time insights and guidance. Additionally, the involvement of community-based organizations, farmers associations, or farm groups and cooperatives from the onset of research where farmers can participate in co-designing studies will ensure that research is relevant, context-specific, and directly applicable to on-the-ground challenges faced by the target farmers. Furthermore, Dr. Dixon proposes that communication with the private sector is advantageous for scientists especially for development of new crop varieties. He says, “The work I did with Forage Genetics on HarvExtra alfalfa would not have seen the light without a commercial partner willing to take on the time and expense required for deregulation. But in that project, I did not, myself, communicate with the end users. Companies could include bench scientists more in field days.”

To ensure that these strategies are sustainable and endure over time, a conducive environment should be created for information sharing between farmers and scientists. It is crucial to communicate if the capabilities of the scientists can match the expectations of the farmers to build a trustworthy relationship. To facilitate interaction between compatible parties, Dr. Dixon proposes the use of centralized platforms such as state or nationally organized websites designed to match researchers with end users. State and federal support are essential to implement and sustain these strategies. Moreover, receiving feedback from farmers can be instrumental for scientists in refining and improving agricultural technologies, as aptly highlighted by Dr. Brandizzi. In summary, free and consistent interaction between scientists and farmers is essential to effectively work together towards a common goal. Mutual understanding between the two parties is crucial to foster a sense of partnership in finding technically sound and practical solutions to agricultural challenges.

Conclusion: Scientists and farmers must work together to ensure that their work yields results for the betterment of everyone. Their coordination is important in helping achieve positive results in efforts to attain food and nutrition security, crop improvement, sustainable agriculture, food safety, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and community development. Engaging with farmers and effectively communicating with them helps researchers receive adequate feedback that better shapes their work. This way, methods and technologies designed by researchers become more effective and efficient for farmers to use. Other parties, such as government institutions, commercial partners and private organizations, may also help to enhance this link by contributing credit, expertise, data, education, training and technical support. Through cooperation and partnerships, the full potential of science and technology can be harnessed for the benefit of all and generations to come.

Acknowledgements: We sincerely thank Mr. Aaron Akukah, Founder of Globveg farms, Ghana, Dr. Daniel Osei Ofosu, Research Scientist at Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Federica Brandizzi, Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University, and Dr. Richard Dixon, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of North Texas for providing us with their valuable inputs in understanding the importance and issues associated with bidirectional communication between farmers and scientists.


  1. Kenny, Ursula, and Aine Regan. “Co-designing a smartphone app for and with farmers: Empathising with end-users’ values and needs.” Journal of Rural Studies 82 (2021): 148-160.
  2. McCarthy, Christopher, Yamikani Nyoni, Daud Jones Kachamba, Lumbani Benedicto Banda, Boyson Moyo, Cornelius Chisambi, James Banfill, and Buho Hoshino. “Can Drones Help Smallholder Farmers Improve Agriculture Efficiencies and Reduce Food Insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa? Local Perceptions from Malawi.” Agriculture 13, no. 5 (2023): 1075.



About the Authors

Dennis Baffour-Awuah is a 2024 Plantae Editor, and holds an MPhil in Nuclear Agriculture from the University of Ghana, where he specialized in Mutation Breeding and Plant Biotechnology. He is a passionate science communicator who enjoys promoting scientific innovations. You can find him on X: @dennisgameplay.

Gillian Rowe is doctoral researcher at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. She is also a research scientist at the Scientific Research Council (SRC), Jamaica. Her scientific interests are microbiology, molecular plant-pathogen interactions, the soil microbiome and bioinformatics. You can find her on X: @RoweGill.

Abira Sahu is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Michigan State University Plant Research Laboratory, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. Her research focuses on the regulation of isoprene emission from plants and its significance in plant physiology and atmospheric chemistry.  You can find her on X: @AbiraSahu.