Social learning in smallholder agriculture: the struggle against systemic inequalities

Gerba Leta (Department of Political and Cultural Change (ZEFa), Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany)
Till Stellmacher (Department of Political and Cultural Change (ZEFa), Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany)
Girma Kelboro (Department of Political and Cultural Change (ZEFa), Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany)
Kristof Van Assche (Department of Planning, Governance and Development, Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)
Anna-Katharina Hornidge (Department of Social Sciences (Head), Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) and University of Bremen, Institute of Sociology, Bremen, Germany)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Publication date: 13 August 2018

Abstract

Purpose

Ethiopia operates a large agricultural extension service system. However, access to extension-related knowledge, technologies and agricultural inputs is unequally distributed among smallholder farmers. Social learning is widely practiced by most farmers to cope with this unequal distribution though its practices have hardly been documented in passing on knowledge of agriculture and rural development or embedding it into the local system of knowledge production, transfer and use. The purpose of this study is, therefore, to identify the different methods of social learning, as well as their contribution to the adoption and diffusion of technologies within Ethiopia’s smallholder agricultural setting.

Design/methodology/approach

A mixed methods approach was used, comprising farmer and expert interviews, focus group discussions, informal individual discussions and key informant interviews. The data were documented, coded and later analyzed using SPSS and ATLAS.ti.

Findings

The findings showed that 55 per cent of the farmers in the studied areas fully relied on social, community-level learning to adopt agricultural technologies, while 35 per cent of them relied on social learning only partly. Farmers acquired knowledge through social networks by means of communication, observation, collective labor groups, public meetings, socio-cultural events and group socialization. Informal institutions such as iddir, debo and dado, helped farmers learn, adopt and diffuse technologies.

Originality/value

This study used the concept of epistemic oppression by Dotson (2014) as a conceptual framework to examine farmers’ access to extension services and to analyze how informal institutions serve as workplace learning for the smallholder farmers. The authors suggest community-level social learning serves as a coping mechanism against the prevailing limitations of the formal extension system, and at the same time, it guards against the deepening of social, political and epistemic inequalities that are inherent to the knowledge system.

Keywords

Citation

Leta, G., Stellmacher, T., Kelboro, G., Van Assche, K. and Hornidge, A. (2018), "Social learning in smallholder agriculture: the struggle against systemic inequalities", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 30 No. 6, pp. 469-487. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWL-12-2017-0115

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Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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