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.
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.
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.
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.
This study is part of the interdisciplinary research project “Improving Food Security in Africa through increased System Productivity of Biomass-based Value Webs” (BiomassWeb, see www.biomassweb.org) at the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, under the Work Package 7.1: Follow the Innovation – Collective Learning, Change Adaptation and Transition Management in Ethiopia. BiomassWeb is financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), for which the authors are grateful. The first author extends his gratitude to the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) for hosting during the write-up phase. The authors are also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers’ comments that helped them to enrich the paper.
Leta, G., Stellmacher, T., Kelboro, G., Van Assche, K. and Hornidge, A.-K. (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-12-2017-0115Download as .RIS
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