Recommendations for crop management are based on agronomic diagnoses of yield determinants at plot scale usually without the farmers being involved in the evaluation process. Farmers may consequently not apply the recommendations that do not account for their own perception of yield determination. However, participatory approaches, which involve stakeholders in all steps the research process, are based on the assumption that this participation facilitates ownership by these stakeholders of the research results. In this thesis we assumed that: (i) farmers have their own perceptions of yield determination; (ii) it is possible to access these perceptions through individual discussions with farmers; (iii) subsequent group discussions allow knowledge to be exchanged between farmers and a common viewpoint to be reached; (iv) agronomists can use this common viewpoint as a basis for building improved solutions in collaboration with the farmers.
Through the participatory process we aim to: i) create a network of knowledge sharing between farmers, researchers and extension services; ii) strengthen collective learning among farmers; iii) develop adapted advice tools for improving irrigation performance through improved production and productivity at plot scale. The main goals of the thesis are: through the implementation of a participatory process to (1) build technical or organizational innovations to solve farmers' production constraints and improve productivity and to (2) evaluate the diffusion of these innovations and the participatory process used during the thesis.
In the thirst part of the thesis, we used participatory methods to identify and discuss the visual references the farmers consider the crop growth as indicators to forecast the yield of their plot and the drivers they think affect these indicators. The study was conducted in two sites in the Office du Niger irrigated rice scheme in Mali, and comprised three steps: (i) individual discussions with rice producers about their perception of how yield is determined, (ii) group discussions to share their individual perceptions and reach a common viewpoint, (iii) analysis of farmers' indicators and factors. Seven production indicators and 29 factors that may affect these indicators were identified. Most producers focused on three indicators of rice yield in their plot: crop practices and constraints may prevent them achieving high yields, such as transplantation constraints for suitable crop establishment. Facing this constraint, some have adopted direct sowing of pre-germinated seeds as an alternative solution of transplanting. In the second part of the thesis we analyzed the dynamics of this "endogenous" innovation. The goal here is to identify the determinants of direct seeding of pre-germinated rice seeds in our study site, to understand how the farmer makes decision regarding direct-seeding, chooses and manages technical components to achieve his production goal. The third and last part is about the evaluation of the participatory approach we used during the thesis in order to formulate recommendations for its "diffusion" in the Office du Niger area. This evaluation was made on the basis of an analytical framework adapted from previous studies to identify the factors that contributed the most to the farmers' engagement in the innovation process.
We demonstrate for the first time that farmers in the Office du Niger scheme have technical knowledge to which extension services could refer to provide relevant advice and tools for managing their constraints and improving yield.
Keywords: Farmers’ perceptions; Participatory approach; Yield indicators; West Africa
Photos: Mali ©Bandiougou Diawara