Farmer First Revisited

Innovation for Agricultural Research and Development

ISBN 978-185339-682-3

Edited by Ian Scoones and John Thompson with a foreword by Robert Chambers

About the editors
Table of contents
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Agriculture is an urgent priority worldwide and farmers in the developing world find themselves in the front line of some of the world’s most pressing issues – climate change, globalization and food security. The problem with the agricultural research and extension which is meant to support these farmers is that it is often delivered in a linear, top-down fashion which is inappropriate to their social, physical and economic needs. Twenty years ago, the Farmer First workshop at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, UK, started from this premise, and launched a movement to encourage farmer participation in agricultural research and extension so as to find better solutions to farmers’ needs.

Since that time methodological, institutional and policy experiments have unfolded around the world – all aimed at putting farmers first. Farmer First Revisited presents accounts of such experiments which were brought by delegates to a workshop in December 2007 and which include successes and failures and the lessons that have been learned.

Agricultural innovation now takes place less within national public-sector research organizations and more in diversified public-private systems. This book asks: how do farmers engage in these public and private systems? In the context of increasingly globalized and complex agricultural supply chains, how do farmers take part in the policy processes defining access to markets, and in agricultural research and development?

Farmer First Revisited should be read by students, policy makers, agricultural scientists and social scientists aiming to bring the concerns of grassroots farmers to the fore.


Farmer First Revisited is a powerful testament to the impact the Farmer First approach to agricultural research and development has had and continues to have in the twenty years since the first volume on this topic was published. From an almost subversive critical movement that challenged the prevailing linear science-driven paradigm, Farmer First has won broad acceptance by rigorously proving its superior efficiency in making science work for the poorest and most marginal farmers. It is indeed a pleasure to see how the established and dedicated practitioners, together with a new generation of committed young scientists, have built upon the original concepts and methods to create this dynamic, exciting and effective corpus of work.
Joachim Voss, Independent Consultant, formerly Director General, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cali, Colombia

‘A brilliant account of why we need to continue questioning conventional assumptions about agriculture, and why multiple knowledges and sources of innovation are more important than ever.'
Judi Wakhungu, Executive Director, African Centre for Technology Studies, Nairobi, Kenya and co-chair International Assessment of Agricultural Science, Knowledge and Technology for Development

'Farmer First Revisited is a timely publication. I hope that this book will be read and used widely for fostering an evergreen revolution in our farms.
M.S. Swaminathan, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), Chairman, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, India

'Twenty years on and the concept and practice of Farmer First remain powerful and compelling and even more relevant in today's world.'
Gordon Conway, Chief Scientific Adviser, UK Department for International Development and Professor of International Development, Imperial College, London

'Farmer First Revisited shows why farmers need the power, organization and knowledge to engage with science, policy and private sector actors to get their priorities addressed. A timely statement of what, why and how.'
Camilla Toulmin, Director, International Institute for Environment and Development, London, UK

'Farmer First Revisited is an important contribution to our understanding of farmer participation and innovation systems in agriculture research and development. It offers excellent cases and practical experiences of great value to agricultural R&D practitioners, as well as to general on-farm and farmer-oriented research scientists. I strongly recommend it.
Kwesi Attah-Krah, Deputy Director General, Bioversity International, Rome, Italy.

'First there was Farmer First - followed by a critical assessment in Beyond Farmer First. Since all good things come in threes, Farmer First Revisited is a necessary addition to the series. Seldom have readers had the opportunity to get a clearer view of the development of agrarian development thinking. This book proves the Farmer First movement – and the inspiration behind it – is alive and kicking.'
Louk de la Rive Box, Rector, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands

About the editors

Ian Scoones is a Professorial Fellow and John Thompson is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, UK.

Table of contents

Foreword by Robert Chambers

Part I: Revisiting Farmer First

Part II: Systems of innovation
Farmer participatory research and adaptive management
Engaging with markets and the private sector

Part III: The politics of demand and organizational change
Farmers’ organizations
Networks and partnerships
Large public R&D organizations

Part IV: New professionalism, learning and change
Extension: from diffusion to networks
Rethinking agricultural education
Impact assessment and learning

Part V: Looking forward

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