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Transforming technology transfer for the South African sugarcane farmers: the first case study – the 2005 Eldana outreach

Kathy Hurly and Grant Buchanan

South African Sugarcane Research Institute, Private Bag X02, Mount Edgecombe, 4300, South Africa

Abstract

The South African sugar industry funds its own sugarcane agricultural research conducted by the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI). SASRI acknowledges that technology transfer is a critical function in delivering research outcomes to its customers, the farmers and millers. This paper describes a new approach to technology transfer that SASRI adopted, to better meet the needs of its customers. Two key elements of the refined approach were developed. Firstly, a process for identification and assessment of the subject material of the initiative, which entailed inclusion of all stakeholders in planning the technology transfer initiative. Secondly, the implementation of this strategy, which involved an industrial outreach that included interactive farmer workshops and required them to document commitments.

The subject material for the initiative concerned the industry’s principal pest Eldana saccharina, a sugarcane stem borer, which results in approximately R250 million direct and indirect losses annually. At the workshops, the farmers evaluated the new approach and feedback was provided to scientists and extension. Commitment from the farmers through action plans was captured and will be followed up by an Extension Officer in their 2006 work programmes.

Three key learnings: (1) successful technology transfer interventions start by involving all stakeholders who must participate in determining the content and style of the proposed interaction; (2) the content of the intervention has to be varied for each presentation to cater for particular requirements of the different regions, and; (3) technology transfer in itself is a simple concept, but it requires a huge investment in resources, both in the planning and post-implementation phases, in order to achieve a reasonable measure of success.

Key words

Technology transfer, stakeholders, eldana, sugarcane

Introduction

The South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) (www.sasa.org.za/sasri) was established in 1925 in Durban, South Africa to produce disease resistant varieties of sugarcane. It has developed into an institute that is recognised for its research into all aspects of sugarcane agriculture and for the provision of advice to South African sugarcane farmers.

Traditionally, technology transfer was viewed as the responsibility of the local Extension Officer (EO) who was based in one of the 13 mill areas. With the influence of the local extension committee and farmer “perceived” needs, the EO drew up the local programme of work and many useful projects and modular courses were run. These projects and modular courses were most often generic in nature, with specialists assisting with generic information from SASRI. They were not designed to address the nuances of the area-specific problems that farmers faced nor were farmers invited to share their reality and propose solutions together.

In the past five years, the farmers have become unhappy with the technology transfer process not giving tailor-made advice and this prompted SASRI to re-examine the technology transfer process. As an industry-funded research institute we were fortunate that the revision or refinement of the technology transfer process did not require external approval.

The aim of this paper is, therefore, to highlight changes that SASRI has undertaken to achieve better integrated technology transfer or as we call it “seamless technology transfer”, and to share our first experiences in the implementation of this strategy, and more importantly to share the customer evaluation.

The topic

Eldana saccharinaWalker (Lepidoptera:Pyralidae) (Eldana) is an insect that is indigenous to Africa and a severe pest of the large-scale farming sector in South African, causing losses of approximately R250 million annually. Eldana is a voracious feeder that can damage the whole crop in severe infestations, leading to serious crop loss (Keeping 1995). Eldana larvae feed extensively inside sugarcane stalks. This, in addition to infestation of the borings by the red rot fungus (Glomerella tucumanensis), causes severe loss in cane quality. Damage is exacerbated in years of drought.

A number of control measures have been recommended to farmers, but a huge gap still exists between what the farmer should do as best practice to control eldana, and what the farmer actually does. In addition, SASRI had recently formulated a new insecticide control measure that required communication (Leslie 2003). For all these reasons, eldana was chosen for the first case study.

The process followed and results from this first case study

Step 1: Identify why farmers are not adopting recommendations

SASRI scientists, the scientific liaison team, the information management team and extension staff held a workshop to examine all material relating to eldana control, and to explore reasons why some farmers were not adopting SASRI’s recommendations. The reasons for low adoption of control methods are summarised in Table 1.

Table 1. The major reasons for the lack of adoption of the eldana recommendations identified at the workshop.

  • Farmer’s lack of awareness of own problems
  • Long term control necessary - so no immediate results/returns visible
  • Farmers survive with eldana for too long before it becomes catastrophic
  • Multiple control measures confusing
  • Economics associated with a 12 vs. 18-month crop not clearly presented
  • Long-term economics not clearly presented – need to show long-term benefit
  • Apathy and complacency – “just have to live with it” syndrome
  • Success stories not used enough in technology transfer
  • Regional approaches needed - not just interventions at individual level
  • Since yield is the major driver – more fertiliser applied despite adverse impact
  • Lack of ‘user-friendly’, focused information pack

The workshop represented the new approach in several ways. The direction of flow of information in addressing a problem would traditionally have started at the institute, where the knowledge from the specialists would have been transformed into a recommendation in the form of a publication (booklet, information sheet), which would then have been delivered to the farmer. The new approach for this case study started by focusing on the sugarcane farmer as the end-user of the information. Certain questions needed to be answered before compiling recommendations for eldana control. These related to why the farmers were not adopting recommendations that the institute provided. This approach is much like that advocated by the CRC for Tropical Pest Management (Foster et al. 1995).

Traditional technology transfer depended largely on the EO, who in turn made use of resources (specialists, printed material) from the research institute. The new approach involved all relevant role players: specialists, extension officers, publications people, marketing and liaison), and the clients input (via the recently completed SASRI customer opinion survey form). This collaborative approach has been shown to be advantageous (Hinkey et al. 2005). The opinion survey indicated that there were various subjects (e.g. nutrition, eldana control and varieties) in which the clients required better communication of technology from SASRI, and one farmer bluntly stated that “the approach to technology transfer must be revisited”.

Traditionally, specialists from the different disciplines would have developed recommendations separately from each other. For example, the soils specialists would have published in a soils bulletin, details on how shallow soils lead to stress and hence increased eldana; the varieties specialists would have published a list that ranked varieties according to their degree of resistance to the pest; Soils and Nutrition would have published research that linked increases in eldana numbers with increasing rates of Nitrogen. Information was therefore fragmented and not easy for farmers to integrate.

The new approach brought specialists together from different disciplines, helping to resolve conflicting advice and establishing clarity and integrating recommendations into best management practice (BMP). Having extension at the same workshops, made it possible for the specialists to appreciate the practicalities of implementing the proposed recommendations.

Step 2: Repackaging of information

Following the adoption workshop, all eldana information that existed in various publications was consolidated into a single document. This ‘draft bulletin’ was discussed by the EOs and changes suggested. After addressing the comments and concerns raised by the specialists and EOs, a process that took five months, the new eldana control bulletin was published together with supporting material (posters, file inserts, bookmarks) for the eldana outreach reference file. Each area also produced area-specific supporting material for the reference file. SASRI’s eldana control recommendations also complied with the Integrated Pest Management Approach.

The repackaging effort also showed a shift from the old technology transfer approach, where the target audience would have been expected to pick up snippets of information from various different sources, and then incorporate these into the farming system. Compiling all information into one reference file that included the bulletin, not only made the information easily accessible, but farmers were able to identify the various elements of the Integrated Pest Management approach, and use the centre spread of the bulletin to decide on priorities for implementation. This led to a co-ordinated approach – termed the “eldana outreach”.

Step 3: Communicating the message

All persons associated with the eldana outreach agreed that the overriding message to farmers is that eldana will never be eradicated, but with the appropriate integrated pest management practice for their area, the pest can be controlled (managed at a level in which farmers could survive financially). This very straight message had not been communicated in the past. Farmers were, therefore, hoping for one or two innovations (“silver bullets”) to come from SASRI to control the pest into the future. Each extension region, in conjunction with specialists, agreed to an approach and the material selected for each region was refined through a series of meetings before the road show.

Step 4: Presentation of the Eldana Outreach and in situ Farmers Workshop

The Chairman of the Local Pest, Disease and Variety Control Committee (LPDVCC) chaired the complete outreach meeting to give it “local” flavour. Talks were short, to the point and snappy on the various management control aspects. Emphasis was placed on the difficulty of insect control in mono-cropping and changing weather patterns, which are favouring the spread of the eldana into cooler areas. Farmers were given a reality check on the seriousness of their local situation and their past achievements. However, the emphasis was on the future and associated changes. Throughout the presentations, feedback and comment was encouraged from the farmer audience.

In order to get farmers to discuss control measures amongst themselves, most regions opted for a tailor made workshop (specific to the conditions prevailing to that area), within the outreach. Groups were formed consisting of 6 to 8 farmers. This served as the best option as farmers were able to compare their current practices with the BMP, which included the newer technology with which farmers were not familiar.

Discussions amongst farmers were very interactive, with farmers who had been successful in implementing some strategies informing fellow farmers and vice versa.

A significant long-term strategic change involves growing eldana-resistant varieties and farmers were able to discuss these newer varieties with fellow farmers and the experts. Another much discussed topic was the use of a recommended insecticide, its cost, effectiveness and environmental friendliness.

In concluding the workshop session, groups were given the opportunity of interacting with each other and discussing their control strategies with the EO who was Chairman of this workshop session.

Step 5: Evaluation and Commitment

In total, 209 farmers attended the industry eldana outreach. This represents 15% of the large-scale farmers who were invited to attend the outreach initiative. At each outreach, farmers were asked to complete an evaluation form that evaluated SASRI and identified their specific eldana problems and the control mechanisms that they intend to implement in 2006.

The majority of farmers understood the presentations as well as the graphs and tables. The information delivered was considered useful (99% response) and the quantity (amount) good (just right 68.9% and adequate 21.5%) while only 7.6% considered it overbearing. This may have been the view of the non-English-speaking new entrants to the industry. In relation to the length of the outreach, 68.3% considered it just right, 15.3% adequate and only 13.8% too long. Evaluating the written material, 97% said it was good to excellent and of the 97%, 79% said it very good to excellent which is a testament to the time and resources dedicated to the development of the subject material.

Of the 209 farmers attending, 86% indicated that they intended implementing at least one identified eldana control practice. It is interesting to note that 49% of farmers are planning to plant eldana-resistant varieties. Farmers have instituted certain management practices over the years, e.g. reducing N amounts, field hygiene, cutting younger cane; so it does not come as a surprise that these practices scored a low %. What was of concern is that the three newest control practices e.g. applying Si to the soil, applying the insecticide “Fastac” to carry-over cane and scouting only drew scores of 4%, 16% and 13% respectively (Figure 1). In this case, farmers have focused on varieties as the one recommendation they have most confidence in and that fits most easily into the farming system. In time, one would expect further farmer innovation in how these practices are best integrated on the farm and extension will pick up and promote these (Webster et al. 2005).

Figure 1. Ranking of adoption of practices from all meetings. Percentage of farmers who intend implementing recommended practices to control eldana.

These data will allow EO to follow up on the action plans through individual farmer visits and study group meetings, and address specific problems and monitor the progress of individual action plan implementation. This we see as a critical step in any technology transfer, and will require programming, implementation, monitoring and evaluation (yet again).

In the past, time and input from specialists and EOs, the cost of publications, travel for technology transfer (modular courses and projects), were not budgeted for independently, as this was included in the service delivery to farmers. It was decided to cost out the first phase of the eldana outreach program to correctly account for the time and resources that go into an outreach activity.

If the outreach had been completed in all areas, the total cost, which includes specialist and technical input time, bulletin and poster, travel and catering, is just over R623 000 (AUD$100 000) (Table 2). The total amount of time that was spent by specialists and extension was in the region of 1,333 hours or 166 days. This excludes the five months that Extension spent on re-packaging the information.

Table 2. Total cost of the industry outreach

Event

Cost in SAR

Hours

Adoption workshop

48 000

120

Draft 1 Bulletin

4 800

18

Extension officer input

3 200

8

Extension Workshop

10 200

25.5

Draft 2 Bulletin

12 000

33

Pre-planning workshops

22 800

57

Final draft Bulletin

9 250

34

Practice rounds

45 000

112.50

Specialists preparation time

90 200

177.50

Poster production

4 200

15

Total 1

249 650

648.50

Outreach (12) to industry

373 847

684

Total 2

623 497

1332.50

Conclusion

For SASRI, the transfer adoption and implementation of the outcomes from its R&D programme is as important as the generation of scientific outcomes. Once outcomes are no longer transferred, and more importantly to the industry, stop being adopted and implemented, then the current ‘raison de’ tre’ for SASRI ceases to exist. Technology transfer in itself can be seen as a simple concept, but when viewed in the context of this case study, in order to get it right and to meet the customers needs, it requires a huge investment in time and resources.

References

Foster J,Norton G and Brough E (1995). The role of problem specification workshops in Extension: An IPM example. www.joe.org/1995august. Accessed on the 26 January 2006.

Hinkey LM, Ellenburg KT and Kessler B (2005). Strategies for engaging scientists in collaborative processes. www.joe.org/2005february. Accessed on 26 January 2006.

Keeping, MG (1995). Coping with pests in the South African sugar industry. Proceedings of the South African Sugar Technologists’ Association 69,217-218.

Leslie, GW (2003). Impact of repeated applications of alpha-cypermethrin on Eldana saccharina (Lepidoptera:Pyralidae) and on arthropods associated with sugarcane. Proceedings of the South African Sugar Technologists’ Association 77,104-113.

Webster TM, Maher,GW and Conlong DE (2005). An integrated pest management system for Eldana saccharina in the Midlands North region of KwaZulu-Natal. Proceedings of the South African Sugar Technologists’ Association 79,347-358.

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