In the last few years participatory research with farmers (FPR), pioneered by NGOs, has moved into the public sector and has recently become a mechanism for government-NGO collaboration. It has been successful in heterogeneous environments and is particularly advocated in areas where green revolution technology and extension models are not appropriate or successful. This paper considers the particular attractions and challenges of facilitating FPR in hillside environments from the perspective of a project which uses such an approach for soil and water conservation in the semi-arid foothills of Bolivia and is funded by a bilateral agency with an interest in generic results. Three emerging issues addressed by the project are: the need to involve government (particularly NARS) staff; the need to make the whole research process, not just problem identification, participatory throughout; and the challenges of using FPR in more complex systems than crop trials and comparisons. The paper goes on to show how other methodologies relate to the FPR approach, with implications for future rural development research, particularly the distribution of benefits when the process is externally initiated, and the potential for generalizing results and comparing impacts over time. These link into new issues to do with stakeholder interactions, institutional roles, and the need to relate individual experimentation to broader change, taking a more holistic view of resource allocations within the watershed.
Mountain Research and Development (1999) 19 (3) 203-212