Farmer participatory research (FPR) methods have been advocated as a means of increasing the client
focus of agricultural research in developing countries. The National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS)
in these countries have adopted them to varying extents—often as an implicit conditionality of donor
supported research projects. This paper seeks to demonstrate that, despite the apparent acceptance of FPR
in NARS, the fundamental nature of the relationship between scientists and farmers remains unchanged.
FPR has largely failed in its attempts to improve the efficiency of agricultural research by restructuring
science/production relations. This failure is the result of the ‘systems problem’ in agricultural research,
whereby the complex interrelationship of actors, institutions and resources prevents FPR methods being
compatible with NARS.
To illustrate the nature of these problems, this paper documents the experiences of participatory needs
assessment and technology development research in Uganda. Five problem areas are identified which
appear to be representative of the wider context of the research system: researcher/farmer power
relationships; the professional identity of scientists; the skill base and available human resources; and
perceptions concerning the validity of research methods. It is argued that the difficulties which these
factors introduce—particularly in terms of the professional behaviour of scientists—are a result of the
historical patterns of institutional development specific to Uganda, as well as the tendency of
institutionalised science to perpetuate these problems.
The paper concludes by suggesting that these problems are more serious than problems associated with
the introduction of a new method. The problems are systemic in nature and are the result of more
fundamental issues relating to the structure of agricultural research. The advocacy of participation has
been prescriptive and too coercive. Attention needs to be focused on the real impact of these methods and
the receptiveness of the institutional settings in which they are advocated. The greatest policy challenge
exists in devising structural change within agricultural research, to enable more client-focused activities.
Policy should focus on creating sufficient flexibility in NARS and other service providers to allow new
structures to evolve which can more efficiently supply ‘services’ to farmers.