Dr Simphorian Sar

Principal supervisor: Associate Professor Elske van de Fliert

Associate supervisor: Dr Oleg Nicetic

Thesis title: 'Engaging farmers in agricultural research for development: A social learning perspective on participatory technology development' (available for download here)

Thesis abstract

Rural households in Papua New Guinea are confronted with complex issues due to demographic changes, declining natural resources, extreme climatic conditions and market forces. Conventional research and development (R&D) approaches have had little impact to address some of these complex issues. Contemporary concerns with poverty alleviation, food security and sustainability have generated an interest in the development of appropriate research interventions in rural communities.
This calls for a shift in research focus by R&D from farm level productivity to be more oriented towards markets and clients. Concurrent policy changes also require changes in practices and procedures from R&D to research for development (R4D). In response to this we recognise the complex nature of farmer issues hence an action research approach was employed to explore social learning through engaging stakeholders in participatory research. Facilitating a collective stakeholder appraisal of farmer production problems and solutions provided the space for understanding farmer livelihood systems.
The research identified sweetpotato playing a significant role in household income generation and food security. In certain areas, sweetpotato was equivalent or outranked the traditional coffee for income generation. Perceptions elicited from farmers indicated soil fertility decline and pests as major production constraints. A major finding from the research is the identification of the mutualistic association between ants and crops and how the research provided the platform to construct knowledge through integration of tacit knowledge and science. The preliminary results from the participatory technology development to explore the roles of predatory ants on pests, the effect of pathogen tested sweetpotato and the use of compost mounds and fertilizer to increase sweetpotato storage root was inconclusive. However, this research has provided insights and greater levels of problem redefinition and multi-stakeholder learning. In addition, our findings and experiences suggest that learning occurs through praxis (critical reflection and action) and plays an important part in learning.
Of particular significance as a result of the research is the recognition of the new roles of R4D actors. The findings prompt further inquiry into research on research practice and provide opportunity to institutionalize participatory approach as an alternate approach for R4D to impact rural communities. The participatory and iterative form of this research embedded in research sites allows ownership of the research process and outcomes by farmers. While researchers recognize limited impact through conventional research and extension systems in PNG, this research provided some insight for an emphasis on action research on innovation development in complex farmer situations for impact.
Life after PhD:
After completing his PhD, Sim returned to Papua New Guinnea and took a position with the PNG National Agricultural Research Institute as Programme Director of Agriculture Systems Improvement. In this work he provides overall direction, management and scientific leadership of research conducted by the Institute. He says his biggest challenge in the job is the "impact of climate change and how to assist farmer decision making to cope with these changes and develop sustainable production systems in PNG."

On this site