Local, community-based farming system groups are more readily able to serve the specific information needs of farmers, than large, geographically dispersed groups. They are also more effective at engaging members in group activities, according to a study conducted by researchers from The University of Western Australia.
Large, geographically dispersed groups on the other hand need more effort in terms of connecting members, promoting interactions and building interpersonal relationships.
As part of her PhD studies at UWA, Dr Beena Anil Biswas investigated a range of farming system groups in the WA grain belt. The state has 40 formally known farming system groups that have emerged as key players in the generation and sharing of information on agriculture with farmers.
The research, co-supervised by Professor Matthew Tonts from UWA’s School of Earth and Environment and Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique from The UWA Institute of Agriculture, investigated the role and effectiveness of such groups in addressing the information needs of growers.
“More than half of the grain growing population in WA are members of at least one of these groups,” Professor Tonts said.
“These groups originated and continue to function under the control of farmer members, and are engaged in conducting highly relevant production and sustainability-based research and development activities in their local region.”
Three groups which include WA No-Till Farmers Association, Mingenew Irwin Group and South East Premium Wheat Growers Association were selected for the case study on the basis of variation in size, geographical coverage, structure and mode of operation.
Farmers from these groups were interviewed and surveyed on the group’s role in influencing generation and dissemination of farmer-relevant information, their effectiveness in impacting member involvement and learning, and the extent of their engagement in group activities.
The case study groups demonstrate that mutual engagement and commitment towards the joint enterprise develops more spontaneously in groups where members interact regularly.
Professor Tonts said group events such as field days with high member participation form an important platform for members to learn and connect with others in the group.
Distance however, makes connecting members challenging and brings a greater diversity of interests, priorities and expectations making it difficult to define the focus and scope of the domain.
“With a widely dispersed membership base, it is not practically feasibly for larger groups to deal with more specific information requirements of growers from the different regions,” Professor Tonts said.
“This suggests the need for members from larger groups to join local groups in their region to meet their specific information needs. There is still a place for wide spread groups which play a key role in dissemination of information outside the boundaries of small group membership.”
The paper, Strengthening the performance of farming system groups: perspectives from a Communities of Practice framework application was recently published in the International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology.
Professor Matthew Tonts (School of Earth and Environment and UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 2683
Diana Boykett (Communications Officer, UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 3756 / (+61 4) 04 152 262
Jess Reid (UWA Media and PR Officer) (+61 8) 6488 6876