Methodological and Technological issues in Technology Transfer

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Case Study 29

ROK-5 Mangrove Rice Variety in Sierra Leone
Otto Doering
Purdue University, West Lafayette,
Indiana 47907-1077, USA

Keywords: Sierra Leone, Africa, mangrove rice, improved yields, intra-national transfer

The development of a new mangrove rice variety in Africa is an important case study of technology development and diffusion that relates to the opportunity for agriculture to contribute to increased output of food while at the same time reducing the impact of agriculture on global climate change per unit of food produced. This development involved both international cooperation and a critical commitment of local resources to be successful and has proved itself to be an important contributor to increasing rice production in Sierra Leone with important potential contributions to similar areas in Africa.

This project developed and extended a rice variety for mangrove rice production that increased yield per unit of land and per unit of inputs as well as adapting to changes in climate that had already occurred. The diminishing rain forest resulted in less rainfall and in a reduction of the fresh water available to mangrove rice systems. Thus, a shorter-season variety to capture available seasonal rainfall was a logical potential adaptation. Pest resistance was also added which reduced energy consumption from the use of pesticides. The incentive for this was a national and regional concern over adequate food production. The path used was the development of a new rice variety to improve yields and reduce the level of inputs required. Stakeholders included consumers and farmers in Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone agricultural researchers at Rokupr, and the West African Rice Research Development Association (WARDA). Critical to the choice of this path was the farming systems research which had been carried out years earlier. This identified the problem, provided an understanding of mangrove rice farming systems, and described the parameters under which new technology would be successful and successfully transferred. The barriers to technology transfer included a civil war, a collapsed transportation system, no capital for investment, and the lack of government resources to mount a large-scale technology transfer effort.

Much of the success of this effort hinged on the accident of a critical mass of researchers at the government rice research station in Rokupr Sierra Leone and the interest of WARDA in this effort. WARDA provided additional resources to the station at Rokupr to carry out the development of a new rice variety to meet the changed climate conditions and improve yields above those previously achieved. The development and diffusion took only years to achieve, not decades. There were no real commercial considerations here. It is critically important to recognise that in agriculture a genetic improvement such as a new variety usually does not require an accompanying change or increase in the capital stock or equipment of a farming operation.

There were no royalties or commercial benefits involved. The Sierra Leone agricultural research establishment was able to demonstrate the value of their rice research effort to the food supply of the nation, and WARDA was able to demonstrate to their financial supporters their value in contributing to this new technology and its transfer. There was a German seed distribution project that helped with some seed distribution, but farmers themselves undertook most of the technology transfer to other farmers once the success of the new variety became apparent.

The impact was an increase in rice output from mangrove rice production where climate change was beginning to reduce yields from this agricultural resource. This lead to improved conditions for farmers and more rice available beyond farm-family subsistence for distribution and sale to local consumers. This case is replicable, but the key was the existence of local research and development capacity such as the Rokupr rice research station with a critical mass of competent staff. (Due to civil war, this institution is no longer a viable operation.) Its viability was also a result of the willingness of WARDA to give it the marginal resources to do the job that the government of Sierra Leone was unwilling or unable to supply.

Lessons Learned
For successful technology transfer there must be locally-based and supported institutions with a primary stake in the technology and in its successful transfer. There may also be instances where an international organisation can provide marginal resources to get the job done. However, the transfer of the technology by the users themselves depended upon the ease of local adaptability to the technology, the confidence farmers had in their local institution and its products, and effective demonstration of its success. The development of technology also depends upon a degree of civil order and investment by the local government in technology development and transfer. Where there are similar crops and farming systems in different countries there is also a natural opportunity for several countries to combine and pool resources for technology development and transfer.

The key lesson learned is that if there is an essential need and the technology is good enough agriculture technology can be transferred by farmers without new formal technology transfer institutions or efforts. A new effort may assist and speed up the transfer. However, in the case of a variety or practice that does not require new investment and changes in basic skills, farmers will adopt and pass this technology on to their neighbours rapidly.

The international community needs to recognise that parachuting in a new technology from the outside often does not work and faces especially severe problems in technology transfer. What is key is how international resources are spent. In cases like this, international resources must involve and contribute to the national programme to ensure appropriateness and transfer based on local ownership and local institutions that are already trusted in technology transfer.

Adesina, A., and M. Zinnah, 1993: Technology characteristics, farmers' perceptions and adoption decisions: A tobit model application in Sierra Leone. Agricultural Economics, 9, 297-311.
Agyen-Sampong, M., S. Anoop, K. Sandu, M.P. Prakah-Asante, C.A. Jones, S.F. Dixon, W.A.E. Fannah, W.A.E. Cole, and H. M. Bernard, 1986: A Guide to Better Mangrove Swamp Rice Cultivation in the WARDA Region. WARDA Regional Mangrove Swamp Rice Research Station, Rokupr, Sierra Leone.

Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer
Dept. of Ag. Economics
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Phone: (765) 494-4230
Fax: (765) 494-9176

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