Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development
Our intellectual journey in Peru was absolutely fascinating. Coming from a background in sustainable agriculture, I could not have picked a more interesting topic. Agriculture extension, or assistance from government or non-governmental organizations, has long been practiced worldwide in a top-down, western-centric manner, that relies wholly on the knowledge of the university or government “expert,” often emphasizing the ignorance and backwardness of the rural and agrarian communities in which the projects are placed. While in the Sacred Valley, we interviewed smallholder farmers on a daily basis in order to collaboratively redesign the concept of agriculture extension. Of course, the research was the most fun part, as we often participated in farm work or shared meals with the farmers, even occasionally engaging in a traditional dance or two. We discovered through these interviews that most farmers have a fairly distinct vision of the proper way to “assist” them, but it looks quite different from the mainstream model that is promoted in most countries.
This new design we “uncovered,” often drawing from the methods already utilized by the farmers informally, involves a true knowledge exchange, rather than the usual classroom-style “depositing” of information onto the students. Remarkably, nearly all of the contemporary agriculture assistance projects in Peru are designed without the input of the farming communities they set out to serve. This clearly needs to change if the projects are going to have any positive effect. One of our most important findings involved the importance of confianza, or trust, between farmer and agricultural extension technician. The “good técnicos,” these farmers told us, were like their friends, and were interested in more than just the government paycheck.
By the end of our experience, it became clear that what we were experiencing was more than just a different way of looking at agriculture extension, it was also a reformatting of our ideas about development itself. Truly, what did we have to teach or give to these communities? Instead, were they teaching us the values of community, sharing and sustainability that is so scarce in our “developed” world at home? Surely there is a way for these communities to “develop” economically without losing their beautiful and traditional values and customs, but how? These are questions that we asked ourselves every day while in Peru, and will certainly continue to haunt me as I travel the provocative intellectual hallways of the world of international development.
Click here to read Will’s project, “Agriculture Extension in the Peruvian Andes: Exploring the Relationship between Campesinos and Técnicos.”
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