Bachmann, Lorenz B. R.: Review of the Agricultural Knowledge System in Fiji - Opportunities and Limitations of Participatory Methods and Platforms to promote Innovation Development -


Es geht uns alten Europäern übrigens mehr oder weniger allen herzlich schlecht;
unsere Zustände sind viel zu künstlich und kompliziert,
unsere Nahrung und Lebensweise ohne die Rechte Natur,
und unser geselliger Verkehr ohne eigentliche Liebe und Wohlwollen ...
Man sollte oft wünschen, auf einer Südseeinsel als sogenannter Wilder geboren zu sein,
um nur einmal das Dasein, ohne falschen Beigeschmack, durchaus rein zu genießen.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe<1>

Chapter 1. Problem definition and research purpose

1.1 Background of the study

From November 1992 until October 1994, the researcher worked in the Delegation of the European Communities for the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. The Delegation co-ordinates all development efforts of the European Union (EU) for all ACP<2> member states in the region.

As a Delegation staff member, duties involved focused on the macro economic analysis of the potentials and performance of the member countries. Within the sectors of agriculture and environment, duties centred on two regional programs: Pacific Plant Protection Program (PPP) and Pacific Regional Agricultural Program (PRAP). The latter Program provided the framework for this research study.

The program focused on applied agricultural research: farming systems, new sweet potato cultivars, coconut hybrids, biological control of the taro beetle and vegetable seeds. Furthermore it provided a number of research services: biometric service, tissue culture service, agricultural information service. The program ended in 1994 and a review process went underway to determine new priorities for the second phase. Some of the key questions were:

How can these donors‘ funds be spent most effectively?

What can be done to avoid research findings ending up sitting on office shelves and not being utilised?

What needs to be done to ensure that farmers will adopt the new technology developed?

Priorities for the new phase were set on the finalisation of ongoing research activities and the transfer of resulting innovations to farmers. To support the linkage function between research and extension, an additional component was included into PRAP II. The purpose of this project (P11) was to improve the organisational structure of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARS/ NAES), to enhance the management abilities and to improve interaction with farmers.


The PRAP programme provided a good forum for discussion with other experts that helped to guide the research progress. Furthermore, two projects of the programme provided the data for case studies reviewed in this thesis. Finally, PRAP P11 provided the funds and logistical support for the field research of this study.

1.2 Fiji, a small Island Nation struggling to face the challenges of globalisation

With a GNP per capita of US $ 2,130, Fiji is the largest and most developed of the Pacific Island countries and may be classified as a lower middle income country. While Fiji is restricted with geographic remoteness, small domestic markets, and vulnerability to extreme weather changes, its constraints are not as severe as those of smaller Pacific Island nations. Due to its central location and its relatively well developed social and economic infrastructure, particularly in transport, education, and communications, Fiji serves as a regional hub for the smaller Pacific economies. A number of important regional organisations, such as the South Pacific Forum Secretariat and the University of the South Pacific, are located in its capital, Suva (World Bank 1995, 187).

When looking at the major sectors of the Fijian economy, the agricultural sector is the single most important one. It contributed, on average, about one fifth of the national GDP. The backbone of the agricultural sector is the sugar industry which generates 90 % of all agricultural exports and provided 47 % of all employment (Asian Development Bank 1991, 12).

The exclusive dependence on one single export crop makes the sector very vulnerable. Variations in crop yield due to climatic factors combined with fluctuating world market prices lead to an alteration of the share of GDP ranging from 18 to 24 %. Attempts to diversify production into a wider range of agricultural commodities have not been very successful to date.

A look at annual growth rates of GDP<3> indicates that agriculture is losing importance. In the ten year period from 1977 to 1987, growth rates in the agricultural sector still reached 8.7 % which slightly outperformed growth in the industry and trade (7.1 %), tourism and other sectors (8.5 %). However, in the following 5 years, agricultural growth dropped to only 4.4 %, while the other sectors picked up these lost gains.

The main reason for declining growth in the agricultural sector lies in the poor productivity development in the sugar industry. In the past, agricultural growth was mainly brought about by an increase of land under sugarcane production. Cane yields are stagnating or even on a downward trend. Since the mid eighties all suitable land has been under cane production and land is getting increasingly scarce. Production is moving more and more into marginal, steep and hilly soils. Fading production increases of sugar and the lack of successful other agricultural export commodities explain the declining growth rates in the agricultural sector.


In a Fiji times article, Grynberg (1993) was one of the firsts to see “...bad dreams coming. Sugar industry reforms must start now.“ The crucial point is that Fiji sells about half of its sugar production to Europe as part of a guaranteed quota fixed in the sugar protocol attached to the Lomé Convention. The received price is linked to the sugar price paid to European farmers and, thus, about twice as high as the world market price. With the conclusion of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1994 (GATT) and the following trade liberalisation, direct price subsidy levels for several European agricultural commodities, including sugar will be reduced significantly.

Considering these early warning signs, Fiji‘s reaction to these challenges has been hesitant. In 1994 Lincoln International, a consultancy company, reviewed the competitiveness of major agricultural commodities. The analysis showed that Fiji producers were not competitive for a number of commodities. The risks of deregulation for most commodities were considered as low, however, opportunities for agricultural growth in the medium term, with a policy of export led growth, were seen as unlikely. Rather the contrary was expected, as the few agricultural commodities with potential (root crops, yaqona, fruit and vegetables) cannot fill the gap likely to occur through losses in the main traditional commodities: mainly sugar but also copra, cocoa and ginger (Woodward, K. 1994, 18).

Another difficulty is that Fiji has to compete with its close neighbours, New Zealand and Australia. Both of which have a particularly liberalised and competitive agriculture.

Despite these critical points, the World Bank (1995, 189) still saw Fiji‘s development opportunities as very optimistic and estimated a real GDP growth of 3.7 to 4.9 % in the period from 1995 to 2002. As an important precondition, the bank assumed that agricultural restructuring would raise agricultural growth and non-sugar exports.

Reality evolved quite differently. In 1998, the country was hit not only by the severest drought in 30 years, but also the market turbulence due to the Asia crisis. Cane production dropped to only about 60% of an average year and the economy went into a recession with a GDP of -4% (Ministry of Information 1998).

This poor economic performance was certainly one of the main reasons for a change of Government in 1999. The new Prime Minister seems to have understood the seriousness of matter. Addressing the sixth ACP Ministerial Conference on Sugar, the Prime Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, stressed the need for ACP countries to work together on a common position and to protect the ACP sugar market in the Multilateral Trading System (MTS). These new negotiations include a successor agreement to the Lomé Convention, the new round of WTO negotiations on the Agreement on Agriculture and negotiations on the Special Preferential Sugar Agreement (SPSA) that will expire in 2001 (Ministry of Information 1999).

Regarding the consequences of world trade liberalisation, a small country like Fiji certainly has no other alternative than to adapt its economy to the new global challenges. In the agricultural sector this will require a strong structural change in its sugar industry.

At the same time, a diversification into other agricultural commodities is urgently required. To achieve diversification, one precondition is efficient agricultural research and extension services that develop innovations and enable farmers to adapt. However, the


efficiency of these services, which are part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forests (MAFF), is very limited.

Some of the major problems are:

The few problems listed illustrate some of the major problems. This study attempts to address some of these problems in order to improve the chances for the Ministry to make progress towards a real diversification of agricultural production in the medium to long term. Considering this significant challenge, it is evident that a single study can only represent a first step in that direction.

1.3 Research design

1.3.1 Research objectives and research questions

The goal of this study is to contribute some findings towards solving a number of problems that affect agriculture in Fiji. A division is made between problems at the policy level and problems that are felt at the farmers‘ level. The policy problem, due to world trade negotiations (GATT) combined with a low international competitiveness of Fiji‘s national agricultural sector, is the falling price trend for sugar as a main commodity. This problem of a strong dependency on only a single commodity is particularly serious, because the process of diversification of the agricultural sector stagnates. On the farmers‘ level these overall problems result in low agricultural farm incomes and standard of living.

The overall objective of this study should be seen in a developmental context. It aims to increase the output and adoption of viable innovations to engage in a sound process of agricultural diversification in order to improve the competitiveness of the sector and, in turn, also farmers‘ incomes and standard of living. Thus, the overall objective is directed towards solving the above policy and farmer problems. It is clear that this objective will not be easy to achieve, and the current study can only contribute one of many puzzle pieces necessary, in reaching that goal.

The central research problem to be addressed by this study is the limited output of useful innovations by research and the difficulty of extension to disseminate recommendations and promote adoption through farmers<4>. Table 1 summarises the overall research design.


Table 1: Research design

Policy level problem

Falling price trend for sugar as main commodity due to world trade negotiations (GATT) combined with a low international competitiveness of the national agricultural sector.

Stagnating process of diversification in the agricultural sector.

Farm level problem

Low agricultural farm incomes and standard of living.

Overall development objective

Increase the output and adoption of viable innovations to engage in a sound process of agricultural diversification in order to improve the competitiveness of the sector and in turn also farmers‘ incomes and standard of living.

Research problem

Limited output of useful innovations by research and difficulty of extension to disseminate recommendations and promote adoption through farmers.

Specific objectives

Identify ways to make farming problems the subject of agricultural innovation development.

Identify constraints for an efficient service of agricultural research and extension to farmers.

Analyse the potential role for participatory methods in such a system for innovation development, diffusion and adoption.

Identify all actors involved in agricultural innovation, diffusion and adoption and assess how these actors may be integrated in a system to improve performance.

The enquiry is structured into four main research topics. Around each research topic, a number of research questions are grouped.

RT 1

The first research topic focuses on the role of farmers, their problems and interaction with the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF):


How can farmers‘ problems be integrated in the innovation development process?


How does information exchange between farmers and the MAFF take place?



RT 2

The second research topic examines MAFF‘s organisation and performance:


What are the main constraints for an efficient functioning of agricultural research and extension?


How successful is the MAFF in promoting agricultural innovation?



RT 3

The third research topic focuses on the potential role of participatory methods to improve the process of innovation development and diffusion:


What role can participatory methods play in the process of innovation development, diffusion and adoption?


What problems occur during the introduction of participatory methods at MAFF?



RT 4

The fourth research topic attempts to view reality from a wider systems perspective and assesses the role and function of various actors:


Besides farmers, researchers and extensionists, what other actors play a role in innovation development, diffusion and adoption?



What organisational set-up is necessary to improve linkages and collaboration between all important actors in innovation development, diffusion and adoption?

These research questions formed the basis of the research study. They were not intended to be seen as a final set of questions that were kept fixed and unchangeable for the entire research phase. In the contrary, they were considered as a starting point for the investigation. Whenever new insights were gained and it appeared useful they were modified or additional questions were taken up.

1.3.2 Working hypotheses

A set of working hypotheses were formulated to support the four main research topics presented above. These were used to help understand and guide the direction and rationale of the research project.

The working hypotheses assisted steering the practical fieldwork and further stimulated the analysis and discussion for this study. Not all hypotheses were formulated at the beginning of the research work, but were developed gradually throughout the process of the research study as new insights emerged.

The validity of these working hypotheses is reviewed in the context of the respective research questions. To enable direct access to this information, references to the respective chapters and pages is given in brackets at the end of each hypothesis.

The working hypotheses (H1 to H 8) are numbered and structured according to the four main research topics. The hypotheses are presented below, and where deemed necessary, some additional justification is given:

RT 1 Farmers‘ problems and interaction with MAFF

H 1

In small island countries farmers‘ problems can be addressed comprehensively and in a comparatively short time (chapter 5.5.3, p. 116).

H 2

Analysis of farmers‘ problems will help to develop sound extension and research priorities (chapter 5.5.3, p. 116).

Experience in many African countries that cover huge areas and large populations have shown that farmers problems can be very diverse and that it is difficult to structure and prioritise their problems. In the Pacific, with its very small island states and comparatively tiny populations, the task appeared easier. This led to the formulation of H 1.

RT 2 MAFF organisation and performance

H 3

Lack of funding or strong fluctuations in funding are a major reason for low output and adoption of innovations (chapters 5.3.6 p. 85 and 5.4.4 p. 97).

H 4

A critical mass of well-educated staff is a prerequisite for effective development of innovation and their dissemination to farmers (chapters 5.3.6. p. 85 and 5.4.4 p. 97).

First discussions with MAFF staff indicated that the Ministry had both periods with an abundance of funds and periods with shortage of funds. The output of innovations did not seem to depend on the amount of funds available. Considering these comments, and the


fact that innovation development is often a long term process, led to the formulation of H 4.

RT 3 Potential of participatory methods

Since the early 1990s a vivid discussion in literature reported about the advantages and successes of participatory methods in many development countries. This lay the ground for testing participatory methods in Fiji. Assuming a similar potential of participatory methods in Fiji, the following hypotheses were formulated:

H 5

Participatory methods are rather easy tools that can be learned quickly (chapter, p. 157).

H 6

Linkage problems within small organisations may be overcome by supporting participatory methods to promote informal modes of communication and co-operation. These informal modes may bypass existing institutional or hierarchical barriers (chapter 6.4.1, p. 138).

The last hypothesis was formulated in particular in respect of small organisations. It was assumed that in such small organisational settings such as Fiji MAFF, informal modes of communication and co-operation could play a substantial role to facilitate innovation development. In larger organisations such an impact of participatory methods would appear unlikely.

RT 4 Systems perspective and role of actors

Engel 1995<5> investigated several national agricultural research and extension systems and made recommendations for effective types of actor configurations and modes of co-operation. Some of these findings were formulated into hypotheses to test their validity for Fiji.

H 7

Good co-operation of several actors may be achieved by small networks or platforms. Such platforms will enhance system output in terms of useful innovations (chapter 6.3.5, p. 171).

H 8

Platform<6> creation is enhanced through donor assistance or existence of good export opportunities (chapter 6.3.5, p. 171).

1.4 Organisation of the study

The previous sections of this chapter examined the core problem of promoting agricultural innovations and diversifying agricultural production in Fiji. This builds the basis for the research design of this study.

The theoretical concept of this study is presented in the second chapter. The concept of agricultural knowledge systems is used, as the theory enables statements on agricultural innovation and diffusion processes. The progress in knowledge systems thinking from earlier systems including farmers, researchers and extensionists, to more complex systems


with multi-actor configurations is reviewed. The later systems are modified to formulate a platform model, that is then related to Fiji as a case study.

The methodological framework of the study is explained in the third chapter. A participatory action research (PAR) methodology was used, as this enables a step-by-step exploration of the subject. The research activities are presented in chronological order and special reference is given to the methods of investigation which included several PRA tools, observation, informal interviews, workshops and a formal questionnaire.

Basic facts on Fiji and the country‘s agricultural sector are outlined in chapter four. The main production conditions and trends are described. This serves as an introduction to the main subject. A look at the productivity development for a number of crop reviews, the countries past efforts to develop innovations and diversify agricultural production.

Chapter five deals with the analysis of the Fiji agricultural knowledge system. After an overview of all major institutions and organisations in the country, the Ministry of Agriculture is reviewed in detail. The focuses of the investigation are the divisions of research and extension. Then farmers‘ problems, their needs and preferences are analysed. Consequently, a model of how farmers problems can be used systematically in the knowledge system is elaborated. Linkage and information flow problems within the Ministry and other actors are discussed in the last section.

Approaches to improve the agricultural knowledge system are examined in chapter six. Firstly, an overview of the strategies of various donor projects is provided. A central element here is the introduction of participatory methods into research and extension. Potentials and difficulties of introducing participatory methods are discussed using the example of a training course on the subject. Four case studies of projects are used to compare different approaches for innovation development and diffusion. In addition, the role of projects as platforms is examined closely. Lastly, the question to which extent platforms could assist the process of innovation development and diffusion in Fiji is discussed with Ministry staff of all divisions and project experts.

The main results, the conclusions and recommendations derived, are summarised in chapter seven. Specific attention is given to the path of further institutionalisation of participatory methods. Management implications and necessary steps of organisational reorientation are reviewed. Some areas that merit donor support or future research are highlighted.

English and German summaries of the study are provided in the last chapter.



Quoted in: Ritz (1983, 11).


Africa, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP). Pacific ACP member states are: Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Western Samoa.


Own calculations based on Statistisches Bundesamt 1988, 113; Statistisches Bundesamt 1995; IMF 1995, 368.


An independent study commissioned by the Regional Advisory Board for agriculture (RAB) equally diagnosed this problem for NARS and NAES in Fiji and a few of the other Pacific Island countries (cf. Kern 1994).


Englel‘s theoretical and practical considerations are reviewed in detail in chapter 2.


The definitions of the terms platform, system and innovation as used in this thesis are given in chapter 2.

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