Co-learning with farmers in the African context: how do we communicate scientific findings?


Scientific models are useful tools to extrapolate and add value to experimental and observational data and to understand system constraints and opportunities. Models can be used to conduct “What if?” analyses, generating information that could be used by farmers, extension agents and policy makers to guide them in strategic, operational and tactical decision making. However, in practice, the use of models as decision support tools is often not as common as anticipated. Also, because models are built and used mostly by researchers, the model outputs are not always meaningful or understandable for farmers. Especially in developing countries where farmers are often not well educated or even illiterate, this is a challenge. 

This research therefore aims to find ways to bridge the gap between modelers and farmers by looking for common ground and visualization methods through which effective communication can be facilitated. Understanding farmers’ mental model of their farming system is a key element in this.

Research activities could include:

1.A specific problem that can be studied through modeling is identified and described together with farmers, and potential solutions are put forward

2.Farmers describe the farming system, including its boundaries, components, interactions and resource flows between components

3.Researchers build a dynamic model based on the description of the system and simulate the effect of potential solutions

4.The effects of potential solutions are communicated to and discussed with the farmers through various techniques. The effectiveness of the different techniques is evaluated based on a set of criteria 

The research questions are as much in how we capture learning and how we evaluate the effectiveness of communication techniques, as in the development of the model and the communication techniques themselves. 


Fieldwork with farmers will be conducted in mixed crop-livestock farming systems in West Africa (Ghana, Burkina Faso or Mali). Depending on the site, collaboration will be with ICRISAT or ILRI and with a local agricultural research institute. 


Creative student with a strong interest in modelling, communication tools and social interactions. 


Northern Ghana/Burkina Faso/Mali and Wageningen. 


Any time


Katrien Descheemaeker                      0317 – 48 61 02            

Annemarie van Paassen                      0317 – 48 22 58