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Participatory approach to identify sustainable dairy industry needs for the design of R, D&E actions in Australia and Brazil

Sergio Rustichelli Teixeira1 ,Shankariah Chamala1,Tom Cowan2

1University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus, NRSM, 4072 , , and
University of Queensland, Gatton, Australian Tropical Dairy Institute, 4365,


In dairying the macro environment may change faster then the possibility of the farmer’s noticing this in the microenvironment. Possibly the change was announced but the farmers’ community didn’t change as fast as the environment. Trends are signs in the environment that need to be discussed by the major industry actors, together, in a cooperative work, to plan integrated actions. The objective of this paper is to review the evolution of Research, Development & Extension (R,D&E), and to present a strategy to design the R,D&E actions integrating the opinions of the actors: input providers, farmers, field technicians, processors and credit providers. Study will be conducted in Australia and Brazil and the methodology involves Content analysis, Data collection, Semi-structured interviews, Focus group meeting, and Feedback analysis to refine the R,D&E actions.


In the 1990s, rapid changes in the technology of communication and globalisation, with increasing exchange of cultures and goods, made evolution harder for every actor of the dairy industry, and in particular for farmers to stay in business with good results. The evidence is the declining number of farmers in many countries (Australian Dairy Corporation, 2000) (Milkpoint, 2001), showing how many of them failed to keep dairying in a sustainable1 way. Many times the macro and microenvironment changes happen faster than the possibility of farmer reaction. Trends in the environment are subjects that have to be discussed by the industry actors to plan the next set of technologies or practices to be carried out in a corporative way. The challenge for R,D&E is to develop strategies to identify and meet the needs of a sustainable dairy industry.

Trends that affect dairy farmers

By putting together some present dairy industry trends, mainly the ones that affect Australia and Brazil, it is possible to build scenarios of the many changes happening at the same time to farmers’ communities:

  • World Trade Organization (WTO) slowly influencing free market in the world
  • In the long run, countries with pasture based milk systems tend to increase exporters
  • Australia is preparing dairy industry for price & quality competitiveness in the international market
  • Declining consumption of whole milk
  • Market, mainly supermarkets, making pressure to reduce milk price
  • Increase production based in pasture productivity with less investment in fixed costs
  • Environmental consciousness making pressure upon production systems
  • Demand for organic products
  • Higher requirements in milk quality
  • Higher production of milk per farmer
  • Higher participation of specialized consultants in the farmers’ decisions
  • Higher participation of the farmers in the industry decisions
  • Intensification of Research to reduce costs
  • Government sharing R,D&E actions with private sector
  • Less money for R, D & Extension
  • Change of focus of R,D&E from educational to learning with the whole production system or industry environment (macro to micro level).

Actors of the dairy industry

More than ever the farmer is not alone in the production and processing system. The different actors with different expectations and different sizes of business are creating pressures on one another in the dairy chain. Farmers historically play a role of a weak actor in the dairy industry; for this reason it is important that their organizations are stimulated to improve the farmers’ position. Similarly, a single consumer is not so strong, but can change his/her behavior more easily than the farmer. Figure 1 illustrates the comparative weakness of farmers in the dairy industry. Some other actors like Credit System, Research & Development, Extension, Consultants, Public Health, and Government, exert influences on the farmers’ sustainability.

Figure 1. Dairy chain and representation of organization sizes

Source: (Souza, 1990)

Research, development and extension evolution

R,D&E have the mission to improve the dairy industry in general and the farmers in particular. The following review shows how the way of thinking of these various actors has been changing, and how a qualitative approach is becoming an important factor in planning actions in a participatory way.

R & D evolution

The scientific methods employed after 17th century have radically changed human life in transport, health, food production, and housing. According to Pretty (1994), the Cartesian paradigm has dominated scientific investigation and Reductionism has been used, and is still used, to break down components of a complex system into smaller parts. After science finds something new from small parts, new predictions are made for the whole system.

In the middle of the 20th century, the basic premise of R,D&E was that agricultural technology would diffuse from more progressive farmers to most other farmers in a rural community. This is based on the assumption that rural communities are relatively homogeneous; therefore, new technology should be more or less appropriate for most farmers in these communities (Swanson B. G., 1989). The interaction of the researcher with the community environment was often neglected.

Studying the most efficient and effective process for creating more sustainable farming systems through new technology in Queensland, Australia, Hamilton (1995), concluded that “Information as a written product has only minor impact on the decision making process”. He found out that no longer is technical knowledge, nor the researcher’s perceptions of what is a desirable outcome, of prime importance to farmers. The communities’ participants and their judgments of expected outcomes have become the important factors, which leave the scientist with his technical knowledge in the background.

Agricultural science is an applied science, founded in the traditions of science (Robinson J. B., 2001). From this point of view, it is necessary to study the interaction between the production systems and the products of science. The weak links between R&D and the farming community and the incomplete feedback from Extension (Figure 2), are phenomena that need to be studied in R,D&E (Ban and Hawkins, 1996).

Figure 2. Links of R&D, extension technicians and dairying

Extension evolution

In the Renaissance, in the 15th and 16th centuries, there arose a movement to relate education to the needs of human life and to the application of science to practical affairs (Robinson J. B., 2001). Societies in the 18th century improved agriculture by establishing local agricultural organizations, and disseminating information through their publications, newspaper articles and lectures (Swanson B. G., 1989). According to Jones (1982), the first modern agricultural advisory and instructional service was established in Ireland during the great potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century.

According to Farquhar (1962), the term “extension education” was first used in 1873 by Cambridge University to describe this particular educational innovation. The objective of University Extension was to take the educational advantages of universities to ordinary people (1962).

In 1887, each state of the United States received funds from the Government to build its Agricultural Research Centre. After the results came the necessity to transfer the results of the research to farmers. Teachers and researchers concluded that they had not time enough to give orientation to farmers, since it required a constant presence of them in the farmers’ community. It was necessary to create a service that could extend their findings to the target public (Olinger, 1996). The development of agricultural extension in Latin America / Caribbean, Asia and Oceania, started after the Second World War (1950s). In African nations it came later (Swanson B. G., 1989).

The middle 20th century Extension paradigm of transfer-of-technology (TOT) assumed that scientists know best, new technology is better than old, technology is needed, innovators will transfer information to laggards, and many people are not information seekers (Chamala, 1999)2. The focus of extension under the TOT paradigm is on the relationships between technical variables of the biological system. Chamala also listed the major eight features of TOT in the middle 20th century:

  • Positivist paradigm and reductionist approach to research
  • Linear model with very little feedback
  • Extension uses “trickle down” approach (from innovators to late adopters to laggards)
  • Single innovation focus
  • Help achieve green revolution increasing production
  • Created environmental impacts
  • People with low resources base did not use these technologies
  • Increased gaps between the different sections of the society

TOT excludes the additional relationship that occurs when economic and social variables and their interactions are considered. The approach used under the TOT paradigm is to focus on the component parts of reality. This has been characterized as being reductionist in nature. As a result, in the 1960s the extension people had much optimism about extension, but few proven results (Russel D.B., 1989) . During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, authors like Bordenave (1977), Silva (1983), Newmaier (1990), McTaggart (1992), Freire (1992), Hamilton (1995), Frank (1998), and Lawrence (1999), alerted R,D&E the necessity of interaction between environment and technology. Watts (1989) described the desirable roles of research, extension and farmers (Figure 3). This description places extension agents as major managers of technologies.

Figure 3. The role of R, D, E & farmers according to Watts

Source: (Watts, 1989)

Freire (1992) suggested proper knowledge of socio-cultural aspects of a community to motivate them. To substitute empirical technologies with more advanced ones, is not only a technical issue, it also raises anthropological, epistemological, and structural issues. The technical approach of extension, without community interaction, generates an anaesthetized audience of farmers without critical reaction.

According to Frank (1998), farmers have an adoption behaviour in harmony with the environment, respecting the social and economical influences, that means that their angle of vision is wide and they see thing that haven’t been considered by R, D&E. Vanclay (2001) wrote that farmers utilize a range of information sources and different farmers have different information sources.

From the 1990s the view of educators has changed to focus on interaction and mainly learning together with farmers and the production system. Extension people and academics redefined the meaning of the term extension as going beyond TOT (Coutts, 1994). Extension still is considered as an actor that plays an important role at the dairy industry (Table 1). An electronic survey conducted by Milkpoint in Brazil asked: What is limiting the enhancement of technical indicators in milk production? The answer shows that Agricultural Extension is the second most influential factor that is limiting.

Table 1. What is limiting the enhancement of technical indicators in milk production?

Limiting factors

Number of respondents


Applied research



Agricultural Extension



Rural credit



Milk price



Others / I don’t know






Source: (Milkpoint, 2000)

Participatory actions of R, D&E and points to be enhanced

Although there is increased awareness of the necessity for participatory action between researchers, extension agents and the farming community, stimulating the creation of models like Participative Action Management (Chamala S., 1999) or Rapid Community Appraisal (Carman K., 1994), the strategies to identify the next set of technologies that need to be adapted/adopted by a community need to be studied and applied by R,D&E. In Australia and Brazil there are some examples to integrate R,D,E&farmers’ community.

Australian R&D initiatives to identify technological needs in dairy farmers’ community

The Dairy Research Development Corporation (DRDC) of Australia created the Regional Development Programs or RDPs in each state to make the link between research and the farming community stronger. The Subtropical Dairy Program (SDP) in Queensland informs DRDC of the farmers’ needs and the types of research and development that are relevant to the region (Chamberlain, 2001). SDP works together with the Australian Tropical Dairy Institute (ATDI) in research programs. In 2000 SDP had an evaluation to identify what is working well with the seven Sub Regional Teams (SRTs), what has potential to work well, what needs improving. One basic recommendation was “SRTs members have to develop a system for collection and recording ideas from the dairy farmer community” (Roberts, 2000). At the ATDI, another evaluation arrived at a similar suggestion (Australian Tropical Dairy Institute, 2000).

Brazilian R&D initiatives to get closer to dairy farmers community

The Brazilian National Research & Development Corporation (Embrapa) is the premier institution for agricultural research. Embrapa Dairy is a unit of Embrapa for the dairy industry. It is located in a region that is no longer the main production region of the country. The geography of milk production has changed to west, northeast and south of the country. The new strategy is to move one researcher to each of the three new milk frontiers; each researcher will align the projects & actions of Embrapa Dairy more closely with the demands of the communities. The basis for this work is the cooperative contracts. Nevertheless, the strategy to identify those needs and demands are mainly quantitative (survey).


The proposed strategy is illustrated in the Figure 4.on . This starts with content analysis (Fiske, 1990), and data collection in the community to record qualitative and quantitative information from the actors. The trends and some social issues will be observed. The data will be used to prepare the semi-structured interview (Mason, 1996; Vaus, 1995). At the interview the trends, technological needs and possibilities of the community will rise from the different actors’ opinions and, after analyses, will be used as the subject for the focus group meeting (Kiel, 1999), where the different points of view will refine the needs and technological possibilities of the community. The results of the focus group will be organized and presented to the same group for comments in a Feedback analysis (Carman K., 1994).

Figure 4. Strategy to identify the needs of a dairy farmers’ community in Australia and Brazil


The dairy environment sends signals through trends that actors in the dairy industry have to discuss together. Because farmers used to be the weakest link in the dairy chain, farmers’ organizations should play their role in defending their interests when interacting with other dairy actors.

R, D&E agencies realized during the 20th century that they had to shift from the TOT paradigm to a participatory approach, and that the communities’ participants became the important source of information to farmers, leaving the scientists with their technical knowledge in the background (Hamilton, 1995). Meanwhile, the behavior of R,D&E also is changing from educational paradigm to a learning/participatory paradigm when dealing with the farmers’ community. Extension activities are being incorporated in R&D actions for reasons like the incomplete feedback from the farmers’ communities.

Qualitative research is increasing in importance together with a holistic view of the reality. In the dairy farmers’ community, the R,D&E agents have to consider the involvement of other actors when planning their actions. The process outlined above is the first version of a strategy to identify the technological needs and possibilities by converging the actors’ opinion of a farming community in a realistic and corporative work.


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1 capacity to stay in the market considering social, technological, operational, financial and environmental aspects

2 This is not the author’s (Chamala) way of thinking

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