Innogen

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Farmers' Understandings of Genetically Modified Crops within Local Communities

Sue Oreszczyn

Principal investigator(s):   Andy Lane

Affiliated staff:   Susan Carr

August 1 2004 – April 30 2007

Aims and objectives

This research investigated the attitudes, intentions and practices of farmers regarding the new technology of genetically modified (GM) crops, in relation to their social setting. It:

  • Explored how farmers construct their understandings of GM crops through their interactions with others, in particular family members, neighbouring farmers, seed companies, farming advisors and the local community.
  • Ascertained the acceptability to farmers (both those with experience of GM crops and those without) of recommended man-agement practices for GM crops used in the UK government Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs).
  • Is developing models of social learning systems appropriate to support individual farmers within informal social settings who decide to adopt contentious new technologies such as GM crops.We investigated the following questions from the farmers’ point of view:
  • What do farmers see as the pros and cons of new technologies generally and what do farmers believe about GM crops?
  • For farmers who were involved in the FSEs, what were their experiences of growing GM crops?
  • Who or what are the influences on farmers concerning the introduction of new technologies to help run their farms as a business?
  • To what extent do farmers engage in learning?

Research methods

An interactive, relationship building methodology using mapping techniques was used through three linked phases. First, telephone interviews with farmers with and without experience of growing GM crops were used to create cognitive maps of the participants thinking about them. Second, face to face interviews with some of the same farmers employed a mapping technique to explore the influences on farmers’ decisions concerning new technologies and their farming business. Third, an interactive workshop involving some of the same farmers and members of their community of influencers used a scenario planning tool to look at future developments.

Key findings

Throughout the project the findings of each stage were shared with and validated by the participants and discussed with key stakeholders. The results of the final analyses will be used to inform discussions with stakeholders on the most appropriate ways to manage a new farming technology where the likely impacts are unclear or contested by different groups. They will also help identify the most important relationships to foster in such social learning systems.

  • Farmers are responding to GM crops much as they would to any new technology.
  • Farmers who have been involved in the FSEs, as well as those who have not, believe that GM crops offer bother economic and environmental benefits.
  • Farmers consider that agricultural research and policy are not well attuned to agricultural practice.
  • Farmers learn a) by experimenting, that is they draw upon their tacit knowledge and experience in their own setting to develop new technologies in practice, and b) by engaging with their network of practice (mostly other farmers) and their community of  influencers.
  • There is a lack of boundary brokers between farmers’ network of practice and other key communities of practice within a farmer’s community of influencers.
  • Work on extending the social learning models is continuing.

Publications

Oreszczyn, S. & Carr, S. (2008)   Qualitative Research, Vol 8, Issue 4, pp. 473–497.

Oreszczyn, S & Lane A. (2005) 'Farmer responses to new agricultural technologies'. Paper presented at Flows & Spaces in a globalised world. RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, London.

Lane, A. & Oreszczyn, S. (2005) Should farmers be landscape planners too? In McCollin, D. & Jackson, J. I. (2005) Planning People and Practice: The landscape ecology of sustainable landscapes. Proceedings of the 13th Annual (UK) Conference, University of Northampton.

Oreszczyn SM and Lane AB (2006) Farmers communities of practice and high-tech futures http://oro.open.ac.uk/5470/

Further information

For further information contact Sue Oreszczyn