Farmer participatory research advances sustainable agriculture: Lessons from Michigan and Malawi

Sieglinde S. Snapp, James Dedecker, Adam S. Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sustainable production for field crops has proved to be a challenging proposition. Farmer participatory research (FPR) is an important approach to help ensure relevance and define locally adapted solutions for enhanced adoption of sustainable agriculture (SA) technologies. The mother and baby trial (MBT) design has proved effective as a FPR approach to address challenges on smallholder farms. The MBT systematically links long-term “mother” trials, where slow and erratic processes can be monitored, to “baby” trials led by farmers to capture a wide range of farm practices and environmental contexts. Communication and learning is facilitated through MBTs as well. This distributed FPR approach documents the performance of technologies in diverse contexts and provides multiple opportunities for joint planning, observation, and reflection. We describe two MBT case studies, one within a developing country context (Malawi) and the other representing a novel application of MBT within an intensive agriculture context (Michigan). To explore tradeoffs in SA performance, multiple domains (productivity, environmental, and economic) are presented via radar charts as a visualization tool. In both FPR experiences, farmer perspectives and a wide range of practices were revealed. In Malawi, a mesic site was associated with steep SA tradeoffs compared with a marginal site. In Michigan, diversity in tillage practices, field crop performance, and soil health were found to be conditioned by the environment. Overall, the MBT approach supported the development of SA technologies adapted to local conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2681-2691
Number of pages11
JournalAgronomy Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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