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Abstract

The context within which rural people in Latin America farm and put together their livelihoods is changing rapidly: farmers are faced with increasingly competitive markets, input price rises and in some cases environmental degradation. It is also the case that these livelihoods have become ever more complex, and many rural families are not able to support themselves on agricultural activities alone. This implies that concentrating resources on agricultural technology development may not be the most effective response to the needs of many rural people whose livelihoods are more affected by other parts of the food system (such as agroindustry), or by other economic activities (such as migration). Insofar as training is part of a rural support programme, this interpretation also implies that assisting rural people in the development of new skills to help them deal with problems they currently cannot deal with may be more useful than agricultural technology training. The experiences of Indian organisations in Ecuador and Bolivia also suggest that the most successful rural support programmes are those that acknowledge the need to enter non-agricultural training and to address off-farm income generation. Overall, the most successful organizations have promoted a bottomup controlled process of agricultural modernization, rather than a traditional knowledge based strategy. Interestingly, the strongest organizations, and those that have had particular impact on rural poverty, are those that have first concentrated on the context rather than the content of rural livelihoods (by addressing issues of land rights, agroindustry, marketing, rural banking etc). They have then developed agricultural research and extension strategies on the basis of these other activities, not vice versa. There are general lessons to be learnt regarding the organization of research and extension and the role that farmer organization can play in this. The paper concludes with a discussion of these lessons.

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