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Transfer of Knowledge on Agroforestry Management Practices: the Structure of Farmer Advice Networks

Marney E Isaac, University of Toronto
Bonnie H Erickson, University of Toronto
S. James Quashie-Sam, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana
Vic R Timmer, University of Toronto

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Abstract

Access to knowledge on farm management practices is essential for the maintenance of productive agroforestry systems. Farmers who lack the means to acquire farming knowledge from formal sources often rely on information within their informal social networks. However, little research has explored the explicit structure of farmer communication patterns. We examined advice network structures by using farmer attributes, i.e., kin relationships, community involvement, and imitation, to characterize structural positions and investigated the consequences of such structure on farming practices in cocoa agroforestry systems in Ghana, West Africa. Furthermore, we used a multicommunity approach; we constructed networks for four communities to increase replication and enhance the generality of our conclusions. A high density of advice ties occurred among a small group of farmers, indicating a core-periphery structure. Settler farmers composed 73% of core position members, suggesting that social proximity did not control the formation of informal advice structures. Because core farmers were highly participative in community activities, the promotion of community involvement may facilitate the movement of knowledge and social exchange to strengthen informal networks. Farmers in both core and peripheral structural positions indicated that they observed fellow farmers and subsequently adopted their practices. Of highly sought farmers, 84% used external information, predominately from government institutions, thus functioning as bridging links between formal and informal networks. Both external and farmer-derived sources of knowledge of agroforestry practices were transferred through informal advice networks, providing available information throughout the farming community, as well as a foundation for community-based adaptive management.

Key words

agroforestry; farm management; Ghana; social network analysis; Theobroma cacao
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087