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Debate: Why aren’t farmers using agricultural tech?

Our online debate was held on Tuesday 9 June. Over two hours, our expert panel helped steer a discussion on why farmers in developing countries are not improving productivity by adopting a greater number of innovative technologies.

Delivering food security for everyone on the planet is a monumental challenge. The global population is set to increase by over two billion by 2050 and, coupled with increasing incomes, this will inevitably lead to a rising demand for food. Yet the effects of soil erosion, climate change and an increasing shortage of water due to over irrigation are likely to lead to a loss of farmland. To attain food security, farmers will have to become ever more innovative. But many farmers in the developing world are slow to adopt technological innovations, ranging from improved maize varieties to the use of information technology. Our online discussion explored the possible reasons for this.

The debate was organised alongside the Cornell Alliance for Science, a global initiative for science-based agricultural communications. Accompanying the debate was also an introductory piece by the alliance’s director, Sarah Davidson Evanega, on the importance of engaging with farmers to increase the uptake of agricultural innovation. 

  • Debate questions: 

  • What barriers are preventing new technologies from reaching local farmers? 
  • What can be done to improve the spread of information on new technologies?
  • Can farmers access training in the use of new technologies? What more can be done to ensure that training reaches farmers in remote areas?  
  • Why is there a reluctance to accept new farming methods?  
  • How can technology be better designed to meet the needs of smallholder farmers in the global South?  Do innovations tend to be designed instead for the interests of large-scale agribusiness in the North?
  • How can farmers get more involved in the design and adaptation of tech, drawing on their own experience and expertise? 
  • Is there a danger that some innovations — for example new seed varieties — will leave farmers dependent on the owners of these new products? 

The debate drew on the experience and expertise of academics and SciDev.Net staff from around the world and took place in the comment section below. Please log in below and add your comments and questions on the thread.

We also cross-posted questions via Twitter (@scidevnet) using #Tech4Ag.

The online debate preceded an offline debate — also co-organised by SciDev.Net and the Cornell Alliance for Science — on 10 June looking at the role of journalists in promoting technological choice for farmers. This will take place at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea.


Julien Chongwang is assistant editor of our Sub-Saharan Africa (French) edition. Prior to joining Scidev.Net, he was the editor in chief of Le Quotidien de l’Economie, a daily newspaper in Douala, Cameroon.

Daniel Fonceka is a researcher and scientific coordinator at the French research centre Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) and the Regional Study Centre for the Improvement of Adaptation to Drought (CERASS) in Senegal. 

Ndjido Ardo Kane is a geneticist and plant molecular biologist at the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research. 

Julio Maia is a researcher at the Sao Paulo State University, Brazil. He is currently involved in a project to produce transgenic, drought-resistant soybeans.

James Somi is the headmaster of Ngare Nanyuki Secondary School near Arusha, Tanzania.  He is also a subsistence farmer growing vegetables for both his family and the school.  Somi, comes from a family of farmers. 

Eugene Paul Kavishe is an agriculture entrepreneur from Tanzania.   He is the founder and Managing Director of Vonkavy Agro Company Ltd, a poultry farm producing over 3000 eggs a day in the Morogoro region of Tanzania.

Lughano Kusiluka is deputy vice chancellor for academic research and innovation at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania. He has written widely on livestock issues and veterinary disease in East Africa. 

Luisa Massarani is based in Brazil and coordinates SciDev.Net’s Latin America & Caribbean edition. 

Nick Ishmael Perkins is SciDev.Net’s director. He has worked as a journalist, media trainer and project manager for many years in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. 


Joan Conrow is an independent journalist whose work has appeared in Audubon, National Wildlife and many national and regional publications. She writes frequently about agriculture, biotechnology, nature, politics and human foibles.

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