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ILEIA - Centre for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture, had its start in 1984. It started from the observation that family farmers in remote, diverse and risk-prone farming conditions did not benefit from ‘modern’ agriculture based on external inputs: chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and improved seeds and breeds, irrigation, mechanization and science-based research and development. For the specific conditions of these small-scale farmers in for example rainfed, dryland, sloping, upland and mountainous areas, far away from markets, these external inputs were too expensive, often not available, not fitting, and full of risk for health and ecology. Probably they could benefit more from good practices in ecological agriculture.


However, initial learning showed that it was not so much the external experiences with ecological / organic agriculture or permaculture that brought most tangible benefits. Empowerment of farmers by giving them back status for their own traditional and local practices, seeds, breeds and knowledge was far more effective. It strengthened farmer experimentation with technologies and concepts that fitted the conditions of their own place, culture and economy. Development and extension workers and scientists from outside can support and ‘validate’ these processes with their skills and scientific knowledge. This was called ‘Participatory Technology Development’. In this way scientists can benefit from the insights of farmers as well.