in: Sustainability 10 (7), 1-26
A transdisciplinary research approach requires that different scientists with their discipline-specific theories, concepts and methods find ways to work together with other societal players to address a real-life problem. In this study, the push–pull technology (PPT) was used as a boundary object to enable interactions among stakeholders across science-practice boundaries engaged in the control of stemborer pest in maize crops in Bako Tibe, Jimma Arjo and Yayu Woredas in Ethiopia between August 2014 and April 2015. The PPT is a biological mechanism developed by researchers for the control of stemborer pests and Striga weed in maize crop. It involves inter-cropping maize with a stemborer moth-repellent silverleaf or greenleaf Desmodium (push), and planting an attractive trap crop, Napier or Brachiaria grass (pull), around it. The on-farm implementation of PPT was used to provide an opportunity for collaboration, interaction and learning among stakeholders including researchers from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research and practitioners from the Ministry of Agriculture and smallholder farmers/traders. The research was implemented following the transdisciplinary action research and the data collected using mixed methods approach, including key informant interviews, focus group discussions, workshops, on-farm practical demonstrations and participant observations. The findings show that collaborative leadership provides a chance for the stakeholders to participate in the technology learning and decision making, by enabling them to jointly contribute skills towards development, refinement and adaptation of the PPT. In situations where there are conflicts, they are embraced and converted to opportunities for in-depth learning, finding solutions and adaptation of the innovation processes rather than being sources of contradictions or misunderstandings. The leadership roles of the farmers enabled them to reflect on their own practices and draw on scientific explanations from researchers. It also enabled them to take the lead in new technology implementation and information sharing with fellow farmers and other stakeholders in a free and easy manner. Although the perennial nature of the companion crops in the PPT provides opportunities for continuous stakeholder interaction and learning, it requires a personally committed leadership and formal institutional engagements for the sustainability of the activities, which span several cropping seasons. Market forces and the involvement of the private sector also play a role as shown from the involvement of individual farmers and traders in Desmodium and Brachiaria seed production, collection and distribution during the PPT implementation.