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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

Farmer Research Networks Enable Community-Based Mycotoxin Management in Rural Indian Villages



Mycotoxins and other food safety and preservation challenges are prevalent in smallholder food systems, and communities often lack the knowledge and capacity required to effectively diagnose and address these concerns. Participatory research can facilitate innovation in resource-poor settings by fostering collective identity and leveraging endogenous systems of change, but there are limitations to the scalability and impact of this approach across contexts. Embedding participatory research within a farmer research network (FRN) has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of participatory research by enhancing the flow of knowledge between local and global innovation systems.


This study proposes a framework for FRN-mediated participatory food safety research and reports on key findings from an application of this approach in six villages in Unnao District, Uttar Pradesh, India.


A cohort of 184 households was organized into a FRN and engaged in a series of participatory research activities. Collective identity was developed within the FRN by reflecting on shared goals and establishing leadership. Participatory context characterization combined with multiple factor analysis (MFA) enabled formation of interest-based affinity groups, which explored potential solutions to a range of local problems. Affinity group deliberations led to the implementation of a FRN-wide hermetic grain storage intervention. Uptake of the technology was evaluated by monitoring continued usage, willingness-to-pay, price elasticity of demand, and retail sales across localities. Efficacy of the FRN approach for participatory food safety research was assessed by monitoring participation, motives, and experiential outcomes among members.


Context characterization revealed distinct needs profiles influenced by the extent of home versus non-home time allocation and economic orientation. Household trials of hermetic sacks were effective in 99% (128/129) of participating households, with 83% continuing use in subsequent seasons. Willingness-to-pay analysis demonstrated substantial demand for hermetic sacks but high price elasticity across hypothetical price points. Despite demonstrable demand and positive reception, actual sales were low (<10 units) due to the perceived high cost of the technology. Participation and experiential outcomes were generally positive, but the FRN was not successful in maintaining adequate, representative gender balance in its programming.


This study documents a novel application of the FRN approach to participatory food safety research and constitutes substantial evidence for the potential for FRNs to catalyze local-global knowledge feedback loops. The model outlined is widely adaptable and could be used across contexts in India and elsewhere.

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