International Research: Researching Wheat Farmers in China

I would like to share with you another fascinating case study from our research partners, this time in China. We work closely with Irwin Hankins and his team at Respac on studies in the Far East.

Anyway, over to Irwin……

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An interesting challenge was recently faced by the Research Pacific team responsible for Crop Sciences and Agricultural Research. Research Pacific China, (part of the research pacific group… www.respac.com)   was faced with an urgent request to test attitudes of Chinese wheat farmers towards a new product concept and to also learn about their crop protection protocols, current knowledge and information sources/influencers.

This presented four key challenges:

Challenge No 1: SAMPLING

There is no register of such farmers, no maps even show where wheat as opposed to another is growing,  so, after some discussion with the client, the idea of ”a stratified sample of wheat farms based on square hectares or 2010/11 crop yield, to be pre-sampled from desk research”, was abandoned as the realisation dawned that the only way would be to go out into the field…literally, and ‘find’ them.

Next, due to the political evolution of china in last 70 or so years, there  is still (mainly) collative ownership of rural and agricultural assets OR State ownership, even sorting out who is actually responsible for farming what can be challenging!

Challenge No 2: RESPONDENT CO-OPERATION

Few rural farmers have any notion of research or focus groups; they mainly think they are being tricked into some sales scam, or some government check is being made on them …

A lot of persuasion needed to convince them of who we are and what we are up to….

Challenge No 3: RESPONDENT PARTICIPATION

The average farmer is literate to a basic level, but will typically know 50% or so fewer Chinese characters than the average urban worker and maybe 100% less than a managerial level person in the cities; thus he doesn’t read labels or literature which comes along with the fungi- and pesticides….he relies on verbal instructions and guidance from sales people or the regional agri advisors of the Provincial Government; Therefore we had to hold another discussion with the client on the method as a result of which the ‘homework’ tasks the farmers were supposed to do were kicked out of the plan.

Instead the homework was replaced by quasi ethnographic observations whereby our people went into the field….again literally..and watched the farmers at work…

Challenge No 4: LOCAL POLITICS

In two districts we were forced to stop work; (crop spraying is a politically sensitive business; many areas are not following international conventions and banned producers like ddt can be found readily). We were perceived (literally) as spies in one province and had to beat a fast retreat to avoid possible arrest. in another district the local agri officials turned up and followed us everywhere intervening when we spoke to the farmers.

After a few days and a lot of driving we managed to find other districts where we could avoid these situations

The End Results

Once we got the farmers into a room together, it was, after some initial fears of the recording devices were overcome, hard to stop them from sharing their experiences! Obviously this was helped by the fact that our moderator was able to show she understood the topics and was able to talk about her own exposure to farms and farming.

They told us just about everything and more..openly discussing their disdain for the ‘advisors’ from the Government, the lack of knowledge of the sales people for the crop science companies, and more; they admitted that ”in some cases” they might use products which were ”not approved” but were also frank about their motivations and justifications and  their needs.

Overall a productive set of groups resulting in a new approach to our client’s communications programmes and leading to an unintended spin-off of a total review by our client of the training of its sales and dealer teams

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Jane Rudling
01962 842211
Article date - 21/01/2013
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