Open Journal of Forestry
2011. Vol.1, No.1, 1-5
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ojf.2011.11001
Self-Directed Learners or Not? Delivering Agroforestry
Technology to Farmers in the Philippines
Jack Baynes, John Herbohn
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia.
Email:, j
Received May 20th, 2011; revised July 6th, 2011; accepted July 13th, 2011.
This paper presents an evaluation of the usefulness of a participatory approach and adult learning principles for
agroforestry extension in the Philippines. Visual observations and analysis of interviews with farmers during an
extension program found that their ability to act as self-directed adult learners changed according to the situa-
tions with which they were faced. Farmers used a self-directed approach to their selection of inputs for the es-
tablishment of woodlots. However, when propagating seedlings, lack of technical knowledge caused them to
shift to a state of dependency on ‘top-down’ didactic instruction. Farmers’ familiarity with agricultural crops, e.g.
rice and coconuts, did not provide them with the skills to raise tree seedlings. A consequence of farmers apply-
ing their own interpretation of woodlot establishment procedures was that some sites were destroyed and seed-
ling growth on other sites was poor. These failed woodlots are likely to present a negative image of the program
in the future. Contributing influences to farmers’ limited uptake of technology may have been a lack of other
sources of support and information and the difficulty of interacting and sharing ideas with their peers. The prac-
tical implications of this research are that farmers in developing countries may lack the education, support ser-
vices and peer-to-peer interaction to behave similarly to self-directed learners in developed countries. A totally
participatory approach to program delivery may maintain participants’ enthusiasm and commitment but may re-
sult in unforseen outcom es. Hence, a flexible approach to the use of adult learning principles may be necessary.
Keywords: Participatory, Adult Learning, Constructivist
Despite technological advances, agroforestry extension
has experienced uneven success in many parts of the world
due to inadequate adoption rates or a bandonment (Subhrendu
et al. 2003). A contributing reason may be the manner in
which farmers apply silvicultural1 technology. For example,
(Harrison et al. 2008) found that low seedling quality is ge-
neric to small nurseries in south-east Asia. Poor tree growth
resulting from farmers’ reluctance to thin weaker and de-
formed trees is a major constraint to profitable tree farming
in the Philippines (Bertomeu et al. 2006). However, until
recently, agroforestry adoption studies have been concerned
with biophysical rather than socio-economic variables (Mer-
cer 2004) and there have been few studies in developing
countries which investigated how farmers learn. Hence, the
purpose of t his paper i s to report a spects of farmers’ learning
behaviour which affected the outcomes of an agroforestry
extension progra m in t he Philippine s.
In the current ethos of rural extension a participatory ap-
proach is almost mandatory, participants’ commitment being
boosted by an extension process which encourages people to
take responsibility for their learning (Franzel & Scherr 2002,
Ganpat et al. 2009). This approach is in accord with
Knowles’ (1984) principles of adult or ‘self-directed’ learn-
ing that adults’ past experience is the basis of their learning,
they are most interested in learning which is applicable to
1In this paper, the term silviculture includes seedling propagation, site
preparation, woodlot establishment and mana gement.
their lives and learning is problem centred rather than con-
tent centred. Farmers’ self-direction was metaphorically
noted by Cramb (2000) that technological assistance may be
described a ‘cake’ in which farmers shop around for techno-
logical ‘ingredients’ which they incorporate into their own
‘recipes’. Providers act as facilitators rather than teachers
and the process is part icipant-centred rather than technology-
Although Knowles’ principles are consistent with Cramb’s
metaphor, adult learning techniques have been criticised for
representing an ‘American’ concept of independent, self-di-
rected adult learners (Reischmann 2004). However, a par-
ticipatory approach to exten sion and adult learning principles
are both underpinned by a constructivist2 view of learning
which is independent of race, culture and socio-economic
status. Hence, if an extension process is considered as a sys-
tem of inter-related variables, participants’ ability to behave
as self-directed learners is important. Recent research into
participatory extension (e.g. Anderson et al. 2006, Magcale
et al. 2006, Minh et al. 2010) suggested that where partici-
patory principles are not followed, (e.g. inflexible or top-
down didactic delivery methods and failure to match partici-
pants’ objectives), extension programs often fail. A conse-
quence of a partici patory appr oach is that extension progra m
planners lose control over the extension process. For control-
ling of program activities is ceded to participants, the likeli-
2The principles of constructivism are that learners ‘construct’ new ideas
based on their current knowledge. People come to learning situations with a
mental structure of past experiences and this influences their understanding
and uptake of information (Dewey 1995).
hood of unexpected outcomes increases.
One of the activities of Australian Centre for International
Agricultural Research (ACIAR) project ASEM/2003/052,
Improving Financial Returns to Smallholder Tree Farmers in
the Philippines provided an opportunity to investigate the
application of adult learning principles to agroforestry ex-
tension. A participatory approach which treated farmers as
adult learners was used to deliver the program and collect
qualitative and quantitative data which provided information
about farmers’ acceptance of agroforestry technology. Dur-
ing the program, changes in farmers’ use of technology
prompted questions as to whether a flexible rather than a
totally participatory approach may be appropriate for the
delivery of agroforestry extension assistance.
This paper provides an assessment of the usefulness of
adult learning principles for an agroforestry extension pro-
gram in the Philippines. In the next section, a précis of the
methods of the extension program is presented. In the fol-
lowing section, farmers’ attitudes and responses are analysed
in relation to the situations and difficulties they encountered
throughout the program. Finally, recommendations are made
for the delivery of agroforestry extension in similar contexts
and settings.
Research Methods: The Approach to
the Delivery of the Extension Program
and Data Collection
The methodology and results of the extension program is
reported in Baynes et al. (2009) and a précis is presented below.
The influence of farmers’ mental models on their acceptance of
technology is also reported in Baynes et al. 2010).
Between 2005 and early 2008, assistance was offered to
farmers in four municipalities on Leyte Island to grow seed-
lings in home nurseries and establish woodlots. Deforestation
of the countryside has been severe and there are few examples
of woodlots grown by smallholders for commercial sale or
domestic use.
The purpose of the program was to evaluate farmers’ will-
ingness and ability to adopt agroforestry technology. In the
municipalities of Libagon and Dulag, extended assistance was
offered in three stages, i.e. first, recruiting farmers and estab-
lishing their specific needs, second, propagating seedlings in
home nurseries and finally, preparing sites and out-planting
seedlings. In Libagon and Dulag 22 farmers participated in the
program and 19 of them established woodlots. Farmers initially
had little understanding of nursery and woodlot establishment
skills. The only serious problem in the delivery of extension
assistance occurred when persistent rain caused severe fungal
infection of young seedlings and consequent loss of farmers’
confidence until remedial assistance was made available. After
one year, the survival of woodlots was 74%, remaining sites
being abandoned, washed away by floods or burnt.
The Participatory Approach Used to Deliver
Extension Assistance
The program was run by Filipino ACIAR staff that had ex-
tensive field experience of rural extension. It was anticipated
that some farmers may wish to join the program to see what
benefits it may bring. Hence, assistance was offered as a series
of learning activities in which farmers were offered technical
advice through group and on-farm visits. Farmers were offered
assistance to collect seed, grow seedlings in home nurseries,
prepare sites and establish woodlots. They were allowed to
decide how many trees they wished to raise, and how and when
woodlots were to be established. However, in order to propa-
gate healthy seedlings and maximise site capture of out-planted
trees, they were encouraged to maximise inputs, e.g. fungicide,
fertiliser and weed control. Also, to remove as many barriers as
possible to farmers’ uptake of assistance, individual on-farm
visits were arranged to accommodate farmers’ availability. For-
tunately, the traditional Filipino capacity for friendship and
humour proved invaluable in breaking down social barriers
between farmers and extension staff. Meetings became quasi-
social and collaborative.
Data Collected through Analysis of Interviews and
Observation of What Farmers Actually Did
To test whether farmers were self-directed learners or not,
extension staff conducted interviews in which farmers’ pro-
gress, problems, attitudes and opinions were recorded. They
also observed what farmers actually did and the extent to which
farmers’ actions complied with recommendations and advice.
Data were collected on four main occasions:
1) Recorded comments and visual observations made during
an initial field day;
2) Initial interviews with prospective program participants;
3) Interviews with farmers during the seedling propagation
4) Visual observations of the methods farmers used to estab-
lish woodlots.
The purpose of the data collected during the recruitment
stage (i.e. the field days and initial interviews), was to deter-
mine the level of assistance which may be required. During the
second stage, the on-site interview provided information about
farmers’ seedling propagation problems and their plans for site
preparation and out-planting. A comparison of farmers’ stated
intentions and actions was provided through a final inspection
of their woodlots.
Recorded interviews were transcribed and analysed for sec-
tions of text which could be grouped into generic themes. Dur-
ing the initial interviews, for example, comments which indi-
cated farmers’ knowledge of potential problems relating to
woodlot establishment were grouped under two generic head-
ings problems farmers can overcome and problems farmers
cannot overcome. During the seedling propagation stage of the
program, farmers were asked whether they needed on-site as-
sistance to establish their woodlots. Their responses were clas-
sified as indicating either a directed or self-directed approach to
woodlot establishment. Responses which indicated that they
had planned the establishment of their woodlots, e.g. ‘I will
slash the grass, burn it and then dig planting holes’ were classi-
fied as being self-directed. Responses which indicated a need
for assistance, e.g. ‘I’ll need your help because I have no ex-
perience of planting trees’ were classified as being directed.
The frequency of themed responses in the overall set of inter-
views was then used as an indicator of the relevance and im-
portance of specific issues.
It was anticipated that a critical factor in the success of the
overall program would be farmers’ knowledge of potential
problems concerning the establishment, maintenance and mar-
keting of woodlots. Hence, to determine the way in which in-
formation would be presented, during the field days, the com-
plexity of farmers’ preliminary comments and questions was
analysed using Bloom’s taxonomy. This taxonomy was devel-
oped by Benjamin Bloom and a group of educational psy-
chologists and one of its uses is to diagnose levels of under-
standing. Knowledge was classified by Bloom et al. (1956) as a
‘cognitive domain’ of six levels of increasing complexity and
abstraction. The levels relevant to this research are level 2, an
ability to comprehend knowledge and level 4, an ability to
analyse knowledge. Values and opinions are also described in
the taxonomy in five levels of an ‘affective domain’ in which
level 2 is an ability to respond to information and level 3 is an
ability to evaluate knowledge or provide an opinion. To ascer-
tain how farmers reacted to information presented during the
field days, their comments and responses to questions were
recorded and classified into appropriate levels of the taxonomy.
The results were then used by ACIAR staff to guide the deliv-
ery of subsequent stages of the program.
The demographic characteristics of farmers who volunteered
for the program, (particularly the size of their holdings and the
proportion of their time spent farming) indicated they were a
relatively wealthy group of smallholders compared to poor
tenant farmers (Table 1). Most farmers had limited formal
education and many of them were observed to have difficulty
reading extension information which was printed in either their
local dialect (mainly Cebuano), or English.
Evidence Gathered at the Field Days of Farmers’
Readiness to Act as Self-Directed Learners
A classification of 50 comments into levels of Bloom’s tax-
onomy for the cognitive domain found that 64% of farmers’
responses were at level 2 (information was comprehended) and
the remaining 36% of responses were at level 4 (issues were
analysed) (Table 2). As expected, many of farmers’ more com-
plex responses could also be classified at level 3 of the affec-
tive domain, i.e. as an expression of an opinion. The classifica-
tion of comments was necessarily imprecise because paralin-
guistics3 were lost. Nevertheless, for the group as a whole, the
classification provided an approximate test of farmers’ under-
standing of agroforestry issues. The results indicated that they
may be expected to behave as typical self-directed adult learn
Table 1.
Demographic characteristic of volunteer farmers in the municipalities
of Libagon and Dulag.
Demographic characteristic Municipality
Number of farmers who received extension assistance13 9
Number of ba rangays4 represented 8 7
Average age of farmers 53 55
Average size of household 5 4
Average farm area (ha) 6.0 3.8
Average number of farm holdings 2.9 3.1
Percentage of working week spent working on farms 60 60
Most common farm use CoconutsCoconuts
2nd most common farm use BananasBananas
3Paralinguistics include body language and the pitch and the volume of
4A barangay is the smallest unit of local go vernme nt in the Phili ppines a nd is
approximat ely equivalent to a village.
Table 2.
Examples of farmers comments classified as level 2 and 4 of Blooms
taxonomy for the cognitive domain.
Comments classified as level 2 (comprehension)
This tree is crook ed so we need to cut it out.
How about growing seedlings in sawdust?
Comments classified as level 4 (analysis)
Based on our understanding, mahogany always has that kind of roots, ho
can we overcome that?
It’s easy to kill the grass. I give it to our neighbours. They’ll cut it for free.
The initial interviews with farmers who indicated that they
wished to join the program were purposely conducted in a
loosely structured inductive manner in which farmers were
given as few verbal prompts as possible. This encouraged
farmers to speak their thoughts openly. Hence, farmers were
asked about positive and negative aspects of growing trees and
the problems which they either could or couldn’t overcome.
Themed responses showed that, not surprisingly, 70% of farm-
ers wished to grow trees for housing materials and 43% of them
wished to leave woodlots as a legacy for their children. Many
of their answers indicated that they had considered their re-
sponse before speaking. For example, at the start of the field
day, 75% of farmers had indicated that they had little under-
standing of tree registration5 procedures. Extension staff had
anticipated that their knowledge of this topic would be poor
and had arranged for a lecture on tree registration procedures
by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
(DENR). Several weeks later, during the initial interview only
17% of farmers considered it as an issue with which they may
have difficulty with in the future. Similarly, the 48% of farmers
who held title to their land with other family members or sub-
leased it to tenants indicated that it was a problem that could be
successfully negotiated. In addition 52% of farmers discussed
how they would market lumber from their woodlots. Overall,
the farmers presented an image of independent and self-di-
rected learners (Table 3).
Farmers’ Reaction to Technical Difficulties
The possibility of farmers quickly becoming independent of
technical assistance was lost once they encountered technical
difficulties. When persistent rain caused widespread fungal
infection and consequent losses of seedlings, farmers became
discouraged and the program came close to collapse. Only 9%
of the 22 farmers were able to grow healthy seedlings without
personal assistance. During interviews, farmers’ comments
reflected a complete dependence on extension assistance and
advice (Table 4). They had no other basis for comparing infor-
mation provided by ACIAR staff. There are few municipal
libraries in Leyte and the focus of the ‘Techno Gabay Program’,
which provides extension information to farmers, is agricultural
crops and production systems. Even if farmers had been able to
access the internet, their reading skills (particularly in English)
would probably have precluded them from finding a remedy for
their problems.
Difficulties accommodating farmers’ schedules necessitated
individual on-farm visits and inevitably, the mode of extension
assistance reverted to top-down didactic instruction. However,
5In certain circumstances, woodlot trees must be registered with DENR
before they can be harvested .
Table 3.
Examples of farmers responses which indicated an ability to behave as
self-directed learners.
In regard to fire, I’ll conduct
rushing during rainy season and conduct
only a strip br ushing with a 1 m wide strip
Financial problems can be managed if you base your planting on you
capability to m anage and maintain the trees
Table 4.
Typical farmers responses to interview questions concerning fungal
infection of their seedlings.
I don’t know w hat to do Ma’m, please help me?
What do you mean by hardened sir ? Kindly explain.
farmers responded positively to instructions and almost all of
them managed to grow sufficient healthy seedlings to warrant
Comparison between Preliminary Evidence of
Farmers’ Self-Direction and What They Actually Did
The final stage of the program involved site preparation and
out-planting. By this stage of the program almost all farmers
had regained their confidence and had raised sufficient seed-
lings to warrant out-planting. In some cases it had not been
possible for extension staff to visit sites before seedlings were
planted. Hence, the main source of evidence of farmers’ accep-
tance of technology was a comparison of farmers’ stated inten-
tions and a final inspection of the woodlots.
The interviews which had been undertaken in the previous
stages were examined for sections of text which could be clas-
sified as indicating a directed or self-directed attitude towards
further assistance. In 20 interviews, 85% of the farmers made
comments which indicated that they were no longer reliant on
extension assistance (Table 5). For example, several farmers
had planted trees on previous occasions. Consequently, they
felt confident of their ability to do so again. Other farmers
made comments which could be interpreted both ways, i.e. they
requested assistance and then made comments that indicated
that they had already decided how they were going to establish
their woodlots. Despite being offered individual on-farm assis-
tance, only six farmers (i.e. 27% of the original cohort of 22
farmers) accepted an offer of final assistance from extension
staff to set out, plant a n d sta k e trees.
Final inspections revealed that some woodlots had been
planted on very steep or eroded sites, underneath a dense can-
opy, in flood prone locations or directly adjacent to coconuts
(Table 6). One year after planting, site maintenance (i.e. slash-
ing of competing vegetation) had virtually ceased even though
seedlings had not achieved dominance over weeds. In each case,
these decisions had long-term implications for the growth of
the woodlots. Neglecting weed control before seedlings have
achieved site capture is likely to result in poor seedling growth
and stagnation of the stand. Planting trees underneath a dense
canopy is also likely to lead to very poor growth. Trees planted
on the flood prone sites were washed away soon after planting
and not surprisingly, those farmers became disenchanted with
the program. One year after planting, seedlings which had been
planted adjacent to coconuts showed poor growth and evidence
of suppression. Despite extension advice to the contrary, some
farmers had applied technology in a manner inconsistent with
sound principles of woodlot establishment.
Table 5.
Examples of farmers comments which indicated that they were not
reliant on extension assistance to establish woodlots.
I’ll plough before planting and clean up the area. I don’t need other assis-
If I want your presence or help, I’ll contact you. I have Mr Duan’s numbe
and he will call you.
Table 6.
Characteristics of sites chosen by farmers for reforestation.
Percentage of sites with specific characteristics Municipality
and number
of sites Infertile or
eroded Dense canopy Flood prone Integrated with
other crops
Libagon (12)42 8 0 67
Dulag (7) 0 0 43 100
Total (19) 26 5 16 79
Discussion and Conclusion
For the cohort of Filipino farmers served by this extension
program, their self-directedness varied according to the chal-
lenges they faced. A participatory extension approach in which
farmers were allowed to apply technical information to their
own circumstances maintained their cooperation and enthusi-
asm but in situations in which they realised that they were
knowledge-deficient, they also accepted didactic and top-down
instructional methods. In a broader context, these results sug-
gest that self-directed extension program participants may not
object to inclusion of top-down instruction, provided that they
see the need for it.
The results of this program suggest that although a partici-
patory approach may be required to ensure farmers’ participa-
tion, their interpretation of technology may compromise pro-
gram goals. Farmers’ initial ability to list, discuss and analyse
issues (e.g. tree registration), suggested that they would act as
self-directed adult learners. However, their lack of technical
knowledge constrained their ability to evaluate the veracity of
technical advice. In situations where they chose to ignore ad-
vice, their personal interpretation of the principles of tree
growth resulted in the establishment of woodlots, some of
which are unlikely to present a positive image of agroforestry
in the future. Seedlings which are grown on infertile sites in
competition with weeds are likely to become chlorotic and
spindly and the entire woodlot may stagnate. In these situations,
farmers’ subsequent disappointment is likely to result in nega-
tive publicity. Despite the high level of one-to-one extension
assistance which was provided in this program, farmers’ lack of
experience and the scarcity of examples of well-maintained
woodlots in Leyte may have induced some of them to take an
inappropriate low-risk and low-input approach to agroforestry.
Farmers’ low-input approach may have been modified if
they had been able to access complementary sources of infor-
mation. A contributing influence to farmers’ lack of compe-
tency in raising seedlings may have been the dearth of other
information or support services. Unfortunately, farmers were
unable to transfer their knowledge of other farming practices to
tree seedling propagation. Although information concerning
growing and marketing of other crops (e.g. rice, copra) was
available through farmer co-operatives and government spon-
sored information services, this information is not applicable to
agroforestry. In addition, the geographically scattered occur-
rence of participating farmers, i.e. the recruitment of 13 farmers
from eight barangays in Libagon and nine farmers from seven
barangays in Dulag, inhibited farmer-to-farmer interaction.
Consequently, those intuitively self-directed farmers who
would have welcomed other sources of information were un-
able to access it.
A general problem confronting rural extension planners in
developing countries is to maximise recruitment and maintain
participants’ enthusiasm, consistent with program goals. Farm-
ers’ interest is often sparked by an inclusive extension approach
which offers information and expertise in a new agricultural
activity. The promise of new knowledge per se, also has a nov-
elty value. In this program, the low level of farmers’ accep-
tance of out-planting assistance indicated that the novelty had
partly dissipated by the time seedlings were ready for out-
planting. Farmer’s need for assistance was less urgent than
when they were raising seedlings. Hence, some of them opted
to ignore offers of assistance and to use inadequate woodlot
establishment practices which were derived from their prior
knowledge and experience. These results suggest that if farmers
in developing countries are not supplied with a range of ex-
periences and background information, (e.g. demonstration
farms, peer-to-peer interaction) which allow them to develop as
informed self-directed learners, then they are unlikely to fully
benefit from assistance. In this sense, these farmers have spe-
cial needs which set them apart from ‘western’ self-directed
adult learners. Hence, providing them with complementary
learning experiences may be well rewarded.
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