This paper reviews the Rapid Assessment Technique (RAT) conducting within the cropping systems component of a NERAD project. In contrast to conventional procedures - assessments of farmer problems from a commodity perspective leading to technological solutions - RAT can be used as a tool for wider assessments of needs, problems and constraints, and in planning implementing and analysing the R&D trials. It also fosters an interdisciplinary approach to agricultural research and extension. The tool is based on semi-structured interviewing with individual farmers (particularly village headmen), and also uses secondary data, mapping, soil sampling. The paper discusses the definition of RAT objectives, team formation and training, field implementation. Analysis is done by the team and reviewed together with farmers. A further section discusses lessons learned from experience of RAT to date: these included scientists adapting to open-ended questioning, gaining and appreciation of indigenous knowledge, difficulties in seeing linkages between physical and social systems, adjusting to an interdisciplinary team, and a tendency to develop a static picture. Six preconditions for successful RAT are listed and some remarks on potentials and constraints on future development are made.
This paper may interest those involved in agricultural research and extension with farmers.