Six steps to improve training of farmers in Brazil

From left to right:

Luís Fernando Soares Zuin
University of São Paulo, Brazil

Polina Bruno Zuin
Federal University of São Carlos, Brazil

Fernando de Lima Caneppele
University of São Paulo, Brazil

Abstract – This article explores pedagogical paths when developing new approaches within the continuing education of farmers. The aim is to bring about a joint internalisation process between rural extensionists and farmers related to new technologies in rural territories. These teaching and learning processes entail a very wide variety of encounters between the scientific and technical learning contents that originated from experimentation in research centres and the historically-constituted experiences of farmers. The constructs of Freire (2001), Larrosa(2017) and Voloshinov (2017) are used as a theoretical contribution in order to analyse this pedagogical encounter.

Throughout my years as a researcher in continuing education training courses with content related to animal welfare practices on Brazilian and other Latin American cattle farms, I have observed a number of difficulties concerning the pedagogical paths used in short-term training courses (up to three days) with regard to the internalisation of new technology. This has had a negative impact when implementing new management practices and in interactions with the animals in these rural areas (Zuin et al. 2014). I frequently heard the same complaints from trainers (often referred to as rural extension agents or rural extensionists1), as well as from farmers, employees and family members. They all talked about difficulties that they encountered when trying to modify their attitudes towards the productive processes, based on these pedagogical meetings. The problems originate in part from the training that agricultural sciences students (like for example agronomists, zootechnicians and veterinarians) receive in Brazil (Zuin et al. 2019).

The teaching methodology used in Brazilian colleges of agricultural sciences is still predominantly along monological, pedagogical lines, i.e. the contents of the courses are offered to the students in a hierarchical and unidirectional manner. This form of interaction was described by Paulo Freire (2001) as “banking education”. It is quite common that this pedagogical method, constantly offered by professors, is reproduced by their students, once they have graduated and are actively working in rural areas. That in turn leads to difficulties when for example trying to implement new management practices in productive processes. In other words, when rural extensionists act as educators, they assume the posture of those who know and teach. The farmers, employees and family members in these relationships assume the role of students who are expected to adopt the transmitted knowledge without questioning it, using it as a foundation for the proposed changes in their productive routines. This was one of the main precepts of the technical diffusionism proposed by Everett Rogers (1962). 

The many paths

Educators in Brazil have historically established several pedagogical paths to internalise new technologies in rural areas. Countless teaching strategies have been presented along these paths, with the aim to reach as many different types of learners as possible. However, rural extensionists who offer technical content in their training often disregard learners (farmers, employees and family members) who come with rich and practical life experiences.

From the 1970s to the present day, several rural extension agencies in Brazil have been using the pedagogical path known as diffusionism to introduce new technologies into the field, sparked by the works of the North American Everett Rogers (1962). These have been applied on a massive scale by private and public agricultural research organisations. As a pedagogical method, it includes some specific ­interaction elements that are experienced among the subjects during the training activities pursued in continuing education courses. Here, only the teaching processes exist, and they are characterised by the farmer’s passive experience. The knowledge that is being taught usually originates from experimenting with positivist-mechanistic science. Information about a particular technique is often developed in productive contexts different from those that farmers have already experienced in their productive routines, within their contexts of the world. Moreover, these techniques have frequently not even been tested in their territory.

“Here experimentation meets experience, and it is one of the greatest challenges facing course trainers during teaching-learning processes for adults and young people in rural areas.”

The power of dialogue

On the other hand, we encounter a different pedagogical context in rural areas where the interactional paths are constituted through Freire’s dialogic pedagogy (Freire 2001), creating a relationship between learners and teachers where a non-hierarchical position of the educator is suggested in relation to the student. The idea is that, at times, the educator is a rural producer and the educatee is the extensionist, and sometimes it is the other way round. This is a process in which it is difficult to identify who learns and who teaches. There is no passivity, but constant acts of reflection from the interlocutors of the new technology offered by extensionists in rural territories. Communication is bidirectional in this case, and all the subjects involved have the same power of speech and opportunity to report their experiences. This method for internalising new technologies in the field originates from the historically-established experience of farmers, farm workers and family members. Here experimentation meets experience, and it is one of the greatest challenges facing course trainers during teaching-learning processes for adults and young people in rural areas.

Larrosa (2017) has observed that the experience that is historically established among learners is totally different from experimentation originating from laboratory benches. For this author, experience is something that happens to us, that transforms us, and we cannot opt not to experience it. It is therefore characterised by the interaction between the three dimensions of human life: suffering, responsibility and passion. By suffering through experience, the subject facing the action of the real world that affects him or her is not allowed to become indifferent and passive. Responsibility towards others during the experience forces the person to seek to adopt a coping strategy; passivity is not an option for the subject, given the situation. The final element is the one that links the first two, namely passion, which provides in the subject a dependence on the other, or on a desired object. Together these three elements define an experience that produces new, unique and temporal senses in the subjects, and this has a major impact on their world view, fundamentally altering their axis of analysis of the things that surround them in the real world. 

To make an experience

Unlike experience, experimentation seeks to universalise meaning through the constitution of information, transforming it into a new meaning. This will in turn be quickly replaced as new information is collected. The rapid replacement of content means that farmers are unable to convert experimentation into experience, as the reflection needed to adjust their daily production routines takes time. Information offered this way produces an increasingly fleeting meaning which is quickly replaced. There is no time in this teaching-learning process to allow for reflection or to gain an understanding of the complexity of the issue. 

At the same time, we live in a modern society that has an ever-growing interest in information. We are incessantly seeking out this information, since we are expected to have an opinion on every subject surrounding us. This hurrying to acquire more information leads us to express our opinion through a shallow, binary and closed (yes or no) answer which it is frequently possible to manipulate. Larrosa (2017) observes that, in a society constituted by the pathways of ­information signs, the act of experience becomes impracticable.

In rural areas, the information contained in a new technology (product or process) is usually delivered to the farmer through continuing education training courses that are offered by ­organisations, to be used in the farmers’ production routines. As these courses follow a monological pedagogical approach, they run the risk of creating a sense of mistrust in the farmer when it comes to whether this new technology can be applied in the production processes. 

Meaning and sense

This is why we need a pedagogical path that would assist in the interactions between the subjects involved in the internalisation of new technologies in the field. We need something that provides interaction between wisdom originating from experience, and knowledge stemming from experimentation in rural areas. To do this, a search is carried out in linguistics and education for contents related to the production of new senses and meanings with a dialogical approach
between the subjects in which the works developed by Voloshinov (2017), Freire (2001), Larrosa (2017) and Zuin et al. (2019) are employed as references. These authors observed in their studies that the same and the different are found in the word (sign), meaning and sense, a broad and a particular concept, information and narratives, experimentation and experience, private and public. The authors note that the production of a new sense among the subjects that are engaging in a dialogue occurs by combining a set of elements which are presented through life interactions. The first component of the dialogue is the ability of the interlocutors to master the meaning of the words. This is needed in order to understand the content of the message. It is therefore important for the educator to perform dialogical diagnostics in order to detect whether these meanings and concepts are understood in the same way by both the educator and the learner. However, some of the words related to new technology will be unfamiliar to farmers. The trainer must adjust these words, used in positivist experimentation, to the context of life in rural areas. To do so, the trainer must try to understand in as profound a manner as possible the community to which the training is being offered, and look for ways to unfold and correlate this content to the experiences of the rural worker. The second component is related to the quality and depth of the historically-constituted relationships between the subjects. This determines the level of proximity between the meanings of the words generated during the dialogue. The construction and identification of this element is important when considering pedagogical contexts in which the farmer teaches a specific activity to a colleague or a friend, under the supervision of the trainer. When this component is well executed, it frequently leads to good results in continuing education training courses offered in rural areas. This is because the trainer holds knowledge regarding the senses and meanings carried by the new technology, as well as the experiences of the learners in similar contexts, making it possible to create connections allowing an understanding of what is being offered.

The need for a diagnostic

The third element concerns the presence of the speakers in the same situational horizon. In our case, this is possible through the joint experience between the extensionist and the rural producer in the unique productive processes belonging to a specific rural area, carrying socio-environmental and economic particularities. To reach such a joint experience, the trainer must start with a socioeconomic and environmental diagnostic in the rural area before the course even starts. New information and techniques must be adapted through dialogue between extensionists and rural workers, so that it can be internalised according to the needs of the local production context. Here it is important for the extensionists to have had contact with the narratives ensuing from prior experiences of farmers and rural workers (at the beginning, during the diagnostics stage), regarding the use of similar technologies already provided and/or internalised, successful as well as unsuccessful outcomes. This method of introducing content during the dialogue requires the construction of a polyphonic and equipotent dialogical environment, this being the next conditioning agent. Such an environment permits an encounter of words between experimentation and experience in the field, avoiding monological educational contexts with an interactional-diffusionist character.

The next element relates to the perception among speakers that the interactions are plastic and unfinished, being unique in time and place. This conditioning warns the extensionists about the unique and temporal characters of the information containing scientific knowledge, which has been constantly developed, evolved and adapted to the most varied rural productive scenarios. By adopting this posture, the trainer avoids the application and distribution of a universal prescription found in the diffusionist “technological packages”.

Creating meaning

The penultimate conditioning in the production of new senses and meanings refers to the process of attributing a value to the content of the statement, which for the purposes of this study would be a farmer’s decision as to whether or not to internalise new technology. Here the farmer uses the historically-constituted contents of his or her experience as a filter when looking at future potential results of the new agricultural technology that is offered by the extensionist. The result determines whether the new technology will be adopted in practice or not. However, each time personal experience is used by the farmer in his or her decision-making process, it is re-signified and can determine the attribution of a new value, a new path.

Lastly, we have the presence of the super-addressee. Here we are talking about a third voice which exerts a significant influence on the formation of the content of the statement of both the rural extension agent and the farmer. In the case of the extensionist, the super-addressee would be contained in voices such as the information originating in the technologies that are being offered to farmers. They can also be observed in the didactics that they have experienced in their processes in undergraduate programmes and specialisation courses throughout their education. This is a set of historically-constituted voices that reflect both the culture of the organisation, and its education in agricultural sciences. The farmer brings along the content of a culture that has been historically constituted in his or her area, the experience of other farmers, rural extensionists, family members, and others, offered to them by narratives and advice.

If we are to achieve a teaching-learning process aiming at the dialogical joint internalisation of new technologies in rural areas, it is important to make use of the historically-
constituted experiences of the subjects involved. The challenge facing extension agents is therefore to know how to share their ideas with farmers and their families with the aim in mind of constructing a sustainable, socioeconomically-
equitable reality in rural areas together. 


1 / A rural extensionist can be defined as a rural development agent from private or governmental organisations. His or her main mission would be to endeavour to introduce farmers and their families to new technologies in a participative, socially-equitable and environmentally-sustainable manner in the productive processes in rural territories (Christoplos 2010).


Christoplos, I. (2010): Mobilizing the potential of rural and agricultural extension. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Freire, P. (2001): Extensão ou Comunicação? Rio de Janeiro: Editora Paz e Terra.

Larrosa, J. (2017): Tremores: Escritos sobre experiência. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica Editora.

Rogers, E. (1962): Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.

Voloshinov, V. (2017): Marxismo e filosofia da linguagem. São Paulo: Editora 34.

Zuin, L. F. S.; Zuin, P. B.; Costa, M. J. R. P (2019): Comunicação ­dialógica para os processos produtivos nos agronegócios. In: Zuin, L. F. S.; Queiroz, T. R. (eds.): Agronegócios: gestão, inovação e sustentabilidade. 2ed. São Paulo: Editora Saraiva, 1, 39-55.

Zuin, L. F. S.; Zuin, P. B.; Monzon, A. G.; Costa, M. J. R. P. (2014): The multiple perspectives in a dialogical continued education course on animal welfare: Accounts of a team of extension agents and a manager and a cowboy from a rural Brazilian territory. ­Linguistics and Education, 28, 17-27.

About the authors

Luís Fernando Soares Zuin, Professor at the University of São Paulo, develops research on dialogic communication in rural territories. 


Poliana Bruno Zuin, Professor at the Federal University of São Carlos, develops dialogic teaching-learning processes for children, young people and adults.


Fernando de Lima Canepelle, Professor at the University of São Paulo, develops sustainable environmental work in the energy field in urban and rural areas.