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Trade-offs between management costs and research benefits: lessons from the forest and the farm

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This chapter looks at some of the institutional challenges of combining qualitative and quantitative approaches in development research and asks whether the benefits outweigh the costs. We focus on experience from the forestry (including agroforestry) sector, specifically from the conservation/development interface where debate is often polarised along quantitative and qualitative lines respectively. Our basic premise, however, is that questions relating to the complex interaction of people and natural resources can only be answered by drawing on some combination of quantitative and qualitative information. We also assume that this should be done without compromising the quality of data collection for any component approach. Finally, we take as read that, in the specific context of development research, there is usually a strong emphasis on capacity-building of partners and on achieving buy-in by the eventual users of the research results. To examine the reasons why the reality of achieving these goals is often frustrating, we draw on four different development research projects (supply and demand of non- timber forest products (NTFPs) in Benin, conservation of trees on farm in Honduras and Mexico, domestication of indigenous fruit trees in Cameroon and Nigeria, and commercialisation of NTFPs in Bolivia and Mexico), all of which deal loosely with the use by local people of trees in a more or less managed environment. Each involved different numbers and types of researchers and institutions as well as representing a different combination of research approaches (Table 1). Based on the experience in these projects, we highlight some of the key practical challenges and trade-offs (in terms of resources and time) associated with trying to bring together more qualitative and quantitative approaches

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