The farming systems research approach to designing appropriate agricultural technologies


Material Information

The farming systems research approach to designing appropriate agricultural technologies a background white paper in support of enhancing farming systems research and training capacity at UFIFAS
Physical Description:
12 leaves : ; 28 X 22 cm.
University of Florida -- Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, FL
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Agricultural systems -- Research   ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Research   ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Technology transfer   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leave 3).
Statement of Responsibility:
University of Florida. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 731684524
lcc - S494.5 .S95 U55 1980
System ID:

Full Text


TECHNOLOGIES: A Background White Paper in Support of AQ Enhancing Farming

Systems Research and Training Capacity at UF/IFAS


As the world moves into the 1980's, agriculturalists are faced with an

impressive array of problems and challenges which demand/require fresh

approaches to developing improved agricultural technologies. In the indus-

trialized nations concerns about energy availability, environmental quality,

national resource conservation and a general slowing down in the rate of

productivity increase, has led to a growing appreciation of the need for a

more holistic, problem oriented approach to developing the next generation

of agricultural technology. In much of the developing world, population

continues to be at least equal to the growr~th in food production, with a

significantly larger food deficit in prospect for the next decade (Ref IFPRI 3).

The failure of the initial phase of the Green Revolution during the late 1950's

and the 1960's to reach farrners in significant numbers outside a relatively

few ecologically well endowJed regions further underlined ;;he need for a more

comprehensive understanding of a wide variety of environments and their

accompanying farming systems.

Historically, agricultural scientists, encouraged by the availability

of seemingly unlimited supplies of cheap energy and inputs, have sought ways to

mold the environment to the demands of higher yielding plants using irrigation,

fertilizer, machinery and pesticides. Throughout the world, the research task

is now increasingly to mold plants and animals to an often hostile

and unpredictable environment; to search for disease resistance, biological

controls of pests, enhanced nitrogen-fixing qualities a~nd resistance to

temperature and water stress.

These challenges have encouraged a number of agricultural research

establishments, particularly in the tropical world, to complement tradi-

tional disciplinary and commodity oriented agricultural research programs

with various multidisciplinary efforts including what has come to be called

farming systems research. A recent review of Farming Systems Research at

the International Agricultural Research Centers carried out by the Techni-

cal Advisory Committee of the Consultative Group for International Agricul-

tural Research strongly endorsed the farming systems research approach as

a means of better understanding existing constraints to increasing agricul-

tural productivity and subsequently designing and testing appropriate

technological improvements. A growing number of national programs in the

developing world are also utilizing farming systems research approaches to

select and adapt improved technologies to local requirements.

Agricultural scientists and social scientists from the University of
Florida/IFAS have been assisting agricultural research, training and devel-

opment efforts in the developing world for more than 20 years and in some

instances have participated directly in the development of farming systems

research programs in various countries.

Now, as Florida is faced with the need to develop new technologies

to meet the rising cost and reduced availability of traditional energy

sources as well as seek ways to better serve the low income/11mited re-

source farmers of the state, the University of Florida/IFAS can draw upon

the experiences of other countries and institutions in applying a farming

systems research approach to thess issues. Rarely has there been a more

compelling example of the complementarity between IFAS's responsibilities

to Florida agriculture and its desire to assist agricultural development

international ly.

The following paper is an introductory statement in support of the

formal initiation of a multi year effort to enhance farming systems re-

search and training capacity at the University of Florida/IFAS.

Section II briefly defines a farming system and farming systems re-

search. Section III discusses the principal applications of FSR with

particular reference to Florida agriculture. Section IV outlines the

major components of a proposed program in FSR at UF/IFAS. Finally sec-

tions V and VI review resource requirements and possible institutional


II. What is Farming Systems Research (FSR)?

An understanding of FSR requires an appreciation of the areas im-

plied by the term "farming system". Discussions at UF have utilized a

modified version of the definition contained in the recent review of

FSR at the International Agricultural Research Centers.l

A farming system is alcomplicated, interwoven mesh of
resources and agronomic, economic, environmental, tech-
nological, cultural and social factors which to some
degree results from decision making on the farm, where
the particular farm family attempts to increase their
utility with respect to their own preferences, aspira-
tions, knowledge and agro-socio-economic constraints.
The farmers~sbunique understanding of the environment,
both natural and socio-economic, produces their farm-
ing system.

Farming Systems Research at the International Aqricultural Research
Centers, TAC/CGIAR, Sept. 1978, p. 8.

The need to work with farming systems and to utilize FSR approaches in

developing appropriate technologies arises from a lack of understanding of many

farm problems by agricultural scientists and planners. The general scientific

concentration on single commodities by specific disciplines is often inappropriate

and inadequate especially in reaching and understanding small farmers in order to

design and extend appropriate technologies.

A farmer makes decisions on combining certain resources and inputs (land,

capital and credit, crops and animals, fertilizer, pesticides, labor, etc.) in

order to achieve certain desired results. Small -farmers and traditional farm

family decision making also involved socio-cultural factors, risk avoidance, off-

farm income opportunities and objectives that rarely mesh with the typical narrow

technical and economic analyses aimed at efficiency and profit maximization.

There are six steps in the basic farming systems research approaches.

1. Analysis of existing farming systems (in a region or nation) including

understanding the resources, technology and decision making at the farm


2. Identification and ranking of the major constraints in order of their

effect on agricultural production and feasibility of their removal

taking into account national objectives, such as increasing productivity

and production of food or cash crops, increasing rural employment, and

equitable distribution of income.

3. Design of possible measures for removing the constraints drawing upon

existing knowledge and carrying out additional research to adapt

existing solutions to local conditions.

Lt. Testing improved practices on research stations or local sub-stations

and then on farmers' fields, first with and then without supervision

by research personnel. Infrastructural solutions will obviously follow

a different path here. Farm managerial and social organization solutions

will be tested by farmers and local organizations

5. Initiation of extension or action program to communicate these~ tested solutions

to the farming population.

6. Evaluation of the whole process to determine the extent to which the

original constraints have been removed and the national objectives

satisfied. The evaluation includes an analysis of the new farming

system that has emerged, so that the new constraints may be addressed

to continue the process of continual development.

Farming systems research focuses on understanding existing situations;

developing and testing appropriate technologies for these situations, and communicating

these results to farmers. This research provides a comprehensive structure to integrate the

disciplinary contributions of many scientists. Scientists from different disciplines

can see where their various insights and energies fit together, and the farming

systems model demands that scientific attention focus on the specific conditions of

particular small farm situations.

The basic FSR\ approach 'is designed to produce results tailored to the needs of

a specific area and group of farmers who share a common farming system. Variations

of the FSR approach involving the design and testing of prototype solutions to

specific problems (such as limited availability of water) which are shared by farmers

in a broader geographic region are practiced by a number of the international

Agricultural Research Centers. FSR at the national and local levels is a means of

selecting and where necessary, modifying such prototype solutions/technologies to

suit local requirements. Further, local FSR programs and related agricultural develop-

ment efforts provide vital "feed back" to regional FSR programs which aid in

determining research priorities.

Farming systems research should not be regarded as a new program, but rather as

an integrative dimension, complementing existing research and extension activities.

Virtually all the activities encompassed by FSR are currently practiced in some form

by IFAS. The critical differences lie in the sequence of activities (including the

way in which the research problem is identical) and the ways in which researchers of

different disciplines, extension workers and farmers relate to one another.

ill Applications of FSR

In the context of Florida agriculture and its links with the tropical world,

two major areas of application of FSR have been identified:

1) Improving the effectiveness of research and extension programs in service

of small and low resource farmers;

2) Providing a context in which to organize interdisciplinary efforts to

address key constraints or problem areas such as energy, water availability,

soil fertility/plant nutrition and pest management.

The core activity of FSR involves interaction between researchers, extension

workers and farmers in understanding existing farming systems and subsequently

designing and testing possible improvements. The sequence of steps is described in

the previous section. The elements include: 1) researchers working together as a

team through all phases of the program; 2) communication and feedback from farmers

and extension workers throughout the process of analysing the existing situation and

designing and testing improved practices.

To an important extent fairly effective communication links already exist for

larger commercial farm operations. The larger commercial operators often have direct

and frequent contact with both extension personnel and with agricultural scientists

and serve as an important source of problem identification and evaluation of technologies.

In a sense, large commercial farmers operate their own individual farming systems

research program and draw selectively upon the extension and research services as

required. Large farmers identify and articulate their problems and frequently are

involved in the testing of possible solutions. They will provide researchers and

extension workers with "Feedback" in the form of an assessment of whether or not a

particular innovation can be effectively integrated into their farming system and possibly

even indicate what specific modifications may be required. They may even cooperate in

making the necessary modifications.

Communication links with small/Iow resource farmers tend to be less effective,

Large numbers of small farmers are not reached at all, or in only a cursory fashion

through various mass media. In most instances the specific improvements/technologies

which are extended to small farmers have not been developed with the specific resource

endowment problems of snMll farmers in mind. Rather the innovations are usually the

product of interaction with large commercial operators as described in the proceeding

paragraph. There is limited feedback from small farmers to researchers which might

otherwise stimulate some modifications in innovations in order to adopt them to the

specific requirements of small farmers. The failure of small farmers to adopt specific

recommendations or to get the envisioned results is often attributed to the reluctance

to change or a failure to understand the message in the first place. These may be factors,

but such assumptions divert attention away from possible needed modifications in the

innovation itself.

The FSR approach builds communication among researchers, extension workers and

farmers directly into the process of design and testing of technology. Direct

communication with all or e~en the majority of farmers is obviously not practical

either in Florida or countries in the developing world. However, the FSR approach can

be applied to a representative sample of farmers drawn from a population of farmers who

share a similar farming system. While the farming systems of the population will not

be identical they will share a common set of constraints and resources, a factor which

distinguishes small and large farmers and influences the nature of innovations/direction

of research.

A multidisciplinary group of faculty (from the departments of Anthropology,

Agronomy, Food and Resource Economics and Vegetable Crops) are currently exploring

ways of applying the FSR approach to small/Iow resource farm development problems in

Northern F lor ida The program would be run in cooperation with IFAS and FAMU extension

staff and may involve graduate students from various departments who participate in a

planned seminar in FSR methodology scheduled for the Spring term. Should the approach

prove beneficial, it would be extended to other areas in the future.

FSR has been a feature of three Florida International projects in El Salvador,

Bolivia and Ecuador. A forthcoming project in Malawi to assist the development of

agricultural research in that country will have a major FSR component. The IFAS

International Programs office has recently submitted an expression of interest to

USAID in connection with a project titled Social Science Criteria for Agricultural

Research (SECAR) which essentially involves application of FSR approaches in the

Latin American region.

Since there are important similarities in the basic methodology, the domestic

applications of FSR are benefiting considerably from the participation of faculty who

have gained experience in international programs. Further some of the participants

in the FSR program for Northern Florida are planning to join the Malawi project at a

later stage thus providing a feedback into the International Program activities.

A variation of the FSR approach may provide an effective means of focusing and

systematically relating broadder research efforts in such areas as energy conservation.

Once again the starting point is an analysis of the characteristics of individual

farming systems, only in this case one looks at the array of different farming

systems represented in the region under consideration with a view to identifying common

constraints or problems around which research programs can be organized. integrated

Pest Management (IPM), nitrogen fixation and biomass conversion are examples of such

programs already in operation which have focused on general problems common to a range

of farming systems. It is suggested that these programs might benefit from a farming

systems component or perspective. In the case of IPM such a perspective would allow

researchers to more directly relate their efforts to pest problems and control measures

as currently perceived and practiced by farmers and to involve a representative sample

farmer in the testing of improved practices. Once again, these activities already

form part of the IPM to some extent although the sequencing and relationship of the

activities may differ.

FSR can be an important component in developing strategies for reducing energy

consumption in Florida agriculture while maintaining or increasing yields. By

studying the entire system of production, all points of energy utilization can be

identified. Conservation practices and the adaptation of alternative sources of

energy to the specific system can be more efficiently carried~ out when the entire

farming operation is understood.

By utilizing the FSR approach, research will be better able to identify major

constraints to a production system. These may involve physical or biological stress,

transportation or marketing difficulties, inability to use higher energy technologies

for drying crops, manipulating natural resources or other types of constraints.

There are limited amounts of time, money and personnel with which to examine all

the areas of: production that now use energy. Those areas utilizing the larger amounts

of energy should be given research priorities. Unless analysis of the entire system

of production is made, it is difficult to determine which aspects of that system use the

most energy and/or cause the greatest constraint in production. Such identification

is important to direct the resources of IFAS towards their most efficient use.

In determining the nature and extent of utilizing the FSR approach in dealing with

su~ch region wide questions as energy conservation, it is proposed that UF/IFAS dr~aw

upon the experiences of the various IARC's with ongoing FSR programs which address

similarly broad issues. The international Programs Office of IFAS has already made

contact with IRRI, IITA, ICRISAT, CIAT and CIMMYT with a view to exploring possible

areas of cooperation specifically in the area of FSR. These centers have expressed a

strong interest in such cooperation and made specific suggestions in most instances.

Farming Systems Research methodology, particularly at the level of dealing with specific,

constraints/problems on a region wide basis, is in need of further development. The

University of Florida/IFAS with its considerable scientific resources, variety of fields

of specialization and subtropical climate is well equipped to work on various FSR

methodological issues to the benefit of Florida and the tropical world in general.

IV Complementary FSR Related Activities:

The key to enhancing FSR and training capacity at UF/IFAS lies in having faculty

members gain first hand experience with it in the context of domestic or international

programs as discussed in the preceding section. In addition, there are a number of

complementary activities, some of which are already in progress, which can assist in

developing UF/lFAS capacity in this field. These activities include:

1. Preparation of a comprehensive plan for enhancing Farming Systems Research
and Training Capacity at UF/IFAS:

A proposal to provide support for a planning exercise in FSR extending over an

18 month period has been informally submitted to BlFAD for consideration. it is under-

stood that BlFAD will be formally requesting proposals for a planning grant focusing

on FSR from various interested US institutions during the current fiscal year. A formal

resubmission is planned at that time which will cover prospective activities at Florida

as well as possible cooperative arrangements with other institutions in this field.

2. Formation of an Interdepartmental Working Group on FSR:

While a spearate institutional entity to handle FSR is not envisaged, it is

important that there should be a small campus-wide Interdepartmental Working Group

which takes responsibility for developing a plan and coordinating activities in FSR.;:

A prototype already exists of such a group and includes representatives from 9s

Agricultural Engineering, Agronomy, Animal Science, Anthropology, Center for African

Studies, Center for Latin American Studies, Food and Resource Economics, Food Science

and Human Nutrition, Plant Pathology, Poultry Science and Vegetable Crops. This formal

group would be responsible for managing activities during the planning period, while

three members from different disciplines would act as coordinators. They would have

primary responsibility to implement the major tasks, including drafting the final FSR '

plan and day-to-day administration supporting the various activities during the planning

period. The work group itself would probably require a full time secretary/administrative

assistant, preferably with bibliographic experience, with the additional duties of

ordering and circulating FSR material and publications.

3. Contacts With Other Institutions Involved in FSR:

UF seeks to develop continuing relationships with FSR programs in other

institutions. The intent is to establish a network of associates in IARC's, national

programs and other universities with whom the FSR program at UF would share materials

and ideas. These contacts should help in defining UF's role in identifying specific

research and training activities. UF already has an ongoing relationship with ICTA

in Guatemala and has initiated correspondence with a number of IARC's.

4. Workshops of FSR Methodology:

UF proposes to host workshops on different aspects of FSR methodology during the

planning period. The purpose of these workshops is to define a number of the specific

research tasks which might involve the UF. The workshops will include participants

from other interested U.S. institutions as well as overseas centers.

5. Collection of FSR Materials:

UF already has some library holdings on FSR topics and has recently initiated

a bibliographic study on multiple cropping and small farm development. it is proposed

to collect additional key materials related to FSR, including such items as working

papers from institutions overseas, particularly for use by faculty involved in FSR

activities. Selected materials would be circulated to interested faculty to stimulate

involvement in FSR activities.

The collection of FSR related materials would encompass descriptions of farming

systems and basic data relating to agriculture in the tropical world. The International

Center of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia and the International Institute of

Tropical Agriculture (llT~A) in Nigeria have both approached the University of Florida

on possible cooperation in collecting and reviewing data on tropical farming systems

with view to aiding them in making classifications of these systems for use in more

sharply defining research priorities.

6. Review of Existing Degree Proqrams to Incorporate FSR:

It may be necessary to modify some of the present degree programs and add some

new courses in order to serve the students interested in FSR, although no major

alterations are planned. FSR-related courses are now being offered in Agronomy and

Anthropology, and some departments offer degree program options that may be utilized

by students interested in FSR. The members of the Interdepartmental Working Group

will be responsible for reviewing the present programs and course offerings in their

individual departments. Several of these members could act individual ly or as a team

as thesis advisors for students wishing to work in FSR.

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