IDENTIFYING APPROPRIATE TARGET POPULATIONS
Department of Rural Sociology
A paper prepared for presentation at the Farming Systems Research
Symposium, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.
November 23, 1982.
The research on which this paper is based was supported by
AID/DSAN/XII G-0261. The opinions and interpretations are
my own and are not necessarily shared by my colleagues at
Cornell or at INIAP.
IDENTIFYING APPROPRIATE TARGET POPULATIONS
Department of Rural Sociology
Contemporary farming systems research has applied objectives
to develop and to disseminate appropriate technologies that in-
crease agricultural productivity and improve the standard of
living of smallholders. In order to achieve these objectives,
farming systems research must be able to distinguish among
groups of smallholders, identify the specific needs of these
different groups, and develop technologies which represent real
improvements over existing practices. This is the general
problem of identifying target populations.
We have begun to address this problem at Cornell in a
farming systems research project which is funded through the
Bean/Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program. Our collabo-
rating institution in Ecuador is the Instituto Nacional de
Investigaciones Agropecuirias (INIAP), which is responsible for
agricultural research and development programs. One aspect of
their overall activities concerns the development of appropriate
technologies for the production of basic grains by smallholders.
Our role is to cooperate with the smallholder-oriented programs
and with the national legume program. Our experience is limited,
because field work just began last summer. Nevertheless, we have
learned some specific things which have helped us make some
preliminary distinctions among target populations in the province
where we were working. What I would like to do in this paper,
therefore, is illustrate some general principles with Ecuadorian
THE IMPORTANCE OF SECONDARY DATA
Research sites can be selected and field work focused if
existing secondary data are analyzed before primary data are
collected. The quality of secondary data obviously varies from
country to country, but whether data are good or bad can only
be determined by comparing what published documents report and
what one finds in the field. Consequently, although it is
fashionable to be prejudiced against secondary data, our experi-
ences suggest that a great deal of valuable information can be
found and used.
AGRICULTURAL CENSUS DATA
Certainly no farming systems research program should enter
the field without the prior analysis of agricultural census data.
The detail available to researchers will vary from country to
country. In general, the more detailed the data, the better
field work can be focused. The task of copying data and calcu-
lating percentages is tedious. Nevertheless, we found it
Ecuador publishes agricultural census data for the country
and for each of the provinces. In the library of the census office,
computer printouts by county are also available. Because we were
working in one province, we compiled the data for the forty-two
counties in that province. We learned a great deal about the
organization of agricultural producticnby farm size category,
because the census provided data on many variables, including
number of farms, area occupied, crops grown, animals raised,
subsistence/market production, family/wage labor employed,
mechanization and tenancy.
These data allowed us to understand the range of variation
within the province and to select the counties in which to inter-
view. One table that we used appears on the following page. We
selected the first county, Pimampiro, because the commercial
production of beans by smallholders was important. The second
region, San Francisco de Natabuela, was overwhelmingly small
scale, family based, subsistence oriented agriculture. The next
region, Cotacachi, represented the latifundio -- minifundio
complex -- although small farms were numerous, large farms
controlled most of the productive resources. Finally, we
selected Otavalo, a populous region which is predominantly
indigenous. Little was understood about agricultural production
and community organization, so a special Quechua-speaking team
worked in this area.
When we worked with agricultural census data, we maintained
rather fine distinctions among the smaller sized farms. Certainly
all decisions to categorize are somewhat arbitrary, especially
because absolute farm size does not capture the relative pro-
duction potential of lands of different quality. Nevertheless,
this does allow one to identify the category at which the propor-
tion of farms and the proportion of area become approximately
equal. Smallholders in this category are likely to benefit
from farming systems research, and the consequences of successful
intervention are likely to be more equitable than efforts that
benefit producers with more resources. The same data also allow
one to identify extremely problematic areas. The proportion of
nearlandless households (defined as having less than one hectare)
in Cotacachi is alarmingly high and the resources they control
DISTRIBUTION OF FARMS BY SIZE CATEGORY: Za
THREE COUNTIES IN IMBABURA
SAN FRANCISCO DE NATABUELA
0-0.9 H 57.2% 7.5%
1.0-1.9 H 22.5 9.4
2.0-3.9 H 13.6 11.3
4.0-4.9 H 4.2 7.2
5.0-9.9 H 0.7 2.6
10.0-49.9 H 0.7 6.9
50.0-199.9 H 0.6 20.9
200+ H 0.4 34.5
Source: 1974 Agricultural Census, Parochia (County) data.
extremely low. These sorts of observations allow one to focus
subsequent field work on the more precise identification of groups
and regions in which farming systems research has realistic
possibilities of success.
Field research demands good maps -- not only to prevent teams
from getting lost but also to correct tendencies to interview
only off main roads. The latter is important because
random sampling is extremely difficult to achieve under field
conditions. To the extent that there is a co-variation of geo-
graphic location and social class membership, the systematic
use of maps allows a team to capture the range within an area.
In Ecuador, we used three maps, all on a scale of 1:50,000.
One was produced by the census department, and it represented
an area probability sampling frame that would be used in the
future to monitor agricultural production between censuses. We
tried it and decided that it did not work for our purposes. We
continued to use these maps, however, because they identified
large farms by name and the roads were clearly marked.
We relied on soils maps and land use maps, which we obtained
from the regional analysis department of the ministry of agri-
culture. An agronomist with a background in geography, Charles
Stavar, superimposed and simplified the soils and land use maps.
This permitted the demarcation of several major zones, and even
the identification large/small, irrigated/rainfed fields.
Furthermore, it permitted the Quechua speaking team, led by the
anthropologist Paul Dillon, to use agronomically meaningful
variations for selecting communities in Otavalo in which to
The interpretation of soils and land use maps is a skill,
which I do not pretend to master. One specific use that I see
for this information is the identification of particularly
fragile environments. Agronomic scientists might find that
working in such areas is professionally challenging, but tradi-
tional producers are certainly more familiar with the management
of delicate ecosystems. I would define such areas as off-limits
until farming systems research teams had considerable, successful
experience in more advantaged areas. Professionals may be moti-
vated to pursue the challenging or the exotic, but mistakes may
accelerate the decompostion of peasant economies in areas where
environments are fragile and existence precarious. It is likely
that others might disagree with what is essentially an ethical
A final, and somewhat parenthetical., comment on the use of
maps. We found out about the maps we used in interesting ways.
AID/E had assisted in the development of the area probability
sampling frame. The Agricultural and Rural Development officer
told me about it, but it took four days of persistent effort by
our Ecuadorian counterpart, Venus Arevalo, to obtain them. The
office which produced the soils and land use maps is located one
floor above our collaborating institution. It was a visiting
professor from Argentina, however, who told us the name of the
person who could make the maps available to us. I mention
these specifics not to criticize our collaborating institution
but to illustrate a general problem. National institutions
may be uninformed about the activities of other departments, and
it is frequently easier for foreigners to ask stupid questions
and locate elusive material.
Ecuador seemingly employs a small army of cartographers.
Other countries do not. The alternative to maps is aerial
photographs. Landsat photos exist for all countries, but they
are not sufficiently detailed for most farming systems research.
Aerial photographs exist for many countries, and Rhoades (1982)
explains how they are used at the International Potato Center.
These are often available for purchase, usually through the
armed forces office which is in charge of maps. In fact, in
countries with poorly developed state infrastructure, the local
equivalent of the Instituto Geographico Militar is probably the
best place to begin a search for good maps to use in field work.
TYPES OF SMALLHOLDERS
Farming systems research is sometimes described as a pro-
gram which can benefit the "poorest of the-poor." This inter-
pretation, I believe, is fundamentally wrong. Rather, I would
argue that farming systems research can benefit relatively
privileged smallholders more than relatively disadvantaged
smallholders and that it can benefit landless and nearlandless
workers in very indirect and marginal ways. Let me outline the
argument, beginning with groups most likely to benefit.
SMALL SCALE COMMERCIAL PRODUCERS
If one of the objectives of farming systems research is to
increase domestic availability of basic foodstuffs, programs
directed at small scale commercial producers are most likely
to produce positive results in a short time. Furthermore, if
farming systems research programs can also reach smallholders who
are potentially capable of producing a marketable surplus, this
can also improve the domestic availability of food. In both
groups, there are also possibilities of increasing the demand
for wage labor, provided the commercial crops are labor
intensive. If both agricultural production and employment can
be shown to increase, a farming systems research program may
win the political support it needs to tackle the problems of more
Smallholders who are already or can easily become commercial
producers are privileged in comparison to many of their rural
neighbors. Nevertheless, they are clearly not members of the
same social class as medium or large landowners. Much of the
technology suitable for larger scale production can, however, be
adapted to smaller scale. This technology usually requires cash
inputs to contract land preparation, to hire labor, and to
purchase commodities like seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.
If the farm is already involved in market production these cash
outlays are not as problematic as they are when cash investments
are required for non-market production. Furthermore, agrono-
mists familiar with high input, "modern" farming can recognize
what modifications would improve productivity and/or profit-
ability. The problem becomes less an issue of research and more
one of extension and marketing.
These points can be illustrated by the study of Pimampiro.
Smallholders made intensive use of irrigation, chemicals, and
labor to grow high value crops like anise, tomatoes, and beans.
The Cornell/INIAP teams determined that pesticide use was much
too high because farmers did not know that the same chemicals
were being marketed under different brand names. The sole exten-
sionist in the region could not compete with the real extensionists --
vendors of agricultural inputs and the agronomists employed by
commercial firms. A competing educational program in this region,
run along very traditional lines, would be inexpensive. It would
have a high probability of success because these.growers were
uniformly able to quote prices for all inputs, remember market
prices, and calculate profit.
The issue of marketing in this area is more complex. Bean
production, for example, was actually for export to Colombia.
Very substantial profits were realized by merchants who controlled
the frontier and had unsavory reputations. It would be both
difficult and dangerous to challenge these merchants. One could
consider, however, a cooperative storehouse which used medium
to high technology pest control methods to protect growers from
market manipulation. This is a very serious issue which has
been relatively neglected. There is a very substantial literature
on smallholers who produce for international monopolies (e.g.
bananas). Smallholders producing for a competitive and highly
volatile market, however, may be at even greater risk. A
systematic analysis of market organization is essential to
farming systems research precisely because agriculture production
occurs in a structural context that cannot be understood by
focusing on farms alone.
SMALLHOLDERS WHO ARE "PEASANTS"
Smallholders who produce most of their own subsistence and'
sell modest surpluses to buy neededcommodities can potentially
benefit greatly from farming systems research. Increased
agricultural production among peasant strata is likely to im-
prove nutrition and, therefore, rural well-being. It is not likely,
however, to increase the market availability of food. For that
reason, research to benefit peasants may be vulnerable to
Peasantsmay actually be difficult to find in some countries.
Throughout Latin America, for example, there has been a profound
differentiation of the peasantry. Some smallholders have
accumulated capital, increased production, and entered a process
of expanded reproduction. Others have moved in the opposite
direction and are experiencing a process of disaccumulation which
is sometimes called depeasantization or proletarianization.
When differentiation reaches an advanced stage, real peasants
may be hard to find.
In the Ecuador field work, for example, we made real efforts
to find peasants. Of the hundreds of people we interview, we
found only a handful. Uniformly, they had lands distributed
in more than one zone (vertically), produced a wide variety of
crops, and had complex relationships between crop and animal
enterprises. Uniformly, they were linked to the market, selling
modest surpluses and buying commodities for consumption. A
classical subsistence producer with no market relationships we
never found. Furthermore, we are confident that they do not
exist in that province.
A farming systems orientation is the only viable approach
to developing appropriate technology for peasants. Nevertheless,
it must be recognized that this is very demanding in professional
skills. The peasant enterprises we examined were extremely
complex in comparison to small scale commercial farms. They
included crops which had never been serious objects of agronomic
research, and the complexity of intercropping was remarkable.
The division of labor between men and women, adults and children
was fundamental to the organization of agricultural production,
as was involvement in the community, especially through kin
networks. Rituals and holidays, including the need for a
specific food to celebrate important saints' days, was an
important determinant of the agricultural calendar. The need
for a multidisciplinary approach and a multifaceted analysis
is eminently clear.
NEAR LANDLESS HOUSEHOLDS
Farming systems research can do little to benefit near land-
less households. This is especially true if they are concentrated
in ecologically marginal regions which have experienced the
accelerated decomposition of peasant economies. These regions
still merit study to understand the process of proletarianization.
Nevertheless, the possibilities for positive interventions that
will make more than marginal improvements are objectively limited.
In the interview guide we designed at Cornell, we included
questions about how agricultural production had changed in regions
over the last twenty five years. This allowed informants to
discuss long-term changes in land use patterns, irrigation systems,
rotation practices, the availability of lands for pasture and
fuelwood, resettlement patterns and land subdivision. These
commentaries,combined with observation in the field, gave us an
initial sense of how intense and rapid was the process of environ-
mental degredation in certain areas. We had to recognize that
in at least one subregion the problems were beyond the ability
of our collaborating institution to address.
There are some households with resource bases so inadequate
that solutions to their problems of poverty cannot be resolved
by increasing on-farm production. Few governments care to
acknowledge this fact in a straightforward manner because it
simply raises questions about the inequitable distribution of
land and other productive resources. The current Chilean govern-
ment has candidly stated that agrarian reform is complete and
that approximately 25% of the agriculturally active population
has problems which cannot be addressed by agricultural development.
This sector requires the development of other income generating
This rather cold blooded analysis reflects reality. Income
from wage labor may be extremely important among smallholders,
especially for households which are nearlandless. The implicit
assumption of farming systems research, however, is that on-farm
production is the exclusive or most important source of peasant
income. In cases where this is true, increased on-farm production
will have a relatively large impact on income (in cash or in kind).
If household income derives largely from wage labor, however,
higher wages earned in agricultural or non-agricultural work
would have the greater overall benefit for households. Whether
one calls this strata nearlandless or semi-proletarian is less
important than the ways in which their needs are different from
and similar to other landed households.
Migration, short-term but especially long-term, places severe
burdens on semi-proletarian households. In Latin America this
is mostly male migration, but in the very poorest households
women may migrate also. A male migrant may return home only to
find heavy agricultural tasks awaiting him. Alternatively, his
wife and children may have taken on tasks that he would have
otherwise performed. A female migrant would find it extremely
difficult to maintain animals, and the dissolution of the animal
enterprises may destroy the only safety net the family has under
its own,rather than kin, control. Finally, the need of one or
more persons to migrate seems to increase the risk that
necessary maintenance of the farm infrastructure -- fences,
canals, tools, etc. -- will be postponed. One hypothesis is that
the failure to maintain infrastructure is the most critical
factor in accelerating the decomposition of semi-proletarian
households (Chaney and Lewis, 1980).
Very limited land bases make programs oriented towards
crop improvement extremely problematic. The difficulties are
only compounded by migration. Double cropping may be viable in
some areas, especially if it allows people to withdraw from
wage labor or return home in time to tend the second crop.
Double cropping may not be viable in other areas if migrants are
unable or unwilling to return. Whether a technologically
feasible alternative is viable varies, in part according to the
availability of labor. This is why it is critical to collect
data on seasonal labor demands, with special attention to peaks
and troughs and relate that to the seasonal availability of food.
A small stand of early maturing maize (like INIAP 101) that can
be eaten on the cob when little else is mature can make a sub-
stantial difference at an otherwise hungry time. Appropriate
technology may fill small but important niches without dis-
placing local varieties.
Systematic attention to small animals may open new possibili-
ties. While we were doing field work in Ecuador, we were struck
by the importance of guinea pigs. We found them even in the
homes of landless workers who lived in villages. We also found
them in areas where no other animals were kept because of chronic
problems with theft. This can happen because guinea pigs are
kept in the house, safe from the perils of street traffic and
robbers. Furthermore, the grasses they eat can be foraged with
considerable ease, even by young children.
One of the Ecuadorian technicians with several years experi-
ence in this zone has developed with me a proposal to fund a
pilot program. It involves the loan of larger Peruvian guinea
pigs; the construction of simple pens from locally available
materials; and the initiation of simple alfalfa trials to deter-
mine which of numerous available varieties will do best under
on-farm conditions. Most of these guinea pigs (but hopefully not
the pure bred starters) will be consumed by the family. There
is also a market for surplus, and the price of one guinea pig
was approximately equal to a day's pay for male agricultural
labor. The proceeds of such a sale would go to the female owner
and,therefore, into the budget which is spent principally on
household maintenance (food, school fees, medical expenses, etc.).
This proposal has several features which make one believe
it is appropriate even for semi-proletarian households. It
requires no cash outlay; it is consistent with the traditional
division of labor; it potentially allows for both subsistence
and market production. Whether we can get it funded and whether
it actually works remain to be seen.
SOME THOUGHTS ON MULTI DISCIPLINARY TEAMS
I believe it will take time for agricultural research
institutions which are just moving off experiment stations to
develop the skills necessary to be effective with peasant and
semi-proletarian households. Some interviewing may increase
sensitivity and raise questions that eventually suggest experi-
ments. There is surely an important place for pre-intervention
farming systems research which identifies researchable problems
that can be pursued initially on experiment stations.
On-farm research, however, should build on institutional
strengths, remain basically in line with technology which is
ready to go on in the pipeline, and develop the capacity for
innovative problem formulation and problem solving with small-
holders. Putting it more strongly, farming systems research
should not be used as a justification to go slumming with peasant
and semi-proletarian households, and to muck around with systems
whose complexity is only dimly grasped. Technicians must be-
come acutely aware that the existence of many households is
precarious and that mistakes can accelerate their decomposition.
In working with peasants and semi-proletarians, I believe
there are several specific recommendations one might make. Ag-
ronomic scientists, in my experience, think of plant breeding first
when they consider how to improve cropping systems. I believe
this tendency must be tempered somewhat in countries like Ecuador
which have very pronounced ecological variations. In a single
community in Otavalo, informants reported twelve varieties of
maize and six varieties of beans, one of which (called misturiado)
is actually a mixture of beans of different colors and growth
patterns. It seems likely that a single improved variety could
supplement, but not replace completely, existing local varieties.
Other modifications of cropping systems might improve the pro-
ductivity of local varieties. ICTA in Guatemala has substantial
experience in redesigning and fine tuning traditional systems,
but many other institutions are new to it.
Animal scientists need to be incorporated into farming systems
teams, especially if the group to be assisted is peasant and soei-
proletarian producers. McDowell and Hildebrand's monograph (1981)
suggests, animals may be critical components in the overall organi-
zationof farming systems. This is not only the interpretation of
professionals. Especially in the region of San Francisco de
Natabuela, which is eminently small scale, subsistence oriented
production, informants spoke consciously and deliberately about the
integration of cropping and animal enterprises. This integration
required the complementary activities of women and men, adults and
children. Its understanding required that both men and women be
interviewed because they were better able to report on different
We did not have an animal scientist involved in either the
development of the interview guides or the conduct of field work.
Our research suffered as a consequence. Nevertheless, we learned
some specific things which might be relevant to others working
with peasants. The ownership of animals can be very complex,
even inside a single household. Specific animals may be "his,"
"hers," or "ours," and only in the case of "ours" are decisions
taken by mutual agreement. This phenomenon is often called
"separate male and female budgets," and it may exist in crop
or animal enterprises. Who actually controls the enterprise is
the person with whom the farming system researcher must deal.
The issue of control is complicated when animals are given and
received in "shares." We found several examples of large animals
which were pastured in another's field. The critical issue in
such share arrangements was who controlled the manure. Tenancy
has long been recognized as a central issue with regard to land;
the Ecuadorian material suggests that it is also critical to
understanding animal enterprises.
Sociologists and anthropologists usually have special
responsibilities for considering the organization of the house-
hold and its integration into the community. I believe it is
advantageous if at least one is female. In peasant households,
the process of agricultural production and consumption is a cycle
in which women play critical roles. These roles can be over-
looked if questioning stops at harvest. Primary food processing,
storage, and seed selection are productive tasks, which are
related to, but distinguishable from household maintenance per se.
It may be possible to intervene in processing, storage, and/or
seed selection, thereby improving food availability without
modifying farming practices at all. One specific example may
illustrate the point. In some regions in which we interviewed,
seed selection was done very carefully by women. Skill was
highly valued, and taught mother to daughter. The criteria
used related to the appearance of the crop kept for seed.
Imagine that, in addition to these criteria, agronomists would
help these women recognize and tag growing plants which exhibited
resistance to prevalent diseases or pests. Women could then
learn a new skill, complementary to existing skills, which could
improve seed selection and hence agricultural production. This
kind of intervention possibility is likely to be overlooked if
agricultural production and consumption is not treated as a cycle.
Agricultural economists pose special problems of integration
into teams focusing on peasants. If they are trained in classical
microeconomics, they have been taught to monetarize all inputs
into a producticnprocess, whether or not a cash transfer occurs.
This training is an asset for working with samll scale commercial
producers, but it is an absolute liability for understanding why
peasants organize production as they do. Peasants do not
depreciate the hoe which was a gift from a friend; they do not
pay family members or themselves "imputed" wages. They do calcu-
late whether exchanges of goods or labor are reciprocal: they do
plan production to coincide with important events (Shanin.-1974). Their
decisions may be economically irrational, but they may be
eminently reasonable from other perspectives. As the "new
home economics" has amply demonstrated, even exotic activities
can be forced into traditional microeconomic models. They may
win their authors some notoriety, but they will not shed any
light on why peasants believe they do what they do. The
traditional orientation of production economists poses no problems
in dealing with small scale commercial producers. Here the
analyses of agricultural economists and agronomists are eminently
complementary. In peasant and semi-proletarian households, how-
ever, the training of sociologists and anthropologists makes it
easier for them to understand peasant criteria for decision making.
It is extremely important to understand peasant criteria even
if professionals also reinterpret these criteria and express them
in terms relevant to their own disciplines. Consider the contro-
versy surrounding plant breeding criteria like how increased
yield should be calculated -- yield per hectare, yield per plant,
or yield per unit of seed planted. If smallholders report that
they calculate yield per unit of seed planted, breeders can
include that criterion along with other discipline-relevant
criteria in breeding programs. This is one specific way that
farming systems research can assist the development of technology
which will be regarded as appropriate by smallholders.
Chaney, Elsa M. and Martha W. Lewis
1980 "Women, Migration and the Decline of Smallholder
Agriculture." AID/otr-147-80-94. October.
McDowell, R. E. and P. E. Hildebrand
1980 "Integrated Crop and Animal Production: Making the
Most of Resources Available to Small Farms in Develop-
ing Countries." Working Papers. The Rockefeller
Foundation. New York. January.
Rhoades, Robert E.
1982 "The Art of the Informal Agricultural Survey."
Training Document 1982-2. Social Science Department,
International Potato Center, Lima, Peru. March.
1974 "The Nature and Logic of the Peasant Economy."
Journal of Peasant Studies 1:64-80.