Present involvement in research...
 Areas of interest

Title: Farming systems perspective and IDRC in Eastern and Southern Africa
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00055460/00001
 Material Information
Title: Farming systems perspective and IDRC in Eastern and Southern Africa
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Kirkby, R. A.
Publisher: International Development Research Center
Publication Date: 1983
Subject: Africa   ( lcsh )
Farming   ( lcsh )
Agriculture   ( lcsh )
Farm life   ( lcsh )
Spatial Coverage: Africa -- Kenya
Funding: Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00055460
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Table of Contents
        Page 1
    Present involvement in research related to farming systems
        Page 2
    Areas of interest
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
Full Text


R. A. Kirkby (2)

1. General

The International Development Research Centre supports

programmes of Government Ministries, Universities and Non-

Government Organisations throughout Eastern and Southern

Africa from a Regional Office in Nairobi.

Support is given primarily in the form of financial assistance

for the development of new, applied research activities or for

the strengthening of existing programmes of those institutions.

In evaluating proposals received from developing country

institutions, IDRC places emphasis on the importance of the

proposed research for national priorities, its relevance for an

identifiable group of beneficiaries and the sustainability of

the programme after the external assistance is withdrawn. For

these reasons, IDRC responds to requests but its staff do not

write research proposals, work of local scientists rather than

of expatriates is normally supported and funding levels tend

to be modest (usually in the range of US$$50,000 to $125,000 per

year for agricultural research).

(1) Presented at a Seminar for Senior Agricultural Research
Administrators from Eastern & Southern Africa on Needs for
Effective Introduction of On-Farm Research with a Farming
Systems Perspective, CIMMYT, Nairobi, 18-20 April, 1983.
(2) Programme Officer, Crops and Cropping Systems Programme,
IDRC, P.O. Box 62084, Nairobi, Kenya.

- 2

2. Present Involvement in Research related to
Farming Systems

Research that has a technology-generating objective is

supported by the Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Sciences

Division of IDRC. Three programmes of this Division are

primarily concerned with the improvement of farming'systems:

Crops and Cropping Systems, Animal Sciences and Forestry.

Many of the projects supported by its Post-Harvest Systems

Programme also relate to aspects of farming systems.

In addition, the Social Sciences Division supports policy-

related work in allied fields such as agricultural marketing

and transfer or adoption of technology. In cases where the

most appropriate kinds of technology-generating activities

cannot be readily identified, the Agriculture Division and the

Social Sciences Division can be requested to support jointly

a preliminary geographic or sectorial study that may lead into

one or more relatively discrete problem-solving projects.

The Agriculture Division encourages all projects to adopt a

systems perspective in generating useful technology, although

most projects are not by definition farming systems research

projects. Out of twenty research projects currently active

in this region in the fields of crop and livestock production,

one is on farming systems research, two others consider animal

production systems in relation to the entire production

system, several others are looking at selected agronomic

components identified as being important through surveys of

farming systems (e.g. minimum tillage, intercropping) and the

- 3 -

majority of projects have crop improvement objectives (the

development of new varieties and agronomic practices for, a

specific crop).

This balance in Africa reflects not only the nature of the

proposals received but also the importance attached over the

past ten years to the development of institutional capability

to generate new technology for selected crops,especially the

long-neglected food crops of semi-arid areas (sorghum, millets,

oil seeds, cassava).

In Asia and Latin America, on the other hand, IDRC has been

more actively involved in farming systems.research 'because

commodity programmes in those regions were already relatively

well developed. Examples are the Caqueza agricultural develop-

ment project in Colombia, and the Asian Cropping Systems

Network of eight small national programmes.

3. Areas of Interest

Since IDRC attempts to respond to the research priorities and

needs identified by individual developing countries and

institutions, the nature and composition of projects will

continue to show considerable variation according to

circumstances. However, the following four areas of concern

are likely to receive increased attention by IDRC in the

Eastern and Southern Africa region:-

- 4

a) Institutionalisation of Farming Systems Research

IDRC subscribes to the definition of farming systems research that

includes both the assessment of present farming systems used in

an area, and the generation of technology that proves acceptable

to farmers for improving their systems. This definition implies

interdisciplinary research and IDRC does not believe that effective

farming systems research can be conducted routinely by either

agronomists of agricultural economists working alone.

An important consideration is that new research projects of this

kind assist institutions to complement existing commodity and

discipline-oriented programmes with a sustainable capability to

conduct farming systems research. Availability of local

staff to start new programmes is usually very limited, but from

ten years of experience in Asia, Latin America and more recently

Africa, it is evident that a large team of expatriates is not

necessary for the development of farming systems activities in

a country.

The provisions for new farming systems projects supported by IDRC

will depend upon local circumstances, but projects of this kind

typically comprise operational support and a phased programme of

training for one or two field-based teams. A team consists of

two or three recent agricultural graduates (an agronomist and/or

livestock specialist, and an agricultural economist) and serves

a defined area of the country.

The simultaneous development of two or more local teams,-with

institutional and technical support at the national level, can

facilitate the development of methodology and operational

- 5 -

procedures appropriate to local conditions as a result of

the sharing of experiences among teams. In the case of animal

production systems research in Zimbabwe, support includes

both a nucleus local team and a single, experienced staff

member from ILCA. Emphasis is placed on field research with

farmers, and relatively simple equipment such as hand

calculators have proven to be appropriate for the task.

b) Methodology for Farming Systems Research

Standard methodology is in existence for farming systems surveys

and diagnosis, for design, testing and evaluation of technology

and for pilot scale production. However, many institutions do

not yet have sufficient experience to be confident of the

appropriate choice of procedures for use in a particular

situation, (e.g. how to organise farmer-managed crop experiments

so-as to elicit effective input from farmers).

More generally, on-farm research procedures for use with

livestock and agroforestry production technology require

considerable development. Most programmes of this kind have

opted for versions of the unit or model farm, yet a few

programmes are experimenting successfully with new feeding

regimes or tree planting arrangements under the more represen-

tative conditions of farmer management. Many farming systems

in this region of Africa are influenced by interactions

between sub-systems (e.g. crops and livestock, crops and trees)

and between technical and social factors (e.g. animal production

and land tenure arrangements).

- 6

Programmes which propose to develop more appropriate

research procedures are encouraged to do so provided that

mechanisms are also developed for communicating their results

to other projects. Workshops which bring together scientists

who are tackling common problems within this region are

especially valuable while on-farm research methods are still

evolving. The sharing of practical experiences among

scientists of neighboring countries, or among scientists

from different disciplines and institutions even within the

same country, assists the rate of development of research

procedures. Two examples are a workshop in Nairobi in 1982

that brought together a network of IDRC-supported projects

working to improve the use of crop by-products for animal

feeding, and another workshop in 1983 will allow the crop

improvement programmes currently being supported in Eastern

and Southern Africa to discuss issues related to the relevance

of their research (e.g. how crop breeding objectives are

established, and to compare procedures being used for multi-

locational trials and on-farm testing).

c) Commodity Research.

Even though crop improvement programmes devote a greater

proportion of their resources to activities on research

stations than is the case with farming systems research, a clear

orientation of objectives towards the intended beneficiaries

is just as important. IDRC is interested in assisting food

crop improvement programmes to look critically at the research

requirements of producers and of consumers (who are often, but

not always, the same people).

- 7 -

There is probably no standard recipe for achieving this

objective. If there is adequate national coverage by farming

systems research, the main requirements for effective communi-

cation and coordination between programmes are likely to be

the establishment of formal mechanisms of coordination,

development of mutual respect and confidence between programmes,

and familiarity with one another's activities. Crop improvement

objectives (e.g. desirable maturity ranges for new varieties,

relative priorities for research on the various species of weeds,

insects and diseases which cause crop losses on farms, and grain

quality characteristics) are set as a result of discussions

between the two research programmes, and most on-farm testing

will be conducted by the farming systems programme. Requests

for support' to new farming systems projects are therefore parti-

cularly welcome where these are designed to complement commodity

programmes already supported by IDRC and thereby to improve the

effectiveness of agricultural research conducted by the local


In many situations, however, it may be unrealistic to expect

adequate coverage by farming systems research teams in the near

future. In these cases crop improvement programmes need to

develop their own capability to undertake limited assessments of

production problems and opportunities associated with a particular

crop, and to conduct rigorous on-farm testing before recommending

a new variety or practice. In such cases, IDRC appreciates that

the need may exist for recruiting additional field-level staff

for specific training in on-farm research methods, and for

ensuring that transport facilities are adequate for on-farm


- 8

Taking account of consumers' needs in crop improvement may

require going beyond the environment normally treated by

farming systems projects. For example, it may be possible

to reduce the tendency for maize production to displace

sorghum in marginal rainfall areas, and thereby benefit

national productivity, by developing labour-saving dehulling

and milling equipment that produces reasonable quality flour

from bird-resistant types of sorghum. This development can

affect a sorghum breeder's decisions on the grain character-

istics desirable in new varieties.

Whenever technical interactions of this kind occur, IDRC

encourages institutions to amplify the objectives and method-

ology of the crop improvement programme, or to propose starting
a linked complementary project. Linked projects may be

proposed by different local institutions. An example of

diversifying the objectives within a project is the addition Rf

a simple farm-level seed multiplication scheme to the third

phase of a pigeon pea improvement project in Kenya. Examples of

diversification through linked projects in a sorghum-producing

region of Tanzania are:- Farming Systems; On-farm Grain

Storage; Sorghum Milling; Sorghum Utilization. Linked projects

can'involve more than one programme or division of IDRC, e.g.

in Zimbabwe, Animal Production Systems (Agriculture Division)

and Small Farmer Milk Marketing (Social Sciences Division).

d) Training

IDRC is involved in various kinds of "training" with a farming

systems perspective, as part of its interest in seeing farming

- 9-

systems concepts institutionalized in the region.

Support for small projects of the farming systems type at

Universities (e.g. Tanzania, Swaziland) provides opport-

unities for students to conduct relevant research at the

farm level and for teaching staff to develop first-hand

experience in on-farm research methodology including inter-

disciplinary cooperation, which benefits the education of

the next generation of research workers. It is to be

hoped that Universities in the region will continue to

develop formal courses having a farming systems perspective,

and that training at the M.Sc. level in departments of crop

and animal sciences and agricultural economics will

incorporate specializations in farming systems-related


Sponsorship for individuals and groups to visit well-

established research projects has been useful in raising

awareness of operational requirements and methodological

issues either prior to or after starting a farming systems-

type programme. Formal training of a nucleus of staff prior

to commencing a new research programme can also be useful

(e.g. a Ugandan Ministry of Agriculture agronomist is

starting in 1983 an MSc. course in Cropping Systems at the

University of the Philippines).

Regional or national workshops on the development of

methodology can also be powerful tools in the non-formal

training of less experienced staff. Regional programme staff

- 10 -

of IDRC also assist, if requested, in, training

workshops related to these issues within the region.

However, in the acquisition of new skills there is no

substitute for practical experience and learning

through one's own efforts and mistakes, and the provision

of project support can often facilitate this process

through providing mobility and research materials.

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