Generating technology for traditional farmers : the Guatemalan experience

Material Information

Generating technology for traditional farmers : the Guatemalan experience
Hildebrand, Peter E.
Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agricolas
Place of Publication:
Guatemala, C.A.
Socioeconomia Rural, Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agricolas, Sector Publico Agricola
Publication Date:
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17 leaves ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Farming ( LCSH )
Caribbean ( LCSH )
Agriculture ( LCSH )
Farm life ( LCSH )
Agricultural innovations -- Guatemala ( LCSH )
Agricultural extension work -- Guatemala ( LCSH )
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Cover title.
General Note:
"Guatemala, C.A., August, 1979."
General Note:
"Prepared for presentation in the Symposium on Socio-economic Constraints to Crop Protection, IX International Congress of Plant Protection, Washington, D.C., August 5-11, 1979."
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Includes bibliographical references (leaf 17).
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Peter E. Hildebrand

Prepared for presentation in the Symposium on
Socio-economic Constraints to Crop Protection
IX International Congress of Plant Protection
Washington, D.C.
August 5-11, 1979

Socioeconomla Rural
Guatemala, C. A.
August, 1979

A-'' "B S- AC

Cropping decisions of traditional farmers are influenced by many

more factors than are those of commercial or modern farmers, and many are

poorly understood by traditionally trained agricultural scientists. Uti-

lizing an integrated system of farm surveys, farm records, farm trials and

farmer evaluation, the Guatemalan Institute of Agriculture Science and

Technology (ICTA), with multi-disciplinary teams, studies the agro-socio-

economic conditions of traditional farmers in a specific area, determines

those most important in influencing the traditional cropping system and

what the farmers can and will do, and generates technological modifications

that are appropriate to these farmers for immediate use. Success of the

methodology depends on close communication with farmers, testing technology

under traditional farm conditions, direct farmer participation in evalua-

tion, and on the participation of a multi-disciplinary team to help assure

consideration of all the factors important to the farmers. Traditional

farmers' responses to plant protection are discussed, differences between

subsistence and commercial crops and between areas are treated, and some

technological modifications, both acceptable and non-acceptable as eval-

uated by farmers, are presented as examples.
uated by farmers, are presented as examples.



Peter Eo Hildebrand

Cropping decisions of traditional farmers are influenced by many

more factors than are those of commercial or modern farmers. Many of these

factors are poorly understood by traditionally trained agricultural scien-

tists. The world of traditional farmers is composed of uncertainties,f(ars

of hunger caused by living and producing on the margin, religious and cul-

tural taboos and practices that limit certain alternatives, poor infrastruc-

tural support of farming and social services including education, and even

limitations on fuel for fire, for light, and for farming, In most tradi-

tional systems, animals tend to form an integral and important component of

the subsistence economy of the farm and cannot be separated from the crop

component. Within this milieu, the traditional farmer has developed or in-

herited complex farming systems that allow survival under conditions that

for most scientists, who tend to originate from much more favorable environ-

ments, are nearly incomprehensible,

Traditional or subsistence farms cannot necessarily be defined by

size, by the absence of modern technology, nor can "low productivity" always

be used to describe traditional farms, Usually when the agricultural sci-

entist thinks of low productivity he thinks of either labor or land produc-

1 Agricultural Economist, The Rockefeller Foundation, assigned as Coordina-
dor de Socioeconomia Rural, Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agricolas
(ICTA), Guatemala-

tivity. If neither of these factors of production is scarce for the tradi-

tional farmer, their productivity may, indeed, be low. But the farmer will

also be obtaining a high level of productivity from other resources or fac-

tors which are scarcer for him.

A misunderstanding of the relationships which motivate traditional

farmers can lead the traditional scientist into many errors. In Santiago,

Sacatepeque, in the Central Highlands of Guatemala, the yield of maize, the

basic food crop, is low even though the farmers recognize that fertilizers

will increase yield. Fertilizer is available and used on vegetables which

are also produced. The traditional technical response is to increase maize

yields::through higher populations of lower growing plants and with a heavier

fertilizer application. but these farmers realize that more grain produc-

tion without more forage will not satisfy the needs of their animals. HeLce,

their solution is to plant more area to tall maize with low levels of fer-

tilizer and use the fertilizer they gre able to purchase on vegetables where

its productivity (and that of the capital used to purchase it) is much

greater than it would be on the maize.

Criollo or local varieties of some crops can be more efficient in

the conversion of fertilizer to product than new varieties, making the very

scarce capital invested in fertilizer more productive than if it were ap-

plied to a modern variety. Table 1, based on small farm record data, shows

the efficiency of conversion of nitrogen to wheat for several improved va-

rieties and the local (criollo) varieties in an area in the Western High-

lands of Guatemala. Although efficiency has been improving in more recently

released varieties, the criollo varieties are superior in this characteris-

tic and still popular among traditional farmers.

Table 1 Conversion of Nitrogen to Wheat in Quezaltenango,-in the Western
Highlands of Guatemala, 1978.

Year of % of Average
Variety release Cases Yield kg/ha kg N/ha kg'grain/kg N

Criollos xxxx 22 2,100 56 37.5

Gloria 1974 33 2,500 90 27.7

Quetzal 1975 10 2,800 110 25.4

Xelaju 1966 23 2,100 84 25.0

Narifo 1959 12 1,900 86 22.1

Source: Garcia, et al, (1979)

In many areas and for several crops, farmers look to the productiv-

ity of the seed they plant rather than of the land. The tendency is to use

varieties which yield heavily for each plant and then seed with wide spaces

to allow the plant more area, providing maximum nutrients or moisture, which-

ever is the scarcer. Opening planting distances also helps to increase the

efficiency of labor at planting time, which in many areas can be a severely

limiting resource. Scientists, looking to yield per hectare, tend to reduce

productivity of each seed by recommending higher populations.

In an irrigation project in a very dry area of eastern Guatemala,

weeds are a very severe problem and a definite limit to yields of the vege-

tables that are raised as the priority crop. However, this area was histor-

ically a dual-purpose cattle zone and the farmers still maintain their

herds for production of meat and milk. During most of the year, forage is

very scarce, so the farmers use the vegetable fields immediately following

harvest as a source of feed. Hence, they tend to let the weeds grow to

increase the feed supply, even though it knowingly reduces the yield of

their principle crop and is counter to the recommendation made by agricul-

tural technicians. In this same area farmers tend to prefer a lower yield-

ing local maize variety to higher yielding, improved varieties because the

leaves and husks are more palatable to their animals who also need this

source of fodder during much of the year.

Return to cash expense as opposed to business or bookkeeping ex-

pense is of utmost interest to most traditional or subsistence farmers. In

Table 2, several crop systems from eastern Guatemala are shown along with

the return to cash expense. The maize-bean-sorghum (M-B-S) system is the

most characteristic of the purely subsistence farmer on the steepest and

rockiest hillsides. Maize-sorghum (M-S) is an intermediate system, planted

on less steep hillsides or by subsistence farmers on the land remaining

after they exhaust their meager supply of bean seed. Maize-bean (M-B) and

the monocrops of maize (M) and beans (B) are commercial cops grown primar-

ily on larger farms on flatter land and usually with hired labor as an im-

portant component, Improved technology with rates of return to additional

expense of 50 to 100 percent can tempt the commercial farmers, but tradi-

tional farmers will be much more resistant to it.

Table 2 Relationship of Cropping
Eastern Guatemala, 1977







Systems and Rate of Return to Cash Costs,



















Rate of






Source: Pelaez, et al, (1978)

In a potato producing area of the Western Highlands, virtually ill

farmers are using the same lower yielding potato variety (Loman) that is

very early, allowing two crops per year and is well accepted on the local

market. To improve yields, the potato program selected a longer season

potato (Atzimba) that had a higher yield potential. However, by adding one

month to the length of growing season, the farmers could grow only one crop

per year. For this reason, and because the new variety was not as accept-

able on the market, farmers have not adopted it.

Given the wide variety of conditions found in Guatemala and the low

acceptance of technology by traditional farmers, the Institute of Agricul-

tural Science and Technology (ICTA) was founded in 1973, to reorganize the

generation and promotion of technology so that the large number of small

farmers in the country could begin to participate in the national economy.







- -

The Institute developed an "Agricultural System" (ICTA, 1977) that has been

in use for several years, though it is still changing as needed modifica-

tions are visualized. It is not perfect, but it has been found to have

some valuable characteristics and is being used as a model in some other

countries. Very briefly, its most critical charcateristics follow (Hilde-

brand, 1978).

A work zone is defined, in so far as possible, on the basis of an

area in which the majority of small farmers follow a similar, traditional

agricultural system, or in other cases, it may be the confines of a land

reform project where most of the (artificially created) farms are quite

similar. A team comprised of social scientists and the agricultural tech-

nicians assigned to the zone surveys the area to determine what the farm-

ers do, how they do it and why they do it that way (that is, define the

agro-socioeconomic conditions of the area). This team jointly analyzes

the results of the survey and makes recommendations concerning the techn.ol-

ogy to be developed.

Technology validation and generation is carried out both on exper-

iment stations (about 10% of the work) and on the small farmers' own farms

(about 90%). This work is divided into three general levels. The Commod-

ity Programs (those identified with a commodity such as maize, beans,swine,

etc.) conduct controlled trials on the stations and a few farms in the area.

A "Technology Testing Team" (the technicians assigned to the zone) conducts

technical trials under the supervision of the Commodity Programs on a much

larger number of farms and acts as a means of extending the exposure of the

materials and practices throughout the zone. The most promising technol-

ogies are then submitted to agro-economic trials to help the team evaluate

them further. The Institute pays most of the cost of the technical and

agro-economic trials and the farmer on whose land they are conducted re-

ceives the crop,

The trials and evaluations through this stage are based on the tech-

nicians' understanding of the farmers' needs and evaluation criteria as ob-

tained from the survey and from farm records which are initiated immediately

following the survey. But even though the technicians live in the area and

work on the farmers' own land, they cannot make the final decisions as to

the "appropriateness" of the technology even after passing it through this

exhaustive system. Therefore, the most promising technologies are--passed

on to farmers for their own evaluation. Here the farmers pay for inputs

and furnish labor and the product is theirs. ICTA technicians obtain what

information they can from these "Farmers' Tests", but the farmers do the

evaluation. The year following these tests by the farmers, ICTA makes a

follow-up survey of the same farmers to determine whether they have adopted

the technology, to what degree, and if not, why. If a sufficient number of

the collaborators from the year before have adopted it of their own accord

over a significant part of their own land, it is considered as "acceptable"

and is then turned over to the extension service as "appropriate technology"
for those farmers who use that same traditional agricultural system.

2 In Guatemala, the Extension Service is separate from the technology gen-
erating institute. Ideally these two functions should form a continuum
within a single entity.

One of the stragths of this technology generating system is the use

of multidisciplinary teams to make the agro-socioeconomic studies of each

new zone of work and to aid in the evaluation and interpretation of results.

In order to be able to understand and interpret the small farmers' agro-

socioeconomic conditions, it is necessary to consider all the factors which

have an influence on what they do and can do. Hence, it requires a multi-

disciplinary team with each member contributing his own specialty, but all

subordinating to the common objective: to understand what the farmers are

doing, why they are doing it that way (how they have adjusted historically

to their agro-socioeconomic conditions), and what is required in any new

technology if it is to be accepted on a large scale.

For the survey, usually five social scientists (among them can be

anthropologists, sociologists, economists or agricultural economists) are

paired with agricultural scientists (among whom may be found both plant and

animal technicians in entomology, breeding, pathology, physiology, etc.).

Besides changing interviewing partners every day to reduce interviewer bias

and increase cross-disciplinary interchange, the group meets each night to

discuss the day's findings, make preliminary interpretations and orient the

following day's interviews (Hildebrand, 1979).

The integrated, multidisciplinary concept continues beyond the

survey. The agricultural technicians on the team help the technician from

socioeconomics who is assigned to the team in the collection of farm rec-

ord data and he, in turn, helps in the field trial work. Because this team

lives and works in the zone, and because the work is almost exclusively on

farms, the technicians have a great deal of contact with the farmers in the

area and continue to learn about their conditions both through dialogue

with them and because they are planting under farm conditions. Hence, they

are able to obtain a very good understanding of the agro-socioeconomic con-

ditions of the farmers in the area.

This close association with the farmers has brought to light many

interesting facts about traditional agriculture and the capability of tra-

ditional farmers to adopt new technology. One of the first characteristics

encountered was the tremendous variability among areas. Even an area of

relatively large and homogeneous farms on the south coast was found to vary

sufficiently that the generation of technology for one agrarian reform

project could not be transferred to other project areas on each side as had

at first been Rroposed, Even more marked is the difference between technol-

ogy in the tropical lowlands and that in the highlands as is illustrated by

maize in Table 3.

Table 3 Some Measure of rTfhrnlogy Used in Three Maize Producing Areas
of Guatemala, 1978.
(Percent of area in maize)


Plowing by: tractor
Manual land preparation
Improved seed
First weeding: manual

Chem fertilizer (first)
Insecticide 1st

Cost of production 1/
Yield kg/ha
No. of cases

Tropical areas:
La Maquina Nueva Concepci6n

100 100
0 0
0 0
85 78
0 17
70 67
44 0
23 74

0 0
0 33
0 0
75 100
28 100
0 100
0 71
0 40



Highlands Area:
San Carlos Sija




1/ All direct costs excluding interest on capital, administration and
land rent.

Source: Garcia, et al. (1979) and Gonzalez, et alo (1979)

It is not surprising that such differences exist between areas, but

it was found that even for the same farmers in the same area, there is a

difference between subsistence and commercial arops. In the Highlands,

maize is the traditional food crop and wheat is a relatively new crop that

is raised almost exclusively for sale. Farmers utilize a great deal of

modern technology on wheat but maintain traditional technology for maize.

Table 4 demonstrates this difference in technology for the same group of

farmers in the valley of Quezaltenango in the Western Highlands.

Table 4 Differences in Technology for Maize and Wheat for
of Farmers in the Western Highlands-of Guatemala,
(Percent of area in each crop)

the Same Group

Practice Wheat Maize

Plowing by: tractor 17 3
animal 16 27
Manual land preparation 67 70

Improved seed 84 2
Herbicide 92 0
Manure 0 24

Chemical fertilizer (first) 100 95
(second) 56 25
Insecticide 0 0

No. of cases 53 25

Source: Garcia, et al. (1979)

On these farms, the average size of plot for wheat is 0.55 ha and

for maize is 0.38 ha. None of the farmers owns tractors, rather they hire

their land plowed when tractors are used. On the other hand, the animals

are largely owned by the family and not rented. The maize produced just

covers the necessities of the family on the average farm, and the wheat is

a cash crop with a subsidized and stable price. Once again, the difference

in technology in the two crops is great, especially with respect to the use

of improved varieties and herbicides.

In an agrarian reform project area on the south (Pacific) coast,

that produces approximately 17,000 has of maize each year, evaluations of

acceptability of technology by farmers have been conducted on maize for

three years, and there are at the present time, four years of farm trials

and farm record information. These data present an interesting relation-

ship between the evaluation of acceptability of new technology following

Farmers' Tests and the adoption of the technology by farmers in general.

Table 5 shows the index of acceptability for the different components of the

technology package and Table 6 the technology used over a four year period

by record keeping farmers in this same area.

Table 5 Index of Acceptability of Technology for Maize Production, La
Maquina, Guatemala 1975 to 1977.

Technology Index of Acceptability for Year: ./
Component 1 9 7 6 .1 9977 ... 1 9 78

Improved seed 41 61 71
Planting distance ....13 28 60
Insect control (plant) 53 66 48
Herbicides 1 12 11

Fertilizer 0 4 -
Insect control (soil) 0 4 -
Land preparation 0 -
Planting date 50 -

Number of components 8 6 4
Average Index 19.8 29.2 47.6

I/ Percent of farmers using the component on their own the year follow-
ing the test multiplied by the percent of their land on which they
are using the component divided by 100. The year shown is the year
of the evaluation.

Source: Brol, et al. (1976), Ruano (1978) and Chinchilla and Hildebrand

Table 6 Technology Usad in Maize in La Maquina, Guatemala, 1975 to 1978.
(Percent of area in maize)

Technology 1975 1976 1977 1978

Improved seed 45 60 59 1/ 85
Insect control (plant) 57 74 78 103
Herbicides 1 0 0 0

Tractor cultivation NA 35 40 49
Fertilizer use 1 5 1 0
Insect control (soil) 0 2 0 0

Number of cases 20 49 46 25
Area in maize (has) 237 574 566 318
Average yield (kg/ha) 1,948 2,078 2,013 2,324

1/ Does not follow trend because seed imports from Nicaragua
due to an outbreak of coffee rust in that country.

Source: Brol, et al. (1975), Brol, et al. (1977), Guerra, et
and Gonzalez, et al. (1979).

were stopped

al. (1978)

Tables 5 and 6 illustrate some very important aspects of technology

generation for traditional farmers. Table 5 clearly demonstrates that

farmers are very selective of the technology components they choose. Barly

in the life of ICTA, the recommendation of a complete technological package

was the methodology in use. Gradually the number of components was reduced

and the index of acceptability increased accordingly. The increase in t1e

average index can be attributed to three factors. One is the reduction in

the number of components. Second, as more was learned about the farmers,

remaining components were modified to be more appropriate to their condi-

tions. Third, ICTA's methodology improved so farmers were more aware of

the technology being tested and were more involved in evaluation. That is,

the method of conducting "Farmers' Tests" improved over this period of years.

Insect control and the use of improved seed have always received

a high acceptability index for maize in this area. The use of insecti-

cides became more acceptable when powdered, and especially granulated in-

secticides were substituted for the liquid insecticides first recommended.

Many farmers did not hlve spray equipment and 7ater is difficult for many

to obtain close enough to the fields tc be practical. Granulated insecti-

cide is applied either with a bottle with a hole in the cap or using the

fingers. Powdered insecticides are put an a cloth bag which is shaken

over the plant. An analysis of the factors that have contributed to the

increase in maize yields in this area indicates that 53% is due to improved

varieties and 47% to the control of insects (Pelaez and Shiras, 1978).

Planting distance also received a high index of acceptability in

1978. Although this component does not appear as a practice in Table 6,

it is also in wide use because more than half of the maize in this area is

planted by machines, most of which are adjusted to the recommended distance,

and much that is planted manually B:so conforms to the recommendation.

The situation with respect to herbicides is an interesting case.

The Technology Testing Team continues to feel that this component will be

accepted as the technology improves and as labor for weeding becomes more

scarce and expensive. However, up to the present time, farmers have pre-

ferred to increase mechanized cultivation instead of using herbicides.

Herbicides can be less expensive than hand or mechanized weeding, but it

is somewhat difficult to use and can be risky in varied climatic and soil

conditions. Also, the farmers have the same problems as with liquid in-

secticides -- lack of equipment and a convenient supply of water. There-

fore, because the income efr':s are not spectacular, ths c::b.e" problems with

its use as presently recommended tend to offset its positive effects in the

eyes of these farmers.

It should be mentioned that fertilizer use is not recommended for

the soils of this area. Although there is some response, it is not economic

and the farmers are right in not applying it. Control of insects in the

soil was a practice used early in the life of the Institute as a form of in-

surance against failure of Trials and Farmers' Tests. However, it was ob-

vious that the farmers were not going to adopt it so it was dropped from the

package after the second year.

In summary, the generation of technology for traditional farmers re-

quires a change on the part of the scientist and his methodology that is not

necessary when working with larger, commercial farmers The traditional

farmer is subjected to many more influences than the commercial farmer ;Lnd

many of the factors which influence him are little understood by the tradi-

tional scientist. The methodology developed by ICTA revolves around obtain-

ing a full understanding of the agro-socioeconomic conditions which confront

the traditional farmers in ea.h area of work This requires that the tech-

nicians learn to farm under the same conditions the farmers face and that

the farmers become full partners in the evaluation of the technology proposed

for them, The most efficient means of achieving this close contact between

farmers and technicians is for multidisciplinary teams to live and work in

the same area as the farmers they are serving.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the technology development

system described here is not out of reach of developing countries. This is

evident because it is a functioning program in Guatemala, financed largely

by national funds and staffed principally by local technicians. What is

required is a dedication on the part of the government to improve the lot

of the small, traditional farmers in the country and on the part of the

technicians who work in the field. The reward is seeing visible evidence

that the farmers, who are the clients, are in fact, improving their pro-

ductivity and increasing their incomes.



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de production con agricultores colaboradores del parcelamiento La Ma-
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taci6n de la tecnologia generada por ICTA para el cultivo de maiz en
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