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GENERATING TECHNOLOGY FOR TRADITIONAL FARMERS
-THE GUATEMALAN EXPERIENCE-
Peter E. Hildebrand
Prepared for presentation in the Symposium on
Socio-economic Constraints to Crop Protection
IX International Congress of Plant Protection
August 5-11, 1979
INSTITUTE DE CIENCIA Y TECNOLOGIA AGRICOLAS
SECTOR PUBLIC AGRICOLA
Guatemala, C. A.
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.
GENERATING TECHNOLOGY FOR TRADITIONAL FARMERS
-THE GUATEMALAN EXPERIENCE-
Peter E. 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,fears
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
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,
Sacatepequez 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. Hence,
their solution is to plant more area to tall maize with low levels of fer-
tilizer and use the fertilizer they hre 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
Xelaji 1966 23 2,100 84 25.0
Nariiio 1959 12 1,900 86 22.1
Source: Garcia, et al. (1979)
In nany 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 Systems and Rate of Return to Cash Costs,
Eastern Guatemala, 1977
Gross Cash Net Rate of
System Type Income Cost Income Return
$/ha $/ha $/ha %
M-B-S Subsistence 253 27 226 837
M-S Subs/Comm 170 67 103 154
M-B Comm/Subs 270 120 150 125
M Commercial 237 113 124 110
B Commercial 126 83 43 52
Source: Pelaez, et al. (1978)
In a potato producing area of the Western Highlands, virtually all
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 "Agribultural 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-
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-socioecortamic conditions of the area). This team jointly analyzes
the results of the survey and makes recommendations concerning the technol-
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 thtee 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 arefpassed
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 gpoposed. 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 Technology Used in Three Maize Producing Areas
(Percent of area in maize)
| ,_. ^ - ., 1i .
Plowing by: tractor
Manual land preparation
First weeding: manual
Chem fertilizer (first)
Cost of production 1/
No. of cases
Tropical areas: .
La Maquina Nueva Concepci6n
San Carlos Sija
/- Al drctcot ecudngiteet n aitl
I/ All-direct costs excluding interest on capital,
Source: Garcia, et al. (1979) and Gonzalez, et al.
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 crops. 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 compone4s 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.
Planting distance -C%
Insect control (plant)
Insect control (soil)
Number of components
Index of Acceptability for Year: 1/
1 9'7 6 ..1'9'7"7' 1 9 7'8
41 61 71
13 28 60
53 66 48
1 12 11
8 6 4
19.8 29.2 47.6
1/ 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 Used in Maize in La Maquina, Guatemala, 1975 to 1978.
(Percent of area in maize)
Technology 1975 1976 1977 1978
Improved seed 45 60 59 AI 85 ?
Insect control (plant) 57 74 78 103 f
Herbicides 1 0 0 0 I1
Tractor cultivation NA 35 40 44. 4 49 31//e
Fertilizer use 1 5 1 0 0
Insect control (soil) 0 2 0 0 0
Number of cases 20 49 46 25 2S
Area in maize (has) 237 574 566 318 -4-0
Average yield (kg/ha) 1,948 2,078 2,013 2,324 2443
1/ Does not follow trend because seed imports from Nicaragua were stopped
due to an outbreak of coffee rust in that country.
Source: Brol, et al. (1975), Brol, et al. (1977), Guerra, et al. (1978)
and Gonzalez, et al. (1979).
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. Early
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 the
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 have spray equipment and water is difficult for many
to obtain close enough to the fields to 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 iaso 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 effects are not spectacular, th. 4~her pr.b1ems'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 and
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 each 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.
Brol, B.B., O.A. Calderon and PoE. Hildebrand. 1975. Registros econ6micos
de production con agricultores colaboradores del parcelamiento La Mf-
quina. ICTA, Guatemala.
Brol, B.B., O.A. Calderon and P.E. Hildebrand. 1976. Evaluaci6n de la acep-
taci6n de la teenologia generada por ICTA para el cultivo de maiz en
el parcelamiento de La Maquina, 1975. ICTA, Guatemala.
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de producci6n de maiz con agricultores colaboradores, Parcelamiento
La Maquina, 1976. ICTA, Guatemala.
Chinchilla, M.E. and PoE. Hildebrand, 1979. Evaluaci6n de la aceptabilidad
de la tecnologia generada por el ICTA para los cultivos de malz y ajon-
joll en el Parcelamiento La Maquina, 1977-78. ICTA, Guatemala.
Garcia, Miguel; Leonzo Godinez y M.E. Chinchilla. 1979. Registros econ6micos
de producci6n, Quezaltenango y Totonicapan, Regi6n I, 1978. ICTA, Gua-
Gonzalez, P.A., Esau Guerra y J.C. Leal. 1979. Registros econ6micos de pro-
duccion en mafz, ajonjolf y arroz, La Blanca, La Maquina y la Nueva
Concepcion, 1978. ICTA, Guatemala.
Guerra, Esau, P.A. Gonzalez, HoMo Orozco, J.G. Pelaez and P.G. Shiras. 1978.
Registros econ6micos de producci6n en maiz, ajonjoli y arroz, La Blan-
ca, La Mxguina y La Nueva Concepcion, 1977. ICTA, Guatemala.
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on integrated crop and animal production to optimize resource utiliza-
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tion Conference Center, Bellagio, Italy. ICTA, Guatemala.
Hildebrand, P.E. 1979. Summary of the sondeo methodology used by ICTA. ICTA,
ICTA. 1977. Un sistema tecnologico agricola. In NOTICTA, Julio, 1977 No.26.
Pelaez Guillermo, Daniel Cardona y Leonel Ortiz. 1978. Analisis agro-econ6-
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jol y sorgo en Jutiapa, Guatemala. XXIV Reunion Anual del PCCMCA. San
Salvador, El Salvador.
Pelaez, J.G. and P.G. Shiras. 1978. Analisis de los factors que incident
en el rendimiento de maiz en el parcelamiento La Mfquina, Guatemala.
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da por el ICTA para el cultivo de malz en el Parcelamiento La Miquina,
1976-77. ICTA, Guatemala.