Motivating small farmers to accept change

Material Information

Motivating small farmers to accept change
Hildebrand, Peter E.
Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agricolas
Place of Publication:
Guatemala, C.A.
Sector Publico Agricola, Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agricolas
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16 leaves ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Farming ( LCSH )
Caribbean ( LCSH )
Agriculture ( LCSH )
Farm life ( LCSH )
Farmers -- Guatemala ( LCSH )
Agriculture -- Research -- Guatemala ( LCSH )
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Cover title.
General Note:
"Prepared for presentation at the conference on: Integrated Crop and Animal Production to Optimize Resource Utilization on Small Farms in Developing Countries, The Rockefeller Foundation Conference Center, Bellagio, Italy, October 18-23, 1978."
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Includes bibliographical references (leaf 12).
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Peter E. Hildebrand

Prepared for presentation at the conference on:
Integrated Crop and Animal Production to Optimize Resource Utilization
on Small Farms in Developing Countries
The Rockefeller Foundation Conference Center
Bellagio, Italy
October 18-23, 1978

Socioeconomla Rural
Guatemala, C. A.
October, 1978


Peter E. Hildebrand

This title suggests that small farmers do not accept change at

rates which are considered adequate. Adequate could be defined in any of

several ways but it is not necessary to define it for our purposes. That

these farmers are not changing their technology as rapidly as larger, com-

mercial farmers is evident and will not be discussed, either. Rather,

presented is an interpretation of the reason small farmers in developing

countries do not accept changes in their current technology at rates which

scientists, extensionists, politicians, academicians, bureaucrats or others

deem adequate. Secondly changes are proposed which can significantly mod-

ify this rate of acceptance. Admittedly, some of the suggested changes

may well meet with the same resistance small farmers exhibit when presented

with new ideas that would drastically modify their way of thinking and


First, it is necessary to define some terms which must be used, but

which are vague or carry several connotations. The term small farmer will

mean all farmers, regardless of the size of their holdings, who are not

primarily commercial farmers, and most of whom, in developing countries,

still use predominately traditional technology. Since we are concerned in

1/ Agricultural Economist, The Rockefeller Foundation, assigned as Coordi-
nador de Socioeconomia Rural, Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agrico-
las (ICTA), Guatemala. The opinions expressed in this paper are those
of the author and do not necessarily convey ICTA policy.

- 2-

this conference with technology, this is a much more utilitarian defini-

tion that one limited to size. Appropriate, as used in "appropriate tech-

nology", is necessary and desirable to use, but it is not used in the ac-

cepted or most commonly understood context. Appropriate technology will

mean that technology (or change) which 1) can be put into practice imme-

diately, and under farmers' present agro-socioeconomic conditions, and

2) is acceptable to target farmers. The first criterion is a necessary,

though not sufficient condition to be "appropriate"; the second, reflects

the difference between a third person's interpretation of farmers' agro-

socioeconomic conditions and the farmers' Own interpretation of the same

things. In other words, it reflects the farmers' thinking and not macro

nor imposed micro considerations as interpreted by outsiders. Agro-socio-

economic conditions are all those agro-climatic, economic, social, cultural

or infrastructural factors or constraints which condition whether a farmer

needs, desires, or can adopt any given change.

This discussion commences from the premise originally proposed by

Schultz, and is widely, though not universally accepted: small farmers

are efficient in the utilization and allocation of available resources among

known technologies if they have been farming under stable conditions for

some time. As we are, by design and purpose in this conference, concerned

with farmers who are not changing their production methods, this premise

should include most of those farmers. This implies that small farmers will,

and do accept change when the available resource base changes or new and

appropriate technology becomes known. Otherwise, they could not be effi-


ciently adjusted to alternatives they now have. But it is important to

understand thatthis efficient adjustment is in terms of the farmers' own

understanding and interpretation of his situation, and it is not neces-

sarily efficient according to the perceptions of well meaning, but incom-

pletely informed third persons. Since it is not third persons, in a free

society, who make choice of technology and resource allocation decisions,

it is evident that farmers' actions need not reflect third person solu-

tions, unless they are based on a near perfect conception of the farmers!


A second characteristic of small farmers, gradually being recog-

nized, is the high degree of location specificity of their agro-socioeco-

nomic conditions. In commercial agriculture, the tractor and a strong

capital base are effective homogenizers of what is otherwise a complex

milieu. To persons who are trained or accustomed to being able to produce

widely acceptable, tractor based technologies, this characteristic repre-

sents a strong barrier which hinders their effectivity in producing usable

and acceptable results for small farmers. But it is also a characteristic

that must be considered explicitly in any technology developing system if

it is to produce technologies which small farmers will be motivated to


If small farmers are not changing their production methods because

they are not being offered appropriate technology when so many people are

working to produce it for them, what is the problem? If it is agreed that


small farmers are efficient in the allocation of their resources to known

and appropriate traditional technologies, it means they have been moti-

vated in the past to accept change. Hence, the problem is not one of mo-

tivation, as such. Rather:it is one of offering "changes" which are not

appropriate as perceived by the farmers, themselves. It makes no differ-

ence to a farmer how a third person views any specific technology. If he,

himself, does not feel it to be appropriate, he is not going to be moti-

vated to accept it.

In turn, the problem stems from having most top level technology

"generators", who are agriculturally trained and "product" oriented, work-

ing on experiment stations or in other highly controlled conditions where

they consider only a limited number of variables; most of the "transfer

mechanism" generators, who are trained in the social sciences and are

"cause", but not product oriented, struggling with the vast quantity of

variables which condition acceptance or rejection of technology at the farm

level; and "goal" oriented agricultural economists in the middle, complain-

ing that the agricultural scientists do not consider* enough of the vari-

ables in their work, but ignoring the pleas of the social scientiststthat
including just the quantifiable variables is not sufficient, either. It

is little wonder that the poor extension or "change" agent has little to

2/ This picture is complicated further because agronomists work primarily
with soils and plants, which they are convinced are the most important
components of agricultural production; sociologists and anthropologists
work with farmers, whom for them are obviously the most important com-
ponent; and economists work with desks and computers ,studying means of
achieving specified (and frequently unrealistic) goals.


offer small farmers even though he may be supported by an elaborate exper-

iment station and extension network manned by high level technicians. It

is even less amazing that small farmers are not motivated to accept many

changes that come out of such a system.

New technology development systems oriented toward small farmers

are being written about and discussed and a few are in operations One

which has shown promise and is in use within a functioning national insti-

tution is that at ICTA, (Institute of Agricultural Sciences and Technol-

ogy) in Guatemala. This system has been developing over the last five

years and is still changing as needed modifications 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 characteristics follow.

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::technol-

ogy to be developed. Technology validation and generation is carried out

- 6-

both on experiment stations (about 20% of the work) and on the small farm-

ers' own farms (about 80%). This work is divided into three general

levels. The Commodity Programs (those identified with a commodity such as

maize, beans, swine, etc.) conduct highly controlled trials on the sta-

tions and a few farms in the area. A "Technology Testing Team" (the tech-

nicians assigned to the zone) conducts technical trials under the supervi-

sion 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 through-

out the zone. The most promising technologies are then submitted to agro-

economic trials to help the team evaluate them further.

Ideally, the trials and evaluations through this stage are based

on the technicians' understanding of the farmers' needs and 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 ob-

tain 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 "appro-

priate technology" for those farmers who use that same traditional agri-
cultural system.

One of the strengths 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. 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, physiol-

ogy, 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 interpre-

tations and modify the questionnaire if necessary. In order to Lc able

to understand and interpret the small farmers' agro-socioeconomic condi-

tions, it is necessary to consider all the factors which have an influence

on what they do and can do. Hence, it requires a multidisciplinary team

each 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-socioeco-

nomic conditions), and what is required in any new technology (proposed

change) if it is to be accepted on a large scale.

3/ 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.


The integrated, multidisciplinary concept continues beyond the

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

socio-economics 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 exclusive-

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

in the area and continue to learn about their conditions both because of

dialogue with them and because they are planting under farm conditions.

Hence, they are able to obtain a very good understanding of the agro-socio-

economic conditions of the farmers in the area.

But there is still a weakness in the system. In the original orga-

nization of ICTA, The Commodity Programs were given the primary reponsibil-

ity for increasing the production of their commodities. Though this concept

predated the use of the multidisciplinary teams, it has persisted. As a

result, even though multidisciplinary teams with a good understanding of

the local conditions exist in each of the zones, they do not yet exert suf-

ficient influence on the projects they carry out. Rather, they function

in support of the Commodity Programs. Hence, project orientation is not

primarily in the hands of the personnel who best know each zone, but in

the hands of the Commodity Programs who have national responsibility and

cannot be expected to have an intimate knowledge of each location.

The National Agricultural Research Program (PNIA) in Honduras, which

is patterning its reorganization partly after the ICTA model, has seen the


weakness just described and is organizing so that the multidisciplinary

teams in each region have the primary responsibility for orienting tech-

nology development. This modification should also be made at ICTA. This

type of reorganization need not affect the strength of the Commodity Pro-

grams which must have top level scientists to be able to respond to the

need of widely different conditions throughout the country. But it will

have to affect the concept of who supports whom within the Institute.

Instead of conceiving that the Technology Testing Teams, Soil Management

and Socioeconomics support the Commodity Programs, it should be that Soil

Management, Socioeconomics and the Commodity Programs support the resident,

multidisciplinary teams in each zone.

Organizing along these lines will obviously infringe on the concept

of specialization which is traditional in agricultural research organiza-

tions. The principal requirement will be the need to upgrade the training

of the people who comprise the multidisciplinary teams. At present, in

ICTA, the Technology Testing Teams in each zone include only university

graduate or lower level personnel and none with graduate degrees (except for

the Regional Directors who are in charge of several zones and whose func-

tion is largely planning and administration). Honduras, on the contrary,

is placing some of their top researchers at the regional team level. If

the commodity programs, where the top people are now placed in ICTA, are

to respect the orientation coming from the zonal teams, it will be neces-

sary not only to upgrade the level of training of these teams, but also to

change the connotation which multidisciplinary work carries in many parts

- 10 -

of the world, i.e., work done by undertrained generalists who have no

strength in any discipline. As opposed to this "non-disciplinary" con-

cept, a multidisciplinary team should be composed of people who are strong

in their own field, but who have enough confidence in their own work and

enough respect for other fields that they do not feel the need to defend

themselves from others, nor be afraid to make contributions in fields
other than their own.

Persons with this type of training and inclination are very scarce

and will need to be produced in large numbers. The first intent along this

line of which the author is aware, was the Cornell/CIMMYT program, supported

by The Rockefeller Foundation, that produced most of the group now working

in PNIA in Honduras. Other programs of similar nature will have to be

initiated. But in the meantime, great advances can be made even with the

type of personnel now being used at ICTA in the multidisciplinary teams.

In form of summary, it should be repeated that the resistance of

small farmers to accepting change is not one of motivation but rather one

of not having technology available which is appropriate from these farm-

ers' own points of view. Because of the location specificity of the agro-

socioeconomic conditions of small farmers, and because they are not sub-

ject to the homogenizing influence of tractors and capital, it is a much

greater challenge to develop technology which they will be motivated to

accept than it is to develop technology for commercial farmers. The most

4/ See the appendix for some additional comments on multidisciplinary
team efforts.

- 11 -

efficient way is by means of strong multidisciplinary teams who live and

work in each area and who orient the technology development work under-

taken for the small farmers in their zone. This implies a drastic change

in the traditional role of many scientists now working on technology de-

velopment and probably will meet with no small amount of resistance on

their part. It may well be that in another, future conference on small

farm technology, one of the papers will be titled, "Motivating Scientists

and Technicians to Accept Change".

October, 1978

- 12 -


Contreras, Mario Ruben; Daniel Lee Gait; Samuel Cephas Muchena; Khalid
Mohamad Nor; Frank Byers Peairs and Mario Santos Rodrlguez P. 1977.
An interdisciplinary approach to international agricultural training:
the Cornell-Cimmyt graduate student team report. Cornell Interna-
tional Agricultural Mimeograph 59. Ithaca, New York.

Fumagalli, Astolfo and Robert K. Waugh. 1977. Agricultural Research in
Guatemala. Presented at a Bellagio.Conference in October, 1977.
ICTA, Guatemala.

Galt, Daniel Lee. 1977. Economic weights for breeding selection indices:
empirical determination of the importance of various pests affecting
tropical maize. Ph. D. dissertation. Cornell University, Ithaca,
New York.

Gladwin, Christina. 1976. A view of the Plan Puebla: an application of
hierarchical decision models. American Journal of Agricultural Eco-
nomics, Vol. LVIII, No. 5 (1976), pp. 881-887

Harwood, R. R. 1975. Farmer-oriented research aimed at crop intensifica-
tion. pp. 12-32 In International Rice Research Institute, Proceedings
of the Cropping Systems Workshop, March 18-20, 1975, Los Banos,

Hildebrand, Peter E. 1977. Generating small farm technology: an inte-
grated, multidisciplinary system. An invited paper prepared for
presentation at the 12th West Indian Agricultural Economics Confer-
ence, Caribbean Agro-Economics Society, 24-30 April, 1977. Antigua.

Schultz, Theodore W. 1964. Transforming traditional agriculture. Yale
University Press. New Haven and London.

Secretaria de Recursos Naturales. 1978. Agricultural-research in Hondu-
ras. Tegucigalpa, D.C.

Stevens, Robert D. (ed.). 1977. Tradition and dynamics in small farm
agriculture. Iowa State University Press. Ames.

Waugh, Robert K. 1978. Research and the promotion of the use of tech-
nology. Symposium of the American Society of Agronomy. Interna-
tional Agronomy Division A-6 and the Extension Education A-4, Dec.
3-8, 1978, Chicago, Illinois.

Werge, Robert W. 1978. Social science training for regional agricul-
tural development. Presented at the meetings of the Society for
Applied Anthropology, Merida, Mexico.

- 13 -



Individual and some collective action is being taken to bridge the

differences generated by traditional scientific training in order to facil-

itate multidisciplinary efforts, Examples with which the author has had

recent contact follow. Christine Gladwin is an agricultural economist who

uses a methodology much more akin to anthropology than economics; Richard

Harwood, an agronomist, found:it necessary to combine his field with eco-

nomics and sociology in order to bring acceptable rice technology to parts

of Asia; Robert Werge is an anthropologist who is working in the field

of agronomy to help the International Potato Center develop technology for

this crop; and Daniel Galt, an agricultural economist is actively engaged

in crop trials in Honduras. Examples of their work are listed in the ref-


All of the above researchers have two things in common that are

critical to the development of an efficient and functioning multidisci-

plinary team. They are well trained in their own fields, but they also

have a working understanding of and are not afraid to make contributions

in one or more other fields. This is a necessary characteristic of per-

sons working on multidisciplinary teams, But alone, it is not sufficient.

It is also required that the team members not feel the need to defend

themselves and their field from intrusion of others.

- 14 -

7 Another feature of a successful multidisciplinary team is that all

members view the final product as a joint effort in which all participate

and for which all are equally responsible. That means each of them must

be satisfied with the product, given the goals of the team, and willing

and able to defend it.

Returning to the generation of improved technology for small, tra-

ditional farmers, the team members must all be product oriented (not just
the agronomists). Also, all the team members must be willing to con-

sider a wide range of variables and constraints and not leave these worries

only to the anthropologists or sociologists. Third, all members must be

willing to spend some desk time considering alternatives and their conse-

quences on the clients' goals and not leave this part of the task just to

the economists. The agronomists should be capable and willing to criticize

the economic or social aspects of the work, and the social scientists, the

agronomic aspects. In turn, these criticisms should be used to improve

the product so that all can be satisfied with the final result.

Failures of multidisciplinary efforts frequently have resulted be-

cause the teams were organized more as committees that met occasionally

to "coordinate" efforts, but in which the crop work was left to the agron-

omists, the survey to the anthropologists and the desks to the economists.

In these cases there is not a single identified product, rather, several

products or reports purported to be concerned about the same problem.

1/ Product, as used here, refers primarily to the technology produced and
not the commodity, itself.

- 15 -

Perhaps the most critical characteristic required to achieve success of a

multidisciplinary team is identification with a single product in which

all participate. The product can be complex, and involve a number of

facets, but it should result from the joint effort of the whole team and

not contain strictly identifiable parts attributable to individual team


In ICTA, the agronomists (who outnumber the social scientists

by about 30 to 1) are concerned about there being too much influence by

the socio-economic group in the work at the farm level. This is manifest

in a certain resistance by the agronomists to identify too closely with

the farmers (even with those on whose land they conduct trials). It also

surfaces with respect to evaluation of technology. The agronomist is

much more comfortable if a final equation follows the farm trial phase

of the work where it is the technician who makes the evaluation. The

technician, then, decides if a technology is "good". If the farmer eval-

uates this "good" technology and does not accept it, then the technician

considers it a problem for the extension service, or of poor infrastruc-

ture, of low prices, or of lack of initiative on the part of the farmer

himself, but it is not a problem for the agronomist, who has produced

what he considers to be a "good" product. In this situation, evaluation

by the farmer is equated with influence by socio-economics, who would tend

to take into consideration more variables including the present weaknesses

in infrastructure, the price level, the farmers' capabilities, etc., in

the development of a technology so that the product of the team's efforts

16 -

could be used immediately without the need to await development of other

facets of the sector. In other words, in ICTA, we have not yet completely

identified the kind of product we are to produce.

Even though we are a long way down the road, more needs to be done

at ICTA to make the multidisciplinary teams, and the efforts of the entire

Institute, more efficient. The top management of the Institute (all of

whom are biological scientists) agree that socio-economics must contribute

directly to the generation of agricultural technology, a concept with

which we fully concur. On the other hand, because of their own traditional

training, they also tend to be apprehensive about too much influence from

socio-economics and therefore are sometimes hesitant to provide the kind

of support which could enhance the efficiency of the multidisciplinary

teams much more rapidly. Hence another critical characteristic of a suc-

cessful multidisciplinary team effort is the conviction of management'and

their understanding, dedication and support of the concept. Support at

this level is required in order to counteract the traditional resistance

initially found at the field level.

A final necessary component for creating successful multidisci-

plinary teams is long run stability of the governemt and/or its policies,

so that management and staff of national institutes who are expected to

develop technology for small, traditional farmers, and for which multi-

disciplinary teams are required, have time to work out the details so

they can function effectively.