COPE WITH RISK AND
CHRIS 0. ANDREW
Staff Paper 79
Staff Papers are circulated without formal
review by the Food and Resource Economics
Department. Content is the sole responsi-
bility of the author.
Food and Resource Economics Department
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida 32611
COPE WITH RISK AND
Chris 0. Andrew
Technology, Planning and Change
A concern for the role of technology in the development process, how to
plan for creation and utilization of appropriate technology, and how to implement
directed change are crucial concerns of our time. The 1979 U.N. Conference on
Science and Technology for Development will assemble some of our best thoughts
concerning how to approach technology, planning and change in the immediate years
to come. The Humphrey Bill shelved recently by the United States Senate entitled,
"The International Cooperation and Development Act", promised to bring new life
to technical assistance. If such quests are to be successful, agricultural and
social sciences must address global, national, local and family problems from
an integrated stance. For the small farmer, the issue is not who gains credit
for making a major contribution to his ability to survive and to supply food to
others of the world, the issue is that a significant contribution will be made by
someone. It is time for all scientists to join hands and understand the contri-
bution that each can make so that a critical mass of unified intelligence can be
focused on the complex problems challenging small farmers, rural sectors, and the
international agricultural community.
Chris 0. Andrew is Associate Professor of Food and Resource Economics and Assistant
Director of International Programs, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,
University of Florida.
Centralization: A Stress
Change imposed through science and technology implies that stress is
inevitable. As development occurs, there is an implied tendency toward
centralizing many of the political, social and economic activities of a
society. As noted recently by Carey, industrialization implies a movement
toward centralized social, political and economic systems as opposed to the
more heterogenous or decentralized village based societies. The planning
activity, assumes that all peoples must move toward varied but specific forms
of industrialization, thus creating stress for those societies structured around
village systems and rural based societies.
Yet scientists of development and change, have not learned to manage tech-
nology to benefit rural based societies. Possibly we resort to centralized
planning In frustration without full knowledge of the necessary inputs to
In the centralization camp, are many economists and government planners.
Representing decentralization are anthropologists and others who work more
closely with the village based society. Coordination between the polarized pro-
tagonists is strained because each enters the encounter from a very distinct
position. Economists contend that they address a wholelistic set of issues but
these issues are indeed quite macro or global while anthropologists counter with
a micro wholelistic approach. Both "might" agree that the other is important
but modes of interaction become an uncertainty. A major need is to neutralize
the centralization and decentralization dilemma by uniting the two points of
view such that village based societies can be accommodated within the broader
framework of a sustained technological change appropriate to the needs of indus-
Satisfactory change often assumes that the information provided by the
change agent represents a "unified good". When this is not true the small
farmer must cope with both natural risk situations and a patch work of con-
flicting scientific views. Quality in the information to be transmitted depends
entirely upon the degree to which the problem area is fully understood in
all of its complexities and addressed as a whole. An isolated mono-disciplinary
approach to multi-disciplinary problems creates major distortions and abortions
in social and economic systems. The role of the change agent in this unfortunate
circumstance becomes negative by creating unnecessary and detrimental problems to
challenge future programs because the problems are further aggravated. A review
of the literature concerned reveals confusion surrounding the role played by
agricultural, economic and social criteria in the diffusion of innovations and
suggests that the diffusion package has not always contained a "unified good".
The following paper is a focus on this "blind side" of professional pride
in addressing the directed change and innovation question. The basic grains
commodity area is discussed relative to the U. S. hybrid seed experience in
the 1930's and a more recent experience in Guatemala.
Professional Pride, Problems and Performance:
Understanding a U.S. Green Revolution
The diffusion casualty debate of the late 1950's between the agricultural
economists and sociologists in the U.S. ended in a draw. But recent, research
activity in the less developed countries and the need for improved agricultural
and rural conditions suggests that we need to return to the basic elements of
that debate and move forward with new programs.
The debate centered on the diffusion of hybrid seed corn and sorghum
in the Midwest of the U.S. following major research breakthroughs in the
1920's. The unique setting for the diffusion of hybrid seed corn included
the years from 1928 through 1941. International and national economic
depression, drought throughout the North American Midwest and the war in
Europe, changed the effective supply and demand of agricultural commodities.
Most critics assume that such conditions bear on the diffusion of agricultural
innovations but Ryan and Gross remarked that even with these, the rapid spread
of hybrid seed was remarkable given the slowness with which many sound economic
practices are excepted. These gentlemen observed that the inter-active effect
of the individual within the social system was the major contributing factor to
innovation and adoption. More recently, Havens and Rogers attributed adoption
of innovations to the interaction effect and social congruence. But even with
interaction and social congruence conditions, most farmers insisted on personal
experimentation before full use of hybrid seed.
Griliches in the late 1950's stimulated a rather interesting debate when
he suggested that in the long run, and cross sectionally, it was not the
sociological variables that determined whether a new innovation such as hybrid
seed corn would be adopted but that it was the economic variables related to
profitability and income. He went on to say that the sociological variables
would determine the initial order and degree of farmer adoption. Griliches'
research explained about 60 percent of the variation in the rate of adoption of
hybrid corn by the profit motive and, thereby, released a storm of congruence
versus profitability controversies that extended into the 1960's.
Conflicting concepts and interpretations by the sociologists and agricultural
economists extended into the adoption of hybrid sorghum. Bradner and Straus argued
that the likelihood of technological innovations being accepted is enhanced
when these innovations are related to an existing cultural pattern. Concerning
Grillches earlier statement on the importance of profitability in the adoption
rate of hybrid corn and sorghum, Bradner and Straus wrote: "in such a concep-
tualization of the change process, factors such as socio-economic status, economic
resources and group and individual values tend to be seen merely as auxiliary in-
hibitors or facilitators of the change process" (p. 381). Bradner and Straus
continued by saying that contrary to the concept of economic needs, it was the
issues of familiarity and congruity of the new practice with the recently accepted
practice of planting hybrid corn that accounts for the rapid acceptance of hybrid
sorghum. The economists' reply to this was that hybrid corn had been very profitable
and that the congruence factor was related to a profitability expectation.
Havens and Rogers went on to clarify the position of the sociologists by
concluding that perception of profitability and not objective profitability of an
innovation determine adoption rates. Perception of profitability is highly influ-
enced by group interaction and various socio-cultural phenomena.
While the debate reached a point of general agreement and one of differences
in semantics, the reciprocals of either objective or perceived profitability were
overlooked. The roles of economic loss, risk perception and risk aversion appear
to be major concerns as small farmers consider technological change, innovation
Further reflection by Andrew and Alverez on the debate suggests that both
interaction effects and profitability contributed to the diffusion of hybrid corn
and played varied and integral roles depending upon the stage in the diffusion
process and the economic situation encountered by a particular adopter. To conclude
that either interaction or perceived profitability caused adoption of hybrid corn
seems inaccurate. Both were important but other variables such as economic status,
and weather and price uncertainty influenced decisions about adoption. Thus,
one might conclude from the literature, that farmers consider the impact of
innovation on their combined socio-economic positions. For example, relative
advantage, compatability, complexity and divisability of an innovation are
important sociological considerations with parallel economic concerns including
comparative advantage, scale and biological feasibilities, coordination of
input and product markets with complex production systems, and the opportunity
to diversify or spread risk associated with changing from known to relatively
unknown technologies. Along with socio-cultural phenomenon economic losses
and windfall profits are important in the decision making process as agricultural
producers consider technological change.
Problems and Performance
The early debate and expression of professional pride stimulated needed
thought concerning the diffusion process but prohibited establishment of an
integrated approach to agricultural innovation and change. Professional pride
was over-riding, and perpectuated a problem identified earlier by pursuing
greater centralization by economists and decentralization by the sociologists
and anthropologists. This problem in turn has affected the performance of the
scientific community in achieving an integrated approach to agricultural inno-
vation and change.
Thus, without strong leadership from the social scientists, the agricultural
scientists were forced to proceed with their charge to develop high yielding
agricultural technologies. While agriculturalists have been soundly criticized
for not considering the major social implications of their work, many of the
social scientists have pursued unique and interesting disciplinary goals without
specific regard to the total agricultural development problem. Even some social
scientists find it inappropriate to criticize agricultural scientists for this
Let us hope that we are on the frontiers of a new era in integrated science
and technology rather than specialization through unswerving professional pride.
It is appropriate to note that research beyond agricultural adoption has identified
the importance of a combination of cultural, social and economic factors. Acheson,
in reviewing the reaction of the Cuanajo, Mexico community to mechanized carpentry,
concluded that the presence of superior economic opportunities is the single most
important factor involved in developmental change.
Translocating a Green Revolution
From the Midwest U.S. experience in grains production came a desire to share
that experience throughout the world. As early as 1940, Norman Borlaug began in
Mexico the scientific trek which was to produce a new wheat and contribute a
methodology for rice varieties that increased world production potentials signifi-
cantly under appropriate production technologies (Paarlberg). The stage was set
for an international green revolution in basic grains similar to that experienced
in the U.S. Recent conclusions by Rutan concerning the new wheat and rice varieties
in the developing countries of Asia are 1) that adoption has occurred at exception-
ally rapid rates in areas where the varieties are technically and economically
superior to local varieties, 2) that adoption has not been seriously constrained
by farm size and tenure, 3) but that income differentials among regions have become
more skewed while 4) the rate of increase in food grain prices to consumers has
Risk Perception in Guatemala
A review of the Guatemala experience with basic grains can provide further
insights concerning the adoption process and the importance of integrated research and
development programs. Small farmers in Guatemala have experienced fewer income
distribution problems due to the introduction of high yielding basic grain varieties
than some other developing countries. While productivity has increased, internal
adjustments in farm management have resulted in relatively stable total production
of the grains most basic to diets in Guatemala.
The subsistence, land use and crop mix environment on small farms producing
basic grains in Guatemala is characterized by risk aversion as farm size and
relative incomes change (Alverez and Andrew). These farmers primarily grow
traditional crops in association (multiple crop or sequential interplant) on
their few, small and divided plots of land. They may also produce some
commercial crops where risk iniminimal relative to that of other mono crops.
As opposed to low risk traditional crops grown primarily for subsistence, low
risk commercial crops are a source of income where adversity does not extend
beyond normal weather fluctuations. Low risk commercial crops may also include
crops whose prices are supported by the government such as wheat in Guatemala.
The small farmer's behavior within his basic economic system is one of
carefully balancing risk aversion, income maintenance and risk taking at low
income levels. The farmer grows basic grains in association for subsistence
though he may also sell part of his production if income should rise due to
either productivity or price. In that case the farmer may divert some of his land
to other commercial crops while maintaining self sufficiency production on less
land. This response pattern will continue as income rises to the point where it
is feasible to introduce another slightly higher risk but more commercial crop
or until no more land is available. Thus, as incomes rise, small farmers with
their self sufficiency guaranteed tend to diversify production by growing high
value crops, until their land constraint is reached.
The results of this research suggests that there is a built in supply control
mechanism for basic grains and low risk crops in the small farm system. This
mechanism explains why productivity increases while production remains stagnant
in Guatemala. From the farmer's viewpoint, this behavior is a natural reaction
to basic subsistence needs and when all farmers react in this way, it avoids
some of the second (marketing) and third (income distribution) generation problems
of the green revolution (Falcon). SinceAproduction does not result, prices do
not decline sharply to create income disparities and the market system Itself is
not so forcefully challenged.
If these findings are accurate, research and development programs should
carefully consider the total small farm system. Simply identifying and ranking
production systems based on economic phenomena does not describe the reasons
for the subsistence management patterns followed by small farmers in Guatemala.
To delve more deeply into these patterns will require careful attention by
economists and anthropologists to economic conditions and socio-cultural systems
that circumscribe the crop associations in the multiple cropping systems and
influence risk for small farmers. Agronomic research on the basic grains alone
will not entirely serve the small farmers need as he moves through the production
system into higher value higher risk crops. Meeting the risk element squarely
by sociologists, anthropologists, agronomists and economists through an integrated
research program is necessary and could be very productive.
This research further highlights the issue of stress caused by centralization
through national economic planning versus decentralization resulting from the
village small farm system. A primary objective of the Guatemala government is
to achieve major increases in basic grain production on small farms such that
import necessities are reduced. Small farmers are interested in basic grain
production as a basis for subsistence but once this subsistence position is well
established and maintained on a stable basis, the resulting advances in income
will generate investments in commercial production of somewhat higher risk crops
because the income potential is also higher with these crops. Thus, these farmers
will take advantage (ol productivity increases to further solidify their subsistence
needs and absorb the benefits through greater land availability by producing crops
other than basic grains. The agricultural economists and anthropologists must
illustrate to the national planners that diverging objectives at the central
government level versus those at the village level tend to create stress situations
and unrealized objectives at each level. The price policy, to improve income for
basic grain producers as a goal for stimulating production or investments in agri-
cultural research and thereby create higher yielding varieties, may be beneficial
results desired by the national government.
The Call for Integration
A Return to Basics
It is time to return to the basics of molding our sciences in such a manner
that we can join together to attack world agricultural problems. For example, we
might begin by defining that part of economics that is culture and that part of
culture that Is economics to provide for understanding between anthropologists and
economists. In a recent article, Hartman presents the proposition that economics,
as both science and culture, recognizes that economics as a discipline, must
embody societies' traditional sense of historical purpose and values and that it
do so in the name of science. Agricultural economics is an applied social science.
But he indicates that one could conclude that agricultural economics in attempting
to fulfill this role as it is now practiced is both bad science and uninformed cul-
ture. Agricultural economics may be neither fish nor fowl. This could be viewed as
a strong point of the discipline because it tends to reduce excessive specialization.
Concerning culture, Bell has specified that culture is used conceptually to
designate societies common sense of purpose and meaning. Thus, culture serves as
a basis for tradition and the embodiment of experiential knowledge accrued over
a long history of events. Cassier goes qn to explain that experiential knowledge
is the basis of human meaning and purpose, And, in that sense, it is prior to
and should take precedence over scientific knowledge as the ground for action
and choice, It is between these two elements that agricultural economists fall.
The above separation may help in better understanding how it is that confusion
results concerning why farmers adopt given practices. Numerous authors have con-
cluded that small farmers perform rationally and efficiently under their particular
resource constraints. For example, Hopper (p. 624) states:
It seems likely that in a technologically stagnant agriculture,
farmers are intuitively aware of the resource substitution
possibilities and the production responses of their agriculture
enterprises. These are embodied in the lore of the culture trans-
mitted from generation to generation and are derived from refine-
ments of techniques that arise from the observations and experi-
ments made by past and present farmers. it is, therefore, not
surprising to find relatively few allocation errors anda high
level of production efficiency within the framework of the
traditional state of the arts.
Further evidence in Kenya suggests that small scale farmers under conditions of
uncertainties behave as efficient, risk-averse entrepreneurs (Wolgin).
With reference to specific work on risk, Benito concludes that among peasants
differences in the endowment of human and physical capital and organizational power
determine the differences in opportunity cost of human time, transaction costs,
and behavior in the face of risky events. The observed distribution of adoption
rates among the peasants households is a combination of factors resulting from
these differences. Contrary to the recent work by Alverez and Andrew and common
findings, one theory suggests that adoption of innovations may be inversely related
to the wealth position of the adopter (Cancian).
To specifically measure and quantify relationships in the risk area is
quite difficult. Moscardi and de Janvry (p. 710) have developed models that
relate socio-economic phenomena and in turn predict risk behavior. They state
Assuming that the safety-first model holds. the degree of
risk aversion manifested by individual peasants can be derived
from observed behavior. Given a production technology, the
risk associated with production and market conditions,the ob-
served level of factor use reveals the underlying degree of
risk aversion. Beyond random discrepancies, it is possible to
establish a systematic relationship between risk aversion and
a number of socio economic variables; (age, schooling, family
ties, off farm income, land under control, solidarity group)
that characterized peasants households, their access to income
generating opportunities, and their relation to public institu-
If farmers are performing consonant with their given environment,. It seems
unlikely that developing major input packages to change a small farm production
system could be effective without broad consideration of numerous factors. For
example, one might ask, what are the relationships between risk taking and
adoption vis-a-vis prestige, income, family size, asset position, education,
age, skill level, previous adoption behavior, cooperation, group behavior, price
expectations, political stability, social stability, land tenure, economic
stability, level of social overhead development including roads, power lines,
dams, transportation systems, and other considerations. To understand limiting
factors within this total spectrum of activities that affect a farmer's willingness
to take risk and produce to meet national desires, will require a joint effort by
various scientists and non-scientists from a wide array of disciplines and back-
Economists have proceeded in an attempt to quantify some of the behavioral
characteristics that parallel economic activity relative to risk. But in doing so,
they have not included an historical dimension to culture that might be provided
by the anthropologists in specifying why "successful" behavior is as it is. Without
this dimension, It becomes extremely difficult to predict for planning purposes.
This type of activity, however, has not been one where anthropologists have been
particularly comfortable in the past. But if their impact is to be fully appre-
clated and utilized, anthropologists must become bold and extending in their
thought. Economists then must appreciate and utilize culture as a basis of
proven experience for planning purposes.
In a national planning sense, as directed change is pursued, careful consid-
eration must be given to policies that are designed to minimize short run problems
and opportunities that tend to create serious long run difficulties. Such condi-
tions should be considered as they would impact on long run employment, price
levels, income transfers and socio-cultural conditions. Economic planners might
learn significantly from working with anthropologists who can view past micro
systems and translate these observations into current.potentials for .change. From
this synthesis anthropologists could help anticipate the long run Implications of
Since planning implies structural modification of various individual rights
relative to resource use, care must be taken. Rights can be viewed in the broadest
of senses including human and natural resources and their separate sensitivities
and components. In both an economic and socio-cultural sense, rights must reflect
economic and social realities. Planning systems that anticipate rule changes
within a legal structure or behavioral code based in culture, should balance
the cost and benefits in monetary and non-monetary terms of such changes. This
somewhat historical perspective is oversimplified in today's world and does not
fully account for the general trend toward more centralized activities in contempo-
rary national and international bodies.
Thus, in a contemporary sense, planning is more complex than most planners
realize in that policy at the macro level does influence the entire environment
within which an individuals rights are based. These rights must be considered
simultaneously with rule changes at the macro level within the code of law whether
it be perpetuated by culture or that prescribed by government. It is at this
point where national goals encounter significant problems in meshing with stated
or unstated laws that govern the village and rural based agricultural sector. As
policy changes are anticipated that affect the distribution of rights, an understanding
of the possible results cannot be achieved without integration of the disciplines
that share in the social, cultural, economic and legal factors encountered by those
who possess those rights. A fundamental conflict in policy making is to determine at
what levels policies should be introduced to effect universal change and at the same
time, what change is going to be effective relative to the goals and asperations of
the target audience -- in our case a world based, low income, limited resource agri-
A most recent, but not final, word on why limited resource farmers do or do
not adopt innovations relates to the total environment within which the farm system
is located. Various socio-economic conditions and perceptions influence the degree
to which traditional, "small" farmers seek to avert risk in the struggle to augment
their income. To successfully understand risk aversion and perception and to develop
successful policies and programs will require multidisciplinary concern beyond
that presently experienced. The opportunity to diversify or spread risk associated
with changing from known to relatively unknown technologies rests on an ability
to deal with numerous socio economic factqrs. These factors set the stage for
expectations concerning risk as an important influence on the decision making
process when small farm producers consider technological change.
Owing to his subsistence needs, the land constraint and his income level,
the traditional farmer's behavior within his basic economic system is one of
carefully balanced risk aversion, income maintenance and risk taking. The
conceptual model and research results from the work with basic grain producers
in Guatemala suggests that there is a built-in supply control mechanism-for
basic grains and low value-low risk crops in the small farm system. This
mechanism, explaining why productivity increases yet production is stagnant,
is a natural reaction to basic subsistence needs and avoids some of the marketing
and income distribution problems of the green revolution. Over production may
not usually result so prices do not decline sharply to create great income
disparities and the usually disoriented market system does not find itself so
grossly inadequate in terms of handling major production increases.
Research and development programs must carefully consider the total small
farm system from all points of view. Basic research on basic grains alone will
not entirely serve the small Guatamalan farmers needs as he moves into high
value-high risk crops. Meeting the risk elements squarely in the agronomic,
social, anthropological and economic sciences will be necessary and most pro-
ductive. The question is can we as scientists "get it together" and truly help
the small farmer address his total need or must he continue to cope with risk and
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