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THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL IMPACT OF ICTA
DURING THE LAST 25 YEARS
Peter E. Hildebrand
Food and Resource Economics Department
University of Florida
Translation to English by the author
An invited keynote address on the occasion of
the 25th anniversary celebration of the Guatemalan
Institute de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agricolas--ICTA
May 5-7, 1998
THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL IMPACT OF ICTA
DURING THE LAST 25 YEARS
Peter E. Hildebrand'
Food and Resource Economics Department
University of Florida
In 1925, three-quarters of a century ago, the Russian economist Chayanov wrote a
famous book on the small and medium Russian peasants.2 He was concerned that no one
understood the economy of the peasants who comprised the most important sector of the
country. Chayanov thought that this sector would continue being important for at least
another decade. With the exception of a few economists in Europe, this book was little
known as it was not translated to English until 1966 (Chayanov, 1966). In the interim,
following WWII the reconstruction of Europe and Japan occurred, accompanied by the
rapid industrialization of agriculture in the U.S. and to a lesser degree in other
industrialized countries. During the 1950s, the philosophy accompanying agricultural
industrialization was that farmers should "get big or get out" of the sector. In that era,
peasants were considered more of a social problem than a sector important to agricultural
In the 1960s the Green Revolution awakened the hope that this technology would
help transform peasant farms into small commercial units and put an end to the poor
peasant and food insecurity. The World Bank and USAID spent millions of dollars on
projects designed, for example, to improve irrigation and alleviate soil salinity and
waterlogging on peasant farms in the Punjab of Pakistan (WAPDA, 1967). Also in the
1960s humans walked on the surface of the moon. The lunar landing was a success.
Waterlogging and soil salinity in Pakistan persisted. As well, the peasants persisted there
as in many other parts of the world. Green Revolution technology functioned admirably
on fertile, irrigated soils but failed for the majority of peasants whose soils and conditions
were not good and who furthermore did not have access to the resources nor the
infrastructure necessary to be able to use the technology. Nor was the peasant sector,
who in the 1960s still represented 50-60% of all humanity (Wharton, 1969), being
supported by organized agricultural research and extension.
In Guatemala, in the beginning of the 1970s, another kind of agricultural
revolution was born. A group of key professional Guatemalans supported by foreign
professionals and organizations discussed their concerns and ideas in a series of meetings
that resulted in the venerated "Green Book," basically the bible that was the basis for the
11 want to thank the following persons who read the Spanish version and offered suggestions to improve
the text: Maria Hildebrand, Elena Bastidas, Chris Andrew, Kamal Dow and Oswaldo Chinchilla Aguilar.
The errors that remain are the responsibility of the author.
2 Rather than use the terms small and medium farmers, or campesinos, the term peasant will be used here.
foundation of ICTA (ICTA 1971). The participants in these meetings were some of the
first to recognize that conventional research at the time was not appropriate to satisfy the
necessities of the majority of the peasants (pequen~os y medianos agricultores) of the
country. With good management and a little luck a group of key persons began to work
as a team. They received approval to proceed, and received technical, logistic and
financial support from the Government of Guatemala, as well as USAID, Texas A&M
University, some international centers such as CIAT and CIMMYT, and The Rockefeller
Foundation. They began to employ technical and administrative personnel-Guatemalan
and foreign-for the purpose of creating a new kind of institution unknown before in the
The Formative and Golden Years of ICTA: The 1970s
Twenty-five years ago ICTA began to function with a vision and a mission, but without a
recognized methodology. The vision was: To incorporate the Guatemalan peasants in
the economic development process of the country. The mission was: To generate and
promote agricultural technology specifically for the peasants with emphasis on the basic
grains. Knowing that the majority of the basic grains in the country were produced by
the peasants, the goal of the government was to reduce dependence on the importation of
maize, beans, wheat, rice and sorghum by means of increased peasant production and not
by big producers. In order to incorporate the peasants it was necessary to have a better
understanding of their necessities and limitations, something that the social sciences
could provide. With this in mind, they decided to develop an institute in which the social
sciences could be integrated with the biological sciences to guarantee that the research
was oriented toward the necessities of the peasants.
Although no one considered it at the moment and it was not recognized for almost
25 years, the most important aspect was not simply incorporating the social sciences in a
national agricultural research organization, but integrating sociologists, anthropologists
and economists in a single unit. Economists had been slowly (and suspiciously, I might
add) incorporated in the agricultural development process such as in CENTA in El
Salvador (Hildebrand 1974) and in some international centers. Anthropologists had been
almost completely marginalized. I believe, although I am not certain, that ICTA
employed an anthropologist before CIAT or CIP had utilized them even as post-doctoral
researchers. I know that for several years the post-doctoral anthropologists were
marginalized and not incorporated as regular staff nor in agricultural research. The
anthropologists continued their studies of the peasants while the economists did not even
consider the peasants. For this reason, the idea of uniting these two disciplines in a single
unit was a brilliant and productive innovation. It did not take long for Socio-Economia
Rural (SER), the new component in the ICTA team, to begin to study the conditions of
the peasant families.
ICTA used several very important innovations for the new challenges that
confronted it. One of them was the use of "coordinators" in place of "heads" ('efes) for
each of the disciplines and programs in the technical component (as opposed to the
administrative and programming components) of the institute. There were meetings of
the coordinators with the technical director at the beginning of each week to coordinate
activities in the short and medium term. Each coordinator knew what the other units
were doing and why they were doing it. Without these meetings of the coordinators, the
members of the technical component of ICTA would not have been able to operate as a
team. Another important factor was the regionalization of the institute. This permitted
different administrative and methodological styles to be tried. But I also believe that this
regionalization would have failed if it had not been for the aspect of coordination that
existed within the technological component of the institute.
Other important methodologies developed by ICTA included on-farm test plots,
on-farm trials, and farm records. These, of course, were not created as finished products.
There were some heated discussions like that between SER and the Regional Director in
Jutiapa. SER wanted to use bullocks on the plots we were going to use in the regional
center and not apply any fertilizer so we would be working in the conditions of the
peasants of the region, but the Regional Director insisted in mechanizing (with a tractor)
the whole center and applying phosphorus to the whole area because of the low content
of phosphorus in the soil. In order to start experimenting with methodologies, the
Technical Director, Eugenio Martinez, made the decision to let SER rent some land in La
Barranca, Jutiapa, so we would be able to conduct trials in the same conditions as the
peasants. This was the only time in my life that someone (Al Plant, the Regional
Director) threw me off an experiment station! I do not know exactly how many on-farm
trials like these were carried out over the last 25 years, but I can tell you that between
1975 (when we started in La Barranca) and 1990, the technicians of ICTA produced crop
record reports on 199 sets of crops, both sole cropped and associated, with 2285 peasants,
covering 9587 manzanas (7,000 m2 or 1 acreses.
Another innovation was the use of programmable, hand-held calculators with
which the technicians could analyze, in a short period of time and in the regional centers,
their own data and in this way use the data in the annual regional meetings. These
meetings, themselves, were another innovation. By having them, the institute was able to
program the following year's work based on the data from Sondeos, on-farm and on-
station trials, and farm records from the previous year. Historically, and in the absence of
these annual meetings there was not much continuity and fluidity in recommendations
(either for the following year's work or of technology to be released) based on current
data and analyses, and technically adjusted to the conditions of the peasants.
Perhaps the most widely known methodology to be born in ICTA in the 1970s is
the Sondeo methodology (Hildebrand, 1981). It can be argued that the on-farm trials and
farm records are not clearly products of ICTA, but were only modified here, but the
methodology of the Sondeo definitely is a product of ICTA. This methodology, which is
a progenitor of rapid, participatory research, was developed because of the demand
created in ICTA to inform the technicians about the peasant conditions in an opportune
and comprehensive form. The use of questionnaires was too slow and in the first one,
only the personnel of SER participated. Transferring the information from SER to the
other technicians did not work well. This was because while the regional technicians
were working in the field with the farmers, the personnel of SER, after doing the survey,
did their analysis and wrote the report in their offices in the capital. Later, when we
began to incorporate the regional technicians in the pre-survey, giving them also a sense
of ownership in the information, the acceptability of the information about the peasants
began to be better accepted. We eventually abandoned the formal surveys with
questionnaires in favor of the pre-survey (the Sondeo) that was much more efficient,
rapid and valuable. We also developed a methodology specifically for the Sondeos based
on what we originally had called the pre-survey. Another and unexpected result of the
Sondeos was the development of friendship and mutual respect among all the technicians
who participated in them.
ICTA's leadership in methodological advances was also shown by recognizing
the importance of the contribution of women to the peasant family's economy, not only
in the kitchen and home, but also in aspects of agricultural production. In San Carlos Sija,
for example, ICTA recognized that women were farmers in the full sense of the word,
while their husbands worked on the coast or in pother places. What was probably the
first field day for women farmers anywhere was carried out at ICTA's center, Labor
Ovalle, in Quetzaltenango, in October, 1978, with the participation of 35 women and 20
men. Furthermore, ICTA had one and at times two professional women on its staff of
technicians. This was quite rare at that time. If one of these professional women had not
been on the professional staff of ICTA, stationed at Labor Ovalle in Region I, the work
with the women farmers of San Carlos Sija would not have occurred. In this way, ICTA
also played a vital part in the movement that resulted in the well-known Women in
Agricultural Development, WIAD, Program so important throughout the world.
All the methodology and philosophy developed in the 1970s helped us
conceptualize the "transistor radio" model that was published in a report that was
requested for the Round Table on Agricultural Production Systems at the annual meeting
of the Board of Directors of IICA in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1977
(Hildebrand, 1977). ICTA was invited to this conference and to several others as a result
of the recognition it received from the "Globe Trotters,"3 who had formed a parade to the
central offices, the regional production centers, and the on-farm trials of the institute in
the 1970s to learn about the methodology, and the "mystique" of the institute. We were
very much observed and criticized, yet very much admired during those years.
There was another unexpected and unwanted phenomenon in the 1970s that
caused a tremendous amount of attention in the world, the earthquake of February 4,
1976. Part of the SER team was working in the Tecpan and Patzun area but for one
reason or another returned to the capital the evening of February 3. If not, they would
have been in a hotel in Tecpan when the quake occurred. You who were in the country
during that time will remember the terror of the constant tremors that we lived through.
Because of the resulting landslides it was not possible to return to the Tecpan area for
nearly three weeks after February 4. When we finally arrived an incredible desolation
awaited us. I had been in the Plaza of Patzun with Chris Andrew from the University of
Florida six weeks before the earthquake and it was full of color and activity. When I
returned I could not believe what my eyes saw.
ICTA's offices in the Plazuela Espafia suffered so much damage that we had to
abandon them. Part of the offices were transferred to La Aurora where agricultural fairs
were held, but there was no space for SER. We transferred our offices to my home where
we worked for several weeks.
3 During the 1970s many people from USAID, the large foundations, the CGIAR centers and some from
U.S. universities traveled widely and often passed through Guatemala to visit ICTA. These individuals
were termed "globe trotters" (trota mundos) for obvious reasons.
Plaza in Patzfn in December, 1975.
N. A, .
... ... ... .
Plaza in Patzin in February, 1976.
ICTA technicians were being solicited by USAID to go to other countries, such as
Honduras, Colombia and Panama to help them understand the ICTA methodology and to
design new projects based in large part on what ICTA had accomplished. In Colombia,
three members of SER made the first effort to detail the Sondeo methodology in written
form. In Panama we were in the field carrying out a Sondeo when the Senate of the
United States ratified the agreement returning the Panama Canal to that country. Even
though the government declared a national holiday, the team that was doing the Sondeo
decided to keep working. Damaris Chea, the Director General of ICTA's counterpart in
Panama, IDIAP, who was also participating in the Sondeo, said she would give the
IDIAP people on the team another day off sometime in the near future.
One of the factors that was most favorable for ICTA in the 1970s was the stability
represented in the top administration. Mario Martinez, the Gerente General, and Astolfo
Fumagali, the Sub-Gerente, together with Bob Waugh, guided the institute during those
first five formative years. I am completely convinced that if the institute had not had this
stability, we would not have been able to accomplish what we did. In these years, what
the whole world knows as "Farming Systems" was born. A large part of the book,
"Farming Systems Research and Development Guidelines for Developing Countries"
(Shaner et al., 1982) was based on the achievements of ICTA during this period.
For Guatemala, the 1980s represented a difficult time involving a civil war-called an
internal armed conflict-that also included a coup d'etat in March, 1982. ICTA had to
reduce its area of operations to avoid the most dangerous zones and in this way protect its
personnel. Nevertheless, another nucleus was being created. This could be identified as
another regional center "sucursal" of ICTA at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
There, Bob Waugh, Ramiro Ortiz and I arrived to work with Chris Andrew, the director
of the Farming Systems Support Project, or FSSP, funded by USAID, and with Ken
McDermott who managed it for USAID. Federico Poey, president of his own consultant
company, also worked with the FSSP. Based in part on the enthusiasm created by the
Shaner book, the FSSP had the responsibility to provide technical assistance, training and
support for communication networks to the various farming systems projects that began
to flourish in various parts of the world. In total, there were 20 U.S. universities and four
consultant companies involved in the FSSP. We conducted short courses in 22 countries
and technical assistance in 14, in Africa, Asia and Latin America (Andrew, 1987).
In 1982 the University of Florida organized a meeting in Costa Rica, funded by
the US Department of Agriculture to bring together a group of people with experience
conducting on-farm trials. We hoped to leave the meeting with a draft covering the latest
methodologies related to on-farm trials. Lynne Rienner, owner of Lynne Rienner
Publishers, Inc., of Boulder, Colorado, accompanied us hoping to publish the results as a
book. Bob Waugh, Ramiro Ortiz, Juan Herrera, Federico Poey and I, all of whom had
formed part of ICTA, participated. Although we did not succeed in putting together a
complete draft by the end of the meeting, Federico and I, with support from Ramiro, kept
working on the book that was finally published in 1985 (Hildebrand and Poey, 1985).
We began the short courses in June, 1983, in Gainesville with 17 participants
from six universities (Iowa State, Washington State, Florida, Virginia Polytechnic,
Michigan State and Illinois) and CIMMYT from Mexico. We offered the second one in
July of the same year with 29 participants from eight universities (Louisiana State,
Florida, Kentucky, Michigan State, Colorado State, Minnesota, VPI and Arkansas),
PRECODEPA from Guatemala, USAID from El Salvador, CARDI from the Caribbean,
USAID from Mali and a private consultant. The first materials we used were based
almost entirely on the work and methodologies of ICTA that in the 1980s was the only
institute with experience and published results in a form that could be used as training
materials. The slides taken in such places as La Barranca, Tecpan, Totonicapan and
Quetzaltenango began to appear in the "slide-tape" sets that FSSP distributed to all parts
of the world.
A series of annual conferences was begun at Kansas State University in 1981 and
these had a great deal of impact on the farming systems movement. These meetings
brought together technicians working in farming systems projects from many countries.
After six conferences in Kansas there were three more at the University of Arkansas and
then three at Michigan State University. By participating in these meetings it was easy to
see how the ideas and the mystique of ICTA had been disseminated. There were
participants from projects in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and from
Europe, the U.S. and Australia. As a result of these conferences a global association was
formed, the Association for Farming Systems Research-Extension, with its journal, the
Journal for Farming Systems Research-Extension. Additionally today there are regional
associations or chapters in Latin America, Asia, Europe, Africa and North America.
The global conferences are held in even-numbered years. In 1994 the venue was in
Montpellier in France, in 1996 it was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and in 1998 it will be in
Pretoria, South Africa. The regional chapters usually meet in odd-numbered years.
Even though there was great interest in the farming systems methodology for
generating and disseminating technology for small and medium farmers under the diverse
conditions encountered in different parts of the world, the big donors were becoming
disillusioned with the slow impact they were seeing in the process. At the same time
there was arising a preoccupation with the sustainability of the various technologies
based on the indiscriminate use of chemicals dangerous to both humans and the
environment. Also concern was being expressed about the loss of biodiversity, because
not only of the use of chemicals, but also because the forests of the world were beginning
to disappear and soils in fragile environments were eroding. The donors began
demanding sustainable agriculture projects and marginalizing projects dealing with
"farming systems." It is interesting that these donors were confusing goals with
methodology. The methodology necessary to work in diverse conditions and to create
solutions adapted to sustainability were the same methodologies used in farming systems
research and extension.
Now at the end of the 1990s and approaching the third millennium, we are still
preoccupied with the sustainability of agriculture and development in general, but we
have also become concerned with food security. Many solutions are suggested. In the
majority of cases there is confusion as to the diverse causes and between the urban and
rural groups affected. If we consider only the rural sector and think about the peasant
sector, there still is no agreement. One group believes they should produce commercial
and not traditional crops, sell them and buy their food. Others believe that in the absence
of improved markets and infrastructure, it is necessary to improve the capacity of the
peasants to produce their own food and sell the surplus, but not try to compete with the
large producers of commercial crops. In Guatemala it is very well known what happens
when the market of non-traditional commercial crops is interrupted, such as happened
with raspberries last year and is still not working. Last month the New York Times
published an article (Schemo, 1998) about how the small producers of tobacco in
southern Brazil are suffering now that some transnational companies are dominating the
market. The price of tobacco has been reduced to such a point that many peasants cannot
survive and are selling their land. Related to this discourse is the philosophy of the
donors toward privatization and commercialization of agricultural production, research
and extension, and globalization in general.
Guatemala is confronting her own challenges that also require attention. With the
end of the armed conflict, different but related situations are occurring. The former
guerrillas are looking for land and other activities to earn a living, and the refugees are
returning to the country also looking for land. This represents a tremendous demand for
the government and pressures on vacant or underutilized land in the national territory.
Simultaneously with the preoccupation to protect the natural resources such as in the
Maya Biosphere Reserve and the Sierra de las Minas, the number of peasants is
And in the years 2000...
Although it seems incredible that at the end of the 20th Century, the peasant sector that
was of so much concern to Chayanov in 1925 is still with us. Perhaps that as percent of
the world population they have diminished slowly, but their absolute number is still
increasing. In the majority of the countries of the world such as in Guatemala, they
represent the largest economic sector. They feed, with their agricultural activities, the
majority of the population in these countries and produce productive employment in rural
areas. When the peasants are productive they do not need to move to the cities where
there is not sufficient legal employment. In many cases the migrant population only
increases the number of persons who suffer food insecurity in the urban areas.
At the same time, because of the increase in population in Guatemala, there are
strong pressures on the natural resources that remain. The strong increase in the demand
for land on the part of the peasants is perhaps reflected in the number of fires reported in
the protected areas this year. In order to earn a living, many peasants are forced to utilize
these resources to plant their milpas, because they do not have adequate technology to
intensify production on their small and infertile farms. Many of them do not have
adequate access to good markets where they can sell their products and buy the other
things to satisfy their necessities. Furthermore, they do not receive the attention of
private research and extension. For this reason, although the new ICTA can begin to
commercialize its research product, it is not a good time to forget that ICTA was created
to serve a clientele that is still needy. It is critical that ICTA continue with the fight and
leadership that it has shown in the past 25 years to help the peasants that obviously are
not going to disappear.
Andrew, C.O. 1987. A sketch of the evolution of FSSP. Paper presented at the FSR
Symposium, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Chayanov, A.V. 1966. The theory of peasant economy. University of Wisconsin Press,
Hildebrand, P.E. 1974. Informe final. MG-CENTA, El Salvador.
Hildebrand, P.E. 1977. Consideraciones socioecon6nomicas en sistemas de cultivos
multiples. Un informed solicitado para la Mesa Redonda sobre Sistemas de Producci6n
Agricola. XVI Reuni6n de la Junta Directiva, Instituto Interamericano de Ciencias
Agricolas-IICA. Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana.
Hildebrand, P.E. 1981. Combining disciplines in rapid appraisal. The Sondeo approach.
Agricultural Administration 8:423-432.
Hildebrand, P.E. and F. Poey. 1985. On-farm agronomic trials in farming systems
research and extension. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. Boulder.
ICTA. 1971. Antecedentes, objetivos, proyecto de estructura y presupuesto (Grupo de
trabajo III). [El libro verde}
Schemo, D.J. 1998. In Brazil tobacco country, conglomerates rule. New York Times.
Shaner, W.W., P.F. Philipp and W.R. Schmehl. 1982. Farming systems research and
development: Guidelines for developing countries. Westview Press, Boulder.
WAPDA. 1967. Regional plan northern Indus Plains: development and use of the water
resources of the Indus Basin, Volumes I and II. West Pakistan Water and Power
Development Authority, and Tipton and Kalmbach, Inc., Lahore and Denver.
Wharton, Jr., C.R. (ed.) 1969. Subsistence agriculture and economic development.