Title Page
 A curriculum proposal

Group Title: Learning to aid the poor : a curriculum proposal
Title: Learning to aid the poor
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00072250/00001
 Material Information
Title: Learning to aid the poor a curriculum proposal
Physical Description: 43 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Korten, David C
Dundon, Stanislaus J. Sherman, 1935-
Publication Date: 1982
Subject: Sustainable agriculture   ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Study and teaching   ( lcsh )
Rural poor   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references (p. 41-43).
Statement of Responsibility: by David C. Korten and Stanislaus J Dundon.
General Note: Typescript.
Funding: Electronic resources created as part of a prototype UF Institutional Repository and Faculty Papers project by the University of Florida.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00072250
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 76891706

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Full Text

A \




by-David C. Korten*
and Stanislaus J. Dundon

The Asian Institute of Management and USAID

Center for the Study of Values, Univ. of Delaware and
California Polytechnic St'ce Univ., San Luis Obispo.

7~f~ 62A~


Many agricultural schools in the United States have an interest

in international agricultural development and at least fifty-five

receive support through Title XII funds for "strengthening" their

ability to engage students and faculty in international agricultural

development. These strengthening grants can serve many purposes,

but ultimately are supposed to serve the goals of the legislation

which mandates assistance in a participatory mode to the rural

poor and small farmers.1 At the same time, these colleges have a

significant groups of students animated by a desire to do something

about alleviating the incidence of poverty, hunger, and malnu-

trition in developing nations and often have chosen to study agri-

culture for these humanitarian reasons. In addition, many faculty

in agricultural sciences and technology have found World hunger a

noble challenge for their skills. It is difficult to imagine a

more dramatic stage upon which the human values potential of the

agricultural sciences could be brought into action than in the

sustained relief of widespread hunger in the world.

Yet it is not surprising that these agricultural institutions

have not escaped the difficulties and failures which have bedeviled

development agencies which have been exclusively devoted to this

problem for years. In reviewing many of the causes for failures

and ineffectiveness of The United States Agency for International

Development, (AID), Judith Tendler says:

Although the uniqueness of the foreign aid agency's task
has been recognized and understood, the organizational
environment that such a task requires has never been

4' \

. '. 2

specified.... When a task is different from most, and
relatively new, there will be little technique to deal
with it. The literature on the subject will be limited,
the accumulated experience within government will be
sparse, and the capacity of other government entities
to carry out their normal watchdog function will be
meagerly developed. Familiar problem-solving techni-
ques and activities will often be insufficient to
carry out the task. The problem may require not only
untried techniques of solution, but may first have to
be sought out and defined--a kind of searching that
is alien to much professional training in the developed
world. The task of development assistance, then,
involves not only "doing." An essential portion of it
has to do with learning. (Tendler, 1975, p. 9)

As extensions, as it were, of AID's development task, one

had no a priori reason to expect greater success than AID itself.

Agricultural development, after all, is not agricultural science,

nor is it even agricultural technology. The closest thing to agri-

cultural development work in our agricultural colleges is the ex-

tension work in which the colleges participate. And that work is

a complex of political and social skills quite beyond agriculture

itself. But not even that kind of extension experience can be

relied upon in the sharply different cultural, economic and political

settings in developing countries.

The optimistic assumption that our universities had the know-

ledge necessary to prevent famine and produce freedom from hunger

evident in the Title XII legislation failed to take into account

not only the significantly different sorts of agriculture which our

professionals would encounter, but also the difficult non-agricultural

parts of their task. Amplifying her comment about development work

being a learning process for the development agency, Tendler makes

the following observation:


But development knowledge is not simply a stock with
transferable properties. The peculiar nature of the
development task makes knowledge a product of the
transfer experience itself.

This augmented definition of development assis-
tance--where the transferred resource is both input and
output of the transfer process-makes it very difficult
to provide as clear a rationale for the assistance
as underlies the commitment to transfer capital. For
knowledge that is still to be learned cannot, by
definition, be more abundant in one part of the world
than in another. (Tendler, 1975, pp. 10-11)

A great deal of this learning-while-doing has gone on in the

decade since the experiences on which Tendler reflects in her book.

But the "New Directions" legislation which came into effect in the

middle of that decade has not made the task any easier for our

agricultural colleges and, in the opinion of critics from every

different point of view, the learning process has a long way to

go. Vernon Ruttan even feels that direct involvement of the Land

Grant colleges in development may be an inherently unpromising

approach. (Ruttan, 1982-forthcoming)2

In our opinion, however, .the moral challenge to use our

agricultural skills in the pursuit of such critical human goals

by itself guarantees that not only colleges such as Cornell and

Michigan State will continue their institutional commitment to

development, but many other excellent agricultural institutions

will continue their lively interest in the topic and seek$ ways of

contributing to it. Genuine caring about the distress of the rural

poor is, on the one hand, too creative a quality to be permanently

repressed; on the other hand, too intimately connected to the

solution of the entire constellation of Third World problems to

remain neglected even by the most hard-headed analysts. This caring,


together with a thorough preparation in agricultural sciences

is what must be drawn on to provide the motivation for the pecu-

liarly arduous kind of learning, which forms the substance of this

curriculum proposal.

A measure of cynicism about the wisdom of academic programs

founded on what is, ultimately, a motive of compassion is under-

standable. But an indication of the political strength of the

combination of compassion and good sense in targeting assistance

to the rural poor can be found in recent Congressional action. At

the precise time when the Administration was sending instructions

from the State Department to USAID missions and our embassies in

the Third World stipulating that assistance projects are to be

selected on a frank consideration of U.S. national defense needs,

a Republican dominated Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a

bill targeting 50% of assistance funding for the relatively and
absolutely poor (by World Bank Standard). Targeting, after all,

does not cost more money, but simply emphasizes the combined wis-

domo and compassion of attacking Third World problems at their

root--and in our context--where agricultural training suitably

applied, can contribute immensely.


It is to the many agricultural colleges which will continue

their interest in development that we principally address this

proposal. The proposal is a description of a way of preparing

both students and faculty for engaging in the "learning process

approach" to agricultural development in a participatory mode.


The "learning process" is not something newly discovered, as is

evident in Tendler's recognition of it as basic to development work

even apart from any focus on basic human needs and involvement of

the rural poor. But in terms of its contrast with conventional

approaches to agricultural extension work, to normal bureaucratic

mechanisms, to the reward systems and work habits of specialized

scientific and technical professionals, the learning process

approach is so profoundly different that it will be experienced

as something quite new wherever it is learned. Because of its

newness and because of stress inherent in the learning process,

we need to reflect on the need for something new. That need,

sadly, is clear in the record of development inadequacies and


We need to take seriously the record of failure we noted

briefly in Public Administration Review, 1980, (Korten, PAR,

1980, pp. 481-485), which had an explicit rural orientation.

In pointing out the failure of poverty-oriented development work,

we may have unavoidably contributed to critics on the extreme

left or right who variously wish to abandon development assistance

entirely or return to top-down styles of development. But

silence about this record of failure would be a disservice. The

lesson to be learned is not abandonment or a return to trickle-

down approaches. Continuation of this record of failure will

endanger the continuation of poverty targeted assistance and may

already have done so. One scholar working in development

management speaks of meeting with representatives of a major


consortium of Land Grant colleges involved in development and ---

asking for examples of successes in sustained agricultural develop-

ment outstandingly benefiting the poor. None could be offered.

The same scholar, Marcus: D. Ingle, together with several other

experts, did a review of AID efforts to target the poor and found

rather serious endemic deficiencies in a large number of projects.

(Ingle, 1982) The failures tend to cluster around three difficul-

ties; failure to determine who the poor were, .why they were poor

and finally how to put in place a development which would be so

securely in the power of the poor and to their advantage as to be

able to be maintained by them after the termination of outsider

involvement in the project. (Ingle, 1982, Exhibit 3) These were

specifically AID projects and not necessarily attributable to any

special weakness in the contributions of American agricultural

universities to the projects. But in conversations with key

persons in BIFAD, the agency which brings together AID and the

colleges for development work, the sense of frustration and

embarrassment is intensely felt. "This basic human needs stuff

is not our field, that is social or political science. Let us get

back to what we know how to do, increasing food production," is a

comment heard in the BIFAD office. And in the halls of Rayburn

outside the Foreign Affairs committee room, one hears: "New

Directions has failed, next year (in the general reauthorization

of the Foreign Assistance Act) we will drop it." But it is as if

nothing has been learned from history and the warnings of such

studies as the Brandt Commission Report..(1980), the National


Research Council Report (19771, World Food and Nutrition, and more

recently, the Global 2000 study (1980). It is as if the trickle

down and exclusively production-oriented agricultural development

projects were not burdened with their own histories of failure. For

all its self-admitted limitations, Global 2000 makes clear, as does

the National Research Council Report (1977), that without alleviation

of rural poverty there is little hope to get a reduction in popu-

lation growth and in the pressure which that population will place

on already deteriorating agricultural resources. With increasing

doubts about the sustainability of the U. S. agricultural resource

base, even famine alleviation may soon be beyond us, and the flight

of the rural poor to the cities of the developing nations will be-

come a deluge with massive human suffering and political chaos

resulting. There really is no alternative to agricultural develop-

ment which is sustainable left in the-hands of the rural poor. This

proposal is a suggestion of one way that American agricultural

students and faculty might learn how to share in that work which is

still the intent of the wisdom of the "New Directions" legislation.


It does little or no good to cite to U. S. experts in agriculture

the opinions of John Mellor (1980, p. 7) or Vernon Ruttan (1980, p. 62)

that even dramatic increases in food production unaccompanied by in-

volvement and participation of the rural poor will produce little

alleviation of hunger or population pressures.4 If Mellor points out

to an agriculturalist that it is useless to increase food production

\ "
( ,

even for the farmer, himself, if his neighbors are not able to

buy it or eat it, the agriculturalist can only feel hopeless or

defenseless if he has no place to turn to gain the competence

needed to do agricultural development which actually reaches the

people who need it. Agriculture is an applied science. In the

United States from its earlier days in the mid-nineteenth century,

its institution-building scientists learned, practiced and in-

stilled the difficult business of combining service and research.

(Rossiter, 1979) But while it is clear that the service to

farmers gained the political support which provided the public

funding, the scientists treasured and took pride in their image

as genuine scientists. (Rosenberg, 1971) And as Norman Storer

(1980) discovered in the 1960s, agricultural scientists were

increasingly aware of the rewards and professional identity of

the more "pure" science sort. The science was still meant to be

practical, but publication, attendance at professional meetings,

esteem by other scientists and disciplinary specialization

increasingly characterize the agricultural scientists. Moreover,

even when early scientist-entrepreneurs, like Henry at the Uni-

versity of Wisconsin or Hilgard in California, were demonstrating

energetically their ability to serve farmers, they had to admit

that they could not really reach and benefit the poor farmers.

(Rosenberg, 1971, p. 18) Whether the scientist sees him or herself

as engaged in extension work or not, tapeting the poor is not a

skill which has a tradition in American agricultural training, which

is not to suggest that the scientists did not care about the poor.

But a reasonable division of labor simply did not leave that task

to them. Moreover, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics with its

concern for the poor was the first victim of the counter-attack

against the New Deal, an event which certainly made clear the

need to keep "social" and scientific responsibilities distinct.

(Kirkendall, 1966) And a leader of that counter-attack still

governs agricultural research today. (Hadwiger, 1982) Don Paarlberg

(1981) recently pointed out some of the unfortunate consequences

of that division of labor, but it is not a simple matter to correct.

Hence, it is hardly surprising that even when a genuine desire to

help the poor was both sincerely felt and sanctioned by law in the

Title XII provisions, it remained an uncomfortable task.

The comments of Don Paarlberg referred to above suggest that

what is needed in Land Grant Universities is more cultivation of

the social sciences, but in spite of an uneven history, there is no

lack of rural sociology and highly practical anthropological and

political science being done and taught at Land Grant Universities.

(Newby, 1980) But if it has taken AID six years to try several

different wrong ways to integrate the social sciences into their

development planning, integration of social sciences on an educational

level for prospective agricultural scientists is even more difficult.

It is a process which will never succeed, in our opinion, unless

there is some very serious point to it. In the need to target

Agricultural development to the poor, there is a point of massive

importance; the avoidance of widespread human suffering and

generalized chaos in the Third World.

But the practical dimensions of such integration of social

sciences on a curricular level foreclose any hope of accomplishing


much by the way of adding many courses in sociology of development.

But fortunately that is not what is needed. What our experience,

as well as the history of successful development work, suggest is

that there is no way to teach the practical application of social

and agricultural sciences in community development in the class-

room situation. There are things, to be discussed later, which can

be taught which have more to do with preparing the development

worker to understand some of the experiences he/she will have. But

learning to target development to the poor is work involving totally

unpredictable mixes of social and agricultural problems, including

the problems deriving from the social systems of the students and

faculty themselves. Actual experience of development work is the

most efficient and probably the only way to learn the complex inter-

action of social and scientific components of the process.


There is very little in-our Western tradition of education to

prepare us for the lack of universality and predictability in

development work targeted to the poor. We try to make sciences out

of everything, and, if possible, make natural sciences into exact

sciences. And a whole range of educational and bureaucratic habits

encourage us to continue to try to reduce all tasks to some

"scientific," predictable form. But what our history of failure in

development work has taught us is that the very desire to have a

predictable and conventionally manageable task can almost assure

failure. We do have some vague yet certain knowledge of the goal,

and from that we can work backwards to determine a path to it.

It is the concrete details of the path we do not know. The develop-

ment histories referred to above should make that clear. The goal

is an improvement in the condition of life of a poor community or

group of people capable of forming a community. Successful develop-

ment history warns us that we cannot even say which among the basic

human needs of food, housing, hygiene, education or income will be

the concrete focus of improvement. We do know that a sustainable

and increased capacity to carry on the development work by a group

in the poor community itself will be the dynamic result of the work,

a capacity which will include the ability to secure or obtain from

the larger society the material or other resources needed to continue

its work.

While it is not difficult to assume that some kind of agri-

cultural development will be involved, the precise improvement needed

by the community, manner in which participation by the community will

occur, the pace and dimensions of the outcome, are unpredictable. We

will, therefore, need some means to keep our path-finding and goal

defining flexible. These requirements will burden even the most

tolerant bureaucracy charged with supporting the work. The bureauc-

racy will have to consent to a learning process itself. A resolute

intention to impose normal risk-taking standards and evaluation pro-

cedures will simply stifle the work.


One means of preparing for this kind of task is to seize on the

known features of the successful project, however vaguely determined,

and reason backwards to a process which could encompass them. The

cinematic feat, often perpetrated by Benny Hill, of throwing an

object to a moving target, say a shoe onto the foot of a gyrating

dancer, we know is accomplished by running the film backwards. But

we know this, if the shoe had to do it as it appears, it would have

to be capable of changing directions as it followed the foot. And

so we know that just as the bureaucracy must be tolerant, the

assistance agents must be capable to changing directions, i.e.,

learning, as it pursues the known features of the goal. And this

requirement of learning, from which the name "learning process"

comes, is all the more basic in that the known feature of goal,

namely an active development capacity of the community itself,

requires the involvement of a free community with its own changing

perceptions of its welfare. The "learning process approach" could

seem an entirely unteachable process. But in the PAR article

(Korten, 1980, pp. 485-494) after a discussion of development

failure, there are five case histories in which the outlines of a

learning process can be discerned. The reader is urged to review

these histories in detail. We present the basic features here:


A project ... has definite goals, a definite time frame,
and a careful specification of resource requirements ....
Project goals take many forms, but they all have one
common feature: they are terminal. Reaching the goal
concludes the project.

This approach may be well suited to projects of large scale physical

infra-structures where the task is physically precise, its costs

predictable, and the relevant environment stable. But our concern

is for development targeted to the rural poor where actual physical

characteristics of the goal are not known in advance, are likely


to be multiple, subject to negotiated change, task requirements

unclear and time, cost and environmental conditions unsure. Blue-

print approaches assume that all these unknowns are known. Hence,

where the major part of the task is to build a process of learning

what is unknown while carrying the resulting knowledge to decision

and to the forming of a capacity for continued development action,

the blueprint model supposes the antithesis of all these requirements.

The deficiency of the blueprint model has been recognized, but with-

out an alternative, it is not likely that either agencies for develop-

ment or for development training will abandon the blueprint.


Rather than arriving in a community with a blueprint, in the

five histories reviewed, development program personnel and villagers

shared their knowledge and resources to construct a program which

fit their mutual capacities and needs, forming a program which fit

both sets of agents in the development process and making a team.

Some elements of this fitting.together of beneficiary needs and

capacities and those of the outsiders providing assistance are:

1. Leadership and other team functions are not preassigned

but develop, usually early in the process.

2. Formation of a local supporting organization or the

shaping of an extant organization to the needs of the


3. Where the outsiders are members of some conventional

agency, some means for providing and supporting the

flexibility required in the field is found within the

agency, or by some kind of outside funding.


The value of this bureaucratic flexibility and an example of its

functioning is evident in later developments of the Philippine

National Irrigation Administration. (Korten, 1982)

With the flexibility made possible by the fitting process, a

local supporting organization is formed which can continue the

development after the outsiders have finished their tasks. The

indeterminate nature of the tasks and the fitting process itself

require certain characteristics of the supporting organization which

make it a "learning organization." That is, qualities which make

the organization responsive to learning and adaptive to the change

the learning calls for:

1. Embracing of error: Trial and error ought to be an

obvious technique when task details are not worked out in

advance. A conscious effort to embrace error as a

principal learning experience and to accept critical

reports not as grievance reports but as learning oppor-

tunities is required. It requires the abandonment of a

stance of professional and superior competence. This

promotes the formation of a cooperative team with the

beneficiary group which has much to offer in terms of

experience and talents about how the poor in the commu-

nity actually survive, the kind of information which

"professional" techniques can rarely uncover quickly and

efficiently. The intellectual integrity of such learning

organization is found more in its display of open dis-

cussion of error and adoption of corrective procedures

than in a self-deceiving stance of ready-made compentence.

In this embracing of error, there is also an avenue

for the redefinition Of the whole function of evaluation.

gather than an after-the-fact effort to measure success

or failure, which is really not possible, since no blue-

print of proposed success was present, evaluation is

transformed into a record of collaborative adjustment

between outsiders and beneficiaries and can be done by

personnel trained to record in anecdotal form the process

of learning in the interactions of beneficiary and assis-

tance personnel. (Korten, 1982, p. 27)

2. Planning with the people: If it is true that the blue-

print model presumes knowledge which does not exist in

the assisting personnel, the learning organization must

open itself up to the sources of that knowledge. Once

again, it is both the capacities of the beneficiary

groups as well as their awareness of their harsh choices

and constantly changing environment which the planning

must take into account. For example, in the case of the

landless Philippine farm workers, many labor and cropping

arrangements are products of very short histories of

efforts to survive in the face of arrangements made by

plantation owners to legally evade the minimum wage laws.

(Korten, 1982, Appendix) In another case, a deliberate

choice of low yielding grains by Indian hill tribes is a

highly rational device to avoid starvation while waiting

for the slower maturation of high yielding varieties.

(Gupta, 1981) This kind of knowledge is of such a local

and changeable sort that it would be foolish to seek

it by any other means than by learning from the people

in the planning process. Moreover there are survival

techniques of considerable sophistication which clumsy

development efforts can damage or replace with dependency

producing technologies before means to reduce the risk

of the dependency were learned.

3. Linking knowledge to action: The obvious purpose of the

knowledge gained in planning with the people is the

formation of action plans. No body of research to be

the province of the researcher, incorporated by the

planner and executed by the administrator is intended.

History shows that the kind of learning involved is

possessed and acted on in the early stages of a program

by a team in which role differentiations do not exist.

Even later as role differentiation was required by the

growing size of the organization, the persons filling

the traditional roles continued to keep close to the

action in the field and open to participation by field

workers in planning and decision making. In this way

the growing organization continually reflected and

embodied the accumulating knowledge and experience gained

in the continuing action. It becomes clear that dynamic

integration of knowledge and action personnel, including

those who are ultimately in management roles, cannot be

analysed into roles and blue-prints and the blue-print

then transported for replication to a new group trained



by some top-down process. Replication will have to

be done by much of the same kind of bottom-up learning

process. For even if it could be assumed that a similar

task remains to be done in a new community, the bottom-up

process creates more than knowledge, but working relation-

ships and capacities for ongoing action by the community.

Otherwise the replication will consi(Q in establishing

a kind of para-professional group in a community with a

blue-print and the whole vulnerability of the blue-print


Replication is a natural desideratum for successful

development projects but has to be approached with

particular care because of the danger of relapsing into

a blue-print managerial mode as just noted. In the PAR

(1980) article three stagesare noted in the achievement

of a replicative ability. The three stages are:

a) Learning to be effective, i.e. achieving an

organizational capacity fit to the task whose need

was discovered in the process.

b) Learning to be efficient: Some routinization of the

task and reduction of extraneous activities will be

possible by careful study of the learning process in

stage one. It may be necessary, to achieve an

acceptable and sustainable level of efficiency, to

sacrifice some effectiveness. A healthy realism is

needed. With the program model stabilized in this

way, a modest expansion will give experience in the

problem of introducing and training new cadre-and in

the management of an expanding program.

c) Learning to expand: The nature and need to expand

depends on community needs. In some of the histories

of successful development expansion actually involved

finding new tasks. But the rate of expansion depends

on the ability to expand organizational capacity

without losing the fit to the beneficiary groups. It

is worthwhile to study the experiences of some of the

programs recounted in PAR (1980) to appreciate the

special opportunities and dangers of the expansion



One of the pervasive fears or sentiments of reluctance to

engage in targeted agricultural development which one encounters

in agriculturalists, for reasons noted above, is that sense of

unfamiliarity with the very important role of the social sciences

in this process. But one of the fortunate advantages of the

"learning process approach" is that the role of the social sciences

is made simultaneously more effective and comprehensible to -the

other team members in an interdisciplinary team. There has been

a somewhat painful history of efforts to incorporate social science

in development work. Some of it is traceable to a lack of experi-

ence in a large organization such as USAID in using social science

inputs. But a very large component was and is traceable to an

effort to make the social sciences serve the blue-print model

*i- *--'


both in design and evaluation. Without denying the value of the

sophisticated tools of social sciences, what the successful develop-

ment programs have made clear is ways in which a development.team

can make efficient use of these sciences. The scientists have

provided the development program with tools useable by everyone:

They have stressed disciplined observation, guided interviews, and

informant panels over formal surveys, timeliness over rigor, oral

over written communication; informed interpretation over statistical

analysis; narrative over numerical presentation, and attention to

process and intermediate outcomes as a basis for rapid adaptation

over detailed assessment of "final" outcomes. Rather than the

static profiles provided by typical socioeconomic surveys, they

have sought an understanding of the dynamics of the socio-technical

systems that govern village life as a basis for improving predic-

tions of the consequences of any given development intervention.

They have sought specific identification of target group members

and behavior in terms relevant to program action. As noted earlier,

Ingle's review of development programs shows how pervasive the

failure to answer the three basic questions: who are the poor,

why are they poor, and how do they currently survive, leads to

the failure of the projects themselves. The rural poor are

usually the least visible members of the community and the tech-

niques for identifying them in conjunctionwith development efforts

have received considerable attention. (Korten, 1981, pp. 201-221,

Chambers et al., 1979). This is one of the vital functions of

the social science tools.


By functioning as members of an on-going team which embraces

error, and deliberately displays corrective adaptation, the social

scientists are relieved of that earlier tension between the choice

of roles as apologists for a program they designed or as critics

of one that failed. And by remaining themselves in contact, as

members of the team, with the beneficiary groups, social scientists

function more as listening and learning human advisors, sensitive

to the values and goals of a community undergoing change and often

first becoming aware of its own priorities during the development

process. Their role is then less of a prescriptive technical

analyst, a role which tended to fit the blue-print model and forced

the science to favor that obsolescent view of itself as a form of

physics rather than as a non-positivistic discipline capable of

dealing with values and purposive behavior. The decline in

expectation of predictive precision which comes from this acceptance

of the values-based behavior of the community in the midst of

change is more than compensated by the usefulness which the sciences

provide in the continuing process of fitting assistance organiza-

tion and beneficiary needs and capacities. Naturally this pre-

sumes that the social scientist remain on the scene in close

contact with the action. The alternative is to return to the

prescriptive and coercive behavior ultimately required by the

blue-print model, a model in which the "predictions" of the social

scientist, in the "physics" ideal of science are brought about by

force, or more likely, a model which fails the minute the com-

plexities of the human values and human freedom are let loose at

the termination of the project. The opposed paradigm of "social

o .. -.- ----- -- -- ...-. -- -..-- _^^^^--*` ^ri w-t-i*^-a t


knowledge" with which the social scientist must work in the

learning process approach carries a greater promise of usefulness

in the development field because it opens up to study and to a

values-based impulse to change not merely the social systems of

the beneficiary group but of the social systems of the action

groups and the bureaucracies in which they are rooted. In

abandoning the "physics-ideal" the social scientists do not

become apologists for the program but on the contrary broaden the

scope of their action to include the possibility of a therapeutic

degree of self-knowledge in all the agents in development.7


Before proceeding to a curriculum proposal which will be

essentially a proposal to engage an interdisciplinary team of

faculty and students in a learning process development effort

including agricultural applications, it would be good to see how

the learning process could contribute to better agricultural

development specifically. The learning of learning process will,

after all, seem an additional burden on an already packed course


The sense of frustration and embarrassment in agricultural

development officials is not relieved by showing that many of the

failures are not the fault of agricultural sciences and institu-

tions. Too often a lack of fit between the agricultural innovation

itself and the social and political environment was at fault,

but not in such a way as to leave the choice of agricultural tools

without blame. On the other hand, more skill at the arts of


development might have produced an outcome more favorable to the

reputation of the agricultural aspects themselves. It is not

always the recalcitrance of inequitable social or political systems

which caused the failure. Given both the desire to bring agri-

culture to a humane application and the fact that the food

deficiencies exist in areas where agricultural resources and a

population traditionally prepared for the arduous work of farming

exist, the question is bound to nag: "Why can't your sciences do

something about this?"

We are suggesting that learning the learning process approach

to development will do more than simply allow agriculture to apply

what it knows, but to'undergo some internal changes of its own in

the learning process. If there is any truth to the claim that

the sciences themselves need an increased versatility and that

the learning process may open the way to that kind of enrichment,

then we have found an additional justification for investment in

our curriculum proposal. To test for the need for a greater

internal versatility in the agricultural sciences themselves, we

need to review briefly some of the common criticisms of current

agricultural science.

Wedding agriculture to "open system" economics: The resource

intensiveness which is bred into American agriculture as a result

of its historic abundance of land and water and, eventually, of

cheap fertilizers and state subsidized irrigation, led to an easy

wedding with open system economics. The "open system" views the

environment as an apparently inexhaustible external reservoir

from which resources can be dependably drawn and into which wastes

can be dumped without economic consequences. In this context

agricultural technologies make sense which introduce energy to

alter the environment to fit crops. Crops are chosen for their

ability to generate capital to purchase the inputs from the

external reservoir. Decreased labor and employment of rural

populations occur in order to exploit the potential of the resource

intensive technologies. (Korten, PAR, 1981, pp. 612-14). The

Global 2000 warnings about the finite character of the "external

reservoir" call for revision of this model on a global basis, and

its shortcomingfor this nation are already evident. But there is

a special danger in it for developing countries and especially the

poor there.

Western and temperate zone agriculture fixation: In many ways

this is inevitable if the agriculturalists are trained in Western,

temperate-zone ways. But the fixatopn creates a vicious circle

with the open system economics, for it is obvious that only by

energy costly efforts can the envi~gnment of the tropics be

altered to fit the temperate zone crops.

Effects on Rural Poor: Poor farmers, of course, cannot carelessly

become dependent on unstable outside sources of energy intensive

inputs which are woven into the western agricultural paradigm.

Credit, meant to provide opportunity, can turn into bankruptcy,

starvation or flight to the city. Moreover the frequently limited

environments of the poor are a problem. For the kinds of lands

left to the poor are often the most marginal soils and with the

sparsest water supplies. Yet further exploitation of that kind

of fragile environment may be implied in the technologies which


are unsustainable even in more richly endowed environments. The

exhaustion of the environment is particularly threatening, once

again,-to the poor. But a western style development that seeks

the best land and water supplies in an area may further deprive

the poor of the resources they need. These kinds of criticisms

have been heard many times, yet there is little systematic change


We know that scientific paradigms change slowly and even

more slowly when the falsifying experiments are not based on

carefully calculated theoretical predictions of the pure sciences,

but on economic failures based on applied science prescriptions of

good agricultural policy. The weather, failure to follow directions,

unexpected pests or political instability can (often justly) be

blamed. How long did it take before the great wasting of money

by American farmers on phosphorus and potassium and even nitrogen

was revealed? The Rodale expose had been preceded by studies at

other experiment stations. Paradigms of applied science are

brought into conflict through comparison of their economic strengths.

But in the case of the rural poor in a distant land, what means

do they have of getting knowledge of the increased suffering

caused by some agricultural developments back to the planners of

those systems? The system is not geared to that kind of responsive-


But then if potential for responsiveness to the needs of the

poor in tropical counties would be built into major U. S. agri-

cultural institutions, where would they turn for actual change.

One cannot change from something to nothing. A new paradigm does

not exist.

Learning Process as an Avenue to a New Paradigm: Worse than not

having a new paradigm, there seems to be no way for the major

agricultural institutions to find one. We have known the theoretical

outline of the new paradigm for years, energy conservative, labor

intensive, land and water conservative, adapted to the environment,

low in risk to the subsistence farmer and sustainable. But in

terms of the concrete research and development projects, crops

and systems, these cannot be inventions of speculation. On-the-

ground-development is-called for, on the ground with the poor.

And when shown to be successful and even before, while in the

experimental stage, the innovations must be brought to the attention

of a bureaucracy and there find a spirit of readiness for change

and learning, receiving support and,;eward for the efforts. A


Answer to the Lonesome Cry of Biological Innovators: Into this

unpromising context of an agricultural paradigm known to be

inappropriate, but with only a vacuum to replace it steps a group

of stranded innovators. In November of 1980 the Office of

Technology Assessment assembled, under the direction of Dr. Walter

Parham, a group of biological innovators to present their innovations.

Their purpose was the demonstration of technologies for food

production in Lesser Developed Countries. A summary of the needs

and sentiments of the innovators is presented in the printed

report (OTA 1981). Few of the innovators were consciously aware

of the degree to which they represented a kind of common paradigm,

Page 26



that exploitation of folk wisdom could lead to learning.more ways

to conserve fertilizer, improve production, protect soil and water

and provide new sources of firewood. They felt that many trained

scientists miss the potential for reducing expensive inputs to

agriculture while still increasing over-all production and resource

efficiency because they have no way to break down the cultural

values which blind them to the values of the native systems

(OTA, 1981, p. 33). The "conventional" scientists seem unaware

of any way to increase soil fertility except by use of commercial

chemical fertilizers. (OTA, 1981, p. 41). They criticized the

spending of $43 million out of a $650 million dollar AID budget

for agricultural development on shipping and distributing commercial

chemical fertilizers. (p. 71). They saw a difficulty in AID's

reluctance to run small-scale pilot development projects where

things could be learned about the applications of their innovations.

Although the conference participants did not suggest the

name or consciously suggest two well formed paradigms facing each

other on this issue, the summary-writer found it convenient to

treat the main complaints as being those of an "agroecosystem

approach" which he contrasted to the "conventional" approach (p. 66).

He noted that the "agroecosystem approach" required (in the opinion

of its practitioners) an interdisciplinary team with knowledge

of local conditions, farmers talents and knowledge and a desire

to find ways which fit crops to the environment rather than seek

ways to alter the environment to fit alien crops and cropping

practices, ways that are usually expensive and risky to the farmer.

At the same time they complain of the bureaucratic rigidity, AID


agency goals and a fear of the kinds of risk which affect.bureaucracies

rather than farmers, seemed to control project selection (pp. 15,

33, 53, 66-67). One could go on, but it should be clear that the

goals they sought are those of great interest to the rural poor,

and the obstacles they met are those capable of being in large part

overcome by the learning process approach. Yet, while the coin-

cidence is almost stunning, I don't believe that the innovators

were aware of the "learning process approach." In fact in their

confidence that by AID's hiring more agriculturalists some of their

problems would be solved (p. 82) they seemed to be missing

the point that their innovations were due to breaking out of a

mold of conventional agricultural paradigms and conventional

patterns of professional-to-client relationships. There is no

reason to suppose that just any agriculturalist would have broken

the mold also.10

The direct purpose of the "learning process approach" is to

build continuing targeted development capacity. But because that

learning process must routinize the "breaking of the mold," allow

the experience with energy, and dependency-reducing goals, open

the flow of ideas from developing countries back to our schools,

enrich the assisting outsiders with innovations and loosen bureau-

cracies, it may become the best ally the OTA groups of innovators

could have.11 It will be a pleasant irony if, in the effort to

find ways of learning to target agricultural development to the

poor we find a reciprocal enrichment of our arsenal of solutions

to the problems of sustainability for our own immensely rich but

emphatically finite agricultural resources.



We advocate undertaking of a development assistance program

in a rural community suffering from fairly severe property, lacking

income or direct sources of basic human needs or obtaining them

principally from welfare subsidies. If possible the undertaking,

which we will call a practicum, should be reasonably close to the

home campus and naturally have some potential for employment of

agricultural developments.

There are many reasons why the practicum is the best approach,

perhaps the only approach to actually teaching this learning

process. As noted by Tendler (1975, pp. 9-11), gaining knowledge

in development is a product of doing development and is difficult

for institutions to engage in. This difficulty is merely one

aspect of the more fundamental problem, that what is learned is

what we call "social knowledge" (Korten, 1981, pp. 612) which to

remain valid and useful must not be reduced to some universalized

set of formulae, an ersatz science. Perhaps the best analogy to

the difficulty of teaching development in a lecture-and-reading

format is to recognize that development is more like an art, and

one that works with materials that are by nature not passively

subject to universal rules, but with materials, namely communities,

that in order to be successful must be interacted with. In this

regard, lecture-with-reading is as inappropriate as it would be

in learning to teach, do nursing, or play football. But even

these examples are inadequate, because the development work is

one in which the beneficiary group is interactive in ways in which

patients, students need not necessarily be. For in a classroom

in basic mathematics the teacher does learn much interactively,

but not usually about mathematics, whereas in development, the

substance and form of the development direction may be learned.

Planning a Practicum in Development: Precisely because so much of

the development process and substance is going to be learned in

the doing, the preparation for the practicum will consist mainly

in making sure that the development team of faculty and students

is so constructed as to be capable of the flexibility, change and

learning as possible. And although there are other campus

instruction programs which involve practical experience, this

practicum is based on a premise difficult for the bureaucracy

dedicated to science and technology, for it suggests that science

and its applied twin, predictable, logical technology, are

inappropriate models of knowledge acquisition and skills applica-

tion in development. Hence some incorporation of the bureaucracy

into the planning of the practicum, with a commitment to undergo

some learning of its own, should be obtained.

Learning must imitate doing: This is not going to be an "experi-

mental" development effort any more or less than any such effort

will be, nor, since it will affect real people burdened with real

needs, should it be approached with any less seriousness than

something funded by a major multilateral international agency.

The nature of the teaching -- activity experience will simply be

drawn from all the characteristics of successful development

programs outlined above (pp. 12-14) and in the more extensive

treatments referred to there. The curriculum proposal, in a very

real sense, is already contained in those articles. We might

terminate by saying: Go out and try what is described there.

But because this is addressed to an academic audience, it would

be worthwhile to underline some of the important differences in

this kind of program and a standard "internship" or practice

teaching or other faculty supervised practical-experience courses.

Democratic, non-hierarchical relationships, including those between

faculty and students: The purpose of this democratic structure

is not a self-conscious ideology, but to assure the free flow of

information and learning as well as to guarantee the integration

and familiarity of all members with the research planning and

administrative functions. In all these functions, it will be

easier to discover natural talents and exploit special training.

Even the tensions experienced in gradually assuming the most

efficient role-relationships will be part of the experience.

Moreover, eventually members' of the supporting organization in

the community will be drawn into leadership roles and the freer

relationships will facilitate the fitting together of the college

team and the community supporters. For example: not only is no

prior development plan expected to be in hand, but not even is

there to be one person who is the planner since the people must

share in the planning. No one's ego or professional expertise

is supposed to be hung on the dominance of the planning function.

In this way maximum flexibility and objectivity of criticism

suggesting need to alter plans will be possible. Hopefully someone

with planning expertise will be in the group or accessible to it,

but roles should be shared and open.

Page 32


faculty, this kind of "record of learning" will provide an

excellent source of continuity as well.

Research, reflection and writing directed to action: This is

surely going to be a problem since students will, in a search

for a secure area, attempt to focus their work in their area of

expertise and do any writing and reporting on that basis. The

importance of keeping an integrated goal focus in the work should

be maintained and those who award "credit" for the course should

be involved in goal focus in the evaluation of students. Perhaps

some completely novel form of student performance evaluation should

be devised. If the true goal, namely a community with an enriched

sustainable development capacity of its own, is not the goal and

the measure of success of the participants, all sorts of skewing

of the work will occur.

One of the problems for both faulty and students pursuing

higher degrees is the need for academic disciplinary publication

and/or research. BIFAD itself has recognized the difficulty of

disciplinary reward systems for what is unavoidably interdisciplinary


DAMAGE WILL BE DONE TO THE WORK. Just as moving money damages

AID (Tendler, 1975, pp. 85-101), so moving students and faculties

toward narrow academic specialty goals in a project of inter-

disciplinary applied nature is going to harm the work. Some

suggestions: to select students with no expectations of academic

careers at the time, or at least not in disciplinary specialties,

to select faculty already distinguished in their specialities

seeking a broadening in an institution committed to honor it, and

finally introduction of students and faculty to the goals of

knowledge-building in explicitly interdisciplinary fields by

spending some time on the literature and excitement of that field.

Efficiency and Expansion: In a healthy program the opportunity

to routinize and expand will arise. It may be a problem, then,

whether students will learn all the initial lessons of early

development work. If care is taken not to turn the successful

lessons into stifling blue-prints there may be no need for

artificially introduced fresh starts.

Rhythm of Group reflection and action: Faculty students should

be aware of the literature of development success and failure

which led to the realization of the importance of the learning

process approach. There should be explicit discussions of this

history and of its justification for acceptance of the tension-

laden and anxiety-producing chaos ofthe learning process. The

"security" of most curricular tasks is a very comfortable world

for most students, and it corresponds very nicely to a view of

what good science and technology ought to be. To whatever extent

possible the immersion of students in a wholly alien experience

should not be done on the basis of faith in the faculty who

designed the curricula, but with an understanding of the reasons

behind it. At the same time some effort should be made to assure

the students of the continuity of their work with the proud

tradition of agricultural sciences, which is a tradition of service

to farmers, pursuit of the most humane relevance of modern science

and technology. This kind of reconciliation should not be left

to chance but should form part of the "classes" which occur during

the program. These should be group reflections, however, a period

for a specialist to develop a relevant topic, for example the

difference between social and scientific knowledge, should be

included. There is no reason that times of intense practical

activity cannot be times of considerable intellectual growth.


There are a large number of fields which could benefit the

students and faculty in achieving the interdisciplinary breadth

needed for effective development work. Some means of introducing

students to the following would be advantageous:

1. Sustainability, Global 2000, and demographic issues, especially

those that make clear'the critical role of agricultural development,

as a source of secure food and income can play in supporting the

choice of smaller families. Discussions in agricultural policy

classes often reveal that students reserve a retreat in the corner

of their minds that "maybe -ore food now will just delay the

decision to practice birth control."

2. Social Soundness Studies of ambitious development projects:

A study, for example, of a work like S. P. Reyna (University of

New Hampshire) "Social Soundness of Four Projects Proposed by the

United Nations Development Program/Lake Chad Basin Commission"

could accomplish two things. It could loosen confidence in

rationalistic and imaginative plans of massive scale and produce

an awareness that prestigious organizations are capable of being

deceived by the mechanistic models produced in this way. Secondly,

it could strengthen their awareness of the need for participatory

modes on purely technical grounds, i.e. the grounds of achieving

genuine success.

3. A study of the professional ethics of development, e.g. Belshaw's

Sorcerer's Apprentice. (1976)

4. A study of efforts within United States Department of Agriculture

to assist the rural poor farmers and the political difficulties

of accomplishing that, together with the close connection of that

failure to the problems of crop surpluses, weakening sustainability

and continuing failure of middle-sized farms today. (Kirkendall,


5. Philosophy of Science and Technology, Sociology of Science

and Technology, Sociology of large Bureaucracies.

Although the skills that our curriculum proposal are attempting

to improve are the focus of considerable institutional interest

and the mandate of federal legislation, there are massive obstacles

to the successful exercise of those skills which are responsible

for the fact that poverty-targeted assistance is said to be a

failure. While some of those obstacles are political in the most

cynical sense of the word,many have roots in the histories and

conceptual foundations of the institutions and disciplines involved.

Some introduction to this material could be helpful for the

following reason. We are educating students within those very

institutions and as professionals within those disciplines. When

they run into the obstacles referred to,rather than surprise and

uncomprehending bitterness, an understanding of the forces which

govern the resistance they meet would enable them to behave in a

conciliatory fashion, reduce the personal risk to themselves and

find ways to emphasize the humane goals shared in concept, even if


opposed inadvertently by the defenders of institutional habits.

Literature on several aspects of this problem can be found in

Paul Durbin (1920).


Footnotes to

Learning to Aid the Poor

In the Title XII of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 as
amended, at Section 296, there is an explicit requirement that
the university participation in foreign agricultural development
activities conform to the "new directions" basic human needs goals
of the legislation stated in sections 103 and 103A. These sections
indicate a focus on the rural poor and an emphasis on participato-y
modes of development world.

Ruttan does feel, however, that training Third World students
in our collages is a useful function.

The International Herald Tribune, (5/8/82, p. 1) reported
that an instruction from the Office of James Buckley, over the
signature of Alexander Haig, went out to all missions and embassies
stating that U. S. defense interests were the principal criteria
for foreign assistance. Last in a list of nine criteria was the
consideration of the need of the people for the assistance. Two
weeks later, the 50% targeting provision of Senator Charles Mattias
(R., MD.), co-sponsored by Sen. Sarbanes (D.,14D.) passed the
Senate Foreign Affairs committee, in spite of resistance by the
chairman of the committee and energetic lobbying by the head of AID.

Ruttan reviews briefly the literature critical of the "green
revolution" and concedes that the changes, while scale neutral in
themselves, have worked out to be highly biased in favor of the
affluent. And the various adjustments in resources and institutions
have increased the burden on the poorest segment of the rural

"On Projects" Pasitam Newsletter: The Design Process in
Development. No. 15, Suimer, 1977, p. 1. In the Third World there
is rarely in place a permanent institution which would make this
kind of design process achieve its potential.

6See Naomi Caiden and Aaron Wildavsky (1971), Charles F. Sweet
and Peter Weisel (1979) Marcus Ingle (1979), Robert Chambers (1974)
Russell L. Ackoff (1977) Elliot R. Morss, et al. (1976). The
extensive literature on blue-print approaches and alternatives
thereto are discussed in the notes of the PAR article (Korten,
1980, pp. 509-511).

7The relevance of moving the development-oriented social science
away from a "physics-model" to a model capable of working with social
knowledge as it exists in a form resistant to analysis is discussed
in Korten, PAR (1981) pp. 612-614.

There is no reason why the development effort would have to
include agricultural development a priori, since the learning
process could be profitably experienced without it and there is
no a priori assurance that an agricultural need has highest priority
even in a rural area.

In a series of articles in New Farm commencing in January of
1982 until May 1982, experiments done by Dr. William Liebhart of
Rodale showed the expensive over-prescription of fertilizers by
public and private soil testing labs. But studies at the University
of Nebraska, and Liebhardt's own work at the University of Delaware
had produced little change. It remains to be seen whether any
significant change will occur.

1The concept of Kuhnian paradigm struggles in pure sciences
is a great deal simpler than in applied sciences. As already noted
(p. 21, above) the crucial test is not usually a conceptual but an
economic contest. Thus rarely would not hear a claim: "On purely
conceptual scientific grounds there is no way to increase total
food production on this piece of land except by introducing
commercial chemical fertilizers." Such a position might be taken
on economic grounds. On the other hand a kind of "scientific" or
rather science-education based conviction will be found which
implies "the most fruitful avenues for research for solutions to
soil fertility and crop production increases lie in inputs of a
technical sort which alter the environment." The impact of this
conviction on rival avenues, such as..enviornmentally accommodating,
low-input, techniques, could be even more exclusionary than the
normal science paradigm of Kuhn, because it works in an institu-
tionally a prioristic way, depriving experiments of support, in a
field which has almost always been too expensive for non-institu-
tional experimentation.
In this respect it is of interest that even these innovators
did need and receive institutional support, but outside of the
agricultural system, from NSF, the National Academy of Sciences
and from AID itself, as well as from private groups of all sizes.
If this kind of "school-thinking" is called a paradigm at all, it
must be remembered that there is not the conceptual unity one finds
in a theoretical paradigm, since a rival school might detach
individual technologies and use them successfully in their own
constellation of tools. It is unfortunate to find rival schools.
resisting this kind of flexibility as if there were some intrinsic
and dangerous connection among technologies. It seems as foolish
as 16th Century Catholics refusing to sing certain traditional
German hymns because they had become popular in the Lutheran churches.

11While it is clear that the learning process approach can
favor the introduction of "agroecosystem" technologies and give
support to research and experimentation in that direction, the
learning process approach is not an agricultural or agricultural

development paradigm specifically at all. Because it is being
advocated in a context of agricultural development targeted to the
poor it tends to favor an agricultural approach which is inherently
more sensitive to native skills and environments. But it is quite
conceivable that a given community would actually have a short
term agricultural need or opportunity which would best be served
or exploited by some technology characteristic of the "conventional"
school. The learning process approach is not tied to the imposition
or even the advocacy of any specific technology, it is a method
for fitting needs and capacities of beneficiaries to those of
assistance agents,and the selection of technologies should be
based on those grounds.

12"The Sondeo Report" of the North Florida Farming Systems
Research and Extension Project, being conducted by an interdis-
ciplinary group including Carl Amerling, George Clough, James
Dean, Bruce Dehm, Edwin French, Peter Hildebrand, Dwight Schmidt,
Marilyn Swisher. Located in the Institute for Food and Agricultural
Sciences (IFAS) of the University of Florida at Gainesville. In
addition to the Sondeo Report, covering the survey phases of the
project aimed at small and porrer farmers of the Suwannee and
Columbia Counties, the IFAS team has produced reports covering the
continuing activities of the extension program.


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Belshaw, Cyril, The Socerer's Apprentice: An Anthropology of
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Chambers, Robert, Managing Rural Development: Ideas and Experience
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Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs