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Interactive design of farm conversion
Linking agricultural research and farmer learning
for sustainable small scale horticulture production
Prof. Dr. Ir. N.G. R61ing
Hoogleraar Landbouwkennissystemen in Ontwikkelingslanden
Prof. Dr. Ir. E.A. Goewie
Hoogleraar Maatschappelijke Aspecten van de Biologische Landbouw
Prof. dr. ir. H. Challa
Prof. dr. ir. C. Leeuwis
Dr. ir. A. van Huis
Prof. dr. P. Van Mele
CABI Bioscience UK Centre, Surrey, UK
Rebecca A. Lee
Interactive design of farm conversion
Linking agricultural research and farmer learning
for sustainable small scale horticulture production
Proefschrift ter verkrijging van de graad van doctor
op gezag van de rector magnificus van Wageningen Universiteit,
Prof. dr. ir. L. Speelman
in het openbaar te verdedigen
op dinsdag 17 september 2002
om 13.30 uur in de Aula
CIP-DATA KONINLUKE BIBLIOTHEEK, DEN HAAG
Interactive design of farm conversion. Linking agricultural research and farmer learning for
sustainable small scale horticulture production in Colombia
Lee, R. A.
Thesis Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands With ref. With summaries
in Dutch, Spanish and English 294 pp.
No copyright. All parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any
form or by any means, without prior permission of the author, as long as the correct quotation
is provided. The author would appreciate being notified (suamena(@,vahoo.ca).
Lee, R.A. 2002. Interactive design of farm conversion. Linking agricultural research and
farmer learning for sustainable small scale horticulture production in Colombia. PhD Thesis,
Wageningen University, Wageningen, pp. 294. Summaries in Dutch, Spanish and English.
Economic and ecological pressure on small farmer production in Colombia has increased
since the globalisation of trade in the early 1990s. Although the climate allows for year-round
production, the farmers live precariously due to a high dependence on external inputs, poor
access to different sources of information on production technology and lack of control over
market prices. Mechanisms are required to help these producers find alternatives to stabilise
their income while reducing the negative effect their farming practices have had on the
This book describes an innovative situation where agricultural research provides a viable
methodology for moving towards sustainable agriculture involving new (technical) learning
for the farmers and parallel capacity building to ensure long lasting effects of these efforts, at
both farm and landscape level, using a case study approach. With the European prototyping as
a starting point, a methodology for farm conversion is designed interactively with the farmers
to ensure appropriateness to their situation. It is then applied by them using, and in some cases
verifying, organic, botanical and biological management strategies based on scientific
research. It looks at how conditions for using biological control at the farm level can be
created at the landscape level. It looks at building a marketing strategy among small farmers.
And it addresses the issue ofreplicability.
Emerging from the facilitation of the farmer learning process came a sequence of coherent
and novel research activities designed to generate farmer learning: understand the context,
implement participatory diagnostic research to anchor the work in real problems, encourage
the creation of a learning platform, interactively (with farmers) design a system based on the
farmers' priorities that is effective at the farm level, and that is acceptable to farmers, identify
and test science-based applicable technologies at the farm level, scale up this system from the
farm to higher system levels, and ensure long-term project impact and farming community
autonomy by providing the tools for accessing new information and training local facilitators.
By studying the interface between the farmer learning pathway and the set of research
activities involved in its facilitation, it became apparent that the farmers learning pathway is
divided up into four phases. These are: 1. participatory diagnosis and the beginning of the
creation of a learning platform, 2. improvement of production at farm level due to better
technical knowledge leads to the realization of the importance of working together as a
community, 3. this in turn leads to the search for solutions on a larger scale as a tool for
regional development, and 4. building the capacity of the farmers to stand on their own. Each
phase is related to the progress made by the farmers throughout the research based on
accomplishments in the three dimensions of the development project: technical know-how for
appropriate farm management, the creation of a cooperating group of farmers, and long-term
sustainability through autonomy and self-reliance.
Key words: interactive conversion design / vegetable production / small farms / sustainable
farming / Colombia / learning processes / facilitation / agricultural research methods
Work of this magnitude is never the sole effort of the author. This book is no exception. I
have many friends, family, colleagues and institutions to thank for many different reasons.
Chronologically, I go back to the days when I was putting the final touches on my Masters
thesis in the Department of Rural Extension Studies of the University of Guelph, Canada, in
1989. My supervisor, Dr. Jim Shute, was the first to take my long-term dream of doing a PhD
seriously. When I later contacted him for help to find a professor interested in supervising me
for PhD studies, he was the one who suggested I contact Prof. dr. ir. Niels R61ing at
Wageningen University. For Jim's help and continual support and friendship, I am very
I had met with Niels R61ing and Janice Jiggins prior to going off for the field work in Mali for
my Masters thesis. They kindly looked over my proposal, providing some suggestions based
on their experience. When nearly ten years later, I contacted Niels for recommendations on
who might be interested in supervising my doctoral work, to my surprise and delight, he
answered that he would! For a student working and living far away from the intellectual
stimulus of colleagues and professors in Wageningen, his reading suggestions were most
valuable to bring me up to par with what was going on in the area of facilitating sustainable
agriculture. To him I owe understanding the relationship between hard and soft sciences.
Staying with him in Andelst provided us with wonderful opportunities for both work-related
discussions, and well-deserved R&R! Sitting out in the garden, frog watching, will forever
remain in my memory.
On my first trip to Wageningen to formalise the thesis work, Niels introduced me to Prof. dr.
ir. Eric Goewie for supervision of ecological agriculture related aspects of my work. The way
Eric has combined his technical knowledge and experience with the soft aspects of agriculture
is very similar to what I have tried to do, so that he has provided very reliable support in an
area that is still very new, as well as logistical support required for printing at long distance!
He and his wife Yvonne are also most wonderful hosts!
Both Niels and Eric travelled to Colombia, despite serious misgivings and in Eric's case many
first attempts cancelled or postponed due to security warnings. Their visits provided all of us
with a better understanding of the situation, what was actually happening through this work,
and how the ideas could best be transmitted to readers who would not have that first hand
experience. I am indebted to both Eric and Niels for their guidance, positive criticism and
particularly their encouragement when I felt overwhelmed. I am in no doubt that this book
would not have been possible without them.
Throughout the entire process, from proposal preparation to the last few weeks of writing in
Wageningen, Dr. ir. Pieter Vereijken went out of his way to help orient me regarding the
prototyping process he directed in Europe. I hope he understands that I did not include all of
his suggestions. I am extremely grateful for the time he took with me, when I am sure he had
better things to do!
I received help in the design of many of the figures from Eddie de Bruijn and in making the
lay out from Henny Michel-Knaap en Renata Michel. NicolAs Lozano helped making last
minute adjustments in other figures and made my ideas for the book cover a reality.
Financial support for the various projects involved in this book was obtained from a number
of sources. The Fondo FEN Colombia 'Jose Celestino Mutis' provided a research grant for the
initial work on arthropod collecting in live fences. The mayor's office of Cota, then directed
by Jorge Colorado, financed the work on live fence designing and the pilot project on farm
conversion. The new mayor supported the agroecological route logistically through the loan
of the municipal bus. The two main projects of research on farm conversion and training for
marketing of ecologically friendly produce were financed by the National Programme for
Transfer of Technology in Agriculture (PRONATTA) of the Colombian Ministry of
Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, with logistical support from my workplace, the
Horticulture Research Centre of the University of Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano. Additional
thanks go to the Dutch Foundation for Research on Organic Farming in The Netherlands,
which provided the funding for the design and implementation of the farm sustainability
Thanks are also due to the many colleagues and students in Colombia who helped out in the
many aspects involved in the projects: all in all we formed a very multi-disciplinary team! On
technical aspects of vegetable production I would like to mention Jorge Herrera, Jaime
Osorio, and Patricia GaitAn; for ecological production practices Jaime Mejia, Carlos Ramirez,
and Maria Romero; for the work on live fences, Jos6 Ricardo Cure and the then students
Maria Mercedes P6rez and Nathalia Gallego; on plug production and fruit tree pruning, my
husband Alejandro Cavelier; on communication and organisational strengthening, Flor Alba
Mufioz; for studies of the small farmers, the psychology students of the Pontificia Javeriana
University, Ginna Bello, Rita Oliveros and Estefania Prada, as well as Alejandra Reyes and
Maria Fernanda Jofr6; for the training of local facilitators, Jos6 Joaquin Cristancho; the
students, Carmen Alicia Parrado for the energy efficiency analysis, Manuel Cuervo for
irrigation studies, Sandra Paramo for support in post harvest aspects, and particularly Alex
IvAn M6rtigo for his help in calculating ecological input prices and setting up the
agroecological route; Diana Chaparro helped in training the farmers on marketing of
vegetables, while Fernando Soler and Adriana Barrera shared their knowledge on post harvest
aspects; Amanda Martinez was instrumental in opening up new marketing channels and
Miguel Angel Pdrez started off as my right-hand man on the conversion project and latter
designed and ran the farm sustainability software.
Without the personnel from the Centre's Plant Clinic and the Soil and Plant laboratory,
monitoring of the progress in the conversion process would have been very difficult. These
people were: IPM programme coordinators Raf De Vis, then Edison Torrado and finally
Sandra G6mez with assistants Nancy Nifio and Ligia Espinosa, and Soil and Plant Nutrition
programme coordinator Amparo Medina, with assistants Andrea Ramirez and C6sar
Argtielles, and their respective support teams.
At PRONATTA, I want to mention especially Juan Antonio Espinosa, Fabio Yepes, Leonardo
Velasquez and the director, Mr. Luis Ernesto Villegas.
The directors of the Horticulture Research Centre, first Dr. Santiago Fonseca, then Mr.
Manuel Garcia, were helpful in their support of the projects, as were the University personnel
from the principals, Mr Evaristo Obreg6n, then Mr. Jaime Pinz6n, down to the administrative
collaborators at the Centre, Teresita Duque, Elvia Mata, Nancy Rodriguez and Omar G6mez.
Whether they want to or not, and whether intentionally or not, friends are always around for
support. I would like to mention Gabriel Pinilla, Uldarico Ramirez, Santiago Novoa and Ilse
Salcedo, Mercedes G6mez and Luis Enrique Gutierrez, Harold Ubaque, German Rodriguez,
Ricardo Ramirez, Julia Wright, Dominique Hounkonnou, and my best friend, Jeannette
Monier who all made a difference, each in their own way.
My Colombian family-in-law has helped make living in Colombia very agreeable, despite the
difficult times. My own family has been following my progress closely, encouraging me on at
every opportunity. Mom, Dad, Peter and Chris: thank-you. Kujjuk and Naruji also got their
And last but not least, my husband, Alejandro Cavelier, put up with the good and the bad,
pushed me on when I was least hopeful, and believed in me when I no longer did. It would
have been much more difficult without his support!
I would like to dedicate this book to my co-researchers, the now ecologically-friendly
vegetable farmers of Cota.
Chapter 1 Introduction and problem statement 17
1.1 Introduction 17
1.2 Societal problem addressed 19
1.3 Research problem addressed 19
1.4 Overview of research design 20
1.5 Brief project description 24
1.6 A multi-disciplinary research team 25
1.7 My involvement 25
1.8 Conclusions and how to read this book 26
Chapter 2 Theoretical perspectives and methodology 29
2.1 Research on agricultural development research 29
2.1.1 Theoretical framework 29
2.1.2 Research questions 32
2.2 Theoretical background of the development project 34
2.2.1 Introduction 34
2.2.2 Characteristics of y and p knowledge 35
2.2.3 The agroecosystem perspective (p sciences) 36
2.2.4 Stakeholder participation (y sciences) 48
2.2.5 Questions addressed by the case study project 53
2.2.6 Research questions revisited 57
2.2.7 Summary 58
2.2.8 Initial methodology for the conversion process 58
2.3 Research methodology 63
Chapter 3 Local situation at project initiation 67
3.1 Problem context 67
3.2 Potential for sustainable products in Colombia? 71
3.2.1 Florverde 71
3.2.2 IPM in coffee 72
3.2.3 Ecosecha 73
3.3 Country description 73
3.3.1 Geography 73
3.3.2 Cota: 'good climate, fertile soil' 75
3.3.3 Vegetable production in Cota 79
Phase I: IMPROVING FARMER PRODUCTION AT CROP LEVEL 83
Chapter 4 Participatory diagnosis of farming in Cota 85
4.1 The information linkage map 85
4.2 Interactive diagnosis 86
4.2.1 Restrictions to production and marketing 88
4.2.2 Solutions proposed by the farmers 88
4.2.3 Discussion of the results 88
4.3 Conclusions 93
Chapter 5 Designing improved crop production strategies 95
5.1 Introduction 95
5.2 Selection of pilot farms 96
5.3 Description of workshops 97
5.4 Methodologies and methods used in the farm conversion 99
5.4.1 Farmer participation and organisation 100
5.4.2 Soil systems management 102
5.4.3 Water management 103
5.4.4 Cropping systems management 104
5.4.5 Marketing strategies 106
5.4.6 Ecological infrastructure management 106
5.4.7 Farm overall sustainability 107
5.5 Selection of indicators 108
5.6 Conclusion of chapter 112
Chapter 6 Progress in the conversion process 113
6.1 Outcomes of the conversion design and implementation 113
6.1.1 Farmer participation and organisation 114
6.1.2 Soil systems management 115
6.1.3 Water management 124
6.1.4 Cropping systems management 125
6.1.5 Marketing strategies 132
6.1.6 Ecological infrastructure management 132
6.1.7 Farm overall sustainability 132
6.2 Progress on the research pathway 146
Phase II: TEAM BUILDING BY IMPROVING THE FARMING SYSTEM
Chapter 7 Meeting market standards for healthy products
7.1 Potential markets for integrated and ecological produce
7.1.1 Consumer expectations
7.1.2 The certification process in Colombia
7.1.3 The farmers' point of view
7.2 Training programmes
7.3 Results of the training programmes
7.3.1 A product manual developed by the farmers
7.3.2 Eco-tourism as an alternative market opportunity
7.3.3 More marketing alternatives
Chapter 8 Building organisational strength and farmer autonomy
8.1 Beginnings: Feeling the need to get organised
8.2 Organisational strengthening, training programme
8.3 The first efforts at working together
8.3.1 Crises: an opportunity for change
8.3.2 Options for association
8.3.3 The final choice
8.4 Was a team really formed?
Phase III: Moving from farm to regional development
Chapter 9 Agrobiodiversity: biodiversity and relative abundance of
insects in live fences
9.2 Materials and methods
9.2.1 Selection of tree species and farms
9.2.3 Organisation of arthropod species collected
9.2.4 Organisation and analysis of results
9.3 Results and discussion
Chapter 10 Conditioning of biodiversity in farm surroundings: Design of a
network of live fences 195
10.1 Introduction 195
10.2 Materials and methods 196
10.3 Ecological infrastructure index 196
10.4 Network design 197
10.5 Selection of plant species for the network 199
10.6 Some final thoughts in the use of live fences in landscape design 200
Phase IV: CONSOLIDATING FUTURE GROUP AUTONOMY 205
Chapter 11 Training of local facilitators for group support 207
11.1 Background 207
11.2 How to train local facilitators 208
11.3 Is the farm group self supporting enough? 211
11.4 Conclusions 213
Chapter 12 Results and conclusions 215
12.1 A review of the research questions 215
12.2 Summary of the farmer learning pathway that emerged 217
12.2.1 Main elements of a farmer learning pathway for conversion 217
12.2.2 Dimensions of the learning pathway 218
12.2.3 The dimensions of the learning process occur parallel to each other 218
12.2.4 Participatory diagnosis leads to learning platform 219
12.2.5 Interactive design of farm conversion 219
12.2.6 The need to learn to work with nature 220
12.2.7 Implementation of the conversion process 220
12.3 Learning points with respect to science-linkage 223
12.3.1 Resource mobilisation 223
12.3.2 Context description 223
12.3.3 The researcher as facilitator 224
12.3.4 The role of basic and applied research in the project 227
12.3.5 The mix of research activities in conversion: creating science linkage 228
12.3.6 A research methodology for the facilitation of farm conversion 229
12.3.7 Research activities required to improve farm productivity,
economically and ecologically 230
12.3.8 A research methodology for scaling up ecological production 230
12.3.9 Research activities required to facilitate small farmer organisation 231
12.3.10 Research activities required to facilitate ownership by farmers 231
12.3.11 Research activities to build the capacity for self-facilitation 231
12.3.12 Additional conclusions for research: the integration of P and y sciences 233
12.4 Implications at institutional level 233
12.5 Future research needs 235
List of tables and figures 257
1 Pesticides produced and sold in Colombia by ingredient and group for 1997
and 1998 263
2 Horticulture Research Centre, University of BogotA Jorge Tadeo Lozano 265
3 Attendance at workshops organised in 2000, in the five rural neighbourhouds of Cota 267
4 Pests and diseases most common to vegetable crops in Cota 269
5 Organic practices implemented by participating farmers 271
6 Effect of botanical hydrolates on micelial growth ofSclerotinia sp. and Trichoderma sp. 275
About the author
Chapter 1 Introduction and problem statement
1.1 Introduction 17
1.2 Societal problem addressed 19
1.3 Research problem addressed 19
1.4 Overview of research design 20
1.5 Brief project description 24
1.6 A multi-disciplinary research team 25
1.7 My involvement 25
1.8 Conclusions and how to read this book 26
This study is about innovation, change and learning processes in a South American
agricultural context. It is based on a project for the conversion of conventional vegetable
farms to sustainable production1 in a high Andean Colombian municipality, as an option to
improve farmer income by supplying the growing niche for ecologically friendly produce in
the local market. A methodology for farm conversion based on interactive design and
implementation with the farmers is used to help them reach this objective. The particular
research interest lies in improving or adapting methodologies for realising changes and
learning processes required for such innovation to be successful, not only at the individual
level, but also at the group or community and institutional levels. The intent is also to provide
guidelines for policy making focused at improving family farming in Colombia.
The municipality in which this study was undertaken, Cota, has an economy based largely on
agricultural production, and of that vegetables contribute significantly. At the time this
research was initiated, the horticultural sector was depressed and in dire need to look for ways
to become more efficient and profitable with the least cost to the environment. Marketing was
limited principally to the food terminal whose middlemen rarely offered a good, let alone
stable, price for the produce. Combined with high production costs to pay for imported seed
and chemical supplies, income to the farmers often did not cover expenses, nor provide the
necessary cash to invest in the next crop and to provide for family needs. Fortunately, interest
in ecological products, or at least healthier ones, had increased locally among consumers and
' 'Sustainable agriculture' in this report refers to integrated and ecological farm production.
defenders of the environment. The farmers themselves had shown concerns regarding the
indiscriminate use of pesticides and their effect on the environment and on both their own and
the consumers' health (tables Al, A2 and A3 in Appendix 1 show pesticides produced and
sold in Colombia). Therefore, the possibility of creating the conditions for introducing safe
and healthy2 products to fill this growing niche, and offering quality-vegetables in a
competitive market, appeared to be an interesting option for the producers of Cota. New
distribution channels, support structures and even 'green' labels could be considered,
allowing for greater interaction between the producers and the end consumers.
At the beginning of the study (September 1999), sustainable agriculture was still very
incipient in the Colombian context, and ecological agriculture even more so. Only one
vegetable company was licensed to sell ecologically certified produce nationally, with barely
two hectares inscribed. In fruit, the tendency was stronger, with a total of 130 ha in the
country. The otherwise conventional farming methods predominant in Colombia were based
on heavy indiscriminate use of pesticides and chemically synthesised fertilisers, with visible
negative effects on the environment and human health. In an effort to promote a more
sustainable level of farming, the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
(MAGDR) through the National Programme for Agricultural Transfer of Technology
(PRONATTA) gave preference to projects with an emphasis on integrated and ecological
methods through yearly calls for proposals from 1996 to 2000. Additionally, in 1995, the
government established a law to legislate ecological farming (Decree 544), based quite
heavily on the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements IFOAM
legislation. The Corporaci6n Colombia Internacional (CCI) was put in charge of evaluating
and certifying farms3. By the end of 2001, the CCI had certified a total of 131 hectares in
vegetables, with an additional 26 in transition, and 327 and 559 respectively in fruit (Uriel
Contreras CCI, pers. comm., February 2002).
2 Crops that are produced under integrated crop protection principles, ie. with clean water, use of toxicological
category III or IV pesticides only and if required, and a tendency toward ecologically friendly practices, are
considered safe and healthy. 'Ecological' production allows only natural sources for fertilisers and pest and disease
management, following the Decree 544 for ecological production practices which is based on the international
recommendations set by the IFOAM for organic production. Under the Colombian legislation, the term ecological
includes all farming methods alternative to mainstream methods (organic, biological, biodynamic, etc.).
3 The CCI is the only entity allowed to certify products for sale nationally. It, as well as two other organizations,
Biolatina and Biotropico, also certify for export. Areas certified by these two organizations are not included here.
1.2 Societal problem addressed
Despite this incipient institutional interest in the ecological movement, implementing organic
practices, and in fact converting areas to this 'new' style of production, was not considered by the
majority of farmers as possible or viable. Most projects, as found earlier in the international scene,
were limited to specific settings, with results limited in scope, impact and replicability.
While interest in safer and healthier food existed at both farmer and consumer levels, the
existing infrastructure and institutional make-up were inappropriate for serious adoption of
sustainable production practices. In effect, although promoted by PRONATTA, effective
participatory research methods were little known in the agricultural sector, agronomic
designing was virtually unheard of, public extension programmes were being reduced and the
existing mechanism for enforcing the legislation on ecological farming was weak. There was
a need to devise a trajectory that would help the farmers move toward sustainable agriculture,
useful on a larger scale, and replicable, as well as to determine the contextual factors required
for its success. This in turn required training since ecological practices are not adopted as
easily as the recipe-like applications of synthetically produced agro-chemicals (Somers,
1998). However, in order for such a project to be successful, change in the producers only is
not sufficient. It is also required throughout the production consumption system, and for
such change to occur, increased awareness and a learning process are implied at several levels
of aggregation (eg. Farmers, farm, region, country Hart, 1980).
1.3 Research addressed problem
The societal problem, the design of a learning trajectory or path, along which farmers can move
towards a more sustainable and autonomous livelihood, needs to be facilitated by interventions or
activities. This thesis reports on a set of coherent but novel research activities that is designed to
generate farmer learning. This was not done in a planned and hypothesis testing approach. Rather,
the work emerged as a result of an 'adaptive' approach, probing, monitoring, adjusting,
rethinking, discussing with the stakeholders, and so forth. What emerged are two sets of related
processes, (a) the learning trajectory or path taken by a group of horticultural farmers as they
move from being atomised, dependent, defensive individuals to a group of autonomous, self-
reliant, pro-active partners; and (b) the set of research activities involved in facilitating (a). The
interest of this thesis is the interface between these two processes.
1.4 Overview of research design
The study described here is about an innovative situation where agricultural research provides
a viable methodology for moving towards sustainable agriculture involving new (technical)
learning for the farmers and parallel capacity building to ensure long lasting effects of these
efforts, at both farm and landscape level. It is not an experiment in which a hypothesis is
tested, but a new way of looking at agricultural research which is beginning to emerge in
various international networks. A case study approach is used here to design and try out this
research methodology and draw lessons from it. The case study itself has many new elements.
In addition to promising practical and useful outcomes, it raises many scientifically
interesting issues. For example, the project applies some aspects of participatory methods in a
small farmer context. It applies, and in some cases verifies, organic, botanical and biological
management strategies based on scientific research. It looks at how conditions for using
biological control at the farm level can be created at the landscape level. It looks at building a
marketing strategy among small farmers. And it addresses the issue of replicability.
Thus, this book describes an exercise in research about agricultural development research. In
recent years attention has increasingly been paid as to how to make agricultural research more
relevant to development. The quest began in the early seventies when the flush of Green
Revolution success was wearing off. Adoption of science-developed technologies, especially
in the risk prone, diverse and resource poor areas of the world, proved to be largely
unsuccessful. The lack of impact of linear research approaches on farmers' practices led to
farming systems research, i.e., to ways of designing technology that were built on thorough
knowledge of the actual farming systems for which they were intended. Soon, ways of
involving farmers in the design of technologies became a focus of interest. 'Interactive
agricultural research' emphasised that research impact was the emergent property of the
interaction among diverse stakeholders with multiple perspectives and multiple interests
(Rl6ing, 1996). Effective research becomes a journey with a number of path-dependent steps.
For example, a project currently co-ordinated by Wageningen University, 'Convergence of
Sciences Project', (FAO Global IPM Facility, 2001) emphasises
(a) initial technographic studies to explore the opportunities and social map of
(b) diagnostic studies to anchor the research effort in a thorough understanding
of needs and opportunities;
(c) science linkage to ensure that the efforts are linked into the best knowledge
available. Such linkage might involve original fundamental or applied
research, but also a thorough survey of scientific literature;
(d) interactive design (with farmers and other stakeholders) of systems that
work, AND are acceptable in terms of local interests, knowledge, ability, and
(e) ensuring that the established systems are sustainable and can be scaled up.
Earlier research by Van Schoubroeck (1999) and by Tekelenburg (2001) have helped to orient
the work here. Posted as a young entomologist to Bhutan, Van Schoubroeck was told to study
stem borers in maize because everybody grew maize and all were suffering from stem borer
problems. When Van Schoubroeck looked more carefully into the problem and interviewed
farmers, he found that farmers did not experience stem borers as a problem at all, and felt they
had sufficient maize to eat. In fact, they used quite a bit for brewing alcohol. Van
Schoubroeck subsequently spent months with farmers to identify problems that he could
usefully spend his time on. In the end, he discovered that farmers were exporting tangerines to
India but suffered heavy crop losses due to early fruit fall. An analysis of this problem
brought to light the work of what later proved to be the Chinese fruit fly (Bactrocera minax
Enderlein). Thus a diagnostic phase anchored the rest of Van Schoubroeck's work firmly into
the local scene and farmers' felt problems. Only then did Van Schoubroeck start 'real'
scientific work to identify the fly, its lifecycle, the pheromones that are effective, and so on,
by carrying out experiments in the laboratory and reading the literature.
Then he went back to the farmers. It soon became obvious that the scientific knowledge he
had developed was not sufficient to do anything about the fruit fly. It proved impossible to
control the fly at the farm level because its population dynamics involved higher system
levels than the farm. Local Buddhist culture prohibited killing organisms. Ways that fitted the
farming calendar, and proved effective at the field level, had to be invented. So Van
Schoubroeck started a year-long process working and experimenting intensively with
villagers to develop a system that worked.
In the end, he did have a system that worked. However, when he wanted to extend it to other
villages through the extension service, he failed. He obviously needed another process. But
his time was up. However, what he had achieved from a research point of view is that he
clearly put on the map a number of phases of research that are crucially important in making
research relevant for development and in pioneering explicit phases of research that are not
normally part of 'methodology'.
Tekelenburg (2001) went further. He used an in itself very interesting development project in
Cochabamba, Bolivia, to explicitly tease out the roles of agricultural research by developing
what he calls a 'toolkit' of research approaches that are built into such processes as problem
analysis and knowledge integration. He distinguishes four tasks:
Explaining and understanding phenomena;
Designing effective agricultural management techniques;
System optimisation of effectiveness and efficiency; and
Farmer satisfaction and decision making.
He then identifies research activities to perform these tasks:
Designing systems that work; and
Designing systems that are acceptable.
Building on the work of Van Schoubroeck and Tekelenburg, the present research seeks to
take the development research methodology a little further. In effect, the farm conversion
project implemented in Cota became an evolving learning pathway for the farmers, which will
be covered in more detail in Chapter 5. This pathway was in turn the result of an evolving
series of agricultural research activities or interventions, that in hindsight constitutes a
research sequence that facilitated the farmer learning pathway. This book does not follow the
historical logic of the project. Instead it presents a coherent set of sequential research
activities based on the literature. It then presents the project as a case study that seeks to
facilitate a farmer learning pathway through research activities.
The sequence of research activities used to facilitate the learning pathway are listed here:
a. Understand the context in terms of relevant actors, opportunities and constraints;
b. Implement participatory diagnostic research to anchor the work in real and felt
issues, problems and opportunities;
c. Encourage the creation of a learning platform by providing the farmers with
learning tools for observation and analysis;
d. Interactively (with farmers) design a system based on the farmers' priorities that is
effective at the farm level, and that is acceptable to farmers;
e. Identify and test science-based applicable technologies at the farm level (by the
farmers, with project team support);
f. Scale up this system from the farm to higher system levels: market, organisation
and landscape; and
g. Ensure long-term project impact and farming community autonomy by providing
the tools for accessing new information and training local facilitators.
Through the design and testing of such a research sequence, we hope to determine whether there
is in fact a link between the research activities and the farmer learning pathway. The project that
the book reports on is a case study for gaining greater understanding of this link. As such, this
case study is not a carefully controlled scientific experiment. It is a one-shot intervention. But it is
a very rich and complex one that allows extensive questioning and probing with a view to better
understanding of the research sequence that leads to an effective learning path for farmers.
The case study allows us to look into several questions. For each step of the research
sequence, we want to explore the lessons that can be learned about that step, by carrying it out
in practice. These steps therefore feed into the farmer learning pathway through the
implementation of the specific research activities (a to g, listed above). In the end, we also
want to find out whether looking at the research sequence in this manner provides a
comprehensive and sound perspective on how to design sustainable agricultural development.
In summary, in hindsight we can systematically graphically present the design of the study as
Design of research pathway
The case study farmer
Experiences with farmer learning
pathway which provide lessons
about the research pathway that can
be used in other cases.
Figure 1.1 General view ofresearch and learning pathways followed in the study.
The research questions will thus be oriented toward specific issues that follow the seven steps
listed above, while the project will address issues that deal particularly with farmer learning.
1.5 Brief project description
The research questions were introduced into a project that was presented to the PRONATTA
in the fall of 1998 and approved in the summer of 1999. The office of the mayor of Cota
financed a smaller project on the same theme during the fall of 1999 in order to keep the
momentum created by the expectations of the PRONATTA project. The original proposal was
based on the needs of the different sectors provided in a municipal analysis undertaken
through public consultation. After validating the needs of the vegetable producers, the
proposal suggested an interactive design and implementation of a methodology to convert
vegetable farms to more sustainable production. A step-wise procedure for re-orienting the
farm toward ecologically sound agriculture would be developed based on ecological
sequence, farmers' needs and capacities, and market demand. A third project, also approved
and co-financed by PRONATTA, was later incorporated to address more specifically the
issues dealing with marketing and post harvest management.
This case study project is in itself a series of innovations, at four levels of aggregation (farm,
community, region, and organization for the future), related to the research questions. The
methodology to convert farms to sustainable agriculture was inspired by the prototyping
experiences undertaken successfully in Europe (Vereijken, 1995, 1996, 1998; Kabourakis,
1996) and which will be described in detail in Chapter 2. Technical methods for farm
conversion were adapted from local knowledge as well as from the literature, based on needs
determined by a participatory diagnosis. Up scaling the conversion process was studied by
looking at the option of redesigning the landscape within the context of sustainable
production. Alternative marketing channels were worked on, as well as the corresponding
changes required in post harvest techniques, through farmer training and research in these
areas. Thus all aspects linked to agricultural production, and particularly agriculture based on
ecological practices, were considered as within a system.
Because ecological farming particularly is based on observation and inference to understand
the relationship between the plants and their environment and so prevent future problems, the
effects of actions must be looked at in the long term. The farmers were therefore required to
go through a serious process of learning in order to implement sustainable agricultural
practices (Hamilton, 1995). The farmers gradually felt the need to group themselves in a
stronger more organized fashion. Organisational learning, including learning how to negotiate
among themselves, and in the future set standards and methods to control the implementation
of the standards, among many other aspects, had to be looked at. Hence, the nature of
innovation and of farmer and organisational learning needed to be considered. The specific
nature of facilitation through research activities that emerges out of the needs of sustainable
farming also had to be studied from the points of view of farm conversion, landscape
redesign, farmer learning, and organisational learning. The knowledge on theoretical
perspectives of social learning, mentioned by Woodhill and R6ling (1998) as requiring study,
has therefore been expanded. Technical insights in the conversion to ecological farming are
described and the role of science research within this participatory conversion process is
evaluated with a view to drawing lessons about the design of agricultural development
Finally, the entire project is evaluated by identifying factors that could demonstrate the
success or failure of the project. Such information is relevant to other stakeholders working in
1.6 A multi-disciplinary research team
As can be gathered from the above brief project description, a multi-disciplinary approach
was necessary to adequately implement the project. The members of the research team did in
fact come from a variety of disciplines. As project director, I came with a plant protection and
rural extension background. To support the work on natural sciences related themes, there
were soil scientists, a soil microbiologist, a plant physiologist, agronomists, and an
entomologist at different times during the project. Marketing specialists and a psychologist
looked after the socio-economic aspects. Students from related areas provided support as well.
As essential partners in this interactive research effort were the farmers. They are small
farmers, dependent for the most part on their farming activity for their survival. They
provided the indispensable input that oriented the research and in fact, by providing feedback
on the research activities designed to solve the problems they had themselves identified, they
helped the emergence of the learning pathway.
1.7 My involvement
I moved to Colombia in 1991 with my Colombian husband. While he set up a plug business
for a large flower farm, the first in the country, I helped manage the 45 ha family-owned
vegetable farm in the year-round production and marketing of the vegetables, as well as
initiate plug production of vegetables (also a first for the country). My husband left the flower
company and having decided that plug production had potential as a business on its own, in
1995 we set up Suamena Plants Ltda. under his management. Around the same time, I joined
the Horticulture Research Centre of the University of Bogoti Jorge Tadeo Lozano (Appendix
2 describes this Centre), starting as research coordinator and then creating a new area in
extension. This programme later was changed to Participatory Research. Initially the purpose
of the programme was the dissemination of the research results of the Centre through one-day
courses and publications. Once that was established, I set out to change the University's
concept of extension which was limited to courses and publications, to introduce working
more directly with the farmers for whom ultimately the research was supposed to be done.
This was given a great impulse when a colleague was transferred from the main campus and
the project we presented to the PRONATTA was approved with one of the highest points in
the country. Recognition for the Programme has grown significantly thanks to the results that
are described in this book.
1.8 Conclusions and how to read this book
The situation of small farmers described above is a complex one as is the position of the
agriculture researcher who seeks to design research activities that will facilitate a learning
pathway of farmers to a 'better place'. Hard and soft information must be integrated, as must
experimentation and design, learning and teaching, and facilitation with the building of
autonomy. The art is to address the issues scientifically in order to obtain operational answers
to practical questions asked by the farmers. Such answers will facilitate the building of an
environment conducive to sustainable agriculture. In this case, the set of research activities
will involve a combination of work on technical aspects of sustainable agricultural practices
with work on social aspects, or the human side, required to ensure long-term success of
innovation efforts. Such a combination demands a dynamic process for training the farmers in
becoming skilled producers, while at the same time leading them in becoming managers of
their own local resources. The final result will also provide guidelines for orienting the new
research methodology for agricultural development research.
The second chapter of this book reviews the theoretical framework on which the research
study and the project are based and introduces the questions that both are guided by. Theory
of research on research for development is briefly discussed. Paradigms, theories and methods
relating to ecological agriculture and farmer participation are then covered. The research
methodology, based on a case study approach to the learning pathway of the farmers, is
described. Chapter 3 describes the initial context in which the project case study was
The farmers learning pathway is divided up into four phases. Each phase is related to the
progress made by the farmers throughout the research based on accomplishments in the
Phase I describes the situation at the beginning of the conversion process to sustainable
production and includes the participatory diagnosis (Chapter 4), the methodology used to
design the conversion process and its implementation (Chapter 5) and the results achieved
Phase II moves from a situation where the farmers have begun to use some of the technical
knowledge to improve their production and to realise the importance of working together as a
community. New issues arise and are dealt with, such as marketing (Chapter 7) and
organisation of the farmers and team building (Chapter 8).
With the build up of knowledge and community feeling developed in the first two phases,
Phase III delves deeper into the need to provide solutions to a wider area as a tool for regional
development. Chapter 9 studies the usefulness of knowing more about live fences and the
arthropods that inhabit them, while Chapter 10 provides a practical application of that
information through the creation of a network of live fences at municipal level based on
enhancement of natural control of crop pests.
Phase IV looks to the future by beginning to build the capacity of the farmers to stand on their
own. To that end, Chapter 11 describes the training of local facilitators, reinforcing their
abilities in both technical and didactical methods, in an effort to help the farmers toward more
After looking at the case study through the four phases of the farmers' learning pathway, we
use the last chapter to provide a critical review of effectiveness in terms of learning pathway
design. An analysis is provided of the end results of the entire effort, reviewing what was
successful, what not and why, and what other facilitators can learn from these results.
Conditioning factors for the success of the project and its continuity are also looked at.
Finally, the research activity sequence is analysed from the point of view of its success as a
methodology and the implications of the results for research on agricultural research.
Chapter 2 Theoretical perspectives and methodology
2.1 Research on agriculture development research 29
2.1.1 Theoretical framework 29
2.1.2 Research questions 32
2.2 Theoretical background of the development project 34
2.2.1 Introduction 34
2.2.2 Characteristic of y and P knowledge 34
2.2.3 The agroecosystem perspective (P sciences) 36
2.2.4 Stakeholder participation (y sciences) 48
2.2.5 Questions addressed by the case study project 53
2.2.6 Research questions revisited 57
2.2.7 Summary 58
2.2.8 Initial methodology for the conversion process 58
2.3 Research methodology 63
2.1 Research on agriculture development research
Agricultural research and extension have been designed to generate 'development'. Results
from research centres initially were deemed sufficient to solve small farmers' problems
(Reijntjes et al., 1995). Extension was a one-way process whose objective was to transmit to
the farmers the results obtained in the research centres, in order to stimulate the diffusion of
innovations process best described by Rogers (1995). Widespread dissemination of certain
technologies, considered as perfect solutions to the problems studied by scientific researchers,
was attempted throughout many decades. Students were taught professional roles with a linear
view of themselves as either fundamental or applied producers of knowledge, or as experts in
'delivering' science to farmers as ultimate users. The model was quite successful for those
innovations for which the treadmill effect works, i.e., where a price squeeze propels
innovation (Cochrane, 1958; Hubert et al., 2000). Technologies associated with the Green
Revolution did in fact increase productivity for some crops and conditions, to the point where
they significantly contributed to solving food security problems at the time. However, those
technologies were not reaching the most needy: the resource poor and resource less farmers.
Science-based technology was not having the desired effect in agriculture; secondary effects
were being overlooked (Lee, 1989; Lee and Shute, 1991). Moreover, where environmental
innovation was concerned, success was very low. This was mainly due to economic
considerations: environmental management often requires major changes to farm production
procedures and is too expensive for the individual farmer, even if non-management
represented costly long-term adverse effects (Vanclay and Lawrence, 1996). Research on
farmer adoption grew (Leeuwis and Van den Ban, forthcoming), as did criticisms of the
diffusion model. These criticisms go back as far as the 1970s and include the blanket view of
science as solution to all problems, the unequal distribution of impacts and benefits, its
application to production technology while leaving out conservation aspects, the marginal use
of local farmer knowledge, and the lack of consideration of the particularities of each person,
situation or agroecological context (Vanclay and Lawrence, 1996; Norman, 2000: Rl6ing et
The aim then changed so as to 'put the farmer first' (Chambers et al., 1989). Research on
farming systems grew, primarily as a quantitative diagnostic process for researchers to
acquire a better understanding of how the farming household worked (Collinson, 2000).
Farming systems research (FSR) evolved over time. According to Hart (2000), it started in the
1970s with large survey work based on lengthy questionnaires on cropping systems for
improvement of productivity. Then, it gradually expanded its framework in the 1980s to
include livestock and consider the farming system in order to improve on stability as well. In
the 1990s, the framework was expanded further to include community systems and
watersheds, adding sustainability to the attributes it wished to affect. Much can be learned
from studying the history of FSR; however, one of the points that will be brought out here is
the importance of working with the farmers. This led to the development of participatory
research, some methods of which are described in section 2.2.4. Through FSR, issues such as
empowerment, indigenous knowledge, and farmer learning and experimentation were brought
forth. In this way, FSR led directly to Participatory Technology Development (e.g. Jiggins
and De Zeew, 1992).
Returning to the issue of research on development, we remind the reader that such research is
precisely 'research that has development as its primary aim' (Mettrick,1993). The implication
"...it is to be judged by its impact on the livelihoods of people, rather than by
intermediate outputs such as successful solution of a research problem or even
widescale adoption of a research-generated innovation. It is an attitude to research
and may encompass a range of different research methods. It is a dynamic concept
that which has to be sufficiently flexible to respond to new concerns as markets
change, policy shifts or development ideas progress ibidd). "
In the same vein, Mettrick considers two specific features as central to development oriented
research, namely that it is problem centred and context based. By problem centred, he refers
to the need to help farmers solve problems they have identified and prioritised. By context
based, he explains that the complexity of development processes require that they be
considered within the realm of the particular farmers. Because of the numerous disciplines
involved in development, Mettrick suggests that a multidisciplinary approach be taken and for
that, the systems perspective is particularly appropriate. To be effective, research on
development must therefore work on farming problems as identified by the farmers within the
social, political, economical and cultural context they live in, which is also the one in which
they must take decisions that ultimately will affect their survival.
At Wageningen University in The Netherlands, additional questions have been recently raised
about how to design research so that it really does help the farmers. Some of the activities that
are being included in research design to address these questions are described next.
An analysis of the context at different system levels is used to identify conditionalities for
effectiveness and to contextualise the research activities. It is of importance to identify the
parameters within which the activities must be successful, as well as the opportunities they
seek to tap.
These questions include a much greater emphasis on diagnostic research, recognized as an
essential element to ensure that development research is building on the needs of the
beneficiaries. Therefore research must not only include a chapter reviewing the literature so as
to ground research in the scientific tradition. It must also include a chapter on diagnostic
research to ground the research in development issues. Van Schoubroeck has shown in his
dissertation how difficult it is to go into a farmer context with a preconceived idea of the
solution to their problems and actually have a positive effect. On the basis of longstanding
experience as a development administrator, Hounkonnou (2001) grew increasingly convinced
that external interventions had not been effective, and the only point of 'light' in African
development was 'local dynamics', the way local people themselves seek to generate better
lives. Hounkonnou is convinced that effective interventions must be anchored in such local
dynamics; he calls this 'listening to the cradle'.
Designing systems that work
Obtaining research results, or incorporating those results into a farm design, is no guarantee
that the system will work. The proposed system must be economically, ecologically and
technically feasible in the farmers' situation. This is not normally a part of research. The
tendency of researchers is to focus on technologies that work, regardless of what others,
including the targeted farmer users, may think of them. This can be a problem since those
farmers can always say no. In the case of Van Schoubroeck, hard data alone did not allow him
to help the farmers. Increasingly, however, these other considerations are taken into account,
as in the case of Participatory Learning and Action (Hamilton, 1995).
Designing systems that are acceptable
However, not only should the technology work. The real challenge is to make sure it is
acceptable to the farmers from cultural, economical, and technical points of view: labour
required, cash flow availability, access to inputs, social expectations and the like. Knowing
the context in which research is to be undertaken will determine the appropriate orientation
and final outcome of the work. Such considerations must therefore be part of the research
Designing systems that lead to self-reliance
Systems that depend on outside input from 'experts' for their maintenance will be difficult to
maintain in the long run. The technology should not only not lead to increased dependence on
outside help, but in fact help the farmers become more independent and able to make
informed decisions about their farm management.
2.1.2 Research questions
On the basis of the literature and overview of previous research, a new 'design' for
development research emerges that contains the following elements that together form a
logical sequence for facilitating farmer learning:
Building a platform for learning with farmers
Design a technology that works and is acceptable to farmers based on their priorities
Building farmer autonomy
This leads to the following research questions:
a. What is the nature of the aforementioned elements and their relationships within the
sequence of research activities?
b. What is the nature of the interface between the sequence of research activities and the
farmer learning pathway?
The presumed link between the research activities and the learning sequence can be drawn as
Sequence of research
Farmer learning pathway
Figure 2.1 Presumed link between research activities and farmer learning pathway for the design and
implementation offarm conversion to sustainable horticulture production.
These research questions were put to the test through the implementation of a project aimed at
the interactive design, with interested farmers, of a process to convert their vegetable
production to more sustainable methods. In the next section, we review the theoretical
underpinnings of such a project.
2.2 Theoretical background of the development project
Our research questions are multidisciplinary by nature. This implies that, to be able to obtain
answers, we must use methods and techniques covering more than one discipline while still
being integrated with each other. More precisely, we have to integrate the hard data oriented
disciplines such as agronomy, ecology, soil sciences and integrated crop protection (indicated
by P sciences) with the soft data oriented disciplines such as management, agrosociology and
economy (indicated by y sciences). A third dimension is that leading to autonomy, which
includes in this case local organisational issues linked to inter-personal relationships and self-
confidence. The latter area works by bringing together the P and y sciences so as to obtain
2.2.2 Characteristics of yand p knowledge
Characteristic of y sciences is the central position of the sense making human being as an
agent for change (R61ing, 2000). On the other hand, p sciences are characterized by the fact
that the causal knowledge involved is objectified through conditioned experiments.
Knowledge in P sciences is regarded as absolute by nature. In y science, knowledge is the
result of negotiations between human beings. A one-sided application of either y or p
knowledge will lead to different types of farms. When p dominates in farm designing or
extension to farmers, the result will be the development of farms where the human being as
decision maker and manager plays no role. For example, if we want to repeat the positive
results of a conditioned experiment on a crop protection problem at the level of a real farm,
we first have to condition the farm's surrounding (for example, making sure soil fertility or
pest population densities are uniform). So it is not the farm that determines what the
experiment should look like, but the experimental conditions which determine that the farm
must be the same as those of the original experiment. The result is that all natural diversity
inside the farm becomes levelled. Pesticides must level all agrobiodiversity and chemical
fertilisers must level all natural diversity in the soil (Wolfert, 2002).
In this particular case, we wanted to apply 0 knowledge in a y setting, and take into account
the flexibility of farm structure and the learning nature of farm management. In effect, there
are three different ways to look at a farm:
The farm is considered an experimental field, in which results obtained in a research
centre are implemented, often by the researchers themselves;
The farm is an ecosystem in which research must play a role; and
The farm is managed by the farmer who decides whether to incorporate research and
research results into his/her farm management practices.
This has consequences for the methodologies in this project. In this case, it is not about
providing a blueprint to bring the Cota farmer toward development, but rather it is a step-by-
step and cooperative search for answers on how to achieve a conversion process that can be
maintained in the long run. In order to be able to do so, I had to take the following steps.
Find the characteristics of successful interpretation of y and P knowledge in the
Design a learning pathway to find appropriate solutions;
Chose a set of criteria that would help to determine whether we have reached our
goals and to 'measure' the rate of progress and change in the project.
The theory on which this case study project is based brings together paradigms and concepts
from different perspectives. The objective of the project used as case study is the conversion
of vegetable farmers to more sustainable practices. In this setting, we are dealing with an
agroecosystem, therefore we must discuss ecological perspectives within the agricultural
context. The changes were undertaken at individual farms, considering each farm as a
particular agroecosystem. But especially in the context of small farms, to reduce the effect of
negative external factors on the conversion process, larger areas should be considered for
conversion. This requires looking at the agroecosystem at landscape level at least.
People are the basis for change in the management of an agroecosystem, bringing in the need
to discuss stakeholder participation. Negotiating among stakeholders, discussing potential
solutions to restrictions to production and implementing these alternatives require an
understanding of learning processes. Since we are talking about change at farm level as well
as at the landscape level, there is a need to understand what the farmers need in order to learn
as individuals and within their organizations, especially when considering long-term aims
such as farmer self-reliance and autonomy. Facilitating these processes may require different
approaches and methodologies according to the situation.
2.2.3 The agroecosystem perspective (f sciences)
The fact that conventional agriculture has caused serious problems of environmental
degradation, social inequity, resource concentration and excessive use of natural resources
and that such systems are not viable in the long run has been discussed at length elsewhere
(Altieri, 1993, 1995a, b; Reijntjes et al., 1995; Gliessman, 1997; Lightfoot, 1999; Van Elsen,
2000). Germplasm improvement alone is not likely to improve agricultural productivity in a
sustainable way due to a limited agricultural resource base (Izac and Sanchez, 2001). The
alternative is some sort of environmentally friendly practice that at least reduces the current
trend of negative impact to the agroecosystem and hopefully looks at options to help recover
from the damage done.
A move toward ecological production not only means reducing the use of synthetic
agrochemicals, and in the future doing without them, but also taking into consideration the
entire agroecosystem and its surroundings. From agricultural niche management, or 'making
the best use of the variation in natural resource endowment within an agroecosystem'
(Lightfoot, 1999), one can then move on to larger agroecosystems in order to contribute to
sustainable farming ibidd). It is not just a question of substituting artificially synthesised
pesticides and fertilisers with botanical or organic ones (Primavesi, 2001). It is a question of a
change in the attitude toward life, especially in respect for life (Mollison, 1988). It means
optimising knowledge and management so as to combine agroecological, economical and
social visions, in order to acquire a wider knowledge system (Kabourakis, 1996; Tillman and
Salas, 1994). It also means involving all levels of production, perhaps even to the point of
reconstruction of the agroecological system so as to include zones for flora and fauna
biodiversity (Mollison, 1988; Van der Ryn and Cowan, 1996; Smeding, 2001), leading
towards more stable production over time and less dependence on external inputs. Instead of
maximising economic and biological productivity, methods must be devised to rehabilitate
and regenerate natural resources (Lightfoot et al., 1993). The concept of integrated natural
resource management (INRM) brings together these ideals. INRM has been defined as 'the
responsible and broad-based management of the land, water, forest, and biological resources
base (including genes) needed to sustain agricultural productivity and avert degradation of
potential productivity' (CGIAR-INRM-group, 1999). The agroecologist works toward
recovering the resilience, self-regulation and strength of the agroecosystem (Mollison, 1988).
Conway (1985) defines an agroecosystem as an 'ecological and socio-economic system,
comprising domesticated plants and/or animals and the people who husband them, intended
for the purpose of producing food, fibre, or other agricultural products.' A hierarchy can
gradually be visualised from soil micro-organisms for example, to plants, to crops or herds, to
people. Each agroecosystem is a component of the agroecosystem at the next level and part of
a much larger network whose parts are all inter-related (Capra, 1996; Lightfoot, 1999; Izac
and Sanchez, 2001; Walker et al., 2001). Properties of a network include that it is non-linear
and messages may follow a cyclical path creating a feedback loop. The community can
therefore learn from mistakes, thereby regulating itself and leading to the capacity for self-
organisation, which Capra mentions as perhaps the central concept where the systems view of
life is concerned. 'Self-organisation is the spontaneous emergence of new structures and new
forms of behaviour in open systems far from equilibrium, characterized by internal feedback
loops and described mathematically by non-linear equations' (1996).
For Conway (1985), the primary goal of the agroecosystem is increased 'social value': the
provision of goods and services to meet human needs. From that point of view, he describes
four agroecosystem properties:
a. Productivity: the output of valued product per unit of resource input measured as
amount of biomass produced or yield or income derived from the harvest in calories,
proteins, currency, etc.
b. Stability: the constancy of productivity in the face of small disturbing forces arising
from normal fluctuations and cycles in the surrounding environment. It is measured by
the coefficient of variation in productivity.
c. Sustainability (or system resilience): the ability of the ecosystem to maintain
productivity when subject to a major disturbance: how far is productivity depressed
and does it return to its initial level?
d. Equity: the evenness of distribution of agroecosystem productivity among the human
Analysis of agroecosystems helped to bring an 'ecological perspective to farming systems
research, helping researchers understand the wider ecological setting again a recognition of
the hierarchy of systems' (Lightfoot, 1999). By working with the farmers to collect the
required information, communication between farmers and researchers improved, techniques
such as Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) became Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), and the
farmers began to apply the different techniques for information collecting themselves ibidd).
This is somewhat similar to Astier and Masera (1996) who add:
e. Dependability: reaching a high level of productivity through efficient use and synergy
among the components and resources of the agroecosystem.
f. Adaptability: the ability of a system to reach new levels of equilibrium, while
maintaining productivity in the long run despite changes, moulding itself to new
biophysical, economical and cultural conditions through innovation and learning
g. Self-reliance (or autonomy, as used in Conway, 1987 and Tekelenburg, 2001): the
ability to control and regulate the system and its links to externalities, for example
complementary production of inputs and products.
Altieri also uses productive capacity of the agroecosystem and ecological integrity (defined as
'preservation of natural resource base and functional biodiversity'), but includes social health
('enhanced social organization and reduced poverty') and cultural identity ('empowerment of local
communities, maintenance of tradition and popular participation in the development process')
(1995b). He then relates these attributes to a list of indicators of sustainability (table 2.1).
Along the same discussion lines of providing goods and services, results of the Pilot Analysis
of Global Ecosystems PAGE (UNDP/UNEP/WB/WRI, 2000) provide a preliminary
overview of the state of five basic ecosystems making the link between biophysical aspects
and the provision of human well being. In the case of agroecosystems, the goods and services
they compare are:
food and fibre production
provision of water in sufficient quantity and quality
maintenance of biodiversity
storage of atmospheric carbon
provision of recreation and tourism opportunities.
With regards to agroecosystems, the same study found that although the trend for food and
fibre production is still on the increase, a decline is likely to occur due to land degradation in
at least 16% of agricultural land worldwide. Clean freshwater is not being produced as fast as
it is consumed, while ground and surface water are progressively more contaminated and
salinisation is an increasing problem. Competition of water for drinking and industrial use is
getting stiffer every day. Expansion and intensification of agricultural land has significantly
reduced biodiversity. The amount of carbon stored in agroecosystems is just about equal to
that stored in the soil, resulting in an uncertain value attributed to this service. No data was
available on the use of agroecosystems for recreation purposes. Generally, a rather negative
picture was painted with fair to poor quality of the agroecosystem compared to 20-30 years
ago. One of the solutions of this report was based on the adoption of an 'ecosystem approach'
to productivity. This is defined as an integrated approach that looks at all possible goods and
services and attempts to optimise the mix of benefits for a given ecosystem, making tradeoffs
efficient, transparent and sustainable.
Table 2.1 Association between rural development assessment attributes and indicators of sustainability
(from Altieri, 1995b). The table shows how each attribute compensates the deficiencies of the other
attributes, suggesting that all of the indicators should be addressed when considering sustainability.
Indicator Productive capacity Ecological integrity Social health Cultural identity
Crop productivity x
Soil fertility and nutrient x x
Soil erosion x
Crop health (pest, disease x
Biodiversity status (native x x x
Landscape health (watershed x
status, biological corridors)
Health and nutritional status x x
Community participation and x x
Income and employment x
Required external inputs, x x
costs of production
Cultural acceptability of x
Indicators used to measure the different aspects and attributes of an ecosystem approach to
agricultural production vary among authors, although there are several points in common. A
summary of the different indicators used by some authors is provided in table 2.2.
Table 2.2 Indicators used by different authors for the measurement ofsustainability
Indicator Altieri, 1995b Vereijken, 1995 Van Mansvelt & Wolfert, 2002
Van der Lubbe,
Crop productivity x x x x
Soil fertility and x x x x
Soil erosion x
Soil cover x
Crop health x x x
Biodiversity status x x x x
Water quality and use x x x
Air quality x x
Landscape health x x x x
Health and nutritional x x
Community x x
Access to education x
Income and x x
Required external x x
inputs, costs of
Economic and x x x
efficient use of
Cultural acceptability x x
On the other hand, Lightfoot et al. (1993) limited themselves to four indicators when working
with farmers in The Philippines: economic efficiency, defined as net farm income;
bioresource recycling, defined as the number of bioresource flows the farmers identify on
their farms; species diversity, which includes both species cultivated and those with other
uses; and natural resource capacity which is obtained by dividing biomass output of all natural
resource types (kg.ha1) by the number of resource systems (also called agroecological niche
capacity by Lightfoot, 1999). Throughout this discussion, the need to involve the human
population by construction of social capital (the ability of a society to unite in learning and in
problem solving Villegas and Caraballo, 2000) becomes more and more apparent in order to
be able to manage adequately the natural capital ('stocks of resources generated by natural
biogeochemical processes and solar energy that yield useful flows of services and amenities
into the future' Izac, 1997 in Izac and Sanchez, 2001) at their disposition.
Working from an agroecosystem point of view thus requires taking into account objectives
that not only improve on biophysical aspects of the system. Since human beings are part of
the system, socio-economic aspects must also be included.
Sustainability at farm level
A practical example of integrating agroecosystem objectives at farm level is provided in the
software developed by Pdrez (1999). He looked at biophysical-technological, economical and
socio-cultural aspects of the system to compare sustainability among dairy farms in the
Bogota Plateau. The seven agroecosystem properties described above were used to
characterise each of the three aspects in order to decide on the indicators to use to compare
farms. In table 2.3, these properties and their parameters and indicators were adapted to the
context of vegetable production in Cota as a starting point for indicator selection in the
Table 2.3 Initial selection ofparameters and indicators for the Cota project based on Perez (1999).
System attributes Parameter Indicator
Conservation of natural
Response to extreme
Capacity for change
Conservation of resources
Tonnes per area
Shannon's Biodiversity index
Satisfaction of water requirements
Biological control of pests and diseases
Productive efficiency of the water
Carbon / Nitrogen ratio
Soil mineral nitrogen
Susceptibility of the crops to drought,
heavy rains and frosts
Self supply of dry matter
System nitrogen balance
Use of waste
Losses due to pests and disease
Cost benefit ratio
Net annual profitability
Gross real income
Level of organisation
Generation of employment
Generation and adoption of technology
Perception of sustainability
and self regulation
These indicators were adjusted throughout the project according to usefulness, ease of use by
both farmers and researchers, and appropriateness, as will be seen in Chapters 5 and 6.
Sustainability at landscape level
Within the systems approach, resilience of an agricultural system will be highly dependent on
the surrounding landscape. Understanding the multitrophic relationships of an ecosystem,
particularly where potential crop pests are concerned, will help the farmers to manage their
farm as habitat for more than just themselves and enhance diversity of species that will in turn
help the farmer. Lewis et al. (1997) are particularly emphatic on that point:
"First we need to understand, promote, and maximise the effectiveness of indigenous
populations of natural enemies. Then, based on the knowledge and results of these
actions, we should fill any gaps by importation. Finally, therapeutic propagation and
releases should be used as a backup to these programs when necessary"
From an ecosystem perspective, we must move from the application of the different properties
of an agroecosystem at individual farm level, on to their application at a higher ecosystem
level. In other words, although the conversion process can be implemented in each farm,
factors beyond the farm can influence the outcome of the effort at this level, especially in the
context of the small farms in this case. For change to be more efficient, a larger area must be
included in the process. System sustainability and resilience have been linked, for example, to
biodiversity in the case of pest management, although selective diversity is required to
regulate the desired pest population (Dempster and Coaker, 1974). Biodiversity can be
increased, among other methods, by creating niches and corridors to increase the movement
of birds, bats, reptiles and insects between islands of vegetation, especially where these
communicate with forests or woods (Van der Hammen, 1998). This is more feasible at
landscape level where small farms are concerned. Redesigning landscapes within the context
of ecological farming should therefore be contemplated within the context of conversion to
ecologically friendly practices (Mollison, 1988; Kabourakis, 1996; ATTRA, 2000).
In Europe, a methodology to ease farmers through the conversion process to integrated and/or
ecological production was developed, called prototyping (Vereijken, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998;
Kabourakis, 1996). The methodology consists in establishing a hierarchy of prioritised
objectives with the farmers, transforming these objectives into measurable parameters
(indicators of farm sustainability) and linking these parameters to production techniques, all
of which will lead to the design of a preliminary prototype. In summary, the prototype is a
collection of practices designed with the farmers to lead to more sustainable agriculture. The
preliminary design is tried out and improved on until the objectives are accomplished. Once
the prototype is adjusted, it can be disseminated to places of similar context through pilot
groups and local networks.
Prototyping has been implemented by research teams in nine pilot projects in different
European countries since 1993, sponsored by the European Union, to design, test, improve
and disseminate Integrated Arable Farming Systems within the context of the region.
According to the particular situation and the order of prioritisation given by the farmers, the
relevant standardised methods were used to design the theoretical prototype which was then
to be tried out.
The methods are:
Designing a multifunctional crop rotation (MCR)
Designing integrated or ecological nutrient management (I / ENM)
Designing minimum soil cultivation (MSC)
Designing ecological infrastructure management (EIM)
Designing integrated crop protection (ICP) and environment exposure-based
pesticide selection (EEPS)
Designing farm structure optimisation (FSO)
The six methods are described as follows (summarised from Vereijken, 1995 and 1999a).
Results of other research in some of the topics are used to complement the basic information
on the methods.
Designing a multifunctional crop rotation (MCR)
The objective of this method is to preserve soil fertility (biological, physical and chemical)
and the environment, with minimum inputs while still maintaining production quality. The
selection of the crops to be used and their rotations take into account marketability,
profitability, effect of the crop on soil cover, structure and fertility, and feasibility in terms of
harvest time, crop residues and adverse effects of the previous crop. This method should
affect parameters4 such as soil fertility measured as NPK available reserves (NAR, PAR,
4 Parameters in the prototyping method are quantified objectives of the farmers who want to redesign their
KAR), quality production index (QPI), net surplus (NS), pesticide residues, energy efficiency
(EE) and labour efficiency or hours hand weeding (HHW).
By using appropriate crop rotations, plant production can be positively affected by improving
soil fertility (improved biological, chemical and physical components) and reducing the
pressure of pests and diseases (Sumner, 1982). However, the following guidelines are
recommended in order to optimise the sequences (Millington et al., 1990; Vereijken, 1995):
combine crops in the sequence that either build up or exploit soil fertility;
include at least one leguminous crop;
avoid planting crops with similar pest, disease and weed susceptibilities back to back;
include the use of green manures and cover crops;
implement practices that will increase organic matter content over time.
Designing integrated or ecological nutrient management (I / ENM)
The purpose of I/ENM is to provide solutions to problems of soil management related to
erosion and fertility. It complements MCR by ensuring inputs replace outputs in order to
maintain adequate soil reserves in terms of NPK. By gradually replacing inorganic sources
with organic sources of amendments, the farmers move from integrated to ecological nutrient
management. This method should affect QPI, EE, N in groundwater or drainage water (NGW,
NDW), PK annual balances (NAB, KAB) and organic matter annual balance (OMAB).
Nutrients in agricultural soils must be available in quantities adequate for plant growth,
without being in excess. Recycling nutrients by incorporating crop residues or other means
cannot guarantee total reposition, as 'losses' occur when the crop is harvested or 'extracted'
from the farm system. If these losses are not replaced by natural sources (bedrock weathering,
rain water, etc.), supplements must be introduced (Arden-Clark and Hodges, 1988).
Conventional producers seem to consider the soil as an inert substrate and use synthetic
chemical sources to provide nutrients to the plants in a simple form, and so are dependent on
off-farm sources of fertilisers, which in most cases in Colombia are imported. Advantages of
these fertilisers include that they have a guaranteed composition, are easy to store and handle
and provide fairly predictable yields. On the other hand, organic producers work with the soil
as a living system, enhancing natural cycles and biological processes which lead to system
resilience, relying as much as possible on on-farm or regionally-available resources.
Disadvantages include variability in nutrient content, difficulties in handling leading to
uneven application and the time required to prepare them. However, the long-term beneficial
effects of organic sources of fertilizer outweigh their disadvantages: the organic matter
content improves soil structure which in turn reduces leaching to subsoil water and the effect
of soil compaction, the micro-organism population is increased (Sivapalan et al., 1993),
helping render nutrients available to plants through decomposition processes (Oberson et al.,
2001) and the release of enzymes such as phosphatase (Dighton, 1983). These effects are
particularly visible when the addition of organic fertilisers is combined with other practices of
ecological agriculture as described in section 5.4.4 on multi-functional cropping systems
(Arden-Clarke and Hodges, 1988). Specific differences between conventional farming
systems and those organic have been described by Arden-Clarke and Hodges as follows:
Soil pH: wider fluctuations in soil pH can be found when inorganic fertilisers are
used, due to chemical reactions in the soil and the negative effect on soil organic
matter content. Most effects lead to acidification. Organic manures, in contrast,
provide an increased buffering capacity of the soil, which prevents wide fluctuations
Salt concentrations: inorganic fertilisers are made of soluble salts, some of which
stay in the soil solution thereby increasing osmotic pressure, rendering difficult water
and nutrient uptake by the roots. High levels of salts also affect soil fauna.
Biological effects on soil ecology: the amount of soil organic matter (SOM) present
determines to great extent life in the soil. Comparisons have been made of organic
carbon levels: where manures have been applied, carbon levels increase on a yearly
basis, whereas in the case of application of inorganic fertilisers, the levels drop
Effects on soil fauna: this is directly related to the amount of decaying plant or
animal wastes applied. Inorganic fertilisers have been shown to have a negative
effect on some elements of soil fauna. Earthworm populations are a good indicator
for soil health in that respect. Up to 1100 kg.ha-' have been reported in pasture soils
where in arable soils that can fall to as low as 100 kg.ha1. Applying organic
fertilisers at rates of 35 T.ha' has increased that increased to 900 kg.ha'.
Furthermore, several years of work by Romero (1998) in the Bogota Plateau have
shown the positive characteristics of worm compost. This reinforces the results of
several authors summarised by Arden-Clarke and Hodges (1988) that showed effects
on soil fertility through improvement of soil structure, improved aeration, porosity
and drainage, increased distribution of nutrients within soil layers, and higher
nutrient availability in worm casts than in the original soil they worked on.
Effects on soil micro flora: the addition of plant residues and generally of organic
fertilisers has shown to help in the management of soil-borne plant pathogens, among
other reasons, due to the production of antibiotics by saprophytes and changes
induced in chemical soil make-up. Additionally, Sivapalan et al. (1993) found higher
populations and species diversity of fluorescent pseudomonads, fungi including
many antagonistic fungi, actinomycetes and bacteria except for gram-negative
bacteria, in organic soils.
Other effects include better availability of nutrients, a higher cation exchange
capacity (CEC) which helps regulate the supply of calcium, potassium and
magnesium, and addition of micronutrients which are left out in the typical N, P, K
applications of conventional agriculture.
Deugd et al. (1998) used a combination of six technologies to obtain INM, based on farmers'
preferences, biophysical setting and economic conditions: mineral fertilisers, mineral soil
amendments, organic inputs, improved crop/livestock systems, improved crop-tree systems
and soil conservation. The technologies used in this project are very similar, using the existing
research results described above to choose methods and inputs sources that would lead to
similar outcomes, as will be shown in the results discussed in Chapter 6.
Designing minimum soil cultivation (MSC)
After determining whether non-inversion tillage, zero tillage or direct drilling are needed and
indeed, feasible, the crops for which such procedures are most appropriate are established.
This method should affect QPI, OMAB and soil cover index (SCI).
Generally, soil structure should improve. In the case of Cota, the intent was to attempt to
recover some degree of soil aggregation. Bums and Davies (1986) use the following
definition for soil aggregates: 'agglomerations of sand, silt, clay and organic matter arbitrarily
described as having a diameter between 0.25 and 10 mm'. The existence of stable aggregates
is associated with soil fertility. Stability of the aggregates makes them stable to rainwater and
irrigation, wind erosion and compaction by farm machinery. Unstable aggregates on the other
hand disintegrate when they are wetted, clay particles then detach themselves, reducing
further soil fertility ibidd). Although there is a direct relationship between organic matter
content in a soil and aggregate stability, mere addition of organic matter to the soil is not
sufficient to acquire such stability. It is in fact the decomposition process and it effects
resulting from the ensuing microbial activity that is the cause ibidd). Fungal filamentous
entrapment of soil particles, polysaccharide production by bacteria, and stabilisation of
aggregates by vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae seem to be among the factors leading to stable
aggregates. The soils of the Bogota Plateau are generally high in organic matter. However,
they respond to additional applications of organic matter, possibly due to increased soil
stability as a result of the decomposition process. Because the soils are generally derived from
volcanic ashes, or affected by them, the soils tend naturally to have a powdery texture and low
structural stability. Structure is completely lost under conventional farming methods due to
excessive mechanisation of soil preparation (Amparo Medina CIAA, pers.comm., 2002).
Designing ecological infrastructure management (EIM)
This purports to provide the habitat and necessary corridors for natural control of crop pests,
while making the landscape more enjoyable. This method should affect QPI indirectly as well
as the ecological infrastructure (EI) and plant species diversity (PSD).
Pesticide use would be indirectly affected by enhancing the presence of fauna. Pimbert (1999)
mentions that over 90% of crop pests have natural enemies found in field borders. On the
other hand, estimates for pesticides that replace these 'natural pest control services' show
figures of about US $54 billion per year (CAST, 1999 in Pimbert, 1999). Effect on
groundwater might also be reduced, as trees have been found to help prevent nitrogen
leaching from subsoil (Rowe et al., 2001).
Designing integrated crop protection (ICP) and environment exposure-based
pesticide selection (EEPS)
Pesticide impact on soil fauna and flora has been demonstrated by a number of authors and
summarized by Arden-Clarke and Hodges (1988): populations of earthworms and insects are
seriously susceptible to soil fumigants, fungicides such as benomyl have negative effects on
earthworm populations, and pesticides generally affect the predator-prey relationships.
Herbicides affect soil populations indirectly by reducing plant residue availability. It is
estimated that despite the increase in chemical pest control, crop losses due to arthropods,
weeds and diseases has increased from 34.9% in 1965 to 42.1% in 1988-1990 on a worldwide
basis (Lewis et al., 1997).
One of the management alternatives used to remedy this situation is the natural one. It is an
important component of the 'total system approach' described by Lewis et al. ibidd), in which
the therapeutic approach must be questioned and pest management viewed within the larger
picture of the agricultural production system.
The ICP method helps manage potentially harmful species with a minimum amount of toxic
pesticides, whereas the use of EEPS should reduce environmental exposure to pesticides so
that there are no longer adverse effects on the rest of the species. These both are expected to
affect pesticide index (PI).
Designing farm structure optimisation (FSO)
This method brings together agronomic and ecological considerations with those economic so
as to optimise the farm operation. This is undertaken by structuring a model which defines the
minimum amounts of labour, land and inputs required to obtain the desired net surplus (NS)
The study of agroecosystem properties leads to an initial list of indicators that may be used to
monitor progress in the conversion process. To facilitate the conversion process, prototyping
appears useful not only because of its potential coverage, but also because it helps to reach
some objectives of sustainability of the production process described in the previous section.
Because it brings together the attributes of an agroecological system in practical methods for
their application, I considered the prototyping methodology as potentially useful for this
study. In effect, a number of the methods listed were used as a starting point in the conversion
process described in this case study.
2.2.4 Stakeholder participation sciencese)
Stakeholders here are defined as any person or entity that might influence one way or another
the outcome of the (development) project. The main ones are the farmers, without whom the
process may not even be considered. In this case, I have grouped all other potential
stakeholders under the title, Institutional Stakeholders, as their exact identity will be described
under Chapter 4.
Scientific research alone has not been very efficient in answering the need to change
production in the field to more sustainable conditions. This is particularly because its
reductionist vision (or lack of holistic vision) does not allow for complex situations
(Checkland, 1981). A given reality is expected and so there is little room for variations due to
the human factor. It is therefore unable to adapt to the local conditions, nor does it typically
involve the participation of the people (Fierro and Alvarez, 1998; Pretty, 1994; Trutmann et
al., 1996). Farmers are considered as individuals rather than part of society (Barkin, 2001).
Furthermore, this 'hard science' view tends to address merely the biophysical issues and omit
the social 'soft' causes of the environmental problems (Woodhill and R61ing, 1998; Leeuwis,
1999a). It tends to leave out the rich source of knowledge accumulated within the community,
based on ancestral wisdom, experience and the incorporation and adaptation of information
from the outside. A uniquely human characteristic is the capability for purposeful action
derived from knowledge acquired through experience (Checkland and Scholes, 1990). This
knowledge, coupled with individual histories, is what provides each person with a different
interest and perspective on a situation, leading to the fact that each person and therefore
situation should be addressed differently (Pretty, 1994). More attention should be paid to
farmers' opinions and the rationale they use to decide on adoption or not of innovations
(Vanclay and Lawrence, 1996). Farmers make their decision based on many considerations:
complexity (ease of implementation), divisibility (the possibility of breaking up the
innovations in smaller parts, or partial adoption), compatibility with their own objectives,
economics, risk and uncertainty (the objective of the innovation may not work out),
conflicting information, cost of implementation both financial and intellectual (learning), loss
of flexibility, physical and social infrastructure (for example adequate marketing channels or
conforming to social norms), and media promotion of environmental situation (the farmers
rarely are living the dramatic situation pictured). Inclusion of the farmers in the entire process
from problem identification through research on alternatives to decisions on the most
adequate solution and its evaluation, as participants in their own development, is more likely
to ensure that the solution chosen be appropriate to the farmers' situation and therefore be
adopted (Andrews et al., 1992; Etling and Smith, 1994; Walker et al., 2001). They should be
looked at as managers of complex social and productive systems rather than as backward end
users of predefined technology (Barkin, 2001). In this case, we wanted to ensure that the
farmers would be more involved in all aspects of its implementation. This is in line with the
concepts described above as to ensuring participation of the farmers as co-managers in their
own development (R61ing, 1999), so that the entire exercise is responsive to what they want.
Biewinga (1999) provides an example of what is proposed. 'Each farm development plan will
be based on the objectives and an analysis of the farm concerned, written in close co-
operation between farmers and researchers. The resulting plan must fit in with the farm style,
capacities, ambitions and motivations of the farmer'. The conversion process designed here
with the farmers allows for adjustments as the participants go along, according to monitored
results. An option for scaling up is also provided, based on a standard list of steps to be
followed. Just as with others' experience (Tekelenburg, 2001; Kabourakis, 1996; Da Silva,
1999; R61ing and Van der Fliert, 1998), trial results are even better when farmers get together
in study groups and have the support of some kind of advisory group.
Thus, the results generated by research must be appropriate to the agroecological context in
order to be of use to the farmers. Research undertaken under perfect conditions for field work
in this sense is not appropriate, since the experiments will not be confronted by the obstacles
which occur in the farmers' fields. At the farm level, ecological production is based on
observation and an understanding of how things work. The farmer is therefore considered an
expert, not just a user of knowledge. The accumulated rich source of knowledge within the
community, based on ancestral wisdom, experience and the incorporation and adaptation of
information from the outside is acknowledged. It also leads to the existence of individual
processes for making decisions and resources to carry them out.
To integrate that knowledge and to respond more efficiently to the farmers' needs,
participatory research has become more the norm. Methods used involve the farmers in all
stages of a project: from problem identification to the evaluation of the results. In many cases,
farmer groups were implemented. Examples abound, as in the case of the Comit6s de
Investigaci6n Agricola Local in Colombia (CIAL Local agricultural research committees -
CIAT, 1993; Ashby et al., 1997), the farmer brigades in Zaire (Mapatano Mulume, 1997) and
other forms of farmer-researcher teams (Stolzenbach, 1997, in Mali; Wettasinha et al., 1997,
in Sri Lanka; Oerlemans et al., 1997, in Holland; and Van Schoubroeck, 1999 in Bhutan). The
Farmer Field Schools in Indonesia provide another example of how farmers learned to rely on
their own powers of observation and collective decision-making to manage their rice fields by
jointly working with researchers (Roling and Van der Fliert, 1994, 1998). 'Farmers learning
from researchers and researchers learning from farmers about agroecosystems have provided
a route to more sustainable rice farming' (Lightfoot, 1999).
These associations allow the exchange of experiences, ideas and solutions not only between
farmer and researcher but also among farmers. Methodologies such as participatory action-
research and participatory rural appraisal deal with the processes whereby knowledge is not
merely transmitted but rather it is built jointly by researchers and farmers (Tillman and Salas,
1994; Ornelas, 1997). Many joint learning approaches have come from the application of
'systems thinking' techniques in agriculture. As Lightfoot (1999) comments, 'Experience
shows that methods are context specific and must be adapted or re-invented to fit each
situation'. This is also what forms the basis for constructivism, upon which research and
training proposals must be built in order to qualify for review by the National Programme for
Agricultural Transfer of Technology (PRONATTA) in Colombia. By fulfilling a series of
stages (Conway, 1985), new knowledge is experimented and the results evaluated, returning
to the beginning of the cycle (Checkland, 1990; Capra, 1996; Arratia and De La Maza, 1997;
Smith, 1997). Because the research is founded on what the farmers consider to be the
problem, they can relate more to the results and should feel more ownership of the solution,
which should in turn ensure more adoption. As suggested by Leeuwis (1999b), by starting
from the existing social and technological knowledge and experience, and gradually
introducing options through farmer learning and experimenting, it is quite possible that
adoption of sustainable practices be more efficient. Andrews et al. (1992) list six main reasons
for farmer participation:
Knowledge: farmers have a wealth of knowledge that is site and culture specific, and
so can help ensure that solutions are appropriate according to local conditions;
Empowerment: through effective participation, the farmers develop self-confidence
and pride in themselves and their knowledge systems;
Focus: The research resulting from participatory methods of situation diagnosis are
more likely to be focused on the real needs, for example, and by participating in the
evaluation processes, the farmers' criteria are incorporated in determining success;
Support: farmers often participate in the research with inputs, time, ideas which help
with the operational aspects;
Validation: the research can be undertaken under realistic conditions and the farmers
themselves participate in the local adaptation of the technologies;
Extension: a first step is already made in ensuring that the new technology will be
used; word of mouth from the participating farmers will help its extension to
A large variety of participatory methods have been developed in the last decade (World Bank,
1994); what is now needed is the replication on a large scale of the most functional ones
Other than the farmers, additional actors in the agricultural system must also be taken into
account, such as those involved in providing inputs and, as in Engel (1997), financial-support
institutions, research and development entities, those involved in marketing, and those who
formulate and implement government policies. Any changes to the status quo will inevitably
involve these actors at some point, so it is advisable to have them aware of what is going on
and, if possible, to have them on our side. For that, some type of interaction will occur which
might lead to negotiation, conflict management, learning and agreement (ROling, 1999).
A second group of institutional stakeholders also appears. In the context of vegetable
production in a town so close to a large city such as Bogota, it is quite possible that the
multiple perspectives that exist for land use (staple farming, flower production cash crop,
tourism in the form of restaurants, and urbanisation) will lead to conflicts at a different level.
This leads us to the recommendation by Leeuwis to create some kind of social or
organisational arrangement around biophysical set-ups in order that they 'become an explicit
part of the design' (1999a). Although this aspect is not dealt with directly in the present study,
some of its side effects could help mitigate possible conflicts by precisely offering interesting
alternatives based on staple farming with an ecological twist.
When thinking of institutional stakeholders, policy makers within government ministries also
come to mind. An example is provided by the Indonesian case in which the government under
President Suharto prohibited 57 chemical products and declared IPM as the national strategy
for crop protection in 1986, pushing rice farmers to look for viable alternatives. After the
traditional Training and Visit system of transfer of technology failed dramatically, Farmer
Field Schools emerged as an efficient method to reach large numbers of farmers relatively
quickly to help them learn how to work with nature by observing the interactions between
plants and insects and their environment. Through this newly found understanding, they were
able to reduce the amount and type of pesticides used by 50% without yield loss (Rl6ing and
Van der Fliert, 1998; Lightfoot, 1999).
On the other hand, it is not always advisable to undertake policy decision-making entirely
without the participation of those to be affected. A good example is provided by Aarts and
Van Woerkum (1999) where the Nature Policy Plan of The Netherlands was developed
without farmer participation, and resulted in their refusal to implement it even with
compensation. Hence the need for interactive government steering in nature policy
development and integral approach to policy design. They propose that this include:
Multi-functional tackling of regional problems: instead of isolated plans made by the
different departments of agriculture, environment, etc.
Interactive management style: refers to decentralisation as it implies the involvement
of local actors, creating local ownership and engagement through participation
(government as facilitator rather than regulator).
Inter-disciplinary exchange and enquiry: for different perspectives and thereby
potentially different objectives that can be transformed by communication among
Use of implicit and social knowledge: recognition of the actors' rationality.
Reinforcement of the regional cultural identity: increased enthusiasm for promoting
and producing regional products.
2.2.5 Questions addressed by the case study project
To go from the initial situation to the desired one, a systematic mechanism was required to
'move' the farmers, or help them to make the changes they desired. As mentioned in the
section on research for development (2.1), the research activities must feed into the learning
process of the farmers to have an effect. A brief comment on learning is hence due. In this
case, Kolb's experiential learning theory, which is based on the 'central role that experience
plays in the learning process' (1984), is used. From Kolb, we take the following relevant
characteristics of experiential learning:
Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes. In other words,
since experiences modify learning, ideas are not fixed but modifiable. In fact, should
a person maintain fixed ideas too long, one could consider that s/he has not been
Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience. Knowledge evolves from
the integration of new information or experiences into the person's 'life baggage'.
Sometimes substitution can occur, but integration of new ideas into the persons'
accumulated knowledge is more likely to be lasting.
Learning is an holistic process of adaptation to the world and involves transactions
between the person and the environment. Interaction with situations or particular
environments leads the person to act in a certain way, to adapt to the circumstances.
This is a similar concept to that of structural coupling mentioned by Maturana and
Varela: as long as the environment and a particular element remain compatible (ie.
not destructive), they will 'act as mutual sources of perturbation, triggering changes
of state' in a process of creative structural coupling (1998).
Learning is the process of creating knowledge. Facilitators must therefore understand
well the information that is to be shared in order to know how to share it.
Thus understanding farmer learning, and how it is facilitated, is crucial to understanding how
research can help it. Although the following process actually was a result that emerged from
the project, presenting it now should help the reader understand what happened.
We have already discussed the three basic dimensions that can be seen in the project: P
aspects look at how farmers can become skilled and productive managers of natural resources;
y aspects work on how to help the farmers help themselves by working as a community; and
the third dimension leads to how to ensure that the movement becomes sustainable in the long
term. The second dimension is associated with a group format, which seemed to be a better
option to farmers working alone. Therefore this dimension could be associated with how to
create a co-operating group of farmers. The third dimension is associated with long-term
sustainability in terms of autonomy and self-reliance.
Guiding issues were followed in order to help provide answers to these lines.
How to become a skilled and productive farmer
Guiding issues along the dimension of farm management arise where the focus is on small
farmers acquiring knowledge about their commodities and about the control of their
production surroundings, so as to become skilled resource managers for the region. The
process involved has very much to do with what agronomists describe as 'knowledge building
on various scales of land use' (e.g. crop, field, farm, region, country). So, supported by P
knowledge (agroecology), the pathway goes from:
Crop-bound knowledge to knowledge about the quality of life in the region
(Experimental deepening ofagroecological research)
Figure 2.2 Farmer learning pathway based on f-type knowledge.
The guiding issues on this dimension include the following:
a. What commodities should be produced, can farm yield become more efficient and
can that be done in a sustainable way?
b. Trials for experimental crop research on farmer plots and concerted discussion about
c. Interest grows for the farm as a system conditioned for commodity production (such
as appropriate soil fertility, balancing potentially harmful organisms, agro-diversity).
d. Once the farming system reaches its desired quality and structure, interest moves to
conditioning factors outside the farm (farm surroundings). At that moment farmers
are 'mature' to talk about ecological infrastructure, agrobiodiversity, live fences and
During the process of knowledge building, the four guiding issues aggregate into relevant
regional knowledge that does not conflict with farmer's interests in yields and efficiencies.
Building a co-operating group
Guiding issues arise as soon as there is an attempt to move the farmers from being isolated
individuals, complaining about their poverty and the political disinterest in them, to being
respected members of a team within a community. The process involved has very much to do
with what sociologists mention as 'group forming' (Uphoff, 1996). So, with the help of y, the
pathway goes as follows:
From self-centred individual to co-operating team member
(Sociology of group forming)
Figure 2.3 Farmer learning pathway based on y-type knowledge.
The guiding issues involved are:
a. Individuals share goals, methods, means and position in the society.
b. There is a co-ordinating person who keeps everybody together (binding factor).
c. Process forming happens implicitly from working on explicit problems and solutions.
d. Individuals must be rewarded for their co-operation by seeing that the fulfilment of
their initial objectives is at least attempted.
During the process of team building the four guiding issues change weight. They should,
however, also always be present during the whole process of team building.
Towards autonomy and self-reliance
The third essential dimension in the learning process is autonomy or self-reliance. The
process must become self-organising and resilient, independent of the facilitator.
From dependent individual to autonomous member of society
Figure 2.4 Farmer learning pathway for capacity building.
The guiding issues involved here are:
a. Identification of limitations that hold the farmers back.
b. Characteristics of knowledge that is relevant for resource-poor farmers.
c. Building networks that allow farmers to reach beyond their immediate surroundings.
d. Capacity building that leads farmers to recognize their own abilities (discovery
learning) and analyse information.
Bringing together the fl and type knowledge with the third dimension
The three learning pathways do not occur separately, rather they occur simultaneously and to
differing degrees at different times. By superimposing the P and axes with the third dimension
(figure 2.5), four areas are brought forth which can be referred to as the different phases the
farmers go through in the learning pathway. These phases are described as follows and are
covered in more detail in the rest of this book.
Figure 2.5 Convergence of the three learning pathways based on P and y knowledge and the third
dimension of autonomy. The beta axis shows how improved skills and knowledge lead to change from
subsistence farming through technical and technological innovation to regional development. The gamma
axis represents how an improved attitude toward team-work helps the farmers move from an individualistic
outlook and high dependence on external factors to the development of a sense of community. The third
dimension strengthens thefarmers' capacity for decision-making (empowerment), leading to autonomy and
an understanding of the role of individual farms within the issue of regional development. The numbers I -
IV refer to the phases through which the farmers went in the learning pathway, represented by the curve
which moves around through the four phases and up the third dimension toward autonomy.
The farmers move from subsistence and individualism (egoism) to increased productivity and
begin to see the advantages of co-operating with fellow farmers. The role of the facilitator
here is strong on both technical and leadership aspects.
With improved productivity on the farm, the producers begin to work on co-operative
decision-making, to join forces for better marketing power. The facilitator plays more of an
intermediary role, helping the farmers to take over gradually.
Having begun to build a platform for negotiating for themselves, regional development is
attempted by expanding the results of now profitable, individual farms to landscape levels.
The farmers take the lead in the process, with occasional support of the facilitator.
At this stage, which corresponds to the time period post-project in this case, profitable,
autonomous, cooperating networks of farmers are gradually visible. The role of the farmers is
now strong; the facilitator is no longer in the picture.
2.2.6 Research questions revisited
The soft and hard issues brought up in the brief overview of the local context (Chapter 1) and
in the research questions provided in section 2.1, now allow us to specify the research
questions in a more practical way. To define what research methodology can be used to
facilitate the conversion of farmers to more sustainable agriculture in a developing country
under continuous cultivation, I identified research activities associated with:
1. Designing, under such conditions, a farming system that gives higher yields at lower
costs, economically and ecologically, so that productivity as a whole is improved (P
dimension, Phase I).
2. Facilitating small farmer group formation and organisation so as to ensure emergence
of concerted action (y dimension, Phase II).
3. Designing landscape level elements at a higher scale (region) to support the new
farming system, moving from small farm management to applications at a regional
level (p dimension, Phase III).
4. Facilitating ownership of the process that will ensure continuity after the researcher -
facilitator has left. We can call this the 'facilitation of self-facilitation' (third
dimension, Phase IV).
There is no final pathway, but rather a journey is made in which the facilitator and farmers
together determine each next step according to the results of the previous phase. In order to
determine the extent of success, indicators are added or withdrawn or created new as the research
journey progresses, according to those indicators that are useful and easy for the farmers to
continue monitoring on their own. The final indicators will be decided on as monitors of whether
we are approaching our final goals. The overall objective is to empower the farmers to become
successful farm (and resource) managers. Learning does not end with the project. Rather, as long
as the soft dimensions in figure 2.5 are dealt with, what begins as a learning curve in the shape of
a horseshoe, actually turns into a spiral moving around the 03 and y axes and up the third
dimension. How these issues are dealt with from a research methodology point of view as well as
throughout the project case study is explained in section 2.3.
2.2.8 Initial methodologyfor the conversion process
Based on the above literature review and contextual information (described in detail under
Chapter 3), an initial methodology was drawn up for the design and implementation of farm
conversion for this particular project. This methodology was formulated for the grant-winning
proposal to PRONATTA before the project started.
Through the project, the process of farm conversion was to be designed and implemented by
the application of a series of steps developed with the farmers of the municipality of Cota.
The methodology was based on the methodology of prototyping described in 2.2.3 with some
modifications which intended to incorporate some of the improvements that had been
suggested in the literature. Among these improvements were a more substantial and
significant participation of the actors in the farming system, particularly the 'beneficiary'
farmers and especially in the definition of objectives; negotiation with stakeholders on the
design process and technologies to be used; and use of an open facilitation process instead of
directives from the researchers (Leeuwis, 1999b).
The methodology initially proposed here consisted in defining the steps required to achieve
the conversion from conventional agricultural production to a more sustainable one, within
the specific context of vegetable production, following what might be a logical ecological
sequence, taking into account the farming and marketing contexts. As these steps were to
serve as a guide for future implementation in other communities, representatives of those
areas would also be invited to participate in some of the activities. A conversion design in this
context was therefore defined as a set of principles to be applied in a stepwise fashion, based
on a logical ecological sequence, farmers' needs and capacities and market demand. It follows
very much the Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Knowledge Systems RAAKS sequence
(Salomon and Engel, 1997): conceptualisation of the problem acceptable for all stakeholders
concerned, articulation of the problem in relation to its causes, identification of solutions and
implementation of proposed solutions. Emphasis was made on its flexibility, required as it is
designed interactively, and in fact evolves throughout the project as improvements and
adaptations are made to it. The activities planned were the following:
Activity 1: Participatory diagnosis
Workshops on participatory diagnosis to identify and prioritise the problems in
vegetable production and marketing. The purpose was to go in depth into the
problems defined in the Municipal Development Plan, determine the source of the
production and marketing problems, undertake joint fact-finding to fill in the
knowledge gaps, and prioritise the search and implementation of solutions according
to needs. Discussions on the definition of an 'ideal' agroecosystem were to be made,
as well as the differences between such a system and the current one.
The actors involved in the various aspects of vegetable production and marketing in
this area would be identified. Linkages among the actors would also be looked at, as
would the level of interdependence among them.
Conditions required for the success of the conversion process would be discussed
and studied with the farmers. The actors involved would be invited to participate, in
this way gradually building a negotiating platform to meet and discuss such aspects
as the promotion of sustainable agriculture, which linkages among actors need
reinforcement, the constraints and opportunities for such agriculture, and any
interests that needed to be negotiated.
Workshops to define strategies to design the initial conversion process and agree on
techniques and indicators for monitoring. Strategies were to be defined to resolve the
local problems using as a basis the previously defined 'ideal' agroecosystem, the
differences identified with the current system, and the problems faced by the farmers
within that context. These strategies were to respond to the objectives of
sustainability through the use of alternative agricultural techniques, and thereby
provide the basis for the design, made up of the various steps to be followed to obtain
a sustainable production system. The intention was to determine what the logical
sequence of changes would be according to ecological knowledge and farmer
rationality based on socio-economic factors. Methods used in the European
prototyping experiences would be included here as potential options in a basket of
tools, along with options available locally and new ones developed during the
Changes due to the implementation of these techniques would be monitored through
the use of farm sustainability indicators (see table 2.3), first to evaluate the initial
state, then the intermediate and final states of each of the pilot farms selected in the
next stage. To this end, soil and water samples would be taken for chemical and
biological analyses. Additional data on costs of production, productivity, sale price,
quality criteria, types of crops, pest and disease damage levels, among others, would
also be collected. The indicators proposed initially were to be discussed with the
farmers throughout the project to decide on terms significant to them.
The creation of local research committees for the implementation and follow-up of
Local research committees, or some other form of organisation, were planned in
order to respond to specific needs during the project, and to do the follow-up of the
prototype. The committees were initially thought of to do on-farm research on the
chosen alternatives to a particular problem, the evaluation of the results on the basis
of the chosen indicators and pass on their experience to the other members of the
community. Each committee was to consist of two or three farmers interested in the
research on the chosen techniques, a producer or technician with the abilities and
motivation to communicate, and finally one or two farmers as observers, based on
the local agricultural research committee method developed at the CIAT (Ashby et
al., 1997). The committees were to represent different neighborhoods of the
community and meet with the support group to define the formation and activities.
Activity 2: Implementation, monitoring and adaptation of the prototype
Selection of farms where the different techniques of the preliminary prototype would
be tried out. In this activity, the members of the committees were to begin the
implementation of the prototype. Support was to be provided for research in 10 plots
of 1000m2 each, without excluding the possibility that there be a higher number of
farmers involved or larger areas per farmer.
Monitoring and support to the farmers during conversion. The project team as
support group was to visit each farm twice a month in the first six months and once a
Implementation evaluation by the committees and the project team. A workshop was
planned for every six months. The farmers and extension workers of the committees
were to evaluate the situation of each farm on the basis of the selected indicators, and
compare it with the initial state. The results were then to be shared with the rest of
the community. These evaluations were to serve to make the appropriate adjustments
that would eventually lead to the final prototype. Furthermore, the discussions were
to remain open with the committees during the farm visits through the use of the on-
farm evaluation method according to Maitre and Le6n (1996).
Activity 3: Dissemination and socialisation of the prototype
These activities were to be implemented among the members of the community of Cota, as
well as the technicians and officials of the municipality.
Workshops for the training of extension workers in the area of sustainable
agriculture. The people selected as extension workers were to participate in a
workshop in which they were to share tools and strategies to facilitate interaction
with the rest of the community, and thereby transmit effectively the objectives,
strategies and results of the prototype.
Workshops for project self-evaluation and the design of the final prototype. This was
to involve a process of reflection and discussion on the results of the project. It was
hoped that a high level of feedback would occur among the committees, the
extension workers, the representatives of the UMATA2, the co-operatives and the
support group. This self-evaluation process was to be undertaken twice within the
2 UMATA: Unidad Municipal de Asistencia T6cnica Agropecuaria, or municipal agricultural extension unit. By
law, each municipality must have one. It depends directly of the mayor's office and is in charge of technology
transfer to small farmers.
*Open house at the end of the project to share the results and experiences.
All project participants would be invited, including the members of the co-operatives
and the farmer association and the Rural Women's Association, interested farmers
and technicians of the municipality, as well as farmers and technicians from the
surrounding municipalities of the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacd. Copies
of the resulting manual on how to convert farms to sustainable production would be
distributed to the assistants and a video will be shown on the implementation of the
Activity 4: Market development
Farmers tend to decide on which crop to seed based on the market at the time of seeding, and
not on what it is likely to be at time of harvest. This leads to great uncertainty for both
producers and buyers as well instability of farmer income. Any attempt at stabilising this
situation should therefore include such as aspects as market studies and consumer desires or
trends. The following activities were proposed:
Workshops for the definition of strategies and agreement on what action to take to
improve marketing: agreement was to be reached on the current state of vegetable
marketing, the general demand for vegetable products and in particular the demand
for ecological products, product availability, and potential new markets. Strategies
would be defined on how to reach the new markets, including the requirements on
how to obtain the 'green' label.
Some alternatives to be discussed with the community were market diversification
through a 'green route' which tourists could follow to learn about ecological production
and purchase 'green' vegetables and other products (milk, cheese) on the spot; the
implementation of closed markets between producers and buyers, or the acquisition of a
locale in the city, all of which avoid the middleman.
Training in the areas of post harvest technology and marketing as well as
organisational strengthening was also provided.
Although this original methodology for the design and implementation of the farm conversion
process based on prototyping provided a useful starting point, serious adaptations were
required following the participatory diagnosis and subsequent monitoring of progress. These
will be discussed in Chapter 5 after describing the participatory diagnosis and prioritisation
with the farmers. Implications for the design of replications will be discussed in the final
2.3 Research methodology
Having read the previous two sections on theoretical background for both the research
activities and the design of the learning pathway through which the conversion process was
designed and implemented, the reader can well imagine that the research methodology used
here does not follow the traditional experimental design approach. In effect, a case study
approach is used. This is not unusual. The Department for Research on Agrarian Systems
(SAD) of the National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) in France, for example, uses
observation, case studies, participatory approaches and modelling to study the practices and
processes of development. In that country, a systems approach to farming has prevailed
throughout history (from the 16th century) instead of developing the linear approach common
to most other research and education systems around the world (Bonnemaire et al., 2000).
As a form of qualitative research, case studies allow for the inclusion of the 'constraints of the
everyday social world (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994) which cannot be separated from the
research initiative, and even less so under the conditions of small farmer development in
Third World countries. As Patton (1990) summarises, systems theory is based on both
qualitative and quantitative forms of inquiry: direct observation, informal interviews,
naturalistic field work and inductive analysis; it is sensitive to context, interactive, dynamic
and process-oriented, situationally responsive and adaptive.
Patton (1990) also observes that qualitative methods are appropriate to use when the study is
about how something happens (process) rather than on the outcomes or results obtained (in
this case, both aspects are discussed). He also recommends them when individualised
outcomes are under evaluation (this links back to the consideration of the individuals as
participants contributing their own reality to the development process), which allows for
diversity of outcomes. He considers case study approaches particularly useful when the
program under evaluation is individualised, a systems approach to learning is employed and
the programme is process-oriented. He points out that the case study is a method which value
is recognized for example by the World Bank and USAid, where quantitative and qualitative
data are combined. Patton goes on:
"If program implementation is characterized by a process of adaptation to local
conditions, needs, and interests, then the methods used to study implementation must
be open-ended, discovery-oriented, and capable of describing developmental
processes and program changes. Qualitative methods are ideally suited to the task of
describing such program implementation".
A final situation suited to qualitative study is that of documenting development over time.
Here Patton says that because the pre/post test method suggests linear, upward growth and
development, it is not the most appropriate for process -oriented approaches of facilitating
change. It does not tell you how the results were obtained. Development is not linear.
Qualitative methods help to capture developmental dynamics.
Agricultural research must be responsive to societal demands in reference to current relevance
of current forms of research (Alroe and Kristensen, 2002). Reductionist methods may serve to
answer specific punctual problems but in the context of complexity, and where society now
asks that producers be responsible for their effects on the environment, an approach that
allows for such complexity must be used. The systems approach is precisely that. And as
Patton mentions (above), the case study is particularly useful to analyse systems. Here the
case study is a development project aimed at far conversion in which the researcher herself
was heavily involved.
The hard science view that researchers must be detached observers of the object of their study
and not get involved, is blind to the fact that research in fact has an effect on what it studies: it
is systemic (Alroe and Kristensen, 2002). These authors continue in their analysis by stating
that researchers must therefore acknowledge that fact so as to be able to recognize when they
are acting on the object of study (they are actors or insiders), and when it is time that they step
out mentally to look at what has happened and analyse the effects of their actions (the
researcher becomes observer or outsider). They observe that,
"Taking an outside viewpoint is the hallmark of science and also an indispensable
part of systemic research. The outside viewpoint first of all detaches the interests and
goals of the observer from the dynamics of the system. Moving from an inside to an
outside view in systemic research, approaching the position of 'objective' observer,
therefore allows for a distinction between dependent and independent dynamics in the
learning process. The observed system dynamics are henceforth uninfluenced by the
observer's intentions, and this allows the observer to learn about the independent
dynamics of the system. But given the self-reflexive circle of learning, the outside or
'objective' stance always rests on a specific inside point of departure it is not the
privileged, detached, value-free, Archimedean point of observation that is entailed in
the conventional criterion, or ideal, of objectivity ".
Hence the involvement of the researcher in the research activity is used explicitly to gain
greater insights. But it requires detachment and 'alienation' to be able to step back and pull
out lessons in a credible and trustworthy manner. In the present case, as researcher I moved
between participant observation and objective observation, according to the moment. As
facilitator of the conversion process, participant observation was used to monitor progress and
change. Then I had to step out mentally, as objective observer to be able to analyse what was
happening. For this, I used a variety of methods. Sometimes I used information about farmers
(farm level) to provide combined view of the whole project (project level). In that sense, the
farmers were my unit of observation, but the project was the unit of analysis. Through
participatory observation, I worked intensively with the farmers, keeping records of daily
progress. I kept detailed notes which I later used for analysis when looking back at what
happened. Outside specialists in specific topics were brought in periodically to triangulate my
observations. Comparisons were also made through the literature with other experiences.
Other methods used in the case study include: quantitative farm level information to assess
progress of the farmers in terms of farm 'sustainability', original biological observations of
insects in native vegetation for the live fences work, and on-farm agricultural research and
testing, applying and adapting various agricultural techniques and procedures on small farms
with farmers, and helping the farmers to draw conclusions from these experiments. This entire
reflexive process was guided here by the overall design of the conversion process, which
itself was emergent, evolving, farmer-led and designed on the basis of what worked from the
farmers' point of view. The case study is used in fact to provide insights into the nature of
agricultural development research for which the conversion process evolved a new design.
Here we propose to try to address these issues precisely: the case study here is inserted within
a research structure that will allow for the analysis of what happens because of the
intervention (figure 2.6). The case study approach to the research study proposed here thus
justified, the specific integration of the case study will now be graphically explained.
As drawn earlier (figure 2.5), the case study will in fact play out the four phases of the
learning process the farmers will go through in the conversion of their farm to more
sustainable practices. The chapters described earlier will therefore fit as follows into that
THE RESEARCH STUDY
Chapter 1: Introduction and problem statement
Chapter 2: Theoretical perspectives and methodology
Chapter 3: Local situation at project initiation
THE PROJECT CASE STUDY
SPhase I Chapter 4: Participatory diagnosis of fanning in Cota
Chapter 5: Designing improved crop production strategies
Chapter 6: Progress in the conversion process
Phase II Chapter 7: Meeting market standards for healthy products
Chapter 8: Building organizational strength and farmer autonomy
Phase III Chapter 9: Agrobiodiversity: biodiversity and relative abundance of
insects in live fences
Chapter 10: Conditioning of biodiversity in farm surroundings: design
of a network of live fences
Chapter 11: Training of local facilitators for group support
Chapter 12: Results and conclusions
Figure 2.6 Detailed view of how the research pathway feeds into the farmers' learning pathway. The
questions posed in the research study are played out in the case study, which in turn provides answers in
the final chapter. The results of both farmer learning and research processes have implications for
research on agricultural development research.
Chapter 3 Local situation at project initiation
3.1 Problem context 67
3.2 Potential for sustainable products in Clombia? 71
3.2.1 Florverde 71
3.2.2 IPM in coffee 72
3.2.3 Ecosecha 73
3.3 Country description 73
3.3.1 Geopgraphy 73
3.3.2 Cota: 'good climate, fertile soil' 75
3.4 Conclusion 81
This chapter describes the context in which both the research and the project case study were
developed. An understanding of this context is essential to ensure that both research and
project are grounded in the reality of the people whose lives are supposed to be affected by
the intervention. The information provided in this chapter was collected prior to project
implementation and was in fact used in the proposal for financial support. In that sense, this
chapter contextualises the development activities and establishes the conditions within which
the project must work.
3.1 Problem context
Prior to my involvement in Cota, a Municipal Development Plan PDM (Concejo Municipal
de Cota, 1998) and the Municipal Programme for Agriculture and Animal Husbandry PAM
(Luna, 1998), had been developed through consultations in popular assemblies and working
groups with the community, organizations, institutions and offices of the municipal
administration, a practice that all Colombian municipalities were expected to implement.
Through this exercise, the following problems in the agricultural and related environmental
sectors were identified:
monoculture with high production costs and low profitability,
existence of middlemen, who buy from the farmers at low prices and resell with large
restricted access to market channels,
lack of income from tourism and trade,
lack of support for small and family enterprise,
lack of environmental and agricultural technical abilities and knowledge including
aspects of biodiversity and alternatives to commercial inputs,
lack of equipment and knowledge of land preparation,
water and soil pollution through the application of agro-chemicals,
inability to diagnose oncoming frosts and sudden climatic changes,
lack of technical assistance in the municipal plant nursery and generally in
production of good quality vegetables,
problems of environmental degradation, and
lack of knowledge on recycling.
From this list, the inhabitants of the municipality identified specific problems for each area in
1998, again through the PDM and PAM. Those particularly relevant to this study are detailed
* Excessive land preparation
This is done by rotary cultivator, among other implements, resulting in the loss of
structural stability of the soil, which acquires a powdery appearance, as well as in
reduced water conduction in the soil profile, problems in aeration and hardening.
* High input dependence, especially pesticides
Traditionally agro-chemicals (synthetically made herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and
fertilisers) tend to be used in large quantities. According to the municipal agricultural
extension unit UMATA, their excessive use is considered to be the main cause for
induced resistance in pests, for soil, surface and underground water pollution, and for a
large part of the costs of production (approximately 50%). Nationally, three million litres
of chemical products were used in the agriculture sector during the period from 1993 to
1999, of which 80% were of toxicology categories I and II. This corresponded to costs of
US $30 million to the farmers (Yarumo, 2000). Over 11 million kilograms of active
ingredient were produced and sold in Colombia in 1997 (see tables Al, A2 and A3 in
Appendix 1). An additional problem is that many of the pesticides are currently not
registered for use in vegetable production. Although these figures include products used in
extensive farming, such as cotton and coffee, they do reflect the general attitude towards
pesticides as quick fixes, and a lack of integrated pest and disease management.
Organic fertilisers are misused. Chicken manure is traditionally used as such a source,
applied annually at an average rate of 6 tonnes per hectare (Luis Alberto Cano, UMATA
Cota, 2002, pers. comm.). However, as it is not applied according to soil analyses and
recommendations, this has been shown to lead to nutritional imbalances in the soil and in
the plants over time, applied according to soil analyses and recommendations. In fact, soil
samples taken from farmers' fields in Cota in 1998 and analysed by the soil analysis
laboratory at the University of Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano Horticulture Research Centre
have shown that 95% of the samples have excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus
and that 75% have high to excessive amounts of potassium. Most of the samples showed
deficiencies in trace elements. Other problems associated with fresh chicken manure are
high salt levels and the presence of antibiotics, and that when it heats up it dislodges
oxygen from the soil.
Use of water for irrigation is typically in excess of crop requirements as watering is done
by routine or by visual observation and left on until the crop is virtually inundated. This
has effects on the costs of production due to the energy used and the cost to the
environment because of the inefficient use of a scarce resource. Furthermore
phytosanitary problems, already existent due to high relative humidity levels at night,
may increase even more (Goewie and Duqqah, 2002).
* Low product quality
The farmers' lack of knowledge on pests and diseases leads to the misuse of pesticides
and poor levels of control. It is difficult to produce large quantities of quality vegetables.
* Poor market intelligence
Farmers tend to decide on which crop to seed based on the market at the time of seeding,
and not on what it is likely to be at time of harvest. This leads to great uncertainty
regarding product availability for both farmers and buyers, as well instability of farmer
* Poor management in marketing
Regarding marketing infrastructure, the municipality does not have a receiving centre as
such. The town has a market place, open Sundays only. Two horticulture cooperatives
emerged in the late 1990s (CoopHortiCota and Coomagro). The membership of these
cooperatives, whose main function is the marketing of produce, represents 20% of the
municipality's vegetable growers. In 2000, AsodeCota, the Association of Business
Farmers of Cota, was formed but started to commercialise only in late 2001. The
principal market is Corabastos, a 70 hectare food market in Bogota through which 85% of
the vegetables produced in the department of Cundinamarca is sold (see Chapter 7 for
more on marketing aspects). Prices are subject to supply and demand and can vary
drastically from day to day. The remaining 15% of the produce makes its way to
supermarket chain stores.
The low product quality, lack of market intelligence and knowledge of few locations to sell
their produce reduce the farmers' ability to negotiate reasonable prices. Furthermore, low
product quality and the lack of continuity in product availability make the farmers unreliable
from the buyers' point of view. Farmer profits therefore are low, especially since the real
price to the farmer has decreased from year to year because of inflation rates.
The information thus collected in the PDM on the municipal diagnosis of the local
agricultural sector also provided the groundwork for the preparation of the municipal Plan for
Territorial Organization (Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial POT). The POT is a state policy
and planning instrument that orients the process of occupation, utilisation and transformation
of the territory for a nine-year period. It expresses and spatially projects the policies and
environmental, social and economical development objectives of a society, while
guaranteeing an adequate level of quality of life to the people and conserving the
environment. It is a process of collective construction through which the human settlements,
the socio-economic activities and the physical infrastructure are located and assigned space in
such a way as to preserve the natural resources and environment, improving the quality of life
of the inhabitants, under the premises of sustainable development (Andrade 1994, quoted in
Alcaldia Popular de Cota, 2000). In Cota, it has been developed over three years with the
population in order to include their expectations regarding development of the Municipality in
the short and medium term, taking into account equity, sustainability and competitiveness.
Among the solutions proposed in the PDM and the PAM are: better technical assistance
leading to ecologically sustainable production, support for the small agricultural enterprises
(which corroborates the experience of the Agricultural Development Institute, INDAP, in
Chile, and is contrary to most agricultural strategies that are oriented toward large farmers), a
training and extension programme for environmentally friendly and economically profitable
production techniques, and the recovery of water sheds and protective zones. Of these
solutions, those also mentioned by the farmers in the participatory diagnosis (Chapter 4) are
addressed in the present project.
Such therefore was the situation encountered in the municipality at the onset of the project.
The beginnings of an awareness existed as to the urgency to do something about the negative
effects of agriculture on human and environmental health. However, practical knowledge on
technical aspects and methodologies for change was unavailable, even if, as we shall see in
the next section, there was a growing interest in the country for products obtained through
sustainable production practices.
3.2 Potential for sustainable products in Colombia?
Ecological agriculture in Colombia is not yet as well established as it is in Europe or North
America. As being able to sell the end product is obviously crucial to success, the reader
might well question how ready this country is for the integrated and ecologically grown
products that will be a result of all this effort. Projects currently underway in various areas of
the Colombian agricultural sector show that the potential does exist. Three examples are
The Colombian floriculture sector exports about US$ 600 million a year, and provides around
75,000 direct jobs and 70,000 indirect jobs on a surface area of just over 5,000 hectares.
Colombia is the second world exporter of flowers, with 12% of the market, after The
Netherlands which provides 58% (Asocolflores, 2001). In 1996, the Colombian Association
of Flower Exporters, Asocolflores, created Florverde as a management tool to help the flower
growers work toward sustainable development. They defined sustainable development as
'social responsibility and environmentally friendly production, coupled with productivity and
profitability' (ibid.). They base the program on cleaner production (less water, less energy and
fewer toxic inputs), continuous improvement, measuring and recording and benchmarking
(comparing themselves to other farms in the program). The principles behind Good
Agricultural Practices as well as ISO 14000 and other international agreements are the basis
for this program. Participation is highly encouraged among the members of Asocolflores;
however, it is voluntary and does not lead to any kind of certification of the farms nor are the
results made public.
From 1996 to 2001, the number of farms participating went from the 28 pilot farms to 143, of
the total of 220 members of Asocolflores. Results include the development of personal and
family growth programmes; strict compliance of labour legislation and conditions; improved
occupational health management; significant reduction in the amount of active ingredient
used per farm (in 1998, the 126 participating farms used an average of 155 kg of active
ingredient per hectare per year, whereas in 2001, that amount decreased to 115 kg average
among the 143 participating farms); recycling of residues; use of fertilisers and organic
amendments on the basis of soil analyses; soil preparation and irrigation according to soil
properties; use of rain water for irrigation to satisfy 75% of the requirements; and training and
monitoring of the farms by a specialist group on all aspects of the program. Asocolflores itself
has benefited from the programme through institutional strengthening due to its leadership in
the programme, the improved communication achieved between it and the growers as well as
among the growers, and to the fact that Asocolflores now has a practical idea of the
performance of its membership. The quality of the programme has been recognized nationally
and internationally by being replicated in the Colombian banana production sector as well as
by the Ecuadorian flower growers.
3.2.2 IPMin coffee5
Soon after the traditionally shade coffee plants were replaced by the more productive caturra
type throughout all of the coffee growing areas of Colombia, the incidence of pests and
diseases rose dramatically. The situation went from an ecosystem friendly production system
where the coffee coexisted with orchids, banana trees and other trees that offered shade, to a
situation where the shade trees were torn down and high amounts of fertilizer and water were
required to meet the productivity expectations. The coffee berry borer, Hypothenemus hampei
(Ferrari), previously not a problem, became such a limitation to production that the Coffee
Growers' Federation set up a research programme which studied possibilities of control which
ranged from genetic engineering to resistant plant species, including work at Cornell
University that sought to introduce Bacillus thuringiensis into coffee plants. Other integrated
control methods included the 're-re' (which is the time and labour consuming collection and
removal of mature, over-mature and dry coffee beans which are the most susceptible to
infestation), the application of entomopathogenic fungi (which are highly dependent on
optimal climatic conditions) and the introduction of two parasitic wasps, Prorops nasuta and
Cephalonomia stephanoderis. These wasps did not prove to be very efficient in their control
and current research is centred on the parasitoid Phymastichus coffee La Salle (Gutierrez et
al., 1998). Although the root of the problem has not been acknowledged, this experience does
show the tendency at national levels to include more natural forms of control in crop
5 I am grateful to my colleague Dr. Jos6 Ricardo Cure for his insights on the state of the art of biological control
in coffee in Colombia.
A small number of vegetable farmers in the Bogota Plateau had been producing ecologically
on their own with great difficulty. They could not afford the high costs of certification, and so
they were unable to advertise themselves as ecological. They were also a lot better at
producing than at selling. Through the leadership of the Sustainable Agriculture Programme
at the Horticulture Research Centre (CIAA) of the University of Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano
(Appendix 2), these farmers joined as a non-formal farmers association in August 2000. With
the technical support of the CIAA, the group received ecological certification as a production
system rather than farm by farm, thereby reducing the cost per producer to a tenth. The first
six farmers included were those who could show that they had been producing ecologically
for the last several years. Gradually thereafter, the other farmers joined as their official period
of transition was accomplished. By the end of 2001, 18 farmers were included in the system
mainly from the high Andean zone, but also from more temperate areas, and a total of 35
different fruits and vegetables were offered. The demand-based production is marketed
through the CIAA under the University-registered brand name Ecosecha, exclusively to
local supermarket chains. As a result of this trial on group certification, the certifying body,
CCI (see section 7.1.2 for more on certification) has been promoting this mechanism around
the country. Group certification has been growing world wide, to the point where meetings
have been held to organise internationally accepted protocols (Schoenmakers and
3.3 Country description
Colombia covers a surface area of 1,141,746 km2, is surrounded by Panama, Venezuela,
Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, and has access to both the Caribbean and the Pacific seas. It is
made up of 32 departments, one capital district and three special districts. There are 1050
The population of Colombia is approximately 42.5 million (World Bank Group, 2002) of
which nearly 6.4 million live in Bogota, the capital (DANE, 2001). The rural population
makes up 29% of the total. The World Bank (World Bank Group, 2002) describes Colombia
has having a solid growth for the past forty years of about 4.5 percent a year. Population
growth has decreased to 1.8 percent per year and life expectancy at birth is currently at 70
years, compared with 59 years in 1965. Both enrolment at primary school level and the
literacy rate were nearly 90 percent in 1990. However, although the number of Colombians
living below a commonly accepted subsistence level has decreased significantly over the past
decades (from 50% in 1964 to 19% in 1992), poverty is still a problem. Three out of four of
these poor live in rural areas. The country's macro-economic policies have not helped. As in
many other countries (Stiglitz, 1999; Barkin, 2001), in 1990, the Colombian government
opened what was considered by many an unprepared country, particularly in the agricultural
sector, to globalised trade. The struggle for survival has been unending since then. The
economic recession of the last few years has not made things any easier.
The Andean region and the department of Cundinamarca
The Andean region extends along the Andes mountain range, which covers the centre of the
country North-South, and is made up of three chains (Eastern, Central and Western), and the
Magdalena and Cauca river valleys. This altitudinal diversity is what gives the country the
possibility of such diversity in agricultural production, since the climate varies from very hot
on the coastal areas, through gradually more cool areas to the cold mountains. The Eastern
sub region is located between the highlands of the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyaca,
and is known for its varied agricultural production and industrial activities.
The municipality in which the study was undertaken, Cota, is located in the Department of
Cundinamarca, in the Andean region. Because of its closeness to BogotA, Cundinamarca is
often blended in with the city, both politically and historically.
Cundinamarca was the name first given to the country as a whole. In fact, it was the name
used by the original people when referring to the area East of the mountain chains (cordillera),
and has been interpreted to mean 'those heights where the condor flies' and 'the place the
God Cun comes from'. The name was maintained during the Gran Colombia empire (1819 to
1831). It was used in various ways from then on until 1886, when it was revived as the
Department of Cundinamarca (Velandia, 1971).
Due to a relatively good level of social infrastructure and no serious deficiencies where public
services, education and health are concerned as compared to the rest of the country, this
department has been described as having a high standard of living. Economically, the
department has been categorised as industrialized (Anonymous, 2000). In 1997, 115
municipalities were registered in Cundinamarca, with a population of 1,875,337 disseminated
over 22,670 square kilometres of plateau, slopes and plains (DANE, 1997). The Departments
of Boyaca, Meta, Tolima, Caldas and Huila surround it. Of the population, 11.2% over five
years of age are illiterate, split equally between men and women (DANE, 1996) and 49%
have an unsatisfied basic requirement (Anonymous, 2000).
3.3.2 Cota: 'good climate, fertile soil'
It is difficult to pinpoint exact foundation dates for most of the cities and towns of Colombia
as there is very little written testimony. The establishment of towns has been divided
historically, however, among the following periods: pre-Columbian (e.g. Chia), conquest,
colony (e.g. Tabio, Tenjo), independence, republican (including Cota), Twentieth century and
unknown (Velandia, 1971). Some are on the original indigenous sites, others sprung up for
other reasons such as location of water, evangelism, work, or as stopover points on long
On the general location of what is now Cota, there was originally a Muisca indigenous
settlement. The first Dominican arrived there in 1570, and the first priest in 1680. During the
Republic (1829 to 1900), period in which Cota was founded, the law that oversaw the
founding of new cities required that they be strategic from a military point of view or help
subjugate the indigenous people. Velandia (1971) quotes the historian Alejandro Carranza B.:
'According to the Law of the Indies, a place was chosen for its good climate, fertile soil,
abundant source of wood, water and natural pastures'.
The town was first in what is now the rural neighbourhood Pueblo Viejo. According to local
oral history (Martin Castafieda, pers. comm., 2001), it was first founded in 1604, founded
there again in 1667, then transferred to Tres Esquinas de Cota in 1871 which is the current
location, as ratified by the Council in 1873. The reason for the move was to be on the national
road which went from Chia to Funza (Velandia, 1971). Farmers in the area also mention
flooding of the Bogota River as being a main reason for the move.
As to how Cota got its name, there are several versions. The first, that as Gonzalo Jimenez de
Quesada, the founder of Bogota, arrived at the settlement, a peaceful attitude was observed
among the Muisca, so he took off his coat of mail ('cota de malla' in Spanish) and gave the
site the name of La Cota. The second was that epistemologically, Cota in the indigenous
language meant CO (support) and TA (cultivation). Finally, oral history has it that the original
name was Cauta, meaning 'dispersed', as the houses were spread throughout the area. But
Jim6nez de Quesada did not like the sound of it so changed it to Cota.
Cota is located approximately fourteen kilometres Northwest of Bogota. It is included in the
Western Plateau (Sabana Occidente) geographical province of Cundinamarca.
The population of Cota was estimated at 14,187 for 1998 of which 50% is under 25 years of
age and 4% over 64. Just over half of its inhabitants live in rural areas and just under half in
urban areas. It can be considered a typical municipality of the Bogota plateau in that the city
is surrounded by many similar vegetable-producing villages and is dependent on them for the
supply of cold climate crops. Cota covers 5,344 hectares of which 144 belong to urban areas
and 5200 to the rural areas. Of these, 505 ha belong to the Native Reserve (Concejo
Municipal de Cota, 1998). About 1500 ha are mountainous and 4200 ha flat lands.
At an average 2600 meters altitude and 40 latitude, the climate in Cota is cold and dry with
temperatures ranging from 0.6 to 230C and an annual average of 13.7 C. Occasionally there
are frosts with temperatures slightly below 0C, especially in early January. Daily evaporation
rates are at an average 3mm. Rainfall is between 800 and 1000 mm a year, typically
concentrated in two rainy seasons (October-November and March-April), although in the last
few years this has not been quite as predictable due to the influence of El Nifio and then La
Nifia climatic phenomena.
Cota includes flat areas with 0 to 3% slopes, slightly inclined areas (3 to 12% slopes) and
mountainous, rugged areas (12 to 50% slopes), including the Reserve. Soil in the foothills is
well drained, of low to medium fertility, and suffers some degree of laminar erosion. In the
mountainous areas, protective native forests cover the more humid parts and where the soil
has built up. In areas with only a superficial layer of soil, vegetation is low-lying. The Chici
and BogotA Rivers as well as the Hichita stream go through Cota.
The closeness to Bogota provides certain benefits, especially in health, higher education and
work opportunities. The town has its own water supply from wells in each rural
neighbourhood, which will soon be connected to a regional water line. The peak of Majuy at
3050 m and its landscape are a tourist attraction, as are the restaurants and saunas. It is known
as an artists' refuge and a stimulator of new young talents especially in music and sports
(Alcaldia Popular de Cota, 2000).
There is competition for land use among flower growers, farming, urbanisation and
restaurants catering to Bogota Sunday tourists. Extensive and semi-extensive animal
husbandry can be found in the flat lands. Subsistence cropping is usually found close to the
houses. Among the economic activities of Cota, the agricultural sector occupies the highest
number of people after services. Vegetable production, floriculture and animal husbandry
employ 1214 people, or 38% of the working population, of which 901 are men and 313
women (Concejo Municipal de Cota, 1998).
Most of the municipal territory is rural (97.3%). Of that, 40% is environmentally protected
(infiltration and recharging of aquifers) 1089 ha, integrated management 139 ha,
environmental recuperation and rehabilitation 9 ha, around rivers and bodies of water 521
ha, recreation 124 ha, 20% for agriculture and animal husbandry 868 ha, 16% for suburban
but with a mainly agricultural vocation -675 ha, and urban 49 ha (Alcaldia de Cota, 2000).
Municipal institutional presence
As in each municipality in Colombia, Cota has an office for local technical support in
agriculture and animal husbandry, the Unidad Municipal de Asistencia T6cnica Agropecuaria
- UMATA. It was well supported by the mayor when this project started. However, elections
were held part way through, and although the new mayor declared himself 'friend of the
campesino' during the campaign, he has been somewhat ambivalent about it now that he is in
power. Added to the fact that disbursements from the central government to the municipalities
have been reduced, the UMATA barely has enough budget to pay for personnel. Under the
circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the some 400 registered small farmers do not feel
that the UMATA provides the technical assistance they require.
Other institutions have also sporadically provided technical assistance, although lack of
continuity between projects and efforts has dispersed the results of these interventions. The
ICA (Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario) has had researchers there off and on, as well as the
SENA, a government subsidized college type educational institution geared toward low
Other institutions in the municipality, relevant to the project, include:
Juntas de Acci6n Comunal JAC (community action groups): there is one for each
rural neighbourhood and the headquarters. The JAC of the Cetime rural
neighbourhood was the counterpart required for the presentation of the marketing
and postharvest project (see Chapter 7).
Cabildo Verde or Green Council: generally base their work on small educational
projects and occasionally organise a larger event, for example, the Congress on
Organic Agriculture in October, 2001.
Indigenous Community: a group of the elders.
Although these institutions are the strongest, they are still in the process of strengthening.
Other relevant municipal institutions include:
Municipal Planning Council,
the Technical Council for the Territorial Organisation Plan (POT),
the Municipal Planning Board,
the Municipal Technical Assistance Committee,
the Municipal Rural Development Council,
the Municipal Commission for Technology and Agricultural Technical Assistance,
the Municipal Recreation Committee,
Municipal Institute for Recreation and Sports,
Rural and Indigenous Women's Association,
Youth Organization of Cota.
The municipality is also a member of ASOCENTRO- Asociaci6n de Municipios de Sabana
Centro, which brings together eleven towns of the area for regional projects.
The town infrastructure includes a health centre, school health programme, 11 private
schools, 11 public schools, social work office and an integral medical centre, homeopathy
medical office, and a spa.
Two cooperatives for commercialization of vegetables existed prior to the initiation of the
project. Part way through, representatives of the National Department of Planning came to
talk to the farmers to see whether they would be interested in participating as a pilot project
within a national scheme called Productive Alliances for Peace. Six or seven such pilot
projects were being started up in different parts of the country representing the different
sectors (African palm, banana, etc). The government preferred that these pilot projects be
located in areas where public order was an issue, thereby providing economic solutions to the
well-known obstacles this country has been facing in the last five decades. However, they
were lacking one in the vegetable sector, and as Cota is known for its vegetables, it was seen
as a viable option despite the fact that the municipality is a relatively peaceful place. The idea
was to link the various actors from input providers through the producers to the
commercialisers in a win-win situation. Talks began in February 2000, including many of the
participants of this project, and by August the farmers had formed an association, which has a
format more flexible than that of cooperatives. The Association of Business Farmers of Cota
- ASODECOTA- is based on the premise that the farmers will gradually move over to
3.3.3 Vegetable production in Cota
Description of the farmers
The research worked with a group of small farmers homogeneous from socio-economic and
technological points of view. Vegetable farming in Cota is typically a family business. As
found by some psychology students from the Pontificia Javeriana University (Bogota), the
family structure is very much reflected in the hierarchy of the business (Prada, 2001;
Oliveros, 2001; Bello, 2001). The father, or in his absence the eldest son, usually is the head
of the business. The mother typically looks after orders and sometimes helps out on the farm
as well. The sons and sometimes the daughters help out and when required, and it is
financially possible, outside labourers are hired.
Description of thefarms
It is important here to distinguish among the different farm sizes used to describe Colombian
agriculture: small, medium and large. The farm size corresponding to each of these groups
varies according to location: where small vegetable farmers in Cota own a maximum of 2.5
has, in the Llanos or prairies, they would own about 12 has. The area is defined as the amount
required to make the equivalent of two minimum salaries (approximately U$300.00) a month.
For the purposes of this study, although the information and activities were available to all
interested farmers, the project was specifically oriented towards small farmers, as specified in
the terms of reference of PRONATTA, who co-financed it.
The majority of landowners in Cota have small plots; 57% own 6.6 % of the area, with less
than a hectare each. A further 10.7% have plots between 1 and 3 hectares each, equivalent to
9.4% of the area. Thus, a total of 67.7% of owners has three hectares or less each and
represents 16.1% of the area. Most members of the Reserve have family with land in the flat
areas. The size of the farms is a reflection of the process of fractioning that has been going on
partly due to the demand for land for agricultural use or new homes and partly through
inheritances. In the latter case, the divisions may not even be reported and are often of sizes
inferior to that allowed by the municipal planning office. Unofficial figures put the number of
owners at nearly double of those reported due to this phenomenon (Alcaldia Popular de Cota,
Vegetable production in Cota was registered predominantly in five rural neighborhoods: La
Moya, El Abra, Cetime, Pueblo Viejo and El Rozo. These are differentiated by their
geographical location within the municipality, as well as soil types and the source of water for
Vegetable production represents approximately 10% of the agricultural area (300 of the 3,271
hectares) in Cota. The principal crops are spinach (31% of the area in vegetables), coriander
(20%), cauliflower (10%), beets (6.6%), Swiss chard (3.65%), lettuce (2.6%), and other crops
(25.2%) such as broccoli and celery.
Crops can be grown year-round, the only climatic limitation (frosts) occurring typically
around New Year. Thus the farmers can get in 2 to 3 crops per year in the case of longer cycle
crops such as beets, carrots, corn or potatoes. By growing short cycle crops, the farmer can
get in 3 to 4 crops a year, depending on how well s/he manages time for land preparation
between crops and whether s/he uses direct seeding or plugs.
Generally, the small farmers have more than one crop at a time, planted at different intervals.
However, the one crop is usually seeded all at once. This makes it easier for land preparation
since most of them must hire in a tractor. Crop maintenance and buying the necessary inputs
are simplified as well: it's all done at the same time. Harvesting in the case of selling in the
food terminal is also easier, as the displacement is not justified for small quantities (they still
have to send an entire truck). However, they are also negatively affected when the prices for
the particular product go down since they usually cannot wait too long to harvest once the
crop is ready. They are market -dependent farmers that sell all their produce.
Just recently, plugs have gradually replaced seeding where the crop justifies it (lettuce,
broccoli, etc.). The plug business in Colombia is barely ten years old. However, by the end of
2001, at least seven large plug producers existed, as well as many small ones.
As mentioned in section 3.1, there is a high dependence on external inputs. Furthermore, local
stores do not carry inputs that do not have regular demand such as those of organic, biological
or botanical sources.
Most farmers have access to some form of water source for irrigation: drill, wells, streams and
in extreme cases, the Bogota River, one of the most polluted in the world. However, in dry
periods, these sources slow up, making farming more difficult. There is currently no system
for capturing rainwater or watershed water. Previously, the latter was possible because of the
ditches that ran throughout the municipality, capturing the rainwater off the mountain. With
time, these have been filled up to widen roads or the neighboring fields. An additional
problem that came up late in 2001 was the fact that the regional environmental authority
required all methods of water extraction be registered. Each farmer has their own source of
water, be it a drill, a well, or a spring, from which they extract water with their own pump
with the obvious costs of gasoline, oil and maintenance. Although the registration itself of the
water source had no cost, the implication is that in the future, they will be required to pay for
the actual water, further increasing the costs of production.
Description ofconventional farming methods
Soil preparation consists of a first pass with a disc plough and harrow, then with the rotary
cultivator. The farmers have access to three tractors on a rented basis. A fourth one was
acquired late 2000 by the mayor's office through a donation from the departmental
government. The low number of tractors available means that at times the waiting list can be a
few weeks. Sharing tractors in such a fashion can also bring other problems, such as possibly
spreading diseases, eg. club root of Brassicacea (Plasmodiophora brassicae) which is just
beginning to become a problem in Cota.
Typically fertilisation is done with fresh chicken manure (twice a year or after three crop
cycles) and occasionally with triple 18 or triple 15, and some phosphate and nitrogen
complexes. These are applied without prior soil analyses 15 days before seeding.
Where crop protection is concerned, weed control is done by hand when there is a crop in or
with herbicides such as atrazine (toxic level III) where compatible, for example in coriander
and parsley crops. Glyphosate is used between crops to 'dry up' the remains of the previous
crop. The main diseases for which control is required are anthracnose, powdery mildew, and
those caused by Alternaria and Fusarium. Where insect management is concerned, prevention
is not practised. The main problem is leaf miner which is controlled through the use of yellow
sticky traps made available through the UMATA and commercial insecticides (See Appendix
4 for full list of pests and diseases according to crop).
Crops are harvested on average within 60 days, by hand, with a productivity of 30-40%.
This chapter concludes the general section that precedes the actual design and implementation
of the case study project, which brings forth the farmer learning pathway that took the Cota
vegetable farmers to greater technical success (Phase I), better organisation (Phase II), to
sustainability on a larger scale (Phase III) and to greater autonomy (Phase IV).
PHASE I: Improving farmer production
at crop level
Before intervention in the municipality of Cota, the farmers had identified a series of
problems for which they could see no obvious solution at their level. They were in a state of
indifference, linked to the feeling of being unable to do anything about their situation of 'I am
poor and I am dependent'. As subsistence farmers, their attitude was one of short-term
oriented farm management.
As a first step out of this negative situation, meetings were held at farms in the different rural
Develop an inventory of problems and problem analysis
Identify possible solutions
Design the methodology for farm conversion
Begin the creation of a platform for learning
On the basis of these exercises, a participatory diagnosis of the initial situation led to the
participatory design of a methodology for conversion to sustainable farm management and, as
this was implemented, participatory monitoring and evaluation of the improved farms.
Chapter 4 Participatory diagnosis of farming in Cota
4.1 The information linkage map 85
4.2 Interactive diagnosis 86
4.2.1 Restrictions to production and marketing 88
4.2.2 Solutions proposed by the farmers 88
4.2.3 Discussion of the results 88
4.3 Conclusions 93
A first set of meetings was set up in each of the five horticultural rural neighborhoods to take
into account geographical differences and ensure ease of access by the farmers. Farmers were
invited to participate through advertising by locating small posters strategically throughout the
municipality, including notes in the two-page weekly municipal paper, personal invitations and
circulation of a car with loud speakers. Often if the farmers do not get a personal written
invitation, they do not feel addressed even if they have participated in related events previously.
Until a certain level of momentum (or individual motivation to participate) was built up, this was
a limitation to attracting large groups to the activities. This limitation was particularly felt where
small farmers were concerned, as they especially have felt left out in the past and overcoming that
barrier was one crucial aspect to the success of this project. Medium and large farmers
occasionally also participated: they could attend the workshops but due to the guidelines set out
by PRONATTA, could not be recipient of the team members' time on an individual basis.
The objectives of the first meetings were the introduction of the facilitators and the project as
presented to PRONATTA, the construction with the farmers of a knowledge linkage map, a
diagnosis of the current situation to verify and update the information collected for the PDM,
prioritisation of the problems and a discussion of possible solutions.
4.1 The information linkage map
The methodology used was taken from experiences described by FAO (1995) and Ramirez
(1997), based on the methods of rapid appraisal of agricultural knowledge systems (Engel and
Salomon, 1994). The linkage map shows all the actors involved in an agricultural knowledge
system and relationships between them and the farmers. In this case, the specific interest was
where the farmers got information on new seeds, techniques, markets, and pest and disease
management methods. The facilitator then brought the comments from the five rural
neighborhoods together by drawing a diagramme dividing the different sources of information
according to location: rural neighbourhood, municipality or regional/national. Full lines were used
when the link was considered strong by the farmers and a dotted line when weak (figure 4.1). The
different people or institutions that provide information are considered actors and the synergy
among them can lead to innovation. By promoting interaction among the actors, they can begin to
see themselves as forming a knowledge system, from which innovation is an emergent property.
The change to sustainable agriculture is a complex learning process that will require changes
among all actors of the system (R6ling and Jiggins, 1998). Actors within an agriculture
knowledge system who go through this process are moving towards forming an ecological
knowledge system. In this case, actors were divided into three groups according to their
geographical influence: rural neighbourhood (elders, neighboring farmers), municipality (local
stores, schools, UMATA, marketing cooperatives, etc.) and national (supermarkets, universities,
government, food terminal, etc.). The results in figure 4.1 show that farmers are reaching out to a
number of different sources information, among which are spouses, neighbours and friends,
organizations such as water user associations or commodity associations, and input sales people.
Most of the communication channels are considered one-way, towards the farmers. Many of these
channels were considered by the farmers to be weak as the information provided was very
sporadic and often not updated nor a solution to their problems. The farmers also complained of a
lack of continuity in the interventions of entities such as the governmental agricultural research
and extension services (ICA and CORPOICA, respectively) despite the fact that personnel was
continuously present (some form of identification may have been lacking). On the whole, access
to reliable and continuous forms of information was poor.
4.2 Interactive diagnosis
The technique used in this activity was based on the nominal group technique (Pretty et al., 1995).
First, the farmers were asked to list the general problems they had in producing vegetables,
orienting them in a preliminary classification by subject area. Those problem areas were then
subdivided into specific problems. The problem areas were prioritised, and within each area, so
were the specific problems. Solutions were then gathered and categorised according the degree of
control the farmers felt they had over each. This technique resembles that of Participatory Rural
Assessment (PRA) as described by Etling and Smith (1994). Except for the first activities in
which the PRA team works with community representatives instead of the farmer groups directly
to determine the problems and opportunities, the remainder of the steps is very similar. The
villagers are asked to discuss and rank the problems in a priority list and then the opportunities
according to their feasibility and potential effect on the agroecological attributes of stability,
equity, productivity and sustainability (Conway, 1985).
Fund, National Fruit and
Farmers from other
RURAL NEIGHBORHOOD ". / /
C Elders Neighbouring farmers
Figure 4.1 Knowledge linkage map of Cota: Knowledge community as perceived by the farmers. The map clearly shows how dependent on others the farmers
feel, and that the various institutions do not seem to consider farmers as experience-based knowledge resources.
4.2.1 Restrictions to production and marketing
The general situation is one of reduced income due to lower profitability caused by increased
pest and disease problems, increased costs for inputs6, and vegetable prices that have been
adjusted below inflation for the last three years. The main priority is therefore to acquire ways
that will increase income. The farmers understand that without quality they will have
difficulty marketing their produce. They therefore listed restrictions / problems dealing with
plants, soil, water, technology, marketing, human resources, political context, and financial/
administrative/ economical aspects (table 4.1). The groups prioritised the restrictions
differently, with the main variation being the position of marketing. For example, most groups
prioritised according to the order in which they would be confronted with a problem
throughout the production process: soil, water (abiotic environment), crops, market (food
supply), technology, financial/administrative and finally the political context, where one
particular group put marketing as number one.
4.2.2 Solutions proposed by the farmers
A brainstorming exercise followed to list possible solutions for each of the restrictions mentioned.
These solutions, also provided in table 4.1, reflect the changes the producers feel are required to
reach their 'ideal' farm and show that they recognize that they lack information in order to
improve on the management of their farms. This is particularly interesting as it reinforces the
results obtained in the information linkage map: the provision of information is very one-sided,
and dependent on the information which the different entities decide to impart. According to the
farmers, most restrictions must begin to be overcome with some form of training first. Then
practical alternatives to become more sustainable can be introduced.
4.2.3 Discussion of the results
R61ing mentions that 'Effective collective action ... often requires considerable attention to
creating a common perspective on problems, diagnosis and possible solutions' (in Leeuwis,
1999b). He asks whether a group of stakeholders can 'learn to act as a cognitive system in the
sense that they share perceptions, intentions and agree to engage in collective or concerted
action', and what the institutional implications for that would be. Answers to those questions,
he points out, are fundamental to adaptive management of complex ecosystems at any level.
6 Many of the inputs are either imported or dependent on imported primary materials for their fabrication. Prices are
based on the US dollar and therefore have increased constantly with the devaluation of the Colombian peso.
Table 4.1 Farmer identification of restrictions to production and marketing and their solutions. The items are listed in order ofprioritisation by the farmers.
Item Description according to farmers' brainstorming Solution
Soil Lack of soil analyses and fertilisation recommendations Training
Technical support of the Umata
Alternative fertilisers, including home preparation
Lack of soil structure ('floury' appearance); Training on how to use appropriate machinery, minimum tillage, management criteria
compaction; no life in the soil Availability of machinery
Water Lack of water in dry periods few reservoirs Dig reservoirs; build a rain water capture and distribution system
Live fences as windbreaks, to reduce evaporation
Quality not measured Water analyses: physical, chemical, biological
How to measure soil humidity; appropriate watering Training
Crops Lack of knowledge of new varieties Workshop on varieties
Indiscriminate use ofpesticides; lack of information on Training on: pest, disease and beneficial insects identification, alternative products
integrated pest and disease management allelopathyy, botanicals), product compatibility and pesticide safety
Weeds Look for alternatives to herbicides
Availability of seed not continuous Contact company representatives
Marketing No programming of crops according to demand Get organised:
at the municipal level product availability vs demand (consult UMATA, supermarkets)
at farm level scale products, diversify
Inadequate presentation no value added Look for technological options (dehydration)
Training in post-harvest techniques, including packaging
Markets not diversified Diversify to reduce dependence on the food terminal.
Consult SIPSA (Information system on prices and volumes traded), National Agricultural
Technology Little technical assistance, extension by the Umata Farmers to provide feedback on current technical assistance
and Technical Prioritise assistance according to needs and available resources
assistance Contract consultants in groups, or through cooperatives.
Also depends on the active involvement of the farmers.
Combine farmers' and technicians' knowledge.
Table 4.1 (continued)
No generation of nor access to basic climate Informative fact sheets
information. Community videos
Local radio station
Difficult to access appropriate equipment for land Make a formal request to the Ministry of Agriculture which has funds for equipment
Human Access to training difficult Request through UMATA and National Fruit and Vegetable Association
Lack of farmer participation Share experiences among farmers; work together not against each other; attend meetings
Health problems due to inadequate pesticide Bring in speaker on appropriate application.
Financial and Ignorance as to whether they are really making money Training in accounting
Credit difficult to access More workshops on credit sources; look for new sources.
Low profits: high input costs; low product prices Increase product quality. Farmer association for increased negotiating power.
Political No continuity in projects / programmes Citizen watch groups. Support agricultural content in municipal agenda.
Lack of association or knowledge of those existent Become involved in the Municipal Rural Development Committee.
___ Land planning must slow urban growth State investment to maintain agricultural sector.
Although not mentioned straight out, social aspects such as health problems related to
pesticide applications and consumption of toxic produce, were mentioned particularly from
the viewpoint of competitiveness and marketing (the tables in Appendix 1 provide figures on
pesticide use in Colombia). Landscaping per se was also not mentioned. However, the use of
live fences (fences made with trees and bushes) was suggested among the solutions to cut
wind and reduce water evaporation, as was the interest in their use as provider of habitat for
biological control agents (the latter was prompted by a visit to the Horticulture Research
Centre where research on that aspect was underway see Chapters 9 and 10).
The main priority of the farmers was to acquire tools and methods that would increase income
and reduce rural poverty, similar to situations described in Vereijken (1995). The farmers had
identified better product quality as a viable option and had prioritised the restrictions to
production and marketing with that in mind. They were interested in converting to sustainable
practices because they had noticed resistance to pesticides, as well as crops that no longer
produce as before largely due to impoverished soil quality. They also recognized that the
resulting products will provide an option for new markets. However, they did not know how
to go about changing, particularly to ensure a price differential to represent the effort. From
the practical standpoint of prioritising problems to be solved, the farmers put the abiotic
environment first (soil, water crops), similar to other situations (Vereijken,1995). Training in
these different areas was seen of utmost importance for success in being more sustainable,
pointing to the fact that knowledge and access to information are becoming more and more
recognized as crucial production factors. Additional aspects mentioned tend to demonstrate a
relatively high dependence of the farmers on outside help (local and national government,
technical assistance) which does not meet their expectations. A prime example is the use
principally of inputs salespeople as source of information for pest and disease management.
Similar dependence has been found in India (Alam, 2000).
Ruling and Jiggins (1998) discuss the need to consider five dimensions of the ecological
knowledge system: sustainable (or ecologically sound) practices, learning, facilitation,
support institutions and conducive policy contexts. These dimensions are all interconnected,
showing the complexity of sustainable agriculture, and the need for interactive construction
between the 'hard' biophysical system and the 'soft' human system. It is interesting to note
that the solutions provided by the farmers fall easily into these five dimensions (table 4.2).
Table 4.2 Solutions provided by the farmers in relation to the five dimensions of an ecological knowledge
system according to Riling andJiggins (1998).
Dimension Solutions provided by the farmers as listed in table 4.2
Ecologically sound practices Home preparation of alternative fertilisers
Appropriate land preparation
Live fences as windbreaks and to reduce water evaporation
Use of natural control agents and alternative pesticides
Learning Training courses in:
Appropriate fertilizer use, alternative fertilisers
Land preparation, appropriate machinery
Measuring soil humidity, appropriate watering systems
Life cycles of pests, biological control agents, diseases; product compatibility
Post harvest techniques including packaging
Facilitation Farmer feedback on existing technical assistance
Contract specialists as farmer groups
Dependent on farmers' active voluntary involvement
Supportive institutions Reinforce weak linkages in the knowledge system
Collaboration of inputs services; diversified market.
Farmer groups exchange experiences; farmers and researchers work together.
Supermarkets that offer 10% price increase for clean products
Conducive policy contexts Financial support at municipal level through the UMATA
At the national level through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural
Development as well as the National Fruit and Vegetable Growers'
Looking at the detail of these dimensions, the more difficult ones to influence from the point
of view of the farmer are those of support institutions and conductive policy contexts. A study
of the information linkage map (figure 4.1) reveals that there are many weak links among
actors in the Cota agricultural system, particularly of support institutions. The UMATA in
particular seems to have difficulty in meeting the expectations of the farmers, as these lie
principally in the provision of technical assistance. One of the solutions proposed was that
groups of farmers could contract experts directly. The UMATA could then become more of a
supporting institution by providing information much like a clearinghouse on specialists and
reading material to solve problems more efficiently. It could also serve to bring together
commercial representatives of the different providers of inputs so the farmers can have a
better idea of what is available and perhaps, by buying and selling as a group, obtain better
prices and even credit in the form deferred payments on purchases. In the same line, the
UMATA could continue its policy of subcontracting on specific aspects and therefore help to
accompany farmers in undertaking techniques that they have wanted but not dared for lack of,
if only, moral support.
Wherefore the need to involve institutions. In Colombia, most prices are based on vegetable
produced conventionally. Just recently a few supermarket chains have begun to recognize a
differentiated price for ecologically certified produce, ranging from 10 to 35% above the
conventional. But there is nothing for 'in between' crops: farmers in transition, that produce
food with rational use of chemicals (integrated management), or farmers who cannot be
certified because their plot is too close to some undesirable factor (flower production, for
example), have no way of either differentiating such produce or receiving a fair price for it.
Just as in the case of the law defining ecological production systems, there should be some
kind of institutional recognition of these 'in between crops' through a reference that would
provide reliability and thereby enhance acceptance and recognition on the part of the
consumers. A definition of 'integrated farming' must be decided on at the institutional level,
and a certificate made available through national policy, as was done for ecological
Through the participatory diagnosis of current restrictions to production and marketing
undertaken in this project, the farmers have described a very complex situation of different
actors and factors that can influence the final outcome. These first meetings of farmers and
researchers also provided the foundation for the creation of the learning platform that would
be instrumental in ensuring that the research activities remained linked to the farmers
changing needs. This step in the sequence of research activities grounds the learning in a
thorough understanding of the local problems and opportunities.
The eight groups of issues the farmers identified constitute the steps to be used in the design
for conversion to a more sustainable production. The implementation of this design by the
farmers was supported technically when required. Farmer-led research was undertaken on
pilot farms to resolve specific issues as they arose. This is described in the following chapter.
Chapter 6 Progress in the conversion process
6.1 Outcomes of the conversion design and implementation 113
6.1.1 Farmer participation and organisation 114
6.1.2 Soil systems management 115
6.1.3 Water management 124
6.1.4 Cropping systems management 125
6.1.5 Marketing strategies 132
6.1.6 Ecological infrastructure management 132
6.1.7 Farm overall sustainability 132
6.2 Progress on the research pathway 146
The conversion design, methodologies and methods proposed for implementation under
tropical high mountain conditions where small farmers produce vegetables year-round are
described in the previous chapter. Here we will look at the results of the design in terms of
technical effects on crop production and social effects on the farmers.
The methodologies implemented in this project for farm conversion applied methods and
techniques used in other contexts, which and in many occasions required adaptation to the
particular situation. As much of the work in ecological farming remains empirical, an attempt
was made here to choose methods and technologies that had a demonstrated scientific basis.
This was not always possible: precisely the idea of using a participatory approach to the
process was to open the possibilities to alternatives that might otherwise not have been
considered. In those cases, a small research project was established with the farmers to try out
the new options. Basic research was limited, but served its purpose, for example, in
elucidating the effect of some botanical products in the management of soil fungal diseases.
6.1 Outcomes of the conversion design and implementation
In this section, the specific methods and techniques that were used in the conversion design
and implementation are described, with references to the results obtained. Details and
methods (including recipes) were deemed important to report on here because they functioned
as essential tools for the interaction between the research team and the farmers, and as the
basis for the participatory approach to agricultural development presented.
6.1.1 Farmer participation and organisation
This method addresses many of the problems listed by the farmers in the participatory
diagnosis for which they proposed training and organisation as potential solutions.
Five farmers started off with us through the pilot project implemented with the mayor's
support. Once the full project began, the number increased gradually till a total of 28 farmers
were involved on 21 pilot farms (some were couples or brothers), representing about 5% of
the small farmers of the municipality by May 2002. The participation of Cota farmers in
workshops provided during the first year of the conversion project is shown in Appendix 4.
The most interested farmers continued as pilot farms. The gradually adherence of farmers to
the project and the areas of their farms they had in conversion and under ecological practices
by May 2002 is also provided in Appendix 3.
Interest has been spreading gradually throughout the municipality, especially when some of
the marketing initiatives began having some impact, showing that there could be economic
benefits to the effort after all! Related industries, such as manufacturers of handicrafts and
goat products, have been joining as well (see Chapter 7 for more details on these marketing
Farmer participation from the beginning of the design of the conversion process was obtained
through the diagnosis of their difficulties. Their continued participation ensured that the
conversion design that emerged from the diagnosis remained relevant to the changing
situation. Relevance was particularly monitored at individual level by the project team
through conversations and observations during the farm visits and by the farmer group by
periodic group evaluations. In the software for evaluating farm sustainability, percent
participation in the project based on assistance sheets, percent application of organic practices
(see table A7 in Appendix 5) and membership in a farmer group were used to define level of
participation. A deeper analysis of those results is provided in section 6.1.7.
Farmer autonomy was maintained by the project team with regards to the final decision of
actions to be taken on the pilot farms. The training workshops, group meetings and farm visits
served to provide each person with information that was expected to enable him/her to take an
educated decision on resource management on their farms. As the project neared its end, both
project team and the farmer group felt the growing need to put some structure in place that
would maintain the flow of information and the parallel autonomy in decision-making. The
result was the organisation of a group of farmer facilitators who would be trained on how to
access information and transmit it to the rest of the group, and how to write project proposals
for access to funding. They would also receive a more in-depth training in the more technical
aspects related to the conversion process. These aspects are reviewed in more detail under
6.1.2 Soil systems management
Integrated or ecological nutrient management
This method addresses the problems of soil fertilization and compaction listed by the farmers.
Soil analyses were taken from the participating farmers on entering the project, a couple of
times during and at the end of the project. Optimal ranges for soil fertility were based on those
provided by the soil analysis laboratory of the Horticulture Research Centre (CIAA). Table
6.1 provides an example of optimal ranges as recommended by the laboratory as well as
results from some of the participating farms at the onset of the project.
After the workshop on soil fertility and recommendations was given (see section 5.3), the
farmers had a better understanding of the situation of their plots. Going back to the solutions
they had provided in the participatory diagnosis (table 4.1), the next step was the provision of
workshops on the different techniques to prepare organic sources of inputs. Emphasis was
made on farmer learning of the different options available, both homemade and commercial,
in the way of organic fertilisers and amendments. They also learned when which type was
more appropriate to use and for what purpose, using as much as possible elements available
on their farms or immediate environment. As mentioned by Deugd et al. (1998),
"As the limitations of transfer of technology to promote better INM become more
obvious (particularly in lesser-endowed regions in the tropics), there is a need to
develop new strategies, focussing on the facilitation of farmer learning to become
experts at INM and at capturing the opportunities in their diverse environments".
- Methods for the preparation of organic amendments
The following describes the new technical abilities of the farmers in the production or
combination of different natural sources of fertilisers and soil amendments applied during the
Table 6.1 Soil analyses of some smallfarms of Cota taken in 1999 with optimal ranges according to the Horticulture Research Centre
ppm Meq. 100g
Name R.N. pH EC N-NH4 N-N03 P K Ca Mg Na Fe Mn Cu Zn B S CEC
optimum 5.8-6.5 <0.74 Total: 25-80 30-60 108-162 22754025 280-490 45-75
JM ElAbra 6 0.48 12.4 19.5 142 636 2452 262 36 77 5.4 4.4 7.4 0.11 6.4 33.5
J&L LaMoya 5.1 6 25.8 173 1125 988 3785 407 138 43 52 9 25 0.39 13.7 42.6
J&JP Pueblo Viejo 6.9 0.85 27.6 85.7 406 623 6394 440 87 72 9 9 46.7 0.49 9.5 46.1
M Cetime 5.5 0.41 12.1 20.8 771 184 1755 128 39 48 8 1.8 10.2 0.28 8.1 34.8
R.N.= Rural neighbourhood; pH= level of acidity; EC (in ds.m ')= electrical conductivity;
CEC= cation exchange capacity; ppm= parts per million.
Methods used: pH in water 1:1; CEC and exchange bases (K, Ca, Mg and Na) in ammonium acetate pH 7 (1:20); micro elements by DTPA (1:2); boron and EC by saturation extract;
phosphorous by Bray II for pH below 6 and by Olsen for pH equal to or over 6.
* Compost piles
A site was selected within the production area of the farm so that it was central from all points
of the farm, and therefore reduced energy use in moving crop residues and then moving the
The site was cleared of grass and debris. A first layer material with a high C/N ratio such as
cut grass or other source of carbon was recommended so as to restrict N leaching (Ulen,
1993). The following layers were made of crop residues, manure according to availability,
some complementary nutrients according to the farm soil analysis recommendations (see table
6.3), microbial soup and molasses (found by Singh, 1987, to help speed up the rate of
decomposition). Manure has been found to return nutrients to the soil more effectively than
crop residues (Arden-Clarke and Hodges, 1988). The manure might come from the farm cow,
chickens or rabbits or purchased chicken manure. The latter, although commercially the most
easily acquired, was not recommended as most sources apply growth hormones and
antibiotics which are suspected to not decompose easily and could therefore contribute to the
contamination of the soil (Uriel Contreras CCI, pers. Comm., 2001). However, it was
considered less damaging if the farmer insisted on continuing with the tradition of using
chicken manure as long as it went through a composting process. The final layer was to be
more straw or dried grass and some kind of cover to prevent N surface losses (Ul6n, 1993;
Eklind et al., 1998) and to maintain the appropriate level of humidity. Furthermore, research
suggests that higher straw content in composts will enhance solubility of phosphorus (Eklind
et al., 1998), which is important in these soils. Some farmers prepared freestanding piles,
while others made removable wooden fences at lxlxl.5 (1 x w x h) meter size. Depending on
weather conditions, piles take 4 to 5 months to become adequately decomposed.
Two sources of commercial compost were also tried out in this project. This was offered to
the farmers for various reasons: a. while interested farmers were waiting for their own pile to
be ready, b. if farmers were not able to produce enough of their own compost to satisfy farm
requirements, and c. at the end of the project, when the semester soil analyses still showed
unbalances among elements.
At the beginning of the project, commercially available composts were not common at all.
The easiest available one was based on chicken manure. About half of the participant farmers
received some of this compost. During the last year of the project, a new compost appeared on
the market, based on grasses, legumes and horse manure. The latter one was developed with
the help of professionals at the Horticulture Research Centre to make sure it was a well-
balanced input. The provider also inoculates it with a number of beneficial fungi such as
Verticillium sp., Beauveria bassiana, Beauveria brongniarti, Metarrhizum sp., and
Paecilomyces sp. to manage insects and nematodes, with Trichoderma as antagonistic to
many fungal pathogens and promoter of plant growth, and micorrhizae to improve nutrient
absorption. The farms received enough of this compost to cover for one application in 1000m2
at a rate of 4kg.m2.
The compositions of these composts are included in table 6.2:
Table 6.2 Composition of two commercial composts used on smallfarms in Cota according to dry weight.
Variable Chicken manure based Graminae, legume and horse manure
% humidity 35-40
Apparent density (g.cc 3) 0.63 0.6-0.65
CIC (meq.1OOg') 103.75 >75
C/N ratio 12.67 >12
PH 7.6 6.0-7.0
% organic matter 47.37 >45
% total nitrogen 1.7 2
% phosphorous (P203) 1.5 2
% potassium (K20) 2.6 2
Other elements in minor amounts Ca, Mg, S, Na, Fe, Mn, Cu, Zn, B Ca, Mg, S, Mn, Fe, Cu, Zn, B, Si
based on an analysis done by the Horticulture Research Centre.
** based on information provided by the company, as analysed by a different laboratory.
Although the contribution of nitrogen through this compost seems to be high (approximately
800 kg.ha1), especially considering that most of the farms showed excess nitrogen in the
laboratory analyses, we took into account various aspects when deciding to use this source,
based on the recommendations of the soil scientist on our team. Mineralisation of nitrogen in
compost can take up to one year and its bio-availability is low, so that in fact it is liberated
quite slowly. Furthermore, the farms are coming from an altered system. Becoming more
sustainable can be done two ways: abruptly or gradually. When comparing the above amount
contributed by a balanced compost to the amount of nitrogen that would typically be entered
into the system through conventional sources (approximately 500 kg ha' by chicken manure
and Triple 15 or 18), we considered that the additional advantages outweighed the
disadvantages when implementing a gradual conversion. Adding compost improves soil
structure (demonstrated here by the appearance of aggregates when the soil at initiation was