FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY FOR SMALL FARMS: DISCUSSION
Peter E. Hildebrand
Prepared for presentation in the Invited Paper Session on "International Agricultural Development" at the 1982 AAEA-WAEA meetings at Logan, Utah, August 1-3
Food and Resource Economics Department
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences University of Florida Gainesville,Florida
FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY FOR SMALL FARMS: DISCUSSION Peter E. Hildebrand
Byerlee, Harrington and Winkelmann state that the highest
expectations of the Farming Systems approach are in its problem solving role which aims to increase productivity of farming systems by generating new technologies appropriate to farmers. They argue that because of the chronic shortage of resources in national agricultural institutions and because of the urgent need to help small farmers increase their productivity, cost effective methods that provide quick results are critical. I concur that this is how Farming SystemResearch should be viewed.
But Farming Systems should be more than part of a 'Uynamic research system" if it is to achieve anticipated results. It must be part of a complete "technological system for agriculture" which includes a mass transfer mechanism. Fortunately, the very nature of the approach lends itself to merging research and extension because of the heavy emphasis given to on-farm evaluation in which large numbers of farmers are exposed to technologies in the testing stage and in which extension agents can participate. For that reason, FSR is not an appropriate name for the approach and for over two years it has been called Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) at the University of Florida.
Peter E. Hildebrand, Professor of Food and Resource Economics, is Coordinator of the Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) Program, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Florida Agri, Exp. Stations Journal Series No. 3996.
To ignore the extension component is a shortcoming of any approach aimed at reaching the small farmer and of the Byerlee, Harrington, Winklemann paper.
Practitioners of the FSR/E approach accept the small, limited resource family farmer as the most important client for the reasons stated in the paper. To the authors' description of the characteristics of this clientele should be added that small farmers are frequently forced into enterprise diversification. Diversification means less
management time for each enterprise&, making it very difficult for the small, family farmer with limited resources to adopt complex technology that requires a lengthy learning process to achieve expected results. The challenge for the FSR/E practitioner is to produce a technology that is low cost, utilizes primarily resources available on the farm, and does not require a great deal of learning time or management. Few overnight panaceas meet these criteria. Therefore, as the authors correctly state, it is necessary to search for technologies that can be adopted in a step by step procedure where each step provides the farmer enough incentive to adopt it.
It is a fearsome challenge to generate and test, with a cost
effective method, technology that quickly reaches and is readily adopted by. a target group heretofore difficult to help. To meet this challenge requires expert, dedicated scientists from a number of fields who are willing to use all their talents and imagination in the task. FSR/E must be able to count on agro-biological, social and economic scientists who can and will work together in a close-knit team. Team members must share the responsibilities of understanding the client, selecting
problem areas to be attacked, designing test procedures, evaluating test results, updating information through close association with the client and promoting acceptable and proven technology.
Agro-biological scientists, whose business it is to produce agricultural technology, are key people in FSR/E. But traditional agro-biological research procedures tend to produce technologies that small farmers have not adopted in large numbers. Agricultural economists and social scientists are necessary components of the approach to compliment agro-biological scientists. The observational and analytic skills of. anthropologists and production or marketing economists, for example, augment the training of agro-biological scientists in the search for biological and non-biological constraints to increasing production. When integrated into the FSR/E approach in this manner, agro-biological research becomes better oriented toward locationspecific problems and more cost effective in reaching identified clientele.
In order to promote team work, scientists from such diverse backgrounds and training must inevitably make some compromises. Each must be willing to share responsibilities for orienting, designing and evaluating research with scientists from other disciplines. The agronomist must modify his desire to repeat an experiment with many replications over two or more years before he will make a conclusion. An agricultural economist must avoid large, complex models requiring more computer capacity than usually available and assumptions that are not applicable anyway. The anthropologist must forget about isolating himself with his subjects for several years so he can completely comprehend their envi-
ronment. Yet the specific indivuduals skills of all these scientists are essential for the success of the FSR/E approach to technology generation and promotion.
Herein lies a problem not addressed by the authors, How are the
professional contributions of the individuals on an FSR/E team evaluated for purposes of promotion and salary? Traditional evaluation procedures for researchers dictate the production of a number of articles published in refereed journals while numbers of meetings and popular publications are criteria for extension personnel, Neither meetings nor publications is the primary objective of the FSR/E approach, Publications can and do result, but because agronomic work is not repeated two or more years under highly controlled conditions, there are no complex models and there is not time for in-depth observation in a stable environment, the relevant journals often view with suspicion the legitimacy of the product and are not eager to publish it.
FSR/E is client-oriented, problem-solving research -.it is
essentially applied research (Andrew and Hildebrand), Applied research requires all the talents necessary in basic research but places many more contraints on the researcher, For this reason, applied research is frequently more of a challenge than basic research and can also serve as a mechanism to orient the basic researcher, In the FSR/E approach, a partnership is formed between the basic and the applied researcher, The holistic research efforts of applied researchers iden, tify problems to challenge the basic researchers to solve through component research. Tentative solutions are then tested on a much broader
and more realistic basis than the basic researcher usually enjoys. In this manner, basic researchers are incorporated into a technological system for agriculture which increases the efficiency and effectiveness of their efforts.
Following the first year of an FSR/E project in north Florida
(Hildebrand), two examples of a spin-off from applied to basic research can be cited. A new wheat variety (Florida 301) was developed for the area, but the effect of grazing on yield was unknown. Yet this was the first question the farmers asked. Perennial peanuts (forage producers) had been studied for many years, but there was no known cost effective method for establishing them on farmers' fields. Both of these problems have now been incorporated into basic research programs. Surely the FSR/E agronomists, economists and anthropologists who identified the problems and are helping solve them deserve as much recognition as those basic researchers who developed the original materials, but did not deliver them] in a formi ready to use. References
Andrew, C. 0. and P. E. Hildebrand. Planning and Conducting Applied Research. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1982. Hildebrand, P. E. "Role, Potential and Problems of Farming Systems Research and Extension: Developing Countries vs United States". Proceedings, 1981 Farming Systems Symposium, Kansas State University, April, 1982.