THE FSRE APPROACH: THE MEANING AND VALUE OF FSRE TO PROMOTE
AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION AND THE WELFARE OF RURAL FAMILIES '
Peter E. Hildebrand 2
This paper contains three sections: 1) a brief history of FSRE,
2) an overview of FSRE methodology, and 3) an example of on-farm
research to provide a better understanding of the potential of
the FSRE approach to agricultural technology development.
Brief History of FSRE
I have divided the history of FSRE into three overlapping
periods: 1965 1980 (Origin), 1975 1990 (Formalizing), and
1985 2000 (Sustainable agriculture).
1965 1980 (Origin)
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of individuals,
national research and extension organizations, donors, and
development agencies were becoming concerned that Green
Revolution technology was bypassing many of the most needy
farmers in the developing world. These were the farmers who were
in isolated areas where purchased inputs were difficult to
obtain, who had few resources with which to purchase the inputs
necessary for the Green Revolution technology to be productive,
or did not possess the quality of natural resources (soils and
climate) that let the high potential yields manifest themselves.
Interestingly, the beginnings of what we now call FSRE began
simultaneously, but in isolated cases, in Africa, Asia and Latin
America. In Asia, much of the influence came from the multiple
cropping work of Richard Bradfield (1966) and later Richard
Harwood (1975) at the International Rice Research Institute in
the Philippines. This work was largely biological in nature, but
initiated the interest in production systems more akin to what
many Third World farmers practiced. This interest also spawned
the work at CATIE in Costa Rica from which Robert Hart and others
In eastern Africa, with Michael Collinson (1972) in Kenya, and in
western Africa, with David Norman (1975, 1976) in Nigeria,
Presented at the Southern African Farming Systems
Research-Extension Conference "Farming Systems Research-Extension
in the 1990s: Its relevance as a practical approach to solving
the problems faced by farmers in Southern Africa" Johannesburg,
RSA, February 25-27, 1992.
2 Professor, Food and Resource Economics Department,
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0240, USA
farming systems interest stemmed from the perspective of farm
management economists. This was also true in my own case. In El
Salvador, the agricultural economics work was influenced by
Bradfield's multiple cropping activities at IRRI (Hildebrand and
French, 1974). In Guatemala, the effort was to incorporate
socioeconomics into an agricultural research organization
(Hildebrand, 1976). In South America, (CAqueza, Colombia),
Hubert Zandstra a soil scientist, worked with agricultural
economists Ken Swanberg and Carlos Zulberti (Zandstra, et al.,
1975 1990 (Formalizing)
One of the earliest organized efforts to capture these and other
similar activities was the USAID/Washington contract to Colorado
State University and the University of Hawaii (via the Consortium
for International Development, CID) who surveyed farming systems
activities worldwide. The result was a set of "guidelines" for
practitioners of farming systems research and extension to follow
(Shaner, et al., 1982).
In 1982, upon termination of the "Guidelines" project,
USAID/Washington funded the Farming Systems Support Project,
FSSP, whose objectives were to support USAID-funded farming
systems projects with training, networking and technical
assistance activities on a world-wide basis (FSSP, 1987). This
project, headquartered at the University of Florida, had the
collaboration of 21 US universities and four consulting firms.
Among other activities, the FSSP helped sponsor the annual
International Farming Systems Symposium which originated, and
held its first six meetings at Kansas State University, then
passed to the University of Arkansas for three years. In 1992 it
will hold its third meeting at Michigan State University.
As a direct result of the networking created and supported by the
FSSP and the Farming Systems Symposia, the Association for
Farming Systems Research-Extension was created in 1989. This
international society publishes the Journal for Farming Systems
Research-Extension and the AFSRE Newsletter, the successor to the
FSSP Newsletter which became in the interim the FSRE Newsletter.
The association also supports the annual Farming Systems
Symposium which is scheduled to hold its thirteenth meeting in
Europe in 1993.
During this period, many USAID missions initiated projects which
had some aspects of farming systems incorporated in them.
Others, partly because of the interest in USAID/Washington,
created projects called "farming systems" projects, but were that
in name only. Farming systems became a "buzz word" that helped
projects to obtain funding. Honest efforts, however, were
established in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Canadian, German and French organizations also became involved in
farming systems activities.
As projects became more numerous and the FSSP gained momentum,
there was a great deal of effort toward creating and modifying
FSRE methodology. Rapid rural appraisals (Chambers, 1981), often
called Sondeos (Hildebrand, 1981) in Latin America and much of
the world, were more and more widely used. Concerns with
formalizing the participation of farmers in analysis, generation
of alternatives, testing and evaluation were manifested with
increasing mention in papers, presentations and practice.
Because women are so important in agriculture, both as farmers in
their own right and in support of the rural family, gender issues
and gender analysis (Poats, et al., 1988) easily became part of
accepted FSRE methodology. The concept of research,
recommendation and diffusion domains was established (Wotowiec,
et al., 1988). Statistical methods to cope with the problems and
variabilities of on-farm research became more formalized
(Hildebrand, 1984; Stroup et al., 1991). And led by CIMMYT and
CIAT, means of selecting and prioritizing alternative solutions
to farmers' problems became more meaningful and usable (Tripp and
It is strange that in the face of a near global diffusion of
farming systems methodology, and its use becoming more and more
widespread even in more conventional research and extension
organizations, its demise was often discussed and/or predicted.
It is quite clear that those who indicated that FSRE was dead or
dying did not understand the nature of the methodology and were
primarily basing their statements on the frequency of buzz words
heard in the bureaucratic halls of such capitals as Washington.
Perhaps the most often suggested "replacement" was "sustainable
1985 2000 (Sustainable agriCulture)
Increasing concerns with the environmental effect of development
rightly has brought the issue of sustainable agriculture into
clear focus. However, the issue that sustainable agriculture
would replace farming systems not only is misguided, but
nonsensical and can only be espoused by the seriously
Sustainable agricultural technology will have to be technology
that fits the environment. Much of the Green Revolution
technology in the Third World, and the "broadly adaptable"
technology in use on large, mechanized farms in the developed
world depend on dominating the environment to fit the technology.
FSRE was developed to provide technology for small scale, limited
resource farmers who are unable to dominate the environment.
Thus, FSRE methodology has been developed to generate technology
that fits the environment (whether the base biophysical
environment or the socioeconomically caused environment) and is
especially suited to develop sustainable agricultural technology
which must be environment- or location-specific in nature. In
fact, two new sustainable agriculture initiatives emanating from
Washington 3 insist on the use of farmer participatory methods
and on-farm research, both of which are clearly farming systems
FSRE methodology, devised to aid in the development of
agricultural technology, involves a series of interrelated steps
which depend on multidisciplinary teams to be efficient and
effective. The concept of multidisciplinarity in FSRE is broad,
encompassing both socioeconomic and biophysical scientists and
technicians, as well as farmers, extensioners and researchers.
In an assigned or selected project area, the multidisciplinary
team describes and models the farming systems based on sondeos or
rapid reconnaissance surveys. Jointly, the team members,
including farmers, define specific problems and hypothesize
potential solutions. These potential solutions are then tested
on-station if necessary, or on-farm, in designated research
domains using appropriate on-farm research design.
On-farm research has a different purpose than on-station research
and must be based on a design that is acceptable for the
appropriate statistical analyses (Stroup et al., 1991). On-farm
research is organized to help search for technologies most
appropriate for specific environments. Besides mixed model
analysis of variance, Modified Stability Analysis (Hildebrand,
1984) is an effective means of determining specific
recommendation domains. Both researchers' and farmers' criteria
can be used to evaluate results of on-farm research when properly
designed, and farmers can comprehend the implications, both
concerning input use and amount and quality of output. Because
the research is conducted under real farm conditions, and across
many environments, it also is an effective means for diffusing
Recommendations from on-farm research are not limited to
location-specific technological recommendations for different
environments. Recommendations can also be made to infrastructure
managers and policy makers of needed changes to improve the
3 The Low Input, Sustainable Agriculture (LISA) project from
the US Department of Agriculture, and the Sustainable Agriculture
and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support
Project (SANREM CRSP) from SAID.
welfare of the farmers in the target area. In fact, having
farming systems teams on the ground is one of the most effective
methods for assessing potential responses to proposed policy
stimuli. These teams can be a powerful tool for development.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of farming systems
methodology is an annual planning cycle. Results from the
previous year (or years) are used to help plan the following
year's work for the farming systems team. Non-productive
activities can be dropped and directions changed as needed.
Follow-up with promising technology is assured and the research
and extension functions not only are linked but can be merged for
Introduction to analysis and design of on-farm trials using MSA.
a farmer participatory OFR program
The purpose of Modified Stability Analysis (MSA) is to provide
technological recommendations for specific biophysical and
socioeconomic environments and for individual farmer's evaluation
criteria. It is designed to combine experimental biophysical
data with elicited socioeconomic information.
Environments for producing crops or livestock, whether a function
of the base biophysical factors (soil, climate, altitude) or a
result of the socioeconomic influences associated with the
farmer's situation (land preparation practices, time of planting,
weeding, irrigation, supplemental feeding, deparasitizing, etc.)
are very difficult to estimate mathematically or statistically.
An effective substitute procedure has been in use for over 50
years (Yates and Cochran, 1938) for multi-location or multi-year
trials in which the same treatments are included for each
location and/or year. An environmental index, EI, is calculated
based on the average yield (kg/ha) for all the treatments at each
location and/or year. The El is a continuous variable that can
be used in regression or ANOVA. In the former, individual
treatments are regressed on EI, and in ANOVA, El is considered as
a source of variation.
B.K. Singh (1990) conducted PhD dissertation research near
Manaus, Brazil, which can serve as an example of the use of MSA
in on-farm research. Singh worked with EMBRAPA (the Brazilian
agricultural research institute), EMATER (the Brazilian extension
service), and the state planning agency in a target area that
comprised a number of small colonization communities along the
Rio Preto da Eva, a small tributary of the Amazon River. The
problem was how to maintain the fertility of cleared fields to
reduce clearing of additional secondary and primary rain forest.
The constraints included one biophysical factor, phosphorus
deficiency, and two socioeconomic factors, distance from market
(two hours by small boat) and cash to purchase inputs.
Following a sondeo utilizing persons from all the collaborating
agencies, four treatments based on previous on-station research
were tested on both maize and cowpeas in the research domain
which included the entire target area. The four treatments were
tested on cowpeas at 13 locations and will be used in this
example which is found in Stroup et al. (1991). The treatments
FP Farmer's individual practice (planting and weeding),
TSP Triple super phosphate,
PCW Processed city waste from Manaus, and
CM Chicken manure.
The amendments were banded in narrow strips to reduce the amount
required to modify phosphorus availability.
The ANOVA using El (and EI*EI) as a source of variation is shown
in Table 1. The significance of EI*Trt indicates the existence
of a linear treatment by environment interaction. Because
EI*EI*Trt was not significant, the quadratic interaction is not
shown in Figure 1. This figure shows graphically the
relationship of the treatments to environments. In the higher
environments (El > 1.2) the use of TSP results in the highest
yield. In the lower environments (El < 1.2) chicken manure
produces the best yields. Processed city waste was not effective
in any environment and the farmers' practices produced very low
yields compared with the use of the more effective amendments.
Based on the criterion of yield (most often used by researchers
and extension persons), chicken manure would be recommended for
the poorer environments and TSP for the higher environments. The
recommendation domain for chicken manure includes lands taken out
of secondary forest and in the second or third year of use (SF2,
SF3) and land that had been bulldozed during the creation of the
communities and classed as waste land (WL) by the farmers. The
recommendation domain for TSP would be land taken out of
secondary forest and in first year of use and land taken out of
primary forest and in first and second (and possibly third) year
Based on the criterion of kg per dollar of cash cost (kg/$CC)
which would be more relevant for these farmers with limited cash,
the recommendation domains change drastically, Figure 2. Because
of the cost of obtaining and transporting the amendments, this
figure shows that chicken manure or TSP would be recommended only
if the farmers need to grow cowpea on waste land or SF3. If they
are able to use land taken from primary forest not more than
three years, or from secondary forest not more than two years,
they will not use amendments even though their use would result
in higher yields per ha.
This paper has attempted to summarize the history, meaning and
value of farming systems research and extension methodology to
promote agricultural production and the welfare of small scale,
limited resource farm families. Most agricultural technology is
not scale neutral. Broadly adaptable technology, appropriate in
conditions where the environment can be dominated and made more
homogeneous, is a workable concept if capital is not limiting.
However, that is not a characteristic of the millions of small
scale farmers in Southern Africa. Only by specifically targeting
these kinds of farmers, is it possible to improve the technology
Perhaps the most important lesson coming from the past 20 or so
years is that small farmers are as eager as large farmers to have
and use improved technology. The rejection of technology is not
a trait inherent in small farmers. Rather it is the fault of
established research and extension organizations who now need to
target technology development and specifically for small scale,
limited resource conditions. Developing broadly adaptable
technologies for homogenized environments is relatively easy.
Developing technologies for small scale, limited resource farmers
is a much more difficult challenge. However, it is a challenge
we must accept if we are to improve the well being of small scale
farm families, help keep them productively employed, and in this
way help them to make an increasing contribution to the over all
welfare of their countries.
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SOURCE OF VARIATION df MEAN SQUARE Pr > F
Location 12 0.9470 0.0001
Treatment 3 3.8127 0.0001
Env'Trt 3 0.9923 0.0001
Env'Env'TrT 3 0.1266 0.1840
Residual 30 0.0736
Table 1. ANOVA, Cowpea response to environment
1 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2
ENVIRONMENTAL INDEX, El
IWL SF, SF PF SF1 PF PF1
Cowpea response (MG/HA) of four treatments to
environment, Manaus, Brazil, 1990 (Singh)
1 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2
ENVIRONMENTAL INDEX, El
WL SF, SF, P F, SF1 PF PF1
Cowpea response (KG/$CC) of four treatments to
environment, Manaus, Brazil, 1990 (Singh)