FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EXTENSION (FSR/E);
SOME CHARACTERISTICS AND CONTRASTS WITH TRADITIONAL RESEARCH AND EXTENSION
Peter E. Hildebrand l/
FSR/E is an action oriented program for the rapid design, evaluation and implementation of relevant and realistic solutions to farm problems. This approach utilizes field teams who provide the principle thrust, and backup support from the main campus or headquarters unit. The FSR/E field team undertakes the identification of problems and constraints of target farmers through a rapid and-nsighf44 survey technique designed specifically for this purpose. Farmers are incorporated in the search for and testing of solutions and the majority of the work is carried out on farms rather than on experiment stations!] Support activities in a university environment would be provided both by full time FSR/E core on the campus and by FSR/E faculty members participating part-time from various departments. [ecause the work is carried out on farms, research and extension activities are combined rather than separated forces; communication problems are reduced and the lag from problem identification to technology adoption is minimized Hence,',cost efficiency measured in terms of technology adopted by farmers, is high.
A farming system is the result of how each farmer produces, uses, markets or consumes crop and livestock products. It is the phenomenon that results from each farmer's unique interpretation of the natural and socioeconomic environment in which he attempts to augment his family's utility, as influenced by the resources available to him and those agronomic, economic, environmental, cultural and social factors which to some degree affect his decisions.
1/ Visiting Professor, Food and Resource Economics Department, University
To a certain extent each farm is a unique system. Yet similar farms can be grouped into homogeneous farming systems for special purposes. A group of farms which forms a homogeneous farming system provides the basis of the FSR/E approach. In the field, an integrated, multidisciplinary team working as a unit strives to identify, group and understand specific farming systems and to use this understanding to develop and promote improved and more appropriate agricultural technology for the farmers in one or more of these selected homogeneous groups. The methodology requires investment in transportation rather than in fixed plant and incorporates direct farmer financing of a portion of the costs of technology development and promotion by supplying land, some labor and other inputs.
For maximum efficiency, the approach requires mul tidisciplinary participation among the field team scienti sts. Because the problems of farmers (particularly small farmers) are many and varied and stem from a multitude of sources, the greater the number of disciplines involved, the higher the probability of discovering the real constraints and the more rapid the development of appropriate and acceptable solutions. By the nature of the methodology, field team members are involved in both research and extension activities. Because the research conducted by the field team is more of the type considered "applied" rather than "basic" it is probably appropriate to evaluate their work more in the extension rather than the research format. This does not mean, however, that the field team should not, itself, undertake more basic research when the necessity arises and it is appropriate to do so.,
The activities of the FSR/E field team require backup support from each of the disciplines represented plus other disciplines whose participation is not required full time. This support can take the form of faculty or graduate
student research, but would be oriented specifically toward the solution of one or more of the problems encountered by the field team.
The traditional research and extension procedure typically involves a
simple passoff of technology from experiment station researcher to extension specialist to extension agent, then by way of meetings or demonstrations to
farmers-and has not been highly beneficial to small farmers who are usually on the tail end of th e chain. Furthermore, experiment station results are mostly based on optimum conditions which are difficult for small farmers to duplicate. Because small farmers cannot achieve similarity to the experiment station conditions, the results of recommended practices seldom achieve predicted potential. Hence, adoption is low and the new practices are modified to make them more acceptable to small farm conditions. This circle, with at
best, weak feedback, is frequently repeated only sufficiently to discourage researcher, extension worker and small farmer alike without arriving at widespread adoption.
The advantage of the FSR/E approach is that it begins at the farmers'
level and, working with farmers, calling upon the general body of scientific knowledge and utilizing supportive basic research where necessary, builds innovations that fit in immediately with farmers' conditions. Researcher, extensionist and farmer all work together so communication problems are minimized. The time from problem identification to improved practices to adoption is reduced so results are more immediately productive. This achieves not only cost efficiency, but also enthusiasm for the FSR/E approach.
The FSR/E approach does not require that the field team attack all the problems of target farmers simultaneously. That is, there is no need to modify the entire system to qualify as a farming systems undertaking. But it does require that the entire system be taken into account when considering modifications of any part of it. In the Guatemalan Institute of Agricultural
Science and Technology (ICTA) where the FSR/E approach has been practiced for several years, the efforts have been mainly directed to the basic grains of corn, beans, rice, wheat and sorghum. All the grains involved in any particular farming system may not be included in technology modification plans. But the effect of any modifications on the other grains and products is considered.
From this point of view, a farm may fall into more than one homogeneous farming system group depending upon the enterprise being modified. The corn on some of the larger farms in the Guatemalan Highlands is produced by hand
in exactly_ the- same way as on small farms, but the wheat on many large farms is completely mechanized. Hence, when considering corn technology, it may be that large and small farms alike fall into the same homogeneous fanning system group while for wheat they fall into different groups.
In summary, FSR/E is in many ways a return to identification with farm and farmers. Research and extension efforts are merged and together with farmers, problems are identified, alternative solutions are selected and tested, and results are evaluated.
Aug. 11, 1980