FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH
Ramiro Ortiz Dard6n
Prepared for presentation at the "Symposium on Farming Systems Research".
USDA, Washington D.C. December 8-9, 1980.
FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH IN GUATEMALA
Ramiro Ortiz Dard6n*
Technology generation alone, should not be the ultimate objective of a
national agricultural research program. Only when the technology is being
widely used by farmers has the objective been reached and the researcher
accomplished his mission. This is the challenge that a new breed of tech-
nicians in many developing countries of the world is accepting. These are
the technicians who are solving crop and animal production problems for small,
limited resource farmers, who in turn, comprise the largest proportion of
farmers in most countries but for whom little has been accomplished hereto-
The Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (ICTA) in Guatemala
is an example of the above. Since its origin in 1973, ICTA has been develop-
ing a series of strategies to generate and promote the use of technology in
a systematic approach, appropriate to the interests and needs of the small
farmers of the country. This approach is the result of contributions of many
people based upon many years of experience and combined with participation of
institutions, international centers and government's true concern for develop-
ing an effective national program. It is also the result of young technicians
working in the field with a striving desire to succeed in generating a technol-
ogy that will soon be adopted by most farmers. The more relevant aspects of
this new approach for ICTA's Farming Systems Research program are the following:
Formely Technical Director, ICTA, Guatemala. Presently Research Assistant,
Agronomy Department, University of Florida.
1. A thorough knowledge of the agro-socioeconomic conditions of the farmers
in a region is required and is achieved by integrating biological and
social scientists who together identify farmers resource, constraints,
and other problems in order to design and conduct "reality-oriented"
2. Most research is moved off experiment stations to farms where it is con-
ducted under the farmers' conditions. This has brought reliability to
the results since they capture the variation throughout a region.
3. The involvement of the farmer in the research process from the beginning,
giving him the main role in the final stages of evaluation of the new
technology. This is perhaps the major and most important change from
the traditional approach.
4. Extension agents are not only considered an excellent contact when first
arriving in a region, they can and have participated in surveying the re-
gion to determine what the research priorities should be. They also par-
ticipated in research projects by conducting a portion of the trials be-
fore transferring results to the farmers. The purpose of this has been
for them to know the "why's" and the "how's" technology is generated,
"getting the results first hand", and it has made them feel more moti-
vated to do their work; thus, the gap between research and extension
5. Research programs are not committing themselves only to the extension
service, they are also establishing close linkages with organized groups
in the rural areas (cooperatives, farmers informal groups, etc.) and the
The objective of this paper is to provide information about the organi-
zation and objectives of ICTA, and to describe the most important aspects of
its agricultural technological system.
THE NEED FOR A FARMING SYSTEMS PROGRAM
Historically, national agricultural research programs have been oriented
toward the solution of the problems of commercial agriculture1- under the as-
sumption that'the production technology designed for this type of agriculture
would be adopted with equal success by limited resource farmers in traditional
or subsistence agriculture.-/ This assumption has not been proven correct be-
cause, in most cases, the technology generated for commercial agriculture has
strongly clashed with the traditions of the small farmer. The reasons for
this are, 1) this technology is not compatible with the resources and the pro-
duction systems that are prevalent in subsistence farming, and 2) the risk
associated with this technology is too high and does not offer a sufficient
increase in income to offset the investment.
In trying to design a program to generate and promote the use of technology
appropriate to needs and incomes of small and medium farmers, the deficiencies of
traditional research and extension systems were studied in Guatemala (Waugh,
1975). Through the study of systems used in other countries it was hoped a
research and promotion model could be designed that would correct the defi-
ciencies identified in the models that failed. It was established that re-
search for traditional agriculture had failed mainly due to 1) the researcher
does not know the problems of the farmers nor.his production systems, 2) the
-Laird (1977), defines commercial agriculture as that practiced by farmers
that have medium or large holdings, who use modern technology and mainly pro-
duce for the market, and they receive medium or high agricultural incomes.
2/Laird (1977), defines this as being practiced by farmers with small land
holdings, who make only very limited use of modern technologies, who consume
a major part of their production on their own farm, and receive agricultural
incomes that are very low. They are characterized by lower levels of pro-
ductivity, and more labor and high levels of seasonal unemployment. Most
traditional agriculture is practiced under unfavorable ecological conditions
that limit productivity.
technology that is generated is not tested at the farm level, and 3) the
acceptability of the technology to the farmers is not evaluated. Generating
technology was the first step in the strategy to increase production through
an increase in productivity, but this first step had to be backed up by the
knoweldge that this technology would reach the clients. It was because of
this that in the model designed for ICTA, the component of promotion of the
use of technology had to be included. The deficiencies in the traditional
extension system, which until that time had also been a failure, were iden-
tified as 1) an appropriate technology is not available, 2) the technology
generated is not tested before recommending it, 3) there has been a loss of
contact with the researcher, 4) the technology of the farmer is unknown, and
5) an effective extension evaluation system does not exist.
Through this study of the deficiencies in the systems of traditional
research and extension, it was determined that the interrelation farmer-
extensionist-researcher is indispensable in planning and conducting a pro-
gram of technology generation and validation that is applicable to the needs
of the farmers of a region. This relationship is also necessary to insure
an effective transfer process of this same technology. In the design of
ICTA it was considered that the objective should not be only to generate
technology. Rather, the technology should serve as an instrument to in-
crease productivity and to improve farmers' incomes.
FUNCTIONS AND OBJECTIVES OF ICTA
ICTA was established May 10, 1973. The specific objectives and its
functions are clearly defined in article number 3 of its organic law (legisla-
tive decree #68-72). The Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology is
responsible for generating and promoting the use of agricultural science and
technology in the agricultural public sector. As a consequence it has the
responsibility to conduct research pertinent to the solution of problems
of rational agricultural exploitation that influence social well-being;
to produce materials and methods that increase agricultural productivity;
and to promote the use of technology at the farmer and regional levels.
Since the emphasis is directed to increase the production of basic grains,
the main group who benefit are the small and medium farmers who produce
almost all of these crops. This in no way means that commercial agricul-
tural is excluded since much of the technology generated by ICTA should
be applicable to their conditions also.
Even though the main responsibility of ICTA was to increase produc-
tion, there was also an interest in the well-being of the rural population.
In accordance to the characteristics of this population the logical strategy
to reach the general objective was to generate technology that was economi-
cally favorable. In this way, the production of food would be increased and
this in turn, would be the economic base to achieve development.
ORGANIZATION OF ICTA
Using as a guide the law which created ICTA, it was decided to create
a structure that was very simple. This simple structure is shown in figure 1.
Board of Directors. This is the highest authority in the Institute and
besides its President, who is the Minister of Agriculture, it is formed by
the Ministers of Economy and Finance, the Secretary General of Economic Plan-
ning, the Dean of the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of San Carlos and
a representative of the private sector.
( ICA I ll Z AT n O OF" C T A
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
PUBLIC RELATIONS I
ADMINISTRATIVE & FINANCIAL
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AND "SAN JERONIHO"
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General Manager. The General Manager, representative of the Board of
Directors, is responsible for achieving the functions of ICTA and directing
the work plan jointly with the Deputy General Manager. The General Manager
presents the work plan and the budget to the Board of Directors and inter-
prets public policy to the work teams of ICTA. For the executive of its
functions, ICTA has three units: 1) the administrative and financial ser-
vice unit, 2) the program unit and 3) a technical unit of production.
TECHNICAL UNIT OF PRODUCTION
This unit is headed by the Technical Director whose principal activity
is coordination of all research activities including testing and transferring
technology. The Technical Director has consultants who are the Coordinators
of Programs and the Support Disciplines. This group is called Technical Coor-
dination. The groups within the technical unit are the following:
1) Production programs. These are national research programs for each crop
or product. Their work mainly involves the initial stages of research, i.e.,
identifying, generating, adaptation and the tests which are preliminary to
new technologies. The production programs of ICTA are the following: corn,
beans, wheat, rice, sorghum, vegetables, sesame seed, animal production and
2) Support disciplines. These are groups which support the production pro-
grams and the regional teams. The majority of the technical personnel in the
different disciplines is assigned to the regional teams. The Support Disci-
plines are Technology Testing,-/ Rural Socioeconomics, In-Service Training and
1/The true name of this discipline is technology testing and transfer. This
discipline works in groups as teams which form the regional team. Since a re-
grion is very big there.is a need for a team in order to take care of it. The
Coordinator of these groups at the regional level is the Regional Director. The
national coordinator of these groups is the Technical Director.
3) Technical services. These groups provide service to the Production Pro-
grams and Regional Teams. They comprise the following areas: Seeds, Commu-
nications,Soil Laboratory and the Production Centers.
4) Regional teams. These are groups formed of multidisciplinary technical
personnel. All the personnel who are assigned to a region, whether in Pro-
duction Programs, Support Disciplines, or In-service Training groups, are
all part of the regional team. This means that a technician can be assigned
to a regional team and at the same time be part of a program or discipline.
The regional team is managed by the Regional Director, the maximum authority
of the Institute within the region, who as the representative of the General
Manager and the Technical Director, is responsible for the coordination of
all activities of the Institute in the region.
All the groups in the Technical Production unit coordinates activities
based on a technological system (Waugh, 1977). ICTA has developed a research
model based on a series of strategies which are mainly directed to eliminate
the deficiencies of the traditional research and extension systems. Fumagalli
and Waugh (1977) call this series of strategies "A Technical System for Pro-
duction" or an "Agricultural Technological System".
AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGICAL SYSTEM
The operational flow chart shown in Figure 2 represents the Agricultural
Technological System. The technological system is continuous even though it
is shown and discussed in parts. The process does not necessarily move from
left to right. The most logical place to start is in the last block to the
right with the gathering of agrosocioeconomic information.
The tools used by ICTA are the identification of the agrosocioeconomic
characteristics of the region through a sondeo; research results from exper-
iment stations and farms; and the results of the evaluation of acceptability
TECHNOLOGICAL SYSTEM FOR AGRICULTURE
FEEDBACK OF INFORMATION
of technology. These are used in planning a regional program adapted to the
necessities of the farmers that live in the region. Perhaps the most impor-
tant characteristic of the regional teams is the fact that the members of the
regional team participate in and define their own work priorities. With the
multidisciplinary approach they work and live with the farmers of the region,
getting to know the different production systems and management practices. It
is the type of activities conducted by the Regional Teams and the way in which
they do it, that provides this team with an ample and objective experience con-
cerning the prevailing conditions. This has determined that the members of
this team, guided by the Regional Director and supported by a group with
recognized scientific and technological capacity (Technical Director and
Technical Coordinators) have the responsibility of defining the priorities of
agricultural research for the region within the context of the functions and
the objectives of ICTA and also of the national development plan. The main
components of this system are here described:
Identifying the Problems
When a new work area is determined, the first activity is a reconnais-
sance through a methodolgoy called "sondeo" (Hildebrand, 1979). This is a
type of modified survey developed by ICTA to provide information to be used
as a basis for guiding the work of the regional ICTA team. The objectives
of this reconnaissance are to identify a group of farmers that are "homoge-
neous" in the characteristics of the production systems and their traditional
production technology and define the limits of the area within which this
group is a main component of the population. The identification of the
prevalent production system and of a group of farmers who use the system have
been grouped through a natural selection process, responding in a similar way
to common limiting factors (Hildebrand, 1979). The Sondeo is carried out by
a multidisciplinary team comprised of the Technology Testing Team that will
develop the research program in the area and technicians from the Discipline
of Socioeconomics. Occasionally, technicians from the Productions Programs
of ICTA or agronomists of DIGESA have participated in the Sondeo.
The Sondeo methodology, developed by the discipline of Rural Socioeconom-
ics of ICTA, was designed in response to budget restrictions and time require-
ments as an efficient methodology for obtaining the agrosocioeconomic informa-
tion in a region where the generation and promotion of technology is to be
started (Hildebrand, 1979). This methodology gives the team in ICTA qualita-
tive information about a new area that is sufficient for planning and imple-
menting the activities for the first year. Nevertheless for following years
it is necessary to have quantitative information to orient or guide research.
After the second year, this information is available from the research re-
sults of the first year, the farm records and the evaluation of acceptability
Generation of Technology
ICTA bases its technology generation approach on an understanding of the
production systems of the farmers and the management given them. The farmer
has, through the years, designed a technology that is a function of his re-
sources and his perception of the risk that exists given the conditions that
surround his production system. It is expected that when the technician knows
all the characteristics of a specific system he can identify some modifications
that could produce an increase in profitability. Therefore rather than design
"technological packages", ICTA has developed simple technological production
alternatives that farmers evaluate and select according to their own criteria.
It is very important to use all the resources that are available to
initiate this research program. Many of these resources, that form techno-
logical support in Figure 2 are outside institutions. Such resources are
materials, methodology and technologies in general which are developed in
international centers, universities, and other governments and national re-
search programs, industry (fertilizers, seeds, herbicides, etc.) and others.
Research planning is the most important activity of the regional teams
of ICTA during the year. It requires a week in the region to present the
results of research, what has been accumulated through the farm records, the
evaluation of acceptability of technology, and the conclusions of Sondeos
that have been done in new areas within the region. In these meetings,
that are.presided over by the Regional Director and in which the Technical
Director and members of Technical Coordination take part, the results are
discussed widely, in depth and objectively trying to reach conclusions that
are in agreement with the actual situation that is presented. This regional
Operational Plan is the work which the regional team will do for the follow-
On the basis of the regional operational plan, the team carries out tech-
nology generation on the production centers (experiment stations) and on
farms. The tests are called "experiment" if done on a production center and
"farm trial" if conducted on a farm. This distinction has been very useful
to identify where activities are located. Today around 90% of the resources
are directed into working on farms. The production centers are mainly used for
work that requires controlled conditions (crosses, early generations of new
materials); for the evaluation of germ plasm when the reaction under local
conditions is unknown; and to evaluate a new practice that can be very risky
and could result in a loss in the crop of a farmer, such as tests with her-
The main objective in the design of all farm trials in ICTA is obtain-
ing realistic results for technology design that reflect the conditions of
the farmers and result in substantial increases in productivity and/or pro-
fitability of the production system. The design of this appropriate tech-
nology is based on the concept that one must achieve maximum efficiency in
the use of resources that are available to the farmers or that they can
Technology Testing and Evaluation of Acceptability
Without taking away the importance of the other aspects of the techno-
logical system of ICTA, this component without a doubt is the most important.
It is here where the results of the technology generation process, the pro-
duction alternatives, receive their test "under fire" when they are managed
completely by the farmer. Up to this point it has been the technician who
has evaluated the technology based on statistically reliable research re-
sults. Ultimately, it will be the farmer who will decide if the generated
technology is relevant to his production system based on his own choice
The test of the generated technology is done through the "Farmer's
Test", which consists in using the technological alternatives developed
by ICTA on part of his land. The technician of ICTA acts as an advisor,
orienting, and being a friend of the farmer during this evaluation pro-
cess. But it is the farmer who will manage the test, during all its
phases so he really gets to know the new technology. This knowledge will
allow him to decide for himself if the technology is applicable to his
crops and if it pays for the resources used and if the technology trans-
lates into some increase in his yields and profits.
The Farmer's Test is the way to put technology in the hands of farmers
for their evaluation without exposing the farmer to too much risk, since the
technology has been evaluated technically and economically on farms by the
ICTA teams. It is important that the farmer, besides providing the land,
also pays for all the expenses of the test. This is done to assure the farm-
er's interest so that he will know all that is involved during the test and
will give as much attention to it as he does to the rest of his farm.
The evaluation of acceptability of the technology tested by the farmer
is done in the following agricultural cycle. The farmer, who, investing
his resources and his work, conducted the farmer's test, had theopportunity
to observe how the technological alternatives worked and decide which ones to
integrate in the management practices of his system.
The technical team of the Discipline of Rural Socioeconomics conducts
the evaluation with the assistance of the Technology Testing Team of the
area. These technicians determine the acceptability index (A.I.) of a tech-
nological alternative by identifying the farmers that adopted the alternative
and the proportion of their crop in which they applied it. Therefore the
A.I. measures the active acceptability of technology (from those farmers who
tested it the previous year) and is calculated as follows:
Acceptability Index = (%of the farmers that used the practice) x (% of the
area of the crop in which the practice was used) / 100
Besides determining the A.I. the ICTA team identifies the causes of
adopting or rejecting the new technology. The A.I. helps the regional team
determine if they should promote the use of technology. If it has not been
accepted but has technical and scientific merit and is promising, they feed-
back the reasons of non acceptance. With this information the researchers
modify the design so it will better fit the demands of the farmers and gain
Promotion and Transfer of Technology
Since the results of research are not the final ICTA product and because
ICTA is responsible for promoting the use of the technology that has been
generated, there must be a mechanism to make the transfer process more fluid.
ICTA has focused the promotion of technology towards the public agricultural
sector, organized groups and the private sector:
1. ICTA considers its main client to be the "promoters" of the General Directo-
rate of Agricultural Services (DIGESA). DIGESA is an institution responsible
for transferring technology generated by ICTA for the farmer. The communica-
tion between these two institutions has been strengthened progressively,
especially after the formation of the Regional Agricultural Development
Committees (COREDA). It is in these COREDA that the representatives of ICTA
and DIGESA discuss, at the regional level, the procedures and mechanisms that
will be used to achieve an efficient transfer of technology generated by ICTA.
Through the COREDAS an in-service training course has been institutionalized
in transfer of technology for the "promoters". The main objective of this
course, which takes a whole agricultural cycle, is to give to the promoters
the technology that ICTA has generated and validated. They, in turn, pass
it on to the farmers cn a large scale through technical assistance. In
these courses, which are specific for each agroeconomic region, the DIGESA
"promoters" dedicate one day a week to participate in conferences, seminars
agricultural encounters,-/ and field days. This type of activity conditions
-'This is an activity developed in a farmer's field where the group defines
and solves specific problems.
them to increase their knowledge of agricultural topics and improve verbal
communication. In addition,.they are responsible for working in a "teach-
ing plot" to develop their capacity as agronomists and to understand better
why they use certain practices. In other words, they have more contact with
day to day reality, at the same time, they must conduct Farm Trials, Farmers
Tests, and Commercial Trials 1- with farmers working next to them. This is
an efficient transfer mechanism. In general terms it has been proven that
these courses improve the technical capacityof the promoters and it makes
transfer activities much more effective when the "promoters" get to know
the system that generated the technology.
2. ICTA realizes that the services of the public sector will hardly bene-
fit all farmers, so it is working with private organizations hoping that
through them the technology will reach the farmers. The process has con-
sisted of signing letters of understanding with organized groups to forma-
lize projects with the objective of promoting the use of the better tech-
nology. In this case ICTA assigns a technician who, besides working in
technology generation and testing, trains and advises selected farmers to
conduct Farmers' Tests, and Commercial Tests on the land of other members
of the organized group. This creates a multiplier effect by directing the
technicians activities towards a whole group with the same resources that
were going before to help more isolated farmers.
3. The private sector has a very important role in the process of agricul-
tural technification. Much of ICTA's technology depends on the participa-
tion of the private industry. Its contribution radiates in a series of
/The technological alternatives are put into practice with the appropriate
use of technical assistance services and credit.
services through which the farmers obtain inputs such as fertilizer, seeds,
herbicides, etc. It is hoped that the collaboration of the private sector
will be to have inputs available at the right time with the correct instruc-
tions for their use.
The most interesting case of how the private sector has been incorpora-
ted in the transfer of technology is in the development of the seed industry
in Guatemala. This phenomenon is the result of the application of a strategy
of incentive used by ICTA who, through a series of mechanisms, has been able
to intervene in the private sector in the production and commercialization
of better seeds of basic grains (Ortiz, 1980).
The results of this strategy has been extraordinary. At the present
time all improved corn seed for the Guatemalan lowlands is composed of ICTA
materials. This can be compared to 1977 when ICTA materials contributed
less than 10% of the necessities of this seed and ICTA produced 60% of this
amount (OrtTz, 1980).
ICTA does not consider itself only an institution of research. Neither
does it believe that research results are the final product; instead, it has
considered that the appropriate objective is that technology be widely used
by farmers. With this belief it has developed a practical approach based on
the needs and characteristics of the rural population of Guatemalan and
through its application has taken the first steps toward identifying the
solutions to farming systems problems in this country.
Fumagalli, A. and R.K. Waugh.
The Bellagio Conference.
de Ciencia y
1977. Agricultural Research in Guatemala.
1979. A Summary of the Sondeo Methodology. Institute
Technologfa Agricolas (ICTA), Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Laird, R.J. 1977. Investigaci6n Agron6mica para el Desarrollo de la
Agriculture Tradicional. Colegio de Postgraduados, Chapingo, Mexico.
Ortiz, D.R. 1980. Mecanismos Utilizados para el Desarrollo de la Indus-
tira de Semillas de Granos Basicos en Guatemala. III Training Course
on Seed Technology, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT).
Waugh, R.K. 1975. Four Years of History. Institute de Ciencia y Technologfa
Agricolas (ICTA), Guatemala.