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Title: Zambia, farming systems research and the anthropological body of knowledge
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00080886/00001
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Title: Zambia, farming systems research and the anthropological body of knowledge
Physical Description: Book
Creator: Hansen, Art.
Copyright Date: 1984
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Bibliographic ID: UF00080886
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
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Resource Identifier: oclc - 183644078

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Full Text


by Art Hansen
Farming Systems Support Project
Department of Anthropology
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida USA

Keynote address presented at the Networkshop on the Role of Rural
Sociology (Including Anthropology) in Farming Systems Research
held 27-29 November 1984 in Lusaka, Zambia.


Madame chair, distinguished representatives of the Ministry of
Agriculture and Water Development, scientific colleagues from
various disciplines, and observers:

I am honoured to be here at this workshop, and it is certainly a
pleasure to be once again in Zambia. My wife and I first came
here in 1970 to carry out anthropological research in North
Western Province. We were affiliated with the Institute for
Social Research, now the Institute for African Studies, of the
University of Zambia, a relationship we have maintained over the
years whenever we have been fortunate enough to return to this
country. We learned about many facets of life in Zambia during
our first stay here. Our son grew up and learned to walk and
talk in the villages of Zambezi District; his first language was
Chiluvale, one of the many languages of Zambia. When we were
ready to return to our university in the U.S.A. our Luvale
friends and neighbours understood that we had to leave. They
only asked that our son, Chinyama, whom they called a real
Muluvale, stay and live with them.

Our experiences here and our friendships made it clear to us that
Zambia is a wealthy country wealthy in its people, the
diversity and complexity of its many cultures, and in the
optimism and fortitude of its people and their leaders. At the
same time the country faces economic difficulties as do its
neighbors and, indeed, most countries in our world today.
Increasingly Zambia is looking to its villager farmers for
support. These people in the rural areas have the power to make
Zambia self-sufficient in food and to improve the national
balance of imports and exports.

The issues which Zambia and its African neighbours confront are:
1. how to encourage farmers to produce more and
2. how to utilize the services of the state to assist
farmers around the country so that they may help
themselves and help the country.
The country has resources: skilled agricultural research staff,
experienced agricultural extension and credit staff, marketing,
transportation and processing agencies, and pricing policies.
These must be used efficiently to assist and encourage farmers.


This workshop is part of a continuing effort to help Zambia and
its neighbours in this effort. The Adaptive Research Planning
Team (ARPT), Research Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and
Water Development, Government of Zambia, and the Eastern Africa
Economics Programme of the Mexico-based International Centre for
the Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT) are co-sponsoring
this gathering. As its special focus the workshop is designed to

Page 2

identify specific ways for social scientists who are not
agricultural economists to work with farming systems research
(FSR) programmes. In other words, how may the non-economist
social sciences contribute to understanding farming system
dynamics in order to help generate improved agricultural
production technologies that are accepted by farmers. An earlier
workshop with similar aims was convened in the Philippines in
1981 (International Rice Research Institute 1982).

People have gathered here for this occasion from Botswana,
Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, the
U.S.A. and Zimbabwe. The participating social scientists
represent the disciplines of anthropology, geography, rural
sociology and sociology. Many of these scientists work for
various national or international agricultural research and
development agencies. Other participants represent a number of
colleges, universities, and supporting institutions, just as I am
representing the international Farming Systems Support Project
(FSSP), which has its headquarters at the University of Florida,
USA. The FSSP is funded by the United States (of America) Agency
for International Development (USAID) to support programmes like
this around the world.

The workshop addresses national FSR programs that are working
with specific localities, although much of the argument also
applies to programs operating at international levels to develop
more general models. Whatever our theoretical or methodological
concerns, we must remember that the essential criteria in
evaluating FSR, and thus in evaluating the contributions of
anthropologists and sociologists, are increased production and
cost-effectiveness. Increased agricultural production is
essential to feed an increasing population, provide more material
for industrial processing and export, and avoid or diminish
imports. Increased production is also one of the ways by which
rural families may improve their living standards. Though the
ultimate clients are farmers, national governments and
international agencies are paying the bills for research and will
want an accounting of our responsible use of their resources.


Zambia is an appropriate site for this workshop. Agricultural
research here offers historic precedents for us. One example is
the multidisciplinary team composed of William Allan, an
agriculturalist better known for his later book The African
Husbandman, Max Gluckman, an anthropologist who directed the
Rhodes-Livingstone Institute (now the Institute for African
Studies, University of Zambia), Colin Trapnell, an ecologist, and
D.U. Peters, a soil scientist. These four collaborated in 1945
on a study of land tenure and land use in Mazabuka District and
made recommendations on how farmers' production and incomes could
be increased (Allan, et al 1948). Although this and other

Page 3

earlier policy-oriented, multidisciplinary investigations of
African farming did not include all of the features associated
today with FSR, these words from an earlier Director of
Agriculture should sound familiar:

Recognition of the inherent soundness, under
natural conditions, of native agricultural
practice has only become general in recent years.
Practices apparently contrary to the accepted
principles of good farming, usually prove on
investigation to be the best possible in the
circumstances under which the native cultivator
works...but their natural mode of life has been
rudely interrupted...Thus agricultural problems
have arisen which were previously
non-existent...and some guidance toward the
adaptation of long established methods to new
needs and conditions is usually necessary; but it
behoves(sic) an agricultural department to
investigate local practices with the utmost care
before presuming to attempt to improve them (Lewin
in Trapnell and Clothier 1936).

It is chastening to realize that these words were published more
than fifty years ago in the foreword to Trapnell and Clothier's
pioneering work on soils, vegetation and agricultural systems
(1936). This era of proto-FSR work during the 1930s and 1940s
was cut short by the dispersion of personnel to other work in
other countries, a familiar occurrence today as well, and other
paradigms of agricultural research took over.


What is called FSR today is an agricultural research approach
that recognizes the importance of local farmers. This approach
also recognizes the complexity of the strategies that villagers
have evolved to earn a living and earn enough to educate their
children and contribute in other ways to helping their families.
FSR focuses the skills and resources of many scientific
disciplines because no single discipline possesses the skills and
insights necessary to totally understand farmers' strategies, the
adaptive interactions of farmers and their environments, and the
most effective ways to help them improve their production and
living standards through agriculture.

This multidisciplinary research complements and strengthens
existing commodity and single discipline research programs. The
other programs focus their efforts on individual commodities or
categories (maize, legumes, livestock, plant breeding, etc.) in
order to probe deeply into the technical and biological
potentials of a restricted set of elements. Farming systems
research investigates a broad range of commodities and factors as
they are found to be important in local farming systems.

Page 4

FSR serves as a bridge between technical research programs and
farmers. There is two way traffic over this bridge. On the one
hand FSR investigates existing farming and clarifies its
problems, constraints and the highest priority opportunities to
make effective and accepted inputs (advice and materials) to
farmers. This provides direction to the technical research
programs by identifying high priority research targets. On the
other hand FSR investigates how technical recommendations and
suggested technologies operate in specific environments under
local farming conditions. Over a period of time these
experiments on farms clarify how technical research suggestions
may be modified to better help farmers.

Agricultural research is a cost-effective investment for any
country. Additional funding for research provides for a stronger
national agriculture and increased production. This is a safe
and productive investment when FSR and commodity research
programs are both well-funded. These research programs are
complementary. Each supports and strengthens the other. There
is no question about the systems approach replacing technical
commodity research. Together the farmer-focused systems approach
and the commodity-focused approaches provide a more effective
agricultural research program for the country.

If funding is not increased as the newer systems research begins,
then commodity research programs have to be cut back to provide
funding for FSR. This creates resentment and conflict and
weakens the agricultural research effort. Funding agricultural
research is a good investment, and the additional funding
necessary for the newer FSR program will be returned and
multiplied for the country as more effective research
recommendations help farmers produce more.

The FSR approach varies from one country to another and from one
theorist to another, but there is general agreement on the
essential features. Increased agricultural production is the
primary goal. This goal is achieved through the creation of
alternative production technologies that farmers adopt. Farmers
are the real producers and the source of increased production.
Technological alternatives that are inappropriate or unacceptable
to farmers are not adopted and do not contribute to increased
national production. In countries such as Zambia and its
neighbours the majority of farmers have small hectarage and herds
and are relatively poor in capital resources. This majority must
be encouraged and assisted to increase their production.

In order to ensure that technological alternatives suggested by
research are appropriate and really successful when applied by
the majority of farmers, research must investigate and understand
the empirical realities of farming. Farmers try to achieve a
wide variety of personal and family goals through farming and
other enterprises. These goals, the combinations of enterprises,
farmer resources, and the physical, biological and institutional
environmental features form systems. To understand farming,

Page 5

research must understand these systems. These are complex enough
so that the skills, experience and interests of technical and
social scientists must be combined. Although identification of
systems and diagnosis is often called the first step in FSR, it
is really a continuing process. Researchers must always be alert
to learning more about how local farmers operate and why.

When farmers are involved in the research process, when their
ideas and interests are included, and when research people
actually see and appreciate how farmers operate and why, then
research has the best opportunity to really learn about and
understand the existing farming systems. Based on this
knowledge and combining it with technical information about the
biological and physical potentials of alternative technologies,
research staff may devise appropriate technologies that will be
successful under local farming conditions. Before recommending
these to farmers, and as part of the process of devising
appropriate technologies, research tests alternatives on farmers'
fields and under farmer management.

These essential features of FSR are important but FSR programs in
different countries are going to be different. It is important
to be flexible. Earlier this year I headed an evaluation of an
FSR program in Latin America. There were problems caused by
conflicts between the expatriate technical assistance team
administering the program and host country professionals. The
expatriate team had a clear but rigid interpretation of the FSR
process. In order to implement this process as they understood
it, significant changes needed to be made in the host country's
existing agricultural research program. The existing program had
evolved over the previous decade and exhibited many of the
characteristics of farmer-focused research with on-farm trials,
and the host country research staff were loyal to their homegrown
version of FSR.

Conflicts such as these may be minimized by clearly understanding
the essential features and maintaining the ability to compromise
on details. FSR is different from commodity and discipline
programs and the introduction of FSR does require some changes,
but arguments over the correctness of different procedures must
not be allowed to dissipate energies and detract from a clear
concentration on FSR goals. Just as we must understand existing
farming systems in order to successfully generate appropriate
technology for farmers, so must we take the time as expatriates
to understand existing research institutions in order to create
an FSR program that will fit successfully into the national
research environment. Expatriate assistance is very important at
this phase of technology development, but sustainable effective
agricultural research requires the embedding of FSR into the
administrative structure of host country departments and
ministries. In many instances expatriates are the first
generation of FSR workers in an African country, but their
counterparts are the second generation. They must be
well-trained to carry on this work.

Page 6

Social scientists have roles to play in the research program and
process described above. This workshop provides an opportunity
for scientists working in different research capacities to come
together and share their ideas and experiences about these roles.
My colleagues will be presenting papers and discussing specific
methods and areas where social scientists may contribute to
improving FSR and, consequently, improving the capacity of
national agricultural research programs. I wish to address only
one area in the remainder of this paper, and that is the contri-
bution that has been made and may yet be made by the anthropo-
logical body of knowledge. The emphasis on anthropology is not
meant to exclude similar contributions from the other social
sciences; it only reflects my personal familiarity as an anthro-
pologist with the accumulated knowledge of my own discipline.


FSR attempts to understand the complex interdependencies of
localized ecosystems and farm-based economies in order to make
farm-tested recommendations that are appropriate for farmer
conditions. Anthropologists may directly contribute to this
research process as members of FSR field teams and as affiliated
research staff conducting special studies. Another way to
contribute, even though not affiliated with an agricultural
research agency, is through continuing professional
investigations into rural life, ecological and socioeconomic

Here I wish to only consider the last role. Many developing
countries and Zambia in particular have available an extensive
set of anthropological monographs, articles, theses and
dissertations covering numerous localities within the
countryside. Four consistent features of anthropological studies
are an intimate familiarity with the people being studied,
inclusion of a broad range of factors, an emphasis on inductive
discovery and local level processes, and a systemic analysis. In
addition, many of the rural studies are explicitly
problem-oriented. Numerous generalized insights drawn from this
literature have already been adopted into the development
literature, part of the body of knowledge that supported the
evolution of FSR activities.

These existing studies and their authors may also be used by FSR
national programs for information about specific localities and
local systems. Start with some famous examples. Who would work
in Zambia's Western Province without reading Economy of the
Central Barotse Plain by Gluckman, in Zambia's Northern Province
without reading Land, Labour and Diet in Northern Rhodesia by
Richards, in Zambia's Southern Province among the Tonga without
reading Colson's many publications, in Malawi among the Yao
without reading Mitchell, in Mozambique among the Nyakyusa
without reading what both of the Wilsons have written, or in

Page 7

Sudan among the Nuer without reading Evans-Pritchard?
Anthropological interests in these peoples and in certain issues
have continued through the years. In 1938 the first paper
published by the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, now the Institute
for African Studies of the University of Zambia, described the
fundamentals of land tenure among the Nyakyusa of Tanzania and
Malawi (Wilson 1938). In 1982 an Institute paper described the
fundamentals of land law and policy in Zambia (Mvunga 1982).

FSR is action-oriented not academic, but it is a research-based
program. The diagnostic phase emphasizes field surveys among
farmers because this farmer-focus is an important innovation, but
review of the relevant literature is also important. Relevance
extends beyond rainfall, soil and cropping trials. Information
about farmers is relevant. FSR is farmer-oriented because
production technologies must be adopted by farmers in order for
increased production to occur. Research that produces
technically correct innovations that are locally inappropriate or
unacceptable is not cost-effective.

Acknowledged expatriate experts in African FSR such as Michael
Collinson, David Norman and Elon Gilbert have spent years
learning about Africa and are aware of the relevance of
anthropological experience. That expertise is, however, a
limiting factor to the expansion of effective FSR programs. As
the popularity of this approach among foreign aid agencies has
increased the demand for expatriate technical assistance, the
importance of this limiting factor has been ignored. It is
unfortunate that some agriculturalists and economists now working
in African agricultural research and extension are unfamiliar
with the extensive and valuable collection of anthropological


Apart from the famous studies noted above there are many more.
My own research in Zambezi District of northwestern Zambia is an
example. For more than two years (1970-1972, 1977, 1979) my
family and I lived in a rural settlement observing and
interviewing. My dissertation examined how people and systems in
the district responded to changing conditions, evolutionary
responses both in terms of household level socioeconomic
processes as well as district level ecological and economic
systems. That information would be of benefit to FSR teams
working in the area (Hansen 1977).

Many district households on both sides of the Zambezi River earn
their living by combining farming, fishing, local trade and labor
migration. For many young men agriculture is an old man's
activity. Attractive cash returns from flood plain fishing pull
many men away from farming during the growing season, leaving
their wives to produce the crops. Agricultural innovations
requiring more labor input will be competing against very

Page 8

profitable fishing. People believe strongly that every household
should be self-sufficient in staple food production, so even
those farmers who produce commercial maize usually have their
cassava fields as well. There is an obvious sexual division of
labor. Wives have the primary responsibility for food
production, while husbands are responsible for bringing cash into
the household, so innovations in food crop production should be
geared toward women.

Agriculture has changed in many ways in the past few decades, and
someone without a sense of history might misunderstand trends and
potentials of local farming. Only in the last few decades have
the majority of farmers changed from shifting to stabilized
cultivation, largely in response to population pressure from
Angolan immigration. Farmers are still in the beginning stages
of coping with soil fertility problems associated with
stabilizing cultivation on infertile sandy soils. Green manuring
occurs, and cassava is left in the ground longer to mature, but
groundnut production has dramatically diminished due to problems
of pod filling ("pops" or what local people call kapokekapoke).
Research on these problems would be eagerly accepted.

Villagers are constantly experimenting with new plant varieties.
Many fruit trees have been introduced by labor migrants and
travellers who brought home the seeds, and the same with cassava
cuttings. Villagers appreciate the potentials of dambo
cultivation of fruit, out of season maize and vegetables.
Production could be greatly expanded, but marketing is the
problem. Although independent truckers service the district
because of the fish trade, it is too far by gravel roads for
transporting perishable crops to the urban markets.

The western side of the river features extensive flood plains of
Kalahari sands, and roads are poorly developed. Flood plain
production of rice has been thwarted by marketing problems;
farmers grew rice but became discouraged when it was never picked
up by NAMBOARD, the national marketing agency. Villagers remain
interested in rice production technology because they
consistently have to import staple crops from the eastern side.
Farmers east of the river consistently produce a surplus of
cassava which is traded across the river for fish. Important
intra-district trade occurs involving food crops (unprocessed and
in the form of flour), fish, livestock and trade goods (clothes,
etc.). Only a small portion of intra-district trade involves
money. Marketing studies which restrict themselves to
commodity-cash exchanges will dramatically underestimate the
extent of trade and crop production.

Outside of the district the major markets now for agricultural
production are the urban centers hundreds of miles away over
gravel roads. This was not always the case. Western Province
lies just downriver, and an important exchange of cassava from
Zambezi against fish and cattle from Western continued for
several decades. Beginning in the later 1920s with people
walking back and forth, the trade escalated to include barge

Page 9

traffic. This ceased when cassava could no longer compete with
subsidized maize trucked into Western Province on the new roads
from the west. This historic information remains relevant
because it demonstrates the potential of cassava production if
another market appears and because Western Province remains just

My research was not unique; many other anthropologists have
conducted research just as relevant to FSR teams working in their
areas. What inhibits other scientists from utilizing this
material? First of all, they may not know of its existence or of
its utility. Second, many disciplines have their own style and
language, and the anthropolgical materials were not written for
an FSR audience. A similar problem exists for Evaluation
Officers in Malawi. They annually survey random samples of
smallholder households and collect data on agricultural
production patterns, yields and labor. This is potentially
invaluable to research and extension staff. Their annual
reports, unfortunately, feature tables of data which are
virtually incomprehensible to the agricultural staff. The staff
in turn generally ignore the evaluation material.

Perhaps we could model a solution to our communication problems
along the same lines as did several Evaluation Officers. Instead
of writing the reports and merely circulating them, these
officers called public staff meetings where the material was
reviewed and staff asked for questions and suggestions. Staff
began to ask questions of the material, and the material in the
tables was picked apart and discussed. Once it became obvious
that the evaluation material contained information that the staff
could use, they became interested in it. At the same time
Evaluation Officers usually learned that the standard formats
they had been using were useful for national accounts but needed
to be substantially modified for field use by research and
extension people.

FSR projects could invite anthropologists with field experience
in an area to publicly present their material and answer
questions. Anthropologists could be short term (temporary duty
or TDY) consultants to a field team. Questions about an area
could be written to an anthropologist for a written response, but
this would not be as useful as the actual face-to-face dialogue.
Institutions such as the Center for Rural Development or Center
for African Studies in Zambia or the Center for Social Research
in Malawi, all of which are affiliated with their national
universities, could be used to sponsor these exchanges or to
sponsor anthropological research directed towards answering
questions posed by FSR program staff.

Page 10


Allan, W., M. Gluckman, D.A. Peters and C.G. Trapnell 1948 Land
Holding and Land Usage among the Plateau Tonga of Mazabuka
District. Rhodes-Livingstone Institute. Lusaka.

Hansen, Art 1977 When the Running Stops: Incorporation of
Angolan Refugees (1966-1972) into Zambian Border Villages. Ph.D.
Dissertation. Cornell University. Ithaca, New York.

International Rice Research Institute 1982 Report of an
Exploratory Workshop on the Role of Anthropologists and other
Social Scientists in Interdisciplinary Teams Developing Improved
Food Production Technology. Manila.

Mvunga, Mphanya P. 1982 Land Law and Policy in Zambia. Zambian
Papers No. 17. Institute for African Studies, University of
Zambia. Lusaka.

Trapnell, C.G. and J.N. Clothier 1936 The soils, vegetation and
agricultural systems of North-Western Rhodesia. Government
Printers. Lusaka.

Wilson, Godfrey 1938 The Land Rights of Individuals among the
Nyakyusa. Rhodes-Livingstone Paper No. 1. Rhodes-Livingstone
Institute. Lusaka.

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