A Sketch of the Evolution of FSSP
by Chris Andrew
Little did I know in June 1982, when I agreed to direct the Farming
Systems Support Project if the University of Florida was chosen as lead
entity, how often I would experience both pleasure and pain over the
ensuing five years. Pleasure and pain come with growth and change in an
area where the course is not well-charted, as in the case of FSSP with its
opportunities captured and foregone.
In July of 1982, the University of Florida was selected to organize a
support network to assist the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) with farming systems research and extension (FSR/E).
The mandate and mission for the Farming Systems Support Project (FSSP) was
not specified other than to assist the Agency with its various FSR/E
projects. Consensus about farmina systems seemed to be a long way
in the future.
Formulation of a support network was left to the lead entity and its
ability to collaborate with other institutions. The first joy came in
working with the FSSP support entities that became 25 in number: 4 private
firms and 21 universities. Competition for leadership of the project was
soon followed by collaboration in the network. This support entity network
emerged with a memorandum of agreement, an advisory council, a technical
committee and numerous support functions. Many people wanted to be
involved in the network. The support entities expected to be strengthened
programatically because of involvements with the project. Each
participating institution identified a program leader, an administrative
coordinator and program associates to facilitate institutional affiliation
with FSSP and to coalesce their own respective programs. Resources through
departments, centers and programs at these institutions were committed to
strengthening the U.S. domestic capacity to provide support to AID farming
systems activities through the FSSP. Financial gain was not an anticipated
benefit of participation in FSSP. This attitude provided the basis for
establishing a unique network among U.S. universities and institutions for
international work, profoundly different than any previously developed.
While the purpose of the project has been to deliver technical
assistance, training and network development to the third world,
particularly in Africa, one of the important results of its organization
and collaborative activity is the established network support capability -
the FSSP Network within the United States as a support system for USAID.
Sometimes concern and criticism relative to the synthesis and delivery
process has clouded our collective vision of this powerful network. FSSP
has collectively developed its own identity, mission and methodology. Its
mission and methodology evolved to support FSR/E; but more resulted.
Paper presented at the Farming Systems Research Symposium, October 18-21,
1987 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, U.S.A.
2Director, Farming Systems Support Project, University of Florida,
Gainesville, Florida. U.S.A
Processes involved in the methodology of the network became something
to imitate by the various participating institutions, non-participating
institutions and other networks. A long list of specific processes being
used would include at least:
1) Approaches to establishing learning environments in short course
settings tailored to specific clientele needs.
2) Methods for the development of training materials.
3) Approaches to the development of case studies.
4) Approaches to regional collaboration among bilateral contract
institutions, particular within the USAID umbrella but also
including organization and participation in cooperative support
with international agricultural research centers, various
international donors and national agricultural
ministries and government organizations.
5) Technical committee linkages where the committee serves as the FSR/E
conscience while consulting with the FSSP.
6) A functional biodata system in an environment that is sensitive to
misuse of such information.
7) Information management relative to activity reports such that
ready access to human and other resource information is
8) Effective tri-lingual newsletters capable of providing information
to recipients as well as information from recipients to be
transmitted throughout the network of multidisciplinary and
multi-country field-level practitioners.
9) Multidisciplinary collaboration in fielding training and technical
assistance teams including both biophysical and socioeconomic
10) Establishment of a documentation systems for ephemeral or fugitive
literature made available through bibliographies and microfiche
to long distance and remote locations where Farming Systems
Research and Extension work is underway in third world countries.
Early work in the FSSP was facilitated by well-qualified management on
the part of the Science and Technology Bureau, USAID. The attitude was
facilitative and flexible, allowing rapid emergence of mission-level
programming and diagnostic work to determine project direction. Since the
FSSP began without the mandated direction of the CRSP programs, bilateral
contracts and other technical support activities, FSSP's collaborative
management approach was essential. The intent of its cooperative agreement
was being served. Given both the diagnostic and design orientation of
early demands on the project, as well as the need to immediately move into
the field, collaborative management from the lead entity drew its advisory
support through the support entities and the Agency. The three-member
advisory council was sufficiently small to take quick action and was able
to do so readily with the cooperative direction provided by the USAID/S&T
project manager and the FSSP director and core staff at the University of
Florida. The functional agreement was that each of the three major actors
(project manager, director's office, advisory council) had a specific role
to play and that overlap or turf issues would be minimized based upon
1. The project manager agreed to manage USAID relations, provide
leadership and training to the core staff in establishing mission
level linkages, and to oversee contract office interactions to meet
USAID mission demands. The project manager also took responsibility
for developing and maintaining linkages with AID's regional bureaus
relative to project planning and general collaboration.
2. The project director and core staff were responsible primarily for
bringing the program and support demension to bear on USAID needs at
the mission level. Particular emphasis was on the substantive- and
content-oriented issues of FSR/E and the linkage issues associated
with involving varied university and complementary resources with
problem solving and overall support.
3. The advisory council was a sounding board and source of information
for structuring the support entity network to provide sustained
collaboration with a mission orientation to serve USAID needs. The
council interacted with the establishment of the technical
committee, working groups and various programming aspects that
emerged from those two activities to provide leadership for the
process of synthesis, consensus and growth in the area of
methodology of FSR/E.
This major accomplishment was achieved between January and October 1983
and the structure was fully functioning by October of 1984. An impact of
FSSP on FSR/E consensus and thought was felt by programs in various parts
of the world due to linkage of the technical committee to networks in other
continents. It was further strengthened in 1985 and 1986 by the addition
of representives from the regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America to the
FSSP technical committee. From this base, participation by numerous
program associates (or faculty) within the support entity structure,
especially in the development and review of training materials, further
intensified a synthesis-to-consensus process. The consensus was free and
open (as opposed to a closed activity), bringing new demensions into focus
and eliminating disruptive "noise" in the system. The process recognized
and accepted varied forms of on-farm research and extension methodology
necessary for unique biophysical and socioeconomic environments.
AID programming for farming systems shifted away from worldwide support
efforts to emphasis on West Africa, a role the Agency was ill-prepared to
assume. Both the FSSP management and the various support entities had
something to learn about potential networking and training development in
West Africa. Nevertheless, the situation was no more impossible than it
might have been in other areas of the world as they began similar
activities in previous decades. Language and varied degrees of research
capability, among other constraints, were networking challenges. Adaptive
work by excellent people (led by Susan Poats) in collaboration with
national entities represented by and through AID missions, stimulated
program emergence much more rapidly than most people anticipated. It was
not as rapid, however, as others desired in terms of establishing commodity
networks in the region.
An important West African regional network did emerge. Participants in
several regional activities identified the need for emphasis on mixed crop
and livestock systems. To that end FSSP resources, in collaboration with
those from international donors and the International Livestock Center for
Africa (ILCA), established a network of interested research and extension
scientists that can perform effectively in the future if support is
sustained until the overall program reaches maturity. Deliberate action
and patience has paid off with careful identification of African leaders to
participate in the network. Patience is required because these individuals
are busy in their respective national programs and cannot give undivided
attention to regional networks. It is recognized that regional
participation will provide valuable input to the collaborating scientists.
Likewise, direction for such an organization must come from national
participants or a long-term sustained effort cannot be achieved. To that
end steering committees and leaders have been drawn from nationals, which
slows the process but makes it more secure. Only now at the close of Phase
I of FSSP have these results begun to take-off. While productive workshops
and considerable interest have emerged, it is now that the process can
begin to bear fruit in terms of long-term research contributions and
cooperation. This process however, probably would need at least five more
years of support to become fully self-sustained. Financial support from
other governments such as the German's and Canadian's, is greatly
appreciated by the network and may lead to a viable long-term organization.
Numerous other interactions could be mentioned where collaborative
efforts, direct involvement and backstop by FSSP support entities has been
exemplary. Collaboration relative to programming for Asia was outstanding,
yet no funding emerged to support an Asian program. That collaboration and
cooperation remains as a particularly capable source for support to USAID
should the Agency decide to use it.
A caution is in order as we consider the final days of FSSP Phase I and
a future for the US Network. That is the trust that has been established
within the support entity system. It is unique and sometimes delicate.
Misuse of biodata, for example, can injure the trust. Selection of one
support entity over others to perform a task of pervasive importance
without collaboration and communication relative to that selection process
can injure the collaborative relationship. With considerable care a
relationship that focuses on multidisiplinary involvements in FSR/E has
been established which will definitely outlive FSSP regardless of the
funding horizon. This unique resource, if nurtured, can provide a support
base to USAID and others over a long period of time. To maintain interest
within this support base only minor financial investments are necessary.
To ignore the base, however, will send a signal to those who have given
unselfishly of their institutional and personal resources to the program.
It is impossible to say what the absolute dollar match by USAID
missions, other donors, support entities, IARCs and national programs has
been to FSSP activity. The project has stimulated the mobilization of many
human and information resources at minimal cost to the project but often at
substantial cost to collaborating entities. Yet, FSSP has been criticized
at times because mission buy-ins have not been of a level competitive with
other projects in USAID. The project has been managed so that
administrative and bureaucratic maneuvers were minimized, including
exchange of funds. In many cases this has removed the need for handling
funds through extra contract offices and agents as well as with
international money exchanges and transfers. The goal has been to manage
the funds as close to the client activity as possible.
Careful study of the overall record indicates that not only mission
funds have been extended at the point of delivery of mission-demanded
activity, but that funding matches have come from bilateral contractors
both in the field and at the home institution. It is impossible to
identify the extent to which these matches have augmented the resource base
of the FSSP. Nevertheless, the multiplier effects have been considerable
and numerous hours have been "freely" contributed to activities such as
work groups, task forces, training unit development teams, symposia,
councils and technical committees where no federal monies have been
expended. The States, their universities, their offices of International
Agricultural Programs, their departments and their faculties have viewed
FSSP as a worthwhile investment. This may come as a surprise to some, but
the attitude in delivering such support is very positive and conducive to
an active and productive multidisciplinary and multi-institutional core of
program associates. Most of these people did not know each other in 1982,
but now function intensively as colleagues across many disciplinary and
While interaction and collaboration provide for information and
experience exchanges in a network, discriptive data of activities and
actors is another measure of networking success. For FSSP, the important
facilitative activities have included newsletters, network papers,
bibliographies, document holdings, symposia, workshops/shortcourses,
consultancies, biodata searches, cables/telexes information requests and
training materials. The inventory does not account for the many activities
held in response to FSR/E needs by the support entities. A summary of the
FSSP baseline data covering 1982-1987 follows.
Newsletters 20 issues in English, 20 issues in French, 20 issues in
Spanish (Each language carried distinct material for the regional
orientation); readership was about 20,000 per mailing of 5,000 including
all three languages; thus over 5 years more than 20,000 people read 20
different letters for a total of more than 400,000 interactions. In these
letters, articles on varied FSR/E topics evolved from more than 75 authors.
Practitioner participation in the newsletter provided content on the
cutting edge of FSR/E methodology, as well as ongoing discussion of issues
related to diagnosis, design and analysis of on-farm experimentation.
Support Entity News FSSP helped support the worldwide Farming Systems
Symposium at Kansas State University and the University of Arkansas, as
well as a Gender Issues Conference at the University of Florida. More than
1,500 people attended these meetings, which not only facilitated an
information exchange but also resulted in proceedings, published for broad
distribution. In five years more than 40 countries were represented at
Network Papers Various network publications have been prepared from
practitioner research, network meetings and workshops with distribution to
a practitioner audience targeted from the FSSP mailing list, shortcourse
and workshop participants and others who have requested them. Before the
series was discontinued, 15 Networking Papers were issued. Four
Networkshop Reports, proceedings from major workshop activities, were also
published and distributed, primarily in Africa.
Farming Systems Bibliographies Two major efforts went forward in
documentation. The first was a bibliographical listing published by Kansas
State University including 1950 items, accompanied by an Africa-specific
bibliography of 485 items selected from the main volume. Efforts on the
bibliography continue today with the addition of another major collection
of works. The second effort was coordinated through the Technical
Committee of the FSSP, encompassing review and selection of items for
inclusion in FSSP's Bibliography of Readings in Farming Systems. Three
volumes were issued in Spanish and French and four volumes were issued in
English to the entire FSSP mailing list of more than 5000. More than 850
documents were reviewed in this process including hundreds contributed by
farming systems practitioners worldwide and the balance selected from the
Kansas State Bibliography. In the four resulting English volumes 419
documents were selected for annotation. The AID Document Information and
Handling Facility (DIHF) will continue to handle requests for the FSSP
Bibliographies and their contents beyond FSSP Phase I and into the future.
(Similarly, Kansas State University will continue to distribute and harbor
proceedings of the Annual Symposium through an agreement with the
University of Arkansas.)
Document Holdings All of the above bibliographic listing are available in
the Kansas State Universtiy FSR/E documentation center. From that holding
1550 articles are in microfiche for "at cost" purchase by individuals or
libraries desiring to establish an FSR/E reference facility of both
published and ephemeral materials.
Workshops/Shortcourses Courses and workshops have varied greatly in
length, topic, location and numbers of participants. FSSP has led or made
major contributions to workshops and short courses in 22 countries with a
total of 676 participants.
Training Materials Fifteen slide-tape modules (in English, Spanish and
French) were produced as supplemental training materials, the basis for
further discussion of specific topics. Methodological steps of the FSR/E
approach were the basis for contents of these modules. More than 600 sets
were produced for distribution, involving more than 40,000 slides.
The primary training materials developed by FSSP were sets of training
units including 3 volumes with a supplemental trainers guide. Development
and testing of these units was an intensive effort on the part of FSSP
program associates, core staff, technical committee members, and scores of
practitioner throughout the world. The systhesis and analysis that has
gone into the training units truly represents FSR/E state-of-the-art. The
units have undergone extensive testing and revision which has resulted in
the integration of livestock and economic analysis concerns into the units.
A fourth volume remains to be completed before year's end.
Technical Assistance Project design and evaluation teams, as well as
training needs assessments and program development consultancies, have
involved 66 teams and 124 team members in assignments in 14 countries where
FSSP was the leader or major contributor to the activity.
Visitors Short term visits to FSSP headquarters were managed as short
term training activities lasting from one hour to several days. These were
non-formal (not shortcourse) but tailored training encounters that involved
more than 1500 visitor days over the first four years of the project.
Visitors came to the FSSP from 40 countries.
Biodata Searches Biodata on FSR/E practitioners processed and available
through FSSP included 798 individuals, and 143 searches provided
information to various users, USAID being the heaviest.
Telex/Cable Communication Without telex and cable service the FSSP would
not have responded in a timely manner to various requests and delivery
activities. The files show that more than 700 communications resulted in
Information Requests General information requests by telephone and letter
have averaged over seven per day or more than 10,000 since fall of 1982.
It would be incorrect to say that the FSSP has institutionalized FSR/E
within the 25 cooperating support entities. Yet the essence of the FSSP
goes well beyond the input data given above. The FSSP has provided a
mechanism for faculty members with interests in farming systems to
collaborate as well as communicate with practitioners from around the
world. It is not an institutional network per se, but it is a network of
faculty belonging to an important institutional resource base. FSR/E, it
must be remembered, is methodology, not an institutional construct. The
institutional dimensions enjoyed by FSSP result from the strength of the
participating institutions and the various parent entities affiliated with
those institutions, (such as the Land Grant Association and AUSUDIAP, the
professional societies such as those of agronomy, agricultural economics,
and others), along with a host of other inter-institutional mechanisms.
Somehow the right ingredients formed within the FSSP to provide for a
unique congruity of thoughts and practices in the support network to
achieve support for FSR/E based USAID programs and FSR/E programs of other
donors. The United States Agency for International Development can take
considerable credit for initiating a project that has stimulated this
unprecedented collaboration. While FSR/E as a methodology is here to stay,
the network support and broad based institutional needs to support
agricultural research and extension remain tenuous at best.
Future support efforts in AID and through the donor community will
surely benefit from study of the FSSP experience.