WOMEN, THE CROPPING CHAIN, AND FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH
IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA: SOME EXPERIENCES FROM NIGERIA*
George O.I. Abalu
Farming Systems Research Programme
Institute for Agricultural Research
Ahmadu Bello University
Sub-saharan Africa is a vast sub-region of Africa
comprising countries that vary considerably in terms of
culture, political and social structure as well as in terms
of historical background, size, population, resource endowment,
and income level. Over the past decade there has been
considerable disquiet about the steeply declining levels of
food and agricultural production in the countries of the
The sub-region presently has the distinction of having
the highest population growth rate in the world. This fact
coupled with a rapid rate of urbanization is resulting in a
rapid increase in the number of people that are seriously
under-nourished. The per capital calorie intake in most
countries in the sub-region falls below minimum nutritional
standards. The frigile nutritional balance presently obtaining
in a number of them leaves little room for natural or man-made
disasters (Abalu, 1983). As a result of this situation, the
probability that misdirected agricultural development policies
would result in considerable human misery in these countries
is quite high.
The economic morass towards which the countries are
collectively drifting has triggered a wide assortment of
government policies aimed at stimulating agricultural production.
*Paper for Farming Systems Support Program Seminar, University
of Florida, Gainsville, Florida, October 16, 1984.
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These have often taken the form of government intervention
to influence production, consumption and exchange.
Many writers on the agricultural scene in Africa now
appear to be convinced that many of these growth oriented
policies being implemented are,not producing the effects
that were intended. For example, a recent World Bank sponsored
report on the subject concludes that the "internal structural
problems and the external factors impeding African economic
growth have been exacerbated by domestic policy inadequacies"
(The World Bank, 1981).
Some of the most frequently mentioned policy inadequacies
include inappropriate trade and exchange rate policies, and
bias against agriculture in price, tax and exchange rate
policies. While these policy inadequacies may be useful
in explaining the sources of stagnation in sub-saharan
agricultural development at different times and in different
countries, one very important but less frequently discussed
policy inadequacy is the universal neglect of the role and
potential of women in the development efforts of these
In many of them, peasant women are still viewed as
an appendage to their menfolk to be sustained in times of
stress by extended families and supported in times of need
by the cash incomes of husbands and relatives. The recognized
assignment of women is therefore, primarily taking care of
domestic chores and child bearing. Anyone who has any
knowledge about peasant women in Africa knows that this
view of African women is as much a myth in Africa as it is
anywhere else in the world. The usefulness of women as a
development resource in the countries in the sub-region has
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never been fully appreciated. Yet the solution of the food
problem in the sub-region depends to a large extent on
improving the productivity of all workers, including women,
who are both farmers and partners in farm decision-making
It has already been indicated that the sub-region has
the highest population growth rate of any sub-region in
the world. Germain (1975) argues that reduction of this high
population growth rates would be facilitated if women's
dependence on large numbers of children can be reduced by
increasing their productivity and providing alternative
sources of status and security.
In the section that follows,the nature of the
"cropping chain" operating in the sub-region is examined
and important intra-household linkages in the chain are
identified. Section III examines how the cropping chain
can be enhanced by activating important intra-household
linkages through a Farming Systems Research (FSR) approach.
Experiences from a Nigerian effort to institutionalize a
viable FSR program are presented in Section IV. The
presentation is made not so much to demonstrate a gender
sensitive FSR program (which it is not) but to expose a
working FSR program which is largely gender neutral but
which is capable of stimulating thinking on how a FSR program
can be made to be gender sensitive.
The summary and conclusions of the paper are presented
in the final section.
II. WOMEN AND THE CROPPING CHAIN
The prevailing cropping system in an area reflects the
way farmers in that area organize their resources to produce
crops and the various factors which affect the nature of
- r-n-c- S
this organization. Since the majority of farmers in the
sub-region consume what they produce, the crops that emerge
from an operating cropping system determine what is consumed
and when it is available for consumption. The crops that are
produced and consumed, in turn, provide food for the family
and energy for work and survival of family members. It is
these relationships which are collectively depicted as
the "cropping chain" in this paper.
The cropping chain is in reality an integral part of
a global household strategy of economic diversification
which also involves livestock activities and non-farm
employment. Farmers allocate family and hired labour to
different crops, livestock enterprises and non-farm
activities to secure as nearly as possible a year round
food supply, adequate diets, and appropriate cash flows.
Operating cropping patterns will influence global
household strategies in a multitude of ways. For example,
different cropping patterns will have different labour
needs that will influence the allocation of time within
and between households and provide employment, and hence,
incomes for landless peasants and their families.
Although the distinction between cash and subsistent
crops is becoming increasingly spurious in most of the
countries in the sub-region, some crops can still be
identified as being cultivated mainly for sale. The income
derived from the sale of these crops provides a means for
purchasing additional or more varied goods and for meeting
other financial obligations of the farming household, The
interaction of land, labour and cash inputs between
subsistence and cash crops will influence the extent and
nature of the marketable and marketed surplus, and hence, the
generation of incomes in the rural communities.
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Emerging cropping patterns and the attendant patterns
of diversified income strategies are dependent on inter-household
linkages and intra-household relations.
The extremely poor record of development administrators
in achieving significant improvements in operating cropping
systems, and hence in the welfare of the majority of
peasants in Third World countries in general, and African
countries in particular, would suggest the need for a more
imaginative development approach designed to impact on
larger numbers of african peasants not only through direct
increases in physical production, but also through indirect
means such as employment creation, improvements in
nutritional status, and introduction of self-sustaining
social support systems.
Such a strategy must take into account the diversity
in potential beneficiaries in resource holdings and therefore
in ability to adopt and respond to economic incentives
(Longhurst, 1980). In the African context, this diversity
often manifests itself vividly in terms of men's and
women's interests and they usually have very important
implications for agricultural development in terms of
income differentials by sex and how these differentials
translate into phenomena such as production, equity, and
There is now a considerable body of evidence to suggest
that particular policy choices and technological innovations
do in fact impact male and female wage rates and employment
opportunities in Africa quite differently due to cultural
norms that operate and define appropriate social status and
behaviour for males and females (Peters, 1984).
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Raynaut (1980) asserts that these differences, at least
as far as Niger is concerned are usually neither the result
of chance nor of the dynamism of the two groups, Rather
they represent the means by which the different social
positions are expressed and they correspond not only to
institutional situations (aristocratic, traditional land
use riguts) but also to active strategies.
This raises significant questions not only of the
productive capacity of households, but also of equity among
households and among larger social groups. As Peters (1984)
suggests, internal composition of the household and the role
of women become key subjects of enquiry in the large
project of understanding rural production systems and
how to improve upon them,
III. MODIFYING THE CROPPING CHAIN THROUGH
FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH
Why Farming Systems Research?
Because of the failures of national and international
efforts at alleviating poverty from the low income countries
of the developing world, there has been an evolution of
development thinking and experience which now emphasizes the
(1) The small farmer remains the pivot of developmental
activity in most of these developing countries.
(2) There is a necessity to re-examine national
planning approaches in these countries to ensure
that "development from below" is efficiently
supported by "decision making from above"
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(3) The break through in science which brought about
advances in the agriculture of the developed
countries of the world have resulted in an
increased emphasis on specialization which has
inevitably channelled agricultural research in
developing countries into progressively more
restricted problem areas which in turn has been
accompanied by an undesirable decrease in
communication both between and within disciplinary
The above thinking and experiences imply that future and
existing development nrogrammes for the agricultural and
rural sectors of developing countries should focus more on
the dynamics of small scale farm operations with a more
holistic and inter-disciplinary understanding. This fact
highlights the need for new research orientations for developing
agriculture in the third world and improving the welfare of
the citizens who inhabit it. The required approach would
need to refocus and re-orient research specifically to the
small farm sector, benefiting from past elementalist efforts
where necessary, but drastically altering past research and
development strategies in favour of developing integrated
sets of technologies which are relevant to farmer situations
and circumstances. Farming Systems Research (FSR) is now
receiving a lot of attention and interest as having considerable
potential for providing the needed impetus in this direction,
What is Farming Systems Research?
A system may be defined as a set of interrelated parts
linked together in a functional manner such that the various
components interact with each other thus reflecting the
characteristics by which the system as a whole is identified.
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The systems approach to the solution of farm problems in
third world countries gained considerable world wide attention
beginning in the mid seventies as a result of the persistent
inabilities of these countries to meet their food and raw
The three principal elements that distinguish farming
systems research from traditional agricultural research are
the fact that (Rohrbach, 1980)
it involves an explicit attempt to understand the
farm, the farmer, and the farm environment as a
system of interdependent parts;
it initiates the research process with an attempt
to analyse the characteristics of representative
target farmers and target villages; and
it permits the entire process of research, including
the analysis of the farming systems, the technology
development and testing, and the verification of
the results, to be carried out by interdisciplinary
teams of social and biological scientists.
Theoretically, the processes involved in FSR should be
viewed as concerned with the interrelations of all the
interacting components which make up the farming systems in
an area: the land itself and the structure of farms and
fields imposed on it, the climatic and soil fertility
influences which operate, the labour resource and how it is
used, the capital available for farm improvement and the
relationships with input delivery marketing and extension
services, social structure, etc. In practice, however, this
is far too vague and there is need to focus on delimiting
the constraints which operate in a precisely definable
farming system and designing and testing technologies
which would alleviate these constraints (Fisher, et al., 1980).
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Stages in Farming Systems Research
There are four distinguishable stages that are relevant
for the implementation of an effective Farming Systems
Research Programme at the National Agricultural Research
Institute of a Third World country. The outline of these
stages are presented below. It should, however, be
emphasized that the stages are not necessarily mutually
exhaustive nor are they equally important for all institutes
and for all areas. The particular stage or combination of
.stages that are relevant to a particular national agricultural
research institute or for a particular area would depend on
what information and research results are already available.
This stage of the FSR process can also be called
exploratory research. It is aimed at understanding the
agricultural problems in a particular area and identifying
the key agricultural constraints that are responsible for
inhibiting rapid increases in production on farms in the
area. This stage of the research is usually carried out
very quickly lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a few
months but certainly with a duration not exceeding one year.
The primary objective of the diagnostic research is to
quickly gather information about farming problems and
constraints in an area by visiting and talking to farmers
right on their farms and in their homes.
On the basis of the research carried out in this stage,
it would be possible to come up with a tentative description
of the farming practices farmers follow in a particular
area and a good understanding of why the farmers in the area
follow these practices. Because the farming problems in
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an area are complex and interdependent, it would be desirable
for the diagnostic research to be undertaken by an
interdisciplinary team. This team should normally comprise
but not necessarily limited to an agronomist, an economist
and a sociologist. By the time the team finishes its work,
it should come up with concrete and practical suggestions of
what needs to be done to remove the problems and constraints
they have identified for the area. These suggestions
together with a description of the.problems and constraints
identified for the area are then taken to the research
station for the design of solutions.
The research to be carried out in this stage which may
also be called Technology Design Research, is aimed at
putting together a set of recommendations that stand a good
chance of removing the constraints that have been identified
for the area and, hence, solving the agricultural production
problems of the area. Quite often these recommendations
are already available at the research stations and it is
just a matter of.putting them together in an innovative and
relevant manner. At other times the possible solutions to
the problems identified may not already exist at the research
institute. In this case, it would be the responsibility
of the institute to direct that research efforts be
concentrated at finding solutions to the identified problems
At this stage of the research process, the research
activities are carried out right on the farmers' farms
to test and verify the effectiveness of the recommendations
that have been proposed earlier on at the research stations.
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- 11 -
The primary objective here is to see if the recommendations
would actually eliminate the problems and constraints that
have been already identified as being the main reasons why
agricultural production cannot be increased rapidly in the
Mass Adoption Activities
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What goes on at this stage is not really agricultural
research as such, but an action programme aimed at
ensuring that the recommended practices.that have been put
together and tested on a small number of farms can be
replicated over a large number of farms in the area.
It is obvious that it would be impossible to achieve
mass adoption of improved recommended practices without
operational and effective national or state agricultural
support services and institutions. It is for this reason
that it is extremely important for the Farming Systems
Research Programmes of National Research Institutes to be
properly aligned to those of the agricultural development
process already in motion in an area.
IV. FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH EXPERIENCES
FROM NORTHERN NIGERIA*
Agricultural research traditions in Northern Nigeria,
go back to 1922, when Samaru served as a regional research
station and as the headquarters of the Department of
Agriculture of the Northern Provinces. Actual research
*This section draws freely Abalu and Raza (1984).
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in Samaru started in 1924 with the appointment of technical
staff (the first being a botanist). In 1957.agricultural
research became the responsibility of the Research and,
Specialist Division of the Ministry of Agriculture of the
Northern Region of Nigeria. The Institute for Agricultural
Research (IAR) was established in 1962 with the transfer
of this Division from the Ministry to Ahmadu Bello
Since then-the focus of research at IAR has been moving
gradually from multi-disciplinary undertakings to inter-
disciplinary endeavours. In this respect, three distinct
but interrelated stages can be identified.
The first stage emphasized multi-disciplinary research.
Before the establishment of IAR, research was mainly
concentrated on technical problems i.e. on the physical
and biological aspects of farm problems within a multi-
disciplinary framework with little or no coordination
between the technical scientists and with a conspicuous
absence of the social science disciplines related to
agriculture. An almost similar situation continued after
the establishment of IAR in 1962 till 1965 when the Rural
Economy Research Unit (RERU) was established.
The second stage involved a gradual appreciation of
inter-disciplinary research. Originally, research at IAR
was mainly organized on a department basis which served
as a nucleus for both teaching (for the Faculty of Agriculture)
and research (for IAR). Staffing and funding both from
the Faculty and IAR (which incidentally came from different
sources) were merged at the departments level. Research
priorities were mainly determined by the departments
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concerned while coordination and cooperation between the
physical, biological and social scientists was limited and
was mainly confined within the boundaries of individual
disciplines. However, inter-disciplinary focus was not
completely absent, but was provided in the form of an
umbrella by the governing bodies of the Institute namely
the Board of Governors, and the Professional and Academic
Board. Research programmes are drawn up by the sub-committees
of the Professional and Academic Board which are mainly
organized on crop basis. These committees are inter-
disciplinary in orientation and encourage an inter-
disciplinary approach to the solution of farm problems.
RERU (later the Agricultural Economics and Rural
Sociology Department) was represented in all the above
research committees, and this helped to provide a social
science perspective to the understanding of the technical
problems confronting each research committee. In addition
this unit particularly used an inter-disciplinary approach
in its research programme, drawing on the discipline of
rural sociology, geography and agricultural economics.
However, the technical scientists of the Institute did
not often actively involve themselves in the research
programmes of the Department and RERU. This was a serious
gap which needed to be closed with the passage of time.
The third stage involved a major effort to reorganize
research at IAR. In 1975 ABU was federalized. Correspondingly,
a new statute for IAR (1976) stressing the need for farming
systems research following an inter-disciplinary approach
defined the present role of IAR as follows: "To conduct
research into the development of farming systems which
involve crops of savannah ecological zones and result in
- 1)4 -
the maintenance or in improvement of the soil resources,
and especially in the production and products of sorghum,
millet, maize, wheat and barley; cowpeas and soybeans (in
coordination with other Institutes); groundnut and sesame
and other oilseeds of economic-importance; cotton and
other vegetable fibre of economic importance; tree and
horticultural crops and shall in particular conduct
research into....the technical social and economic
integration of cultivation of the crops into farming
systems in different ecological zones and their impact
on the economy." Thus the new statute provided the
necessary framework to reorganize and revitalized research
along inter-disciplinary lines by removing the institute
from a rigid departmental structure to more dynamic crop
based programmes. The necessary inter-disciplinary
communication between programmes was achieved through
Research Review Committees (RRC's) identified for each
programme. Each programme is headed by a Leader and the
RRC which he presides over is comprised of at least a
breeder, an agronomist, a soil scientist, a crop
protectionist, an agricultural engineer, an agricultural
economist/rural sociologist and an extension specialist.
Attendance of RRC meetings is open to all IAR research staff.
The RRC prepares research projects for the approval of
the Professional and Academic Board and draws up research
plans which reflect the priorities prescribed by the Governors.
The Farming Systems Research Programme (FSRP) is at
the centre of this major reorganization at IAR as all the
research activities of the other programmes have a direct
bearing on its activities.
Objectives of the FSR Programme
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The overall objective of the FSRP of the institute
is to provide a good understanding of the farmer, his farm,
and the total environment in which he operates, as a system
of interdependent parts with a view to evolving improved
agricultural technologies which are relevant to his felt
needs and problems.
This broad objective is being achieved through a
number of sub-plrogrammes operating within the following
set of procedures:
Identify the constraints operating to limit
output of a particular farming system in the area
of responsibility of the Institute.
Evaluate, on the basis of existing information,
possible technologies which might overcome the
most important constraints) of farmers in the
Test, usually on farmers' fields, the technologies
which appear to be appropriate and then either;
reject the technologies and try something
modify them and try again, or
accept them and propose the necessary institutional
and social action to facilitate their adoption
(extension, input delivery, extension, marketing,
social reorganization, etc).
Hook up the successful technologies into an
on-going Agricultural Development Project or
Programme to achieve mass production.
- 15 -
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Monitor the adoption process and either;
continue to modify the technology as necessary,
be prepared to try something else if despite
the existing on-farm research results, the
technology is not widely adopted or,
identify and propose solutions for the next
most important constraint if the technology
is being adopted.
To facilitate the achievement of the general objective
of the programme, its activities are being carried out
under a number of sub-programmes, each with a coordinator.
The present structure of the programme and its sub-programmes
are discussed below.
Diagnostic Studies Sub-programme
The activities of this sub-programme are aimed at
providing an understanding of relevant.farming systems and
agricultural problem areas with a view to identifying the
key constraints that must be removed if agricultural.
production in the area is to be significantly increased and
the welfare of the farmers meaningfully improved.
The project areas in this sub-programme are as follows:
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S I ~ %
The exploratory surveys have the following specific
(1) Identify the important cropping systems in
different ecological zones in the mandated
research areas of the institute.
(2) Describe these systems with respect to:
(a) Crop composition and intensity,
(b) Cultural and agronomic rationality.
(c) Economic and social logic.
(3) Utilize the knowledge so obtained in shaping
cropping systems work at the institute.
The relevant areas of emphasis include but are not
necessarily limited to the following:
(1) Soil and rotational aspects: type of soil,
length of cropping and fallow.
(2) The cropping patterns: arrangement of crops in
time and space.
(3) Cultivation practices: power source, tools used,
timing and phasing of farming operations.
(4) Fertility maintenance: manurial, fertilizer, and
other practices used to maintain fertility.
(5) Labour use: source and profile, family or hired?,
labour requirements in relation to the season,
priorities for labour allocation.
(6) Other inputs: source and use.
(7) Harvesting practices: when, how, and why?
(8) Pests and diseases: types, occurence, effects
and control measures applied.
Although major emphasis is placed on the above aspects
in the surveys, serious consideration is also been given
to other relevant items in the farming systems whenever
possible. Items of importance in this regard include:
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Ajiroaw DOA K
(1) Storage and utilization of crops and crop
residues: subsistence requirements, marketable
surplus, marketed surplus, utilization of
residues, insect pest and disease problems in
(2) Product and input prices.
(3) Institutional factors: agricultural development
projects, extension programmes, credit facilities,
input delivery systems, government policies, etc.
(4) Food consumption and preferences.
(5) Population: settlement pattern, population
(6) Local industry and non-farm occupations.
From time to time there arises demand for fairly
restricted types of surveys to identify and provide answers
to specific constraints and problem areas. For example,
a particular weed problem or insect problem could arise on
which very little documented knowledge exists. It becomes
necessary to embark on a quick survey of the problem to
produce the required knowledge on which subsequent research
work would be based. While the general procedures to be
followed on these types of surveys are quite similar to
those used on the more orthodox exploratory surveys discussed
earlier, the precise procedures followed varies depending
on the particular problem area under consideration.
Another area in which a broad based research strategy
that cuts across the whole programme is needed is in the
development of appropriate methods of data collection,
processing, and analysis. Because farming systems research
is a relatively new type of research strategy, there is need
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to evolve relevant and effective procedures of data collection,
processing and analysis in support of the overall objective
of the programme. Appropriate procedures on data collection,
processing ani analysis need to be developed and standardized.
To this end, a project area concentrating on evolving
appropriate data computing systems has also been built into
the diagnostic sub-programme.
On-station Studies Sub-programme
Studies carried out in this sub-programme are designed
to examine the range of strategies that are thought to be
relevant in dealing with the constraints identified in the
diagnostic-studies sub-programme as well as other constraints
which may -have made themselves known through other processes.
Ideally most of the basic information needed in this
sub-programme should be available from the body of existing
knowledge. It is however quite reasonable to expect that
there may exists situations where the needed knowledge would
have to be generated from scratch. In any case, the major
emphasis of studies in this sub-programme is centred around
testing possible improved cropping systems into which
productive technologies can be fitted. The systems of
direct relevance to this sub-programme include but are not
necessarily limited to; mixed-cropping systems, sole cropping
systems, and irrigated cropping systems. Consequently,
the project areas under this sub-programme include:
Mixed cropping systems
Sole cropping systems
Irrigated cropping systems
On-farm Studies Sub-programme
This sub-programme concerns itself primarily with evaluating
promising strategies arising from the work of researchers in
the on-station studies sub-programme, other programmes of the
institute and other research institutes in and outside the
country. Research in the sub-programme is designed to
test recommendations originating from all these sources.
Particular attention is paid to those recommendations and
strategies which may be useful in removing the constraints
faced by farmers under the jurisdiction of the institute.
It is expected that by removing these constraints, desirable
and acceptable changes would be produced in the existing
farming systems in the area.
The recommendations and improvements being subjected
to evaluation are normally arrived at through a careful
evaluation of the range of constraints and problems actually
facing farmers. In other words, on-farm studies carried
out in this sub-programme are, whenever possible, based on
previous research efforts in the design stage in the on-station
sub-programme. Furthermore, on-farm studies researchers are
encouraged to, as much as possible, discuss suggested
improvements and strategies with the farmers themselves
and with the relevant extension agents operating in the area.
The research projects in this sub-programme are either
researcher-managed or farmer-managed depending on the level
of farmer involvement in carrying them out.
The project areas under this sub-programme are as
Improved mixed cropping systems
Improved sole cropping systems
Improved.-;irrigated cropping systems
Village Leve)..Studies Sub-programme
The farming systems is influenced by institutions and
structures. These institutions and structures which are
established to support or influence the farming system,
usually consist of collective action which control, limit
or liberate the actions of farmers. These include marketing,
credit, input delivery, extension, and social organization.
To be effective these institutions and structures must be
so organized and structured that they are capable of responding
adequately to improvements in the farming system. Marketing
channels, for exam-le, must operate in such a way that they
do not restrict inter-farm and inter-regional exchange of
the increased production forthcoming from an improved farming
system. Credit institutions must be responsive to the
increased cash flow needs of farming families who are willing
to adopt improved technologies. Ready access to the improved
inputs that have been recommended by all farmers is a crucial
requirement for the adoption and maintenance of high productivity.
Effective social organization would ensure that the benefits
accruable from improvements in the farming system are not
concentrated in a few hands but reach a large number of
people in the rural community, thus ensuring widespread
Whether or not food production and the welfare of farmers
can be improved through improved technologies will depend on
the establishment of a whole range of effective institutions
and social structures or the reform of existing ones to
support improved farming systems. Since the studies 'in
this sub-programme involve institutions and structures, they
normally cut access farms .located in different parts of an
area. They can be said to be village or country wide since
their impact permeates: the rest of society, Because these
studies deal mainly with policies and structured changes,
they are usually macroLoriented and involve more social
scientists than technical scientists.
The studies carried out in this sub-programme are
principally aimed at identifying institutional and social
constraints operating in the farming system in the area and
finding solutions to these constraints. The results of the
studies carried out in this sub-programme are therefore,
meant to provide information to policy makers, managers of
services and infrastructures, and other administrative
representatives who are in a position to initiate the
institutional and structural reform which are considered
necessary for the successful incorporation of improved farming
systems. In this regard, prototype institutional and social
arrangements are experimented with, usually on a small scale,
and the results and implications of these results submitted
to the appropriate authoritLes. For example, different
extension methods, input delivery systems, credit scheme,
..... aLh'tLt tn Exneriinentation with the aim of evolving
Limitations of FSR in Northern Nigeria
From the preceding discussions, it is obvious that
there are a number of limitations of the FSR strategy as
presently being institutionalized in northern Nigeria.
The- most glaring of these is the omission of the livestock
sub-system from the programme.
The importance of the livestock sub-system in
understanding the complete farming system of an area has
already received attention in this paper. Furthermore,
the view that the crop production sub-system should be
seen as being part of a larger household economic
diversification strategy involving other sub-systems -
livestock and non-farm activities was also emphasized.
Then why the omission of the livestock sub-system?
The problem is actually a structural one arising out of
the fact that national agricultural research in Nigeria is
organized along separate crop and livestock lines with
each national research institute having a mandate for a
prescribed number of crops or animals. Cooperation
between the institute responsible for livestock production
and those responsible for crop production and coordination
of their research programmes and strategies might help in
solving the problem. This is however, not yet the case.
The other major limitation of the FSR programme in
northern Nigeria is that it appears to be gender insensitive.
This omission is actually by default rather than by design.
The research environment of the Institute is largely
moslem where the activities and obligations of men and
women appear to be clearly defined. The man provides food,
family and gifts at festival times while the woman provides
labour for food.preparation, child bearing and rearing
and general domestic chores. In principle she is not
expected to work on his farms or fetch water (Longhurst,
The above arguments are however, untenable and do
not provide sufficient explanation for the lack of an
active gender content in the programme. First of all, the
argument that women do not engage in farm work is a myth
as there now exist considerable evidence to the contrary.
Secondly, it is known thnt almost all social transactions
in the area have, as fourn-.ation, an intricate web of social
The inevitable conclusion here therefore, is that the
inability of the FSR programme in northern Nigeria to
capture the role of inter-household linkages and intra-
household relations into the research process is a serious
omission which needs to be rectified. This is the more
critical as a sound understanding of important inter-
household linkages and intra-household relations is a
critical pre-requisite for projecting both the short and
long term effects of intervention strategies aimed at
improving upon farming systems.
However, the framework for a gender sensitive FSR
programme is already in place and functioning at the
Institute. What is needed is a conscientious effort to
actively capture the role of inter-household and.intra-
household relations into the overall research-process.
In this regard, an important starting point is the
movement away from the tradition-bpund:.atomistic and .
facilitating concept of"household units" or"family units"
to more appropriate-concepts and boundaries for research,
analysis, and action. This would be accomplished if it is
recognized that the most appropriate and convenient"unit
of data collection"may not necessarily coincide with those
of observation, analysis, or.intervention.
There is presently considerable anxiety over the
deteriorating food situation in sub-saharan Africa. There
is now some expectation that the national agricultural
research centres in the countries in the sub-region can
contribute towards reversing this trend and achieving the
development of the overall economies by r-assessing their
research strategies and reorganizing their research
A Farming Systems Research approach Lends itself
well as an effective research strategy for improving upon
existing cropping patterns and increasing agricultural
production. However, since women form an important aspect
of the cropping chain, any successful effort to change this
chain for the better must improve the productivity of all
workers, including women who are often both farmers and
partners in farm decision-making.
Practical experiences from northern Nigeria would
suggest that the conceptual framework of Farming Systems
Research with its inter-disciplinary focus is a reality
even for third world countries. However, a successful
Farming-Systems Research effort must make a-conscientious
effort to capture important inter- and intra-household
relations into,.the research process. An important issue in
this regard involves the correct determination of appropriate
units of observation, data collection, data analysis, and
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