Group Title: Working paper Farming Systems Research Group, Michigan State University no. 11
Title: The M.S.U. farming systems research group perspective
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095060/00001
 Material Information
Title: The M.S.U. farming systems research group perspective a summary and analysis
Series Title: Working paper Farming Systems Research Group, Michigan State University no. 11
Physical Description: 25, 3 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Adams, Walter Randolph
Michigan State University -- Farming Systems Research Group
Donor: unknown ( endowment ) ( endowment )
Publisher: Michigan State University, Farming Systems Research Group
Place of Publication: East Lansing
Publication Date: 1981
Copyright Date: 1981
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by Walter Randolph Adams.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00095060
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 317069939

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Full Text

/S 051

Farming Systems

Research Group


The Farming Systems Research Group at Michigan State University is drawn from
the departments of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural Engineering, Animal
Science, Crop and Soil Science, Food Science and Human Nutrition, Sociology,
Veterinary Medicine, and supported by the International Agriculture Institute of
M.S.U. and the U.S. Agency for International Development through a matching
strengthening grant under the Title XII program.


Farming Systems Research Group
Michigan State University

The Farming Systems Research Group at Michigan State University, supported
by Title XII Strengthening Grant Funds from the U.S. Agency for International
Development, and administered by the Institute of International Agriculture,
has included Dr. Jay Artis, Department of Sociology; Dr. Robert J. Deans,
Department of Animal Science; Dr. Merle Esmay (and Dr. Robert Wilkinson),
Department of Agricultural Engineering; Dr. Eric Crawford, Department of
Agricultural Economics; Dr. Russell Freed, Department of Crop and Soil
Sciences (also representing Horticulture); Dr. Al Pearson, Department of
Food Science and Human Nutrition; Dr. Tjaart Schillhorn van Veen, Department
of Veterinary Medicine; with Dr. George Axinn, International Studies and
Programs and Agricultural Economics, Chair; Ms. Beverly Fleisher and Walter
Randolph Adams, graduate research assistants.


by Walter Randolph Adams

Working Paper No. 11

April, 1982



Paper No.















Farming Systems Research and Agricul-
tural Economics

Farming Systems Position Paper

Livestock Systems and Animal Health

Issues in Farming Systems Research --
an Agronomist's Perspective

Farming Systems Research As It Relates
To The Animal Sciences

Farming Systems Research Position Paper

The Farming Systems Research Approach in
the Agricultural Engineering Field

Issues in Farming Systems Research --
a Multidisciplinary Behavioral Science

Farming Systems Research and
Agricultural Engineering

An M.S.U. Approach to Farming Systems

The M.S.U. Farming Systems Research
Group Perspective

A Working Bibliography on Farming
Systems Research August, 1981

Social Impact, Economic Change, and
Development -- with illustrations
from Nepal


Eric Crawford

Al Pearson

Tjaart Schillhorn van Veen

Russell Freed

Robert J. Deans

Jay Artis

Merle L. Esmay

George H. Axinn

Robert H. Wilkinson

Beverly Fleisher and
George H. Axinn

Walter Randolph Adams

George H. Axinn and
Nancy W. Axinn

Farming Systems Research Group WORKING PAPERS

The papers in this series were prepared during the 1980 1981
academic year by members of the Michigan State University Farming Systems
Research Group. Papers one through nine were prepared by individual
members of the group, after much discussion, and were reviewed by members
of the group prior to final revision by the authors. However, each of
the papers represents the author's personal perspectives on Farming
Systems Research. Each paper is different from the others. All papers
are an attempt to answer the following questions:

From the perspective of my discipline what is Farming Systems

What research has been done in my discipline which relates directly
to Farming Systems Research?

What opportunities are there for further research from the perspective
of my discipline?

What assistance would scholars from my discipline need from other
disciplines in order to carry out Farming Systems Research?

Each individual responded to these questions in his own way. Paper
number ten is an attempt to summarize the perspectives of the various
disciplines represented, identifying commonalities and differences. Paper
eleven sets forth the recommendations of the group for further work in
this field at Michigan State University.

George H. Axinn, Chair
Farming Systems Research Group
and Professor, Agricultural Economics
and Assistant Dean, International Studies
and Programs
June, 1981

The M.S.U. Farming Systems Research Group Perspective

A Summary and Analysis


Walter Randolph Adams

Farming Systems Research (F.S.R.) is a relatively new approach taken

by international development agencies to agricultural development. It is

an ancient approach from the perspective of rural farming families. Michigan

State University formed a Farming Systems Research Group in 1980, and that

group has prepared a series of working papers. The first nine of these papers

discuss F.S.R. from the various perspectives of the members, each represent-

ing a different discipline or a different focus within a discipline. This

paper serves to analyze the similarities and divergencies of the various

views presented and to summarize those none papers. It presents a brief

overview of the historical development of farming systems research in general

and its beginning at Michigan State University. We then turn to the presenta-

tion of summary statements on farming systems research as they are presented

by the individual group members. This is followed by an analysis of the

convergences and divergencies of the positions of the authors.

Historical Development

There are basically two approaches to F.S.R. A primary approach, which

Axinn has called "non-formal", is one which as been used since the beginning

of agriculture and is used by the farming family itself. Most of the

techniques employed are developed on the farm in response to specific

conditions. This approach calls for a continuous learning process of

understanding the environment, "solving the problems which face them, and making

appropriate adjustments from what they learn" (Axinn, p. 1). The second

approach has evolved over the course of the past one hundred years or so.

Axinn has called this the "formal" approach. Within this category there

are both "centralized" and "decentralized" approaches to agricultural research.

Although the particular applications of the formal approach have varied

through time, its basic theme may be described as follows: Some technique

is developed on a government-run experimental farm and then made available

to "real" farms. If the system is centralized and controlled and operated

by non-farmers, it may fail to take into consideration the particular problems

with which the farmer has to contend. When farmers themselves control formal

agricultural research, it tends to be decentralized and relates more closely

to their farming systems and their particular needs.

In earlier formal research in much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America,

the "outsider controlled" approach was used in an effort to supply the more

"developed" world with commodities such as coffee, cotton, tea, and other

cash crops. Low costs and high returns to companies in the developed countries

were the major goals of agricultural research. Experimental farms were

instituted.in many of the so-called "Third World" nations. However, these

farms tended to be concerned with the problems facing the production of

export crops. With independence of countries in Africa and Asia, the next

phase of development in agricultural research was heavily influenced by

European and North American agriculturalists. The ideology held that local

problems could be solved through the development of high-yielding varieties

of cash crops. The development strategy included attempts to encourage

farmers to purchase more agricultural inputs, such as seed, fertilizer, and

pesticides. This strategy was expected to result in increased productivity.

The record of successes of adoption of the new techniques by the local

population and consequent stimulation of local development was not as wide-

spread as wanted. There are three fundamental reasons for this lack of

success. First, the centralized approach was not sensitive to local conditions

(Axinn). Second, the development of high-yielding varieties of crops, the

introduction of sophisticated machinery and reliance on other purchased inputs

did not take into consideration the long-term impacts of these developments

on other aspects of farming. The target population was often unable to

purchase fertilizer due to high prices in relation to the local value of

the produce. The introduction of sophisticated machinery, on the other

hand, may not have considered whether the system could support such

innovation (Wilkinson). The third reason for the failures of the traditional

development programs has been mentioned by Schillhorn van Veen, who writes:

(for Third World countries) It is
very unlikely that these systems can
easily be transplanted to developing
countries since the history and social
organization in such countries differs
from those in the technologically
more developed world (p. 2)

In summary, a basic reason why earlier programs of agricultural research for

development tended not to achieve desired results can be seen in its lack of

concern for local ecosystemic conditions. The term "ecosystem," as used here,

refers to both the natural and cultural components of a system -- the

human, social, economic, political, religious, topographic, climatological,

and biological phenomena of the area under study.

Recent interest in F.S.R., then, was developed principally to take

into account the understanding of local environmental conditions. Axinn

addresses the fact that farmers adapt techniques used in their fields in

accordance with knowledge of the particular environmental limitations under

which they must work. This knowledge is the result of a non-formal, de-

centralized learning system. One of the benefits of F.S.R. over the

centralized approach is that it "is an effortto achieve some of the benefits

to farming families of the decentralized system while also maintain the

strength of the centralized system" (Axinn, p. 7). In particular, F.S.R.

attempts to do this through an understanding of a farm from a systems

perspective. The systems perspective differs from the more specialized

approaches to agricultural development in that F.S.R. looks at the farm as

being more than a sum of its parts. The more specialized approach tends to

focus on a-parttcular issue without regard for the farm as a system.

The M.S.U. Farming Systems Research Group came into existence through

Title XII Strengthening Grant support from the United States Agency for

International Development to Michigan State University. A brochure, published

by the Group, states the essence of the approach taken at M.S.U.:

The Farming Systems Research Group
is a multidisciplinary team of
practical, experienced professors,
focused on applied research on
farming from a systems perspective.
It concentrates on the needs of the
farmers in the 'developing' nations.
Cooperation with farming families and
host country research and extension
personnel are at the core of this
Michigan State University approach

The disciplines represented in the Group's core are agricultural economics,

agricultural engineering, agronomy, animal science, food science and human

nutrition, and rural sociology. Ancillary personnel from horticulture,

anthropology, business management and other disciplines are also part of

the group.

A characteristic of the M.S.U. Farming Systems Research Group is that

it focuses on the farm family ecosystem and includes diagnostic exploration

of the system, viz-a-viz the farm family; the plants and animals produced

and consumed; soil, water, and market availabilities; and the larger socio-

cultural, ecological, economic and political considerations related to the

farming system. The farm family is at the core of the investigation.

A Summary of Perspectives

We now turn to a summary of the individual papers written by the core

members of the Farming Systems Research Group at M.S.U. This summary will

provide the context for a better understanding of the convergences and

divergences of opinions expressed by the authors, which will be the focus

of the next section.

Crawford's paper notes the historical development of F.S.R. and the

benefits it offers over the traditional centralized approach to agricultural

research. He Views F.S.R. as a method which enables the more effective de-

velopment of technology for raising farm productivity as a result of improved

understanding of the farming system. Better understanding results in a more

complete knowledge of the component parts of the system; an awareness of the

goals, constraints, and processes brought in from other disciplines; and the

inclusion of the farmer's perspective. He believes that an understanding of

the farm household "will be strengthened if the scope of analysis is

broadened to incorporate formerly neglected activities and interactions

which are now recognized as crucial for understanding household behavior"

(p. 9). The analysis of the farm household's activities must be done in

such a way that it more adequately reflects reality as it is perceived by

the farm family. The knowledge of this perceived reality is effected by

realizing that there are: 1) multiple goals and a sequential decision-

making process; 2) intra-household patterns of resource allocations;

3) an interdependence between productivity and factors involving credit,

marketing, consumption, savings, and investments; 4) a long-term decision

frame-work which must incorporate uncertainty; and 5) the interaction of

the household with the larger social institutional environment of which

it is a part (p. 10). Finally, Crawford (p. 15) notes some of the current

limitations of F.S.R. Among them is the need to achieve a "better

descriptive and analytical understanding of several subsystems of farm

household activity which hitherto have often been excluded", and better

data collecting methods. He offers the suggestion of using open-ended

interviews with the farming families. This is seen to allow the investiga-

tor to gather more detailed information than has been the case with rapid


Axinn's paper focuses on the differences between the more specialized

approach to agricultural research and F.S.R., and some of the reasons why

other methods have failed. Seeing international development assistance

programs as heavily influenced by formal education, and traditional farming

practices as products of a non-formal education, he views the M.S.U. approach

as combining "the wisdom of the farming and herding families with the

wisdom of the academic scientists, and addresses both knowledge building

and problem solving activities" (p. 3). He suggests that the purposes

of F.S.R. are seen as either leading toward an understanding of a system

or an attempt to make changes within certain aspects of a system (p. 1).

Among the concerns with which F.S.R. deals is the need to develop tech-

niques appropriate for the local conditions in which they are intended

to be used (p. 8). However, F.S.R. is currently limited in its capabil-

ities due to lack of work conducted from the perspectives offered by

political science, anthropology, and sociology.

Artis' monograph focuses on F.S.R. from a sociological perspective.

He, like Axinn and Crawford, notes that each farming system is peculiar

unto itself. However, there may be basic similarities between farming

systems, such as production of the same products and sociocultural or

political administrative homogeneity. He states that sociology can make

a contribution to F.S.R. because it can "assess and, hopefully, predict

the impact of F.S.R. intervention on social structure and the relationship

between the farming system and the larger system contexts in which it

operates" (p. 4). However, he notes that current F.S.R. approaches have

not considered nutrition, family planning, training of personnel in the

farming household, political processes of settling disputes, or boundary

maintenance (p. 2). Until these concerns are addressed, he believes that

assessing and predicting the consequences of F.S.R. intervention will yield

poor results.

Wilkinson (p. 1) suggests that the "fundamental and primary objective

of F.S.R. is (or should be) to increase (world) food availability and

agricultural production and to develop or use resources in a manner that

will promote a 'better' standard of living (...) for all mankind". In

keeping with the perspectives of the Group in general, he focuses on the

needs of the individual farmer and improvements are seen to be "any

objective the farmer feels is in his best interest" (p. 4). He believes

F.S.R. should be able to analyze a system and make assessments and sug-

gestions for improvement; but, at the same time, be flexible enough to

accommodate situations where what is "best" may not be in the best interest

or cannot be done as a result of peculiar situations. In these cases

modified goals should be adopted (pp. 1-2). The multidisciplinary per-

spective, he feels, is necessary to understand and evaluate ramifications

of some improvement on other aspects of the farm system. While Wilkinson

views the introduction of techniques and machinery as necessary, the impact

of these development projects should be carefully assessed in consideration

for the whole system and that people should not arbitrarily be replaced by

machinery (p. 10).

Esmay's paper brings up the historical development of F.S.R. He believes

that F.S.R. is directed toward improvement and development. It is not, he

says (p. 2) "designed to maintain the status quo of small farmers in their

lock-in subsistence status". Like Wilkinson, Esmay (p. 2) feels F.S.R. is

involved with improving the quality of life of small farm families,

"specifically in the sense of improving food production". He then adds

" and financial return through the application of appropriate technologies".

Esmay sees F.S.R. is an approach which can help identify problems associated

with new developments before the programs are introduced and thus avoid

them altogether (p. 5). In this way, F.S.R. is seen to be able to provide

recommendations and planning guidance (p. 8). Finally, Esmay (p. 5) be-

lieves that F.S.R. should be holistic. It should look at the farm as a

system, but not in the sense that F.S.R. should necessarily be designed to

change the entire system.

Deans (p. 1) notes that F.S.R. develops more appropriate knowledge about

a farm than was the case with the traditional approach to agricultural de-

velopment. He believes that one of the major differences between the

traditional approach and F.S.R. is that the latter reverses "the source and

flow of idea generation and changes traditional approaches toward forming

innovations for the farm system" (p. 1). This allows for the realization

that there are three basic kinds of animal systems: 1) where the animal

provides a service as a scavenger; 2) where the system is that of a pastoral-

ist nature; and 3) the specialized group-type animal production system

(pp. 1-2). The relevancy of F.S.R. differs with each of these systems.

Deans (pp. 1-2) sees a need to understand how the subcomponents of the

farming system are linked together. This is especially important, he says,

on the farming system where the animal is a scavenger because very little

work has been conducted on this type of system (p. 6).

Freed sees the utility of F.S.R. to agronomists because it helps to

identify and develop research projects, to implement research programs, and

to evaluate new techniques (p. 1). This is possible through a better under-

standing of why the farmer practices the techniques he does (p. 2). Freed

(p.2) uses the term interdisciplinary rather than multidisciplinary to stress

the need for interaction among the scientists involved in the assessment

of the farming system. This interaction is necessary to more adequately

assess the potential impact of a technique on other subsystems within the

farming system. Freed sees F.S.R. as an administrative tool to direct and

evaluate research programs and aid in the recommendation of techniques

appropriate to the systems in operation on the farm (p. 1). F.S.R. is a

tool which is seen to help solve problems in the "Third World" by realizing

that the problems stem from social, political, and technological roots.

Each of these must be addressed in order to improve the quality of life

of the farming family (p. 5). A primary problem which he sees facing

F.S.R. at the present time is that it requires the interdisciplinary

approach. Ironically, this is, at the same time, its benefit over the

traditional approach to research. In his words:

Interdisciplinary research may be
difficult to manage, but interdisciplinary
communication can function as the needed
ingredient to combine our knowledge of
the different fields which are needed
to solve our agricultural problems (p. 5).

Thus, Freed sees interdisciplinary communication as the bridge to solving the

social, political, and technological problems to improve the quality of life

in the developing world.

Pearson's work, like that of Artis, Axinn, and Crawford, acknowledges

that each farming system is different. Like Artis, Crawford, Deans, Esmay,

Freed, and Wilkinson, he sees one of the goals of F.S.R. as being to deliver

appropriate techniques to the target population. This is made possible--

especially in the M.S.U. approach to F.S.R.--as a result of the "broad

representation across and within disciplines so that each element within the

farming system and its related community can be carefully examined and

evaluated before intervention processes are recommended" (pp 3-4).

Finally, Schillhorn van Veen's paper focuses primarily on problems en-

countered in traditional development schemes and the benefits of F.S.R. as

seen from the perspective of an animal scientist. Specifically, he notes

that the latter approach to development looks at the roles the animal sector

plays in production; fertilization; social and spiritual functions; economics;

energy-, labor-, and water efficiencies; the provision of labor; and in

social relations (p. 5). He notes that traditional development programs

"have been chosen for short-term successes without a sufficient knowledge

about the system" (p. 8). However, "ecologically sound long-term development

plans"--such as those offered through the utilization of a F.S.R. approach--"

need thought and good understanding of the system" (p. 8). Thus,he believes

that F.S.R. will provide a more complete assessment of the environmental

conditions, which will take into consideration a long-term decision framework.

The next section of this paper discusses where the authors seem to be in

agreement with one another and where there are divergences in their positions.

Convergences and Divergences

The comments which follow are based upon implied or explicit comments

found in the various papers. The authors were asked to comment on an earlier

draft of this paper. Their responses have been incorporated into the analysis

presented below.

The primary unifying theme in the series of working papers stems from

the view that F.S.R. is a multi- (or inter-)disciplinary venture which

requires the cooperation of specialists in many disciplines and sub-

disciplines. Each farming system is seen to be unique, and the farm

should be studied holistically, with special emphasis on the needs of

the farming family. Those authors who addressed the topic were in

agreement that earlier approaches failed because local conditions

were not taken into consideration, and the needs of the farm families

in "Third World" countries were not adequately addressed. The majority

of the writers also noted that the needs of the farmer and the farming

family must also be viewed in relation to the larger social, political,

and environmental conditions in which the farming family under study is

part. Some of these authors believe that one of the goals of F.S.R. is

to raise productivity levels. They think that this improvement will raise

the equality of life.

While the focus of the papers was toward small farming systems, the

majority of the writers saw no reason why the perspective offered by F.S.R.

could not be employed in the study of larger systems anywhere in the world,

nor why the approach could not be used on small farms in the more "developed"

countries. The focus on the small systems in the developing countries is

seen more to be the result of the primary focus of the Title XII Strength-

ening Grant and the emphasis on small-scale farms in the developing world

by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Several of the writers said that the need to develop techniques approp-

riate to the specific conditions present in the farming system was an im-

portant consideration for F.S.R. One of the papers went on to say that

machinery would not replace people arbitrarily. The determination of

appropriate techniques is seen by several of the writers to depend on

whether the farming family would be able to adapt the new technique on

the farm. Equally important to some of the writers in the appropriateness

of a particular technique was whether the overall social and economic system

could support the innovation.

In addition to the convergences of opinions expressed in the various

position papers, there were also four discrepancies. Crawford, Esmay,

Freed, Pearson, and Wilkinson stress that the goal of F.S.R. is to aid in

the development of new programs. Artis, however, views the goal of F.S.R.

"to assess and, hopefully, predict the impact of F.S.R. intervention on

social structure...". The tenor of his work seems to suggest more of an

analysis of the situation and offer recommendations, rather than to actually

implement new projects. Axinn suggests that F.S.R. can be utilized for

both purposes, but that it adds significantly to the quality of the de-

scription of the situation, thus setting the context for more significant


Some of the authors seem to suggest that more emphasis should be placed

on research involving the interaction with the farmer, rather than immediate

attempts to devise development strategies for the small farmer. Other writers,

however, feel that immediate action is possible with existing knowledge.

Another discrepancy became apparent in the course of receiving comments

from the various authors on an earlier draft of this paper. Above (p. 4),

the comment was made that the farmers


adapt techniques used in their fields
as result of knowledge of the parti-
cular environmental limitations under
which they must work. This knowledge
is the result of a non-formal decen-
tralized learning system.

Professor Freed indicated to the present writer that he believes these practices

have resulted in the high incidences of hunger and malnutrition in the developing

countries. Professor Axinn, on the other hand, has said that he believes that

hunger and malnutrition in these countries are the result of a maldistribution

of resources. Thus, there are two underlying conceptual assumptions. The first,

here represented by Freed, asserts that the root of the problems found in the

Third World stems from lack of technology. The other assumption, represented by

Axinn, rests on the idea that the root of the problems encountered in the Third

World nations stems from political, economic, and social factors.

A final apparent discrepancy noted in the various papers is clearly pointed

out in the words of two of the writers. Wilkinson (pp. 1-2) has written:

It is recognized that there well be
unusual situations where increased
production may not be in the best
short-run interest of a particular
farm group or country. Likewise,
certain individuals or farmers may not
accept what is generally conceived as
'best' and will choose an alternative.

This view is seen to contrast directly with that offered by Shillhorn van Veen

(p. 8), who has written:

Most projects (conducted under the traditional
approaches to agricultural development) have
been chosen for short-term success without.
sufficient knowledge about the system.
Moreover, livestock owners are interested in
some of the modern technologies which may, in
the short-term, increase their livestock numbers,
and are pressing for developments in this direc-
tion, without realizing the potential ecological
risks. Ecologically sound long-term development
plans, however, need thought and good under-
standing of the system.


The descrepancy is seen to revolve around short-term or long-term goals as

being that which are the concerns of F.S.R.

When an earlier draft of this paper was presented to the various authors

for their comments, Professor Wilkinson responded by letter to the discrepancy

noted here. In this letter he writes:

I do not think Schillhorn and I are in
disagreement, though the choice of
words (i.e. short-term long-term)
might make it appear so.
Shillhorn points out that one of the
general thrusts of development is to
increase production (specifically
increase livestock numbers) and this
might be done with a 'short term
success'. But if the land and economy
cannot support these increased numbers
it may prove to be a long term failure.
The context of my opening theme is that
increased food production (locally and
world wide) is a valid goal. However,
an increased production could result
in a depressed market price and be a
short term disadvantage for a particular
farming group. Further, higher) tech-
nology is usually considered 'best' by
most of the world. But for a particular
farmer or group, this may not be true
at all. Considering capital, skill,
culture, weather, etc., an alternative,
something other than 'the best', may
be far better.
I guess we are both saying that in-
creased production may have some
ramifications that should be con-
sidered--in the short run, a price or
market suppression; and in the long
run, ecology concerns.

The wide range of interests and the backgrounds of the various authors

would suggest that there would be little agreement among them on the nature

of F.S.R. However, by and large, there is a great deal of agreement among them.

In summary, the M.S.U. Farming Systems Research Group perspective is inter-

disciplinary in scope. Moreover, it focuses on the needs of the farming family

and the specific conditions that family faces. The solutions to the problems


are related to the specific situations encountered on the farm and the relation

of that farm to the larger sociocultural and environmental factors of which

the farm is a part. The M.S.U. Group approach combines the benefits of the

non-formal and formal approaches to agricultural research. It addresses farming

systems which may be small or large; in developing or developed countries.

The suggestions for improvement of farming practices are seen to result in a

promotion of a better standard of living for the farming family through the

adaptation of technology appropriate for the farming family and the larger

social and economic systems.


All the members of the M.S.U. Farming Systems Research Group share the

perspective that small-farmer involvement and participation is necessary at

all stages of project design and implementation. In the following pages I

wish to focus on the small farmer and forces which go toward explaining why

a farmer might be reluctant to become involved in projects. This is an

issue of central concern for F.S.R. and has a critical cultural dimension.

Culture can be seen as a series of interrelated institutions. Through

socialization, the individual learns the ways in which he is expected to respond

to his natural and social environments. Tying these institutions together is

an ethos, a system of values, by which one judges his own actions and those of

others. The appropriateness of his behavior is measured by the degree to which

he is incorporated or shunned by his fellows. Ethos is an integral part of

institutions whether they relate to basic subsistence practices, and is

manifested through behaviors relating to agricultural practices (e.g. specific

agricultural techniques, specific crops grown, etc.); or, to the relationships

between an individual and his kinsmen--cognatic or affinal--manifested through

a complex system of redistribution of goods and services. It is this complex

of ethos and cultural institutions which define appropriateness and the

solutions to local problems.

Culture is not static, but a very dynamic force. Under normal conditions

innovations and culture change are made possible through the consideration of

the ethos. If the innovation does not alter the basic fundamental ideas of

the culture, culture change is not a major perturbation in the system. The

innovation is merely incorporated as part of the culture. This system of values,

and institutions which exhibit it, are formulated to permit the long-term adapta-

tion of the social group to its natural environment, barring major perturbations

in the system.

But major perturbations in this delicate system of balance relating one

human being to others, or a culture to its environment, do occur. These shifts

may relate natural ecological phenomena, such as changes in the mean annual

temperature(, earthquakes, etc.; or, to changes in the social environment as a

result of foreign intervention. Foreign intervention will result in culture

change. But, unlike the case of indigenous culture change, the alterations are

made in local institutions without relating the shift to the ethos. Indeed,

the ethos of the indigenous culture is expected to change.

The members of the intervening culture, like the indigenous culture, have

their own ethos and their own institutions, through which they perceive the

world. These are imposed upon the local population.

With intervention, the delicate system of balance between the individual

and his social and natural environment is altered, if not destroyed. This is

especially the case if indigenous systems are not incorporated as fundamental

components of the new system. The advantage of F.S.R. over the traditional

systems of agricultural development is that F.S.R. does incorporate the

indigenous value system. Under the traditional programs of agricultural develop-

ment, the technicians have imposed their own systems of values and institutions

upon the members of the local population. The ethos and the institutions of

the indigenous culture were ignored by the technicians.

It must be recalled, too, that foreign intervention is not a new phenomenon

to the majority of the Third World nations. European colonists entered these

regions at least as early as the beginning of the Sixteenth Century, altering the

local system of balance between man and his environment. It is also the case

that intervention in some of these locations occurred before the advent of the

Europeans. Each time an intervention occurred, especially if it required the

participation of the indigenous culture in a new economic system, there were

perturbations in the relationships between man and the environment. The ethos

did not necessarily change as a result of the intervention in earlier times.

But, European colonialism altered the environment which forced the indigenous

population to participate in a commodity and labor market system. The local

subsistence based economy were altered as a result of forced work for the

Europeans, at the expense of the traditional economic bases. The small-scale

farmers in the Third World have been relegated to lands of marginal productivity

(Brookfield, 1973; Mayer, 1951; Whetten, 1963; among others). This, in turn,

has increased the small-scale farmer's need to accept western technology and

participation in commodity- and labor-markets; and the incorporation of these

innovations as parts of the culture. As Alverson (1978: 59) has said:

To some extent this acceptance has been
forced upon them (The Tswana). They
simply have had no choice.

There are a number of reasons why the small-scale farmer in the Third World

has been forced to accept the new innovations. On the one hand, they are

participants in the commodity- and labor-markets, due to decreased yield on

subsistence plots. On the other hand, exposure to these markets has increased

their awareness of commodities-which they can now purchase because of the increased

income from participation in the labor market. These commodities, orignially

luxury items, now become cognized as necessities. These goods are the means

by which one indicates his social status. Now that commodities are being placed

tantalizingly within the economic reach of the peasant, he is more apt to purchase

them. At the same time, there are social pressures exerted by his peers which

virtually require him to purchase these commodities. Unfortunately, their

purchase is done at the expense of such things as basic foodstuffs which ensure

adequate nutrition and health. These forces--internal and external--are those

which contribute to the phenomenon noted by Professor Shcillhorn van Veen;

namely, the pressing of small-scale farmers in the Third World for modern

technology without an adequate understanding of the long-term consequences

these innovations may have on the local system.

The availability of new commodities offered by development schemes brings

into question the motivation of individuals who accept them,. Are these individuals

those who are respected by the community? Some authors have said they are (viz.

Cancian, 1965). However, there are also studies which have shown that individuals

who deviate from the norm are also shunned by the community (viz. Reina and Hill,

1978: 258). The consideration of introducing a new innovation, then, requires

the technician to determine the extent of its use or non-use by the local

population, the effects on the individual or individuals who accept it, and the

appropriateness of the new innovation to the local conditions. Appropriateness,

as I attempted to show above, must be determined through the perception of the

individuals for whom the innovation is intended and the extent to which the

project answers culturally determined problems.

Not only have traditional programs for agricultural development ignored

the ethos of the impacted culture; but they have gone into local areas with an

underlying notion that increased agricultural yields results in an increased

income. This increase in income is thought to allow the individual to purchase

the necessities of life and enhance his well-being. A number of the working

papers in this series express the same ideology. Under programs of the "Green

Revolution", increased production referred to the increased production of cash

crops on large landholdings. These products most typically went to European

markets (Nations, 1978; Gross and Underwood, 1971; among others). The labor

required for the production of these crops came from the local population. Due

to the increased need for money to purchase goods and services, work on these

large landholdings often took precedence over labor on subsistence crops. Too,

especially most recently, the income from these sources have not gone to purchase

foodstuffs, but to buy the now-perceived-necessities of life, such as radios,

televisions, etc.

Increased income also results in other problems, for which I can offer one

example as illustration. Prior to 1975, minimum wage on coffee farms in Guatemala

was $0.75 a day for men and $0.50 for women and subadults. Corn was distributed

to the workers at the cost of $0.01 per pound, despite its market price of $8.00

per quintal, or $0.08 a pound. When the government imposed the minimum wage

law, the clause allowing the lower price of corn to workers was revoked. Prices

for corn soared to $16.00 per hundred pounds because of the increase in the

number of people who could-now purchase the foodstuff. There were a number

of people on the farm on which I worked who had to borrow money in order to

buy the other principal staple, beans, not to mention other necessities.

Development schemes have also referred to increased agricultural produc-

tion of staple crops, such as rice.and corn. Unfortunately, increases of these

products have not necessarily increased food intake of these sources. For

example, The Nutritional Survey of Bangladesh, 1975-1976 (p.21) provides tables

showing differences in intake of cereals from 1964-72 and 1975. Per capital

intake decreased from 545.8 grams/person/day in 1962-1964, to 523.0 grams per

person per day in 1975 (p. 21). This decrease in consumption occurred in spite

of an increase in production of cereals from 8915 to 12308 thousand metric tons

in those same years (p. 14).

Why does this occur? A possible explanation may be found in another case.

Lewis (1973) inducted a study of agricultural production in Santa Ana Mixtan,

Guatemala, in which he concluded that farmers sell 2/3 of their corn crop, despite

the fact that corn is the basis of life. Increased production of the commodity

would increase the amount they could sell on the market, not increase the amount

that they would keep for home use. Again, because the people have become in-

volved in a system of commodities- and labor-markets, the increased income from

agricultural production (even subsistence crops) allows them more ready access

to commodities on the market, by which social status is measured. Agricultural

production for better nutrition is not a primary concern, as Newell (1975: x)

has observed:

We are only slowly beginning to understand
that people are aware that health may have a
low-ranking among starting points for change.

In the above pages I have referred to various factors which induce the

farmer to act in the way he does. His responses to stimuli are culturally defined.

His reactions to these stimuli are based on a complex interaction of economic

exigencies, social pressures from other members of his culture, pressures imposed

upon him by external market conditions, and historical forces. These are only

some of the forces with which individuals interested in F.S.R. must consider

in the determination of acceptable projects to locally defined problems. How-

ever, these forces may not always be present in the minds of the local population.

As Professor Shillhorn van Veen has intimated, one should exercise caution in

introducing new innovations to the small-farmer, despite his pressing for the

technique, if the small-farmer is unaware of the long-term consequences these

techniques may have. In any event, the long-term consequences of these innova-

tions should be carefully explained to the farmers.

The agents for international agricultural development interested in F.S.R.

should also keep in mind another series of conditions which will also play a

role in the degree of acceptance of the new innovations being introduced.

It is becoming increasingly evident that projects developed under the

traditional forms of agricultural development have resulted in increased

environmental degradation (Gross and Underwood, 1971; Nations, 1978; among others)

and profound changes in social relationships. The latter, in turn, have lead to

greater social stratification and economic disparity between the affluent and

the peasants in Third World nations. Moreover, Hughes and Hunter (1970) and

Hunter (1981) have presented data concluding that agricultural 'development

projects' often result in poorer health. Too, the introduction of so-called

"high-yielding varieties" (HYVs) are problematic.

The HYVs represent a great investment and an avenue toward social achieve-

ment to the peasant. In part, this is because they allow him greater access to

the commodities market by virtue of its increased production. However, Lewis

(1973: 86) has noted that the HYVs draw "fertility from the soil faster than the

native varieties". This requires the use of fertilizer, which is very expensive

Third World nations, relative to the earning power of the farming family, and

represent a drain of the family income. Consequently, the HYVs should more

accurately be called low-yielding varieties. As an indication of this phenomenon

let us turn to the Nutritional Study of Rural Bangladesh,1975-1976, which provides

a chart relating to acreage and yields of various crops (p.13). With these data,

one can easily determine the yields per acre. Between 1969-1970 and 1972-1973,

the local variety of rice dropped from 0.43 tons per acre to 0.35. The HYV fell

from 1.46 to 0.56 tons per acre. The local varieties, in 1972-1973, produced

81% of the 1969-1970 crop; the HYV produced only 38% of the earlier figure.

This phenomenon is not an isolated event. It is found to recur in various

localities of the world. But, the problems which this raises is not merely

related to the decreased production of staple crops, but also to the larger

social picture developing in the Third World nations.

Over the past number of years, Third World nations have stressed education

of the peasantry. This has lead to an increased awareness of the peasants to

events occurring around them, especially in conjunction with the televisions and

radios made possible through their participation in the labor market. The

peasants are thus able to better understand the environment degradation, poorer

health and agricultural yields, and economic disparity between rich and poor.

They perceive these conditions as results of the introduction of new techniques

from the developing nations, and an increase in their dependency on the commodities

and labor markets. This perception may well result in an increased reluctance

to accept innovations from the same developed countries which caused the problems

they currently face.

In the above pages I have presented a rapid tour of only some of the issues

which must be considered in F.S.R. I have presented concepts which must be borne

in mind by the technician in his consideration of the implementation of a project

designed to better the circumstances of the small-farmer. In particular, the

program must deal with problems perceived by the farmer, not the technician.

The results of the program should yield the results deemed necessary and

appropriate by the farmers, not the technicians. The problems and their solu-

tions as perceived by the farmer, involves cultural institutions, ethos, and a

consideration of his social position--both with respect to his place in the

current social structure and the historic factors which put him there.

Contrary to the idea presented in some of the position statements, increased

production does not aid the social position of the poor farmer. If anything,

it has further aggravated the situation. Increased production has resulted in

increased environmental degradation. The wealth stemming from increased agri-

cultural production has gone toward the purchase of the "necessities of life--

radios, televisions, and the like. These purchases, when combined with increased

education, have resulted in a profound awareness of the peasant with regards to

his social position.

The social position of the peasant has not been bettered as a result of

increased production; unless one is willing to say that increased awareness

of his situation has resulted in movements among the peasantry to throw off

the shackles of colonialism. However, there have been structural changes in

the relationships in which the peasant is a part. In particular, he has be-

come involved in the commodities and labor markets; the social fabric of which

he was part has deteriorated; and the tenuous man-land relationship, off-

balance as a result of European colonisalism, has now been further jeopardized

as a result of increased dependency on the commodities offered in the market-


These are some of the factors with which individuals interested in F.S.R.

must deal. Professors Artis, Axinn, Crawford, Deans and Schillhorn van Ieen

havelisted other dimensions which are, as yet, equally inadequately under-

stood. Only when gaps in existent knowledge have been narrowed will F.S.R.

be able to "assess, and hopefully, predict the impacts of F.S.R. intervention

on social structure and the relationship between the farming system and the

larger system in which it operates" (Artis, p. 4). Until scientists under-

stand more fully the dynamics involved in a farming system for all its good

intentions, F.S.R. may well go the way of traditional approaches to agricul-

tural development: unacceptable to the local populations for long-term

goals and sustenance, and create even more severe problems that are currently


The F.S.R. perspective which has evolved at M.S.U. potentially offers

the consideration of the multitude of dimensions involved in social change.

Among these various dimensions are the consideration of both the long-term

and the short-term effects on the environment; and that the environment is

now conceived as possessing both natural and social components. Only when

all of these dimensions are considered, can it be said, as Professor Esmay

has, that the F.S.R. approach will be able to improve the quality of life of

small-scale farmers in the developing nations of the world.


The author is indebted to Dr. George H. Axinn, Dr. Scott Whiteford, and
Dr. Joseph Spielberg for their help during various stages in the preparation
of this monograph. Professor Whiteford's time and energy in formulating the
second portion of the paper into a more coherent statement is greatly appreci-
ated. Members of the M.S.U. Farming Systems Research Group commented on an
earlier draft of this paper and clarified initial questions on certain as-
pects of their papers. Finally, special thanks go to Ms. Helen Klotz and
Ms. Nadia Cochrane, who typed the final version of this monograph. What
errors are found herein, naturally, are those of the author alone. His many
benefactors are not to be held accountable in any way for the errors.


1. Unless otherwise noted, all references cited are those of the M.S.U.
Farming Systems Research Group Working Papers series, all of which
were published in 1981.

References Cited

Alverson, H.
1978 Mind in the Heart of Darkness. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Artis, J.
1981 Farming Systems Research Position Paper. Michigan State University
Farming Systems Research Group. Working Paper No. 6. East Lansing:
Michigan State University.

Axinn, G.H.
1981 Issues in Farming Systems Research--A Multidisciplinary Behavioral
Science Perspective. Michigan State University Farming Systems
Research Group. Working Paper No. 8. East Lansing: Michigan State

Brookfield, H.
1973 "Full Circle in Chimbu: A Study of Trends and Cycles." IN The Pacific
in Transition: Geographical Perspectives on Adaptation and Change.
H. Brookfield, ed., pp. 163-186. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Cancian, F.
1965 Economics and Prestige in a Maya Community. Stanford: Stanford
University Press.

Crawford, E.
1981 Farming Systems Research and Agricultural Economics. Michigan State
University Farming Systems Research Group. Working Paper No. 1.
East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Deans, R.J.
1981 Farming Systems Research as is Relates to the Animal Sciences.
Michigan State University Farming Systems Research Group. Working
Paper No. 5. East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Esmay, M.L.
1981 The Farming Systems Research Approach in the Agricultural Engineering
Field. Michigan State University Farming Systems Research Group.
Working Paper No. 7. East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Freed, R.
1981 Issues in Farming Systems Research--An Agronomist's Perspective.
Michigan State University Farming Systems Research Group. Working
Paper No. 4. East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Gross, D.R. and Underwood, B.A.
1971 "Technological Change and Caloric Costs: Sisal Agriculture in
Northeastern Brazil." American Anthropologist 73: 725-740.

Hughes, C.C. and Hunter, J.M.
1970 "Disease and "Development" in Africa." Social Science and Medicine 3:

Institute of Nutrition and Food Science
1977 Nutrition Survey of Rural Bangladesh, 1975-76. University of Dacca,
Dacca, Bangladesh.


Santa Ana Mixtan: A Benchmark Study on Guatemalan Agriculture.
Michigan State University Latin American Studies Center. Monograph
Series No. 11. East Lansing: Michigan State University.

Mayer, J.
1951 "Problems of Tropical Nutrition."

Nutrition Reviews 9:

Nations, J.D.
1978 Indigenous Agrosystems and the Export Beef Cattle Industry in Tropical
Latin America: Their Role in Food Production and Malnutrition. Paper
prepared for the X International Congress of Anthropological and
Ethnological Sciences. New Delhi.

Newell, K.W., ed.
1975 Health by the People. Gi

Pearson, A.M.
1981 Farming Systems Position
Systems Research Group.
State University.

eneva, W.H.O.


Michigan State University Farming
Paper No. 2. East Lansing: Michigan

Schillhorn van Veen, T.
1981 Livestock Systems and Animal Health. Michigan
Systems Research Group. Working Paper No. 3.
State University.

Whetten, N.L.
1961 Guatemala:

State University Farming
East Lansing: Michigan

The Land and the People. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wilkinson, R.H.
1981 Farming Systems Research and Agricultural Engineering. Michigan State
University Farming Systems Research Group. Working Paper No. 9. East
Lansing: Michigan State University.


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