MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
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.
THE M.S.U. FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH GROUP
PERSPECTIVE: A SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
by Walter Randolph Adams
Working Paper No. 11
THE MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH GROUP
WORKING PAPER SERIES
Farming Systems Research and Agricul-
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
An M.S.U. Approach to Farming Systems
The M.S.U. Farming Systems Research
A Working Bibliography on Farming
Systems Research August, 1981
Social Impact, Economic Change, and
Development -- with illustrations
Tjaart Schillhorn van Veen
Robert J. Deans
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
SOME FINAL COMMENTS
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,
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)
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.
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