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
ilrenir,, ern.n 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, and Ms. Beverly Fleisher,
graduate research assistant.
ECONOMIC CHANGE, AND
By George H. Axinn and Nancy W. Axinn
Working Paper No. 13
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
George H. Axinn and
Nancy W. Axinn
STAFF PAPER # 1981-46
Social Impact, Economic Change, and Development
-- with illustrations from Nepal
George H. Axinn and Nancy W. Axinn
This material was excerpted by Professor George Axinn from a
monograph now being processed, and was presented at a conference
on SOCIAL IMPACT ANALYSIS AND DEVELOPMENT at Michigan State
University, 14-16 May 1981. The Monograph and the research upon
which it is based reflect a collaborative research project, led
by George and Nancy Axinn, which involved many Nepalese Colleagues
at the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, Rampur, Nepal,
and several graduate students at Michigan State University.
Limited distribution in this form is for discussion and revision
purposes only. Comments will be appreciated by the Axinns at MSU
Social Impact, Economic Change, and Development -- with some illustrations
from Nepal .
by George H. Axinn, Professor of Agricultural Economics and Assistant Dean
of International Studies and Programs, Michigan State University
There are four main ideas relating to the theme of this conference on
social impact analysis and development which I would like to share with the
group. These ideas are methodological rather than theoretical; they are micro
rather than macro, in terms of level of analysis; and, at best, they merely
provide some additional categories which may be useful to those concerned
with social impact of development activities.
To illustrate these ideas, I shall present some material based on
field observation and data collection in Nepal.
The four main ideas are: (1) impact analysis as evaluation; (2) descrip-
tion needs depth; (3) analysis via energy transformation; and (4) the recycling
ratio in social impact analysis.
Impact Analysis as Evaluation
To measure the impact of any particular set of activities upon a group
of human beings is an evaluative process. It calls for judgments to be made
on the basis of the values of those who make the judgment. To do it well
requires both descriptive and analytic tools.
In many ways, the depth and accuracy of the description is crucial if
the evaluation is to be sound. Unfortunately, the scholarly community,
Paper presented at the Social Impact Analysis and Development Conference,
Michigan State University, 14-16 May 1981
particularly in North America, has tended to devalue descriptive research
in favor of studies of trends, comparative studies, and exper-
imental research. Too often, from my perspective, phenomena which are being
compared with each other over time, or in different locations, have been
less than adequately described in the first instance, and the weakness of
the descriptive work is reflected in everything else that follows.
The quality of description, particularly the description of human groups,
may be directly related to the empathy of the observer. The sensitive scholar,
who can empathize in a genuine way with those being observed, is sometimes
able to develop a depth of description beyond that which is available when
one merely measures the quantities of those things which seem to be relevant
on the surface.
Patterns of behavior at various seasons of the year, and at different
times of day can be extremely important. Thus, the quality of description
may be directly related to the time invested in that description. Excellent
description of what happens at a particular hour of the day in a family or a
community might be quite misleading if it is assumed that the same types of
activity continue at other hours of the day. Similarly, typical behavior patterns
during the monsoon season in a rural village might be quite different in the
dry season in that same village.
Further, the values, norms, and aspirations of the individuals being
described are typically quite different from the values, norms, and aspir-
ations of those who are making the description. Here is where empathy is
so important. Here is where time invested may be directly related to quality.
For example, well meaning professional agriculturalists in Nepal have
been selecting new maize varieties on the basis of the quantity of grain pro-
duced by each plant. The value placed on the grain can be related directly
to the training of those professional agriculturalists, and to the net-
work of significant others with whom those agriculturalists interact, in
their own ministry of agriculture, in the international agricultural re-
search community, and in the schools in which they did advanced postgraduate
study. All tend to be concerned with the grain production of maize plants.
Farmers in Nepal, on the other hand, who feed large numbers of
ruminant livestock every day, are also concerned about the green parts of
the maize plant.
There has been a tendency for those maize plants which have largest
quantities of grain on them to be relatively short stemmed plants which pro-
duce less green material. But the green parts of the plant produce the
fodder for cattle and buffalo, sheep and goats. It is not surprising that
a group of professional agriculturalists, not unlike a group of professional
social scientists or anyone else, who have different values, norms, and
aspirations might not have inherently appreciated the value of the green
parts of the maize plant to small mixed farming families in a place like
Nepal. What is disappointing is that the level of description of the sit-
uation which might have been done prior to the identification of the problems
associated with the production of maize in that country, was not adequate to
reveal this phenomena.2
Description Needs Depth
Of course, what is described will be based on the conceptualizations,
the theory, and the hypotheses which are of concern to those making the
description. It is impossible, and certainly not parsimonious, to describe
everything about a small farm family. But if one has social impact analysis
2Detailed descriptions of rural life in Nepal, and analysis based on concepts
discussed in this paper may be found in the monograph, "Continuity and Change
in the Rural Social Systems of Nepal,"George H. Axinn and Nancy W. Axinn, forth-
in mind, and some empathy with those who are being described, and some
empathy with those who will attempt to understand the analytic material,
then the description can be informed by both sides.
Consider, for example, Table 1, which tries to relate the size of
farm family ecosystems with human pressure on the land in a small remote
rural village in the central part of Nepal. Sundar Bazaar is in Lamjung
District. It is relatively remote, in that there are no motorable roads
which lead to Sundar Bazaar. In fact, at the time of these studies in
1977, this village could not be reached by motorcycle or bicycle. Pony
trains regularly go through Sundar Bazaar carrying some freight; everything
else is carried in or out by human beings. If you want to go there, you
must walk. Walking time from the nearest motorable road is more than 8 hours
for me; perhaps less for some others. It is at least 5 hours to the nearest
grass airstrip, if one is wealthy enough to fly.
Table 1 illustrates that most of the rural people who live in the Sundar
Bazaar area have very small size farms by international standards. If you
notice the grouping, four farms have been sifted out from the rest because
their farms are so large. They control, on the average, just over four hectares
of land. The others are all smaller than that. The average size of farm for
the 66 other families in this study is just over 1/2 hectare.
The original reason for constructing this table was to describe the
dense human population on the land, and to illustrate areas by the size of
farm. Thus average figures forLamjung District, or even for Sundar Bazaar
area as a whole, tend to be quite misleading. For example, in Sundar Bazaar
area, at the time of this study, there were 7.5 persons per hectare. However,
on the smallest group of farms in this study, there were 24 persons per hectare
whereas in those four out-sized "large" farms, there were only about two
persons per hectare.
Table 1 -- Farm Size and Human Pressure on
the Land in Sundar Bazaar Area of
Lamjung District, Nepal, 1977
Number of Average Size Range of Ave. No. of Persons per
Families Farm (Ha.) Farm Size Persons per Hectare
Group I 16 0.17 .025-.25 4.1 24.0
Group II 17 0.39 .25-.51 5.6 14.7
Group III 16 0.62 .53-.71 6.1 9.9
Group IV 17 1.20 .76-1.82 7.7 6.4
Group V 4 4.06 2.54-6.01 7.8 1.9
Average 70 0.93 .025-6.01 6.0 7.5
I IV 66 0.60 .025-1.82 5.9 9.9
My students at Michigan State University have difficulty conceptualizing
a hectare. I, too, have difficulty thinking about a hectare. In an effort
to illustrate this description, Table 2 was made from the same data. I am
much more used to seeing tennis courts than I am to seeing hectares. How-
ever, with some simple arithmetic, I discovered that you can get 38.44 tennis
courts on one hectare of land. Also, you can get almost two football fields
on one hectare of land. With that kind of information, one can describe the
human pressure on the land by showing that on the smallest farms, each in-
dividual person has about 1 1/2 tennis courts on which to produce his/her
living. On the biggest farms, each person has about 20 tennis courts on
which to produce food, clothing, and shelter.
In terms of crowding and population density, if you picture a typical
U.S. football field including the end zones, people who have the largest
farms in Sundar Bazaar have the equivalent of one of those football fields
per person. On the smallest farms, there is more than one person in the
space between each of the 10 yard stripes -- more than 13 people on one
When first confronted with this descriptive data, I was concerned that
the lack of equity in land holdings might be overstated. Observation had
taught that some of the land higher up on the hills was usable only for pasture
of animals, and the best land was down in the narrower valleys, closer to the
rivers, and could be irrigated. One hypothesis was that the larger farms had
more poor land. Therefore, another analysis was made, and reported here in
Table 3, showing the percentage of irrigated land per farm by size of farm.
Contrary to the expectation mentioned above, it was evident that the larger
the size of farm, the larger the proportion of high quality irrigated land on
the farm. In other words, those with the most wealth, had both the highest
quantity and the highest quality of land.
FARM SIZE AND HUMAN PRESSURE ON THE LAND
IN SUNDAR BAZAAR AREA OF LAMJUNG DISTRICT
GROUP NUMBER AVERAGE SIZE OF FARM TENNIS R8 RTS NUMBER OF
OF HECTARES TENNIS FOBALL ER RN ERSONS PER
FAMILIES COURTS FI S FOOTBALL FIELD
I 16 0.17 6.5 0.32 1.6 13.2
II 17 0.39 13.8 0.73 2.5 7.7
III 16 0.62 23.8 1.16 3.9 5.3
IV 17 1.20 46.0 2.24 6.0 3.4
V 4 4.06 155.7 7.59 20.0 1.0
ONE TENNIS COURT = 260.75 SQUARE METERS
ONE FOOTBALL FIELD = 5,351.53 SQUARE METERS
ONE HECTARE = 10,000 SQUARE METERS
Table 3 --
Proportion of Irrigated Land (Khet) on
Farms in Sundar Bazaar, Lamjung District,
by Size of Farm, Nepal, 1977
Number Average Size Percentage of
of Farm Total Land
(Hectares) Irrigated (Khet)
16 0.17 36.5*
17 0.39 63.1
16 0.62 66.9
17 1.20 75.3
4 4.06 76.5
* Includes six farms with zero percentage of irrigated land.
Intensity of cultivation is another aspect of life on one of these
small farms which can be described. As Table 4 illustrates, those with
the smallest land holdings also tend to till the soil most intensively.
The three smallest groups of farms seem to be using around 180 percent of
the land. This means that many of their fields are cultivated twice each
year, and some may even be cultivated thrice. By contrast, on the very
largest farms, even though theirs is the best quality land, they seem to be
using only just over half (57.9) percent of the land available to them.
Table 4 also shows the different cereal grain crops produced on those farms.
From that, a reader may note that the percentage of available land used for
production of maize is highest on the smallest farms and least on the biggest
farms. Conversely, rice production is more significant than any other cereal
grain on all sizes of farms.
And just as Table 4 attempts to illustrate the intensity of production
of cereal grains, Table 5 shows that the numbers of animals are large on all
of these farms. This is an effort to describe the relationship between the
size of farm and the numbers of farm animals on that farm. As with the human
population, total livestock populations per hectare are greatest on the smallest
farms, and significantly less on the larger farms.
Description could go much further. The point here is that some depth
of description provides insight into the nature of life among those being
described, which, in turn, can provide a base for social impact analysis.
Analysis via Energy Transformation
Beyond description, of course, analysis of what is going on in a partic-
ular situation, and how it changes over time, is crucial in social impact
analysis. If there is no change over time, one could assume there has been
no impact. If things do change then the issues arise as to whether the new
situation is "better than" or "worse than" the prior situation. Then come the
normative and evaluative judgments of what is more desirable and what is less
Table 4 -- Average Cultivated Crop Land by Size of Farm in
Sundar Bazaar, Lamjung District, Nepal, 1977
as a Percentage of Total Land on that Farm
Number Size of Paddy Wheat Mustard Maize Millet Total Crops
16 0.17 45.3 15.3 7.1 75.3 28.8 171.8
17 0.39 65.6 21.5 6.2 53.8 35.1 182.2
16 0.62 74.2 30.2 6.5 47.6 20.6 179.1
17 1.20 62.4 14.8 5.7 24.1 10.0 117.0
4 4.06 32.6 9.1 1.6 6.9 7.7 57.9
Table 5 -- Distribution of Livestock on Farms
in Sundar Bazaar, Lamjung District,
Number Average Number of Number of Number of Number of
of Size of Large Animals Small Animals Large Animals Small Animals
Families Farm (Ha.) per Farm 1/ per Farm 2/ per Ha. per Ha.
16 0.17 1.69 2.38 9.98 14.05
17 0.39 2.94 3.76 7.65 9.79
16 0.62 4.88 3.94 7.90 6.38
17 1.20 5.41 4.06 4.49 3.37
4 4.06 4.50 6.25 1.11 1.54
70 0.93 3.79 3.70 4.75 4.64
1/ Includes bullocks, adult cows, adult buffalo.
2/ Includes goats, sheep, young cattle and buffalo.
However, prior to that, and assuming that continuity and change are
normal phenomena for any human group, the issue arises as to what should
be measured. Too often, the highly differentiated, specialized, money
economies of North America and Western Europe guide scholars to make their
measurements in terms of cash flow. In the example below, I should like to
suggest that materials flow and energy transformation can also be used as
markers of continuity and change. Energy flow can be used as a proxy for
various other kinds of change, just as cash flow is used (usually by econo-
mists) as a proxy for other kinds of change. Since our concepts of poverty
tend to be as culture bound as other indicators of what some have termed
the "quality of life," the rationale for the search for other markers is
associated with an attempt to "escape" the cultural norms associated with
so many other markers of change.
In Nepal, my colleague and research partner (and wife), Nancy Axinn and
I attempted to make estimates of materials flow and energy transformation
in farm family ecosystems.
The farm family has been selected as the unit for analysis, building on
the concepts of functional differentiaton in rural social systems, with the
family ecosystem as the basic unit, and considering shifts in both social
differentiation and energy transformation as central variables in a cycle of
continuity and change. (Axinn, 1977, Axinn and Axinn, 1979, 1980).
The majority of people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America live on small
pieces of land, and subsist by consuming what they produce and producing
whatever they consume. Further, current census data from Asia indicate that
the total numbers and relative proportion of such families is increasing.
Different from the large-scale, commercial, capital-intensive farming
systems of North America and Europe which are specialized in the production
function, these farming systems are small-scale, non-commercial, land and
labor intensive units which perform supply and marketing functions as well
as production, and are also heavily involved in personal maintenance, health
care delivery, governance, and learning.
Since they are less differentiated, these farming systems also tend
to produce a great variety of cereal grain, livestock, and fruits and
vegetables. From an agricultural economic perspective, they are integrated
both vertically and horizontally. Even their production is much less
specialized than that of the large-scale farming systems.
Whereas cash flow may provide an adequate indicator of the total
flow of materials through the large-scale commercial farming system, it is
less useful as a proxy for such activity in the small, mixed farming systems.
In a unit which sells its outputs for cash money, and purchases its inputs
with the same currency, the flow of cash tends to correlate with the total
volume of other activity, and with relative wealth, and may serve as de-
scriptive proxy for the entire system. In the subsistence unit which tends
to recycle more materials than it exchanges with other systems, the flow
of cash sometimes accounts for such a small proportion of the materials
flow that it is misleading.
For example, a small mixed subsistence farming system will be declared
in "relative" or "absolute poverty" by international agencies if its annual
cash income is below a certain mark. However, the same system may have a
large kitchen garden, may provide its human members with more than adequate
quantities of fresh milk and dairy products, some meat, and eggs, and actually be
so wealthy that the family which owns and operates it does little
physical work. They may have servants and farm hands to do the physical
work. (This is a relative phenomenon, since in such systems wage rates tend
to be quite low).
Since the "shadow production" which is consumed within tends not to be
reflected in cash flow measures, the higher the proportion of materials flow
which internal, the less adequate a proxy such as cash income is as an in-
dicator of the nature of the system.
Energy transformation is an alternative proxy which can be a useful
indicator of change over time, both for the large-scale commercial farming
systems and for the small-scale subsistence farming system, as well as
transitional units in various stages in between.
Just as a monetary value can be assigned to any sort of item, so can
an energy value. And the two types of evaluations can be exchanged. Thus,
there is no special "magic" about energy values that makes them better than
money values. However, as descriptors of materials flow and other activity
in a farming system, the use of energy values as a proxy offers some advantages.
One advantage of an energy measure, like KCals, BTUs, or Joules, in
comparison with such money measures as rupees, pounds, pesos, or dollars,
is that the relative values are defined and generally accepted as unchanging.
The ratio of U.S. dollars to Indian rupees changes from day to day, but one
KCal equals 3.968 BTUs by international convention, and the ratio tends not
A second advantage is that while the cash price of one kilogram of rice,
for example, varies from one place to another on any given day, and the world
price of rice varies from day to day and year to year, the number of KCals
in one Kilogram is relatively standard. Even with variation in the type of
rice, its moisture content, and the way in which energy value is to be trans-
formed (burned, eaten by humans, eaten by ruminants), the energy values are
relatively more standardized than the money values.
And thirdly, in systems which utilize cash for a relatively low pro-
portion of all transactions, the assignment of cash values may be even less
valid than assignment of energy values. However, in both cases, such proxies
assigned to a variety of materials should be considered as only approximations
of a relative value, and not precise measures of reality. Thus the large calorie
(KCal) is used here an an indicator of estimated relationships, and nothing more.
Just as social phenomea described by money values are subject to
certain economic "laws," the energy descriptor is conditioned by "the
Laws of Thermodynamics." (Georgescu-Roegen, 1975). Thus the engineering
concepts related to energy flow can be as helpful to the social analysis
as the economic concepts, and combining both may strengthen the analysis.
As will be demonstrated below with data describing small farm family
ecosystems in Nepal, it is possible and feasible to estimate the flow of
materials and transformation of'energy in such systems. Out of rudimentary
efforts to do that has emerged a conceptualization of the farming system
which, in turn, provides a base for sociological analysis of continuity and
change, and for demonstrating a relationship between social differentiation
and energy transformation.
The conceptual framework for the materials and energy transformation
perspective of small farm family ecosystems is illustrated in Figure 1.
Here, a farm family ecosystem is viewed as a component of a larger rural
social system. The larger system has many similar farm family ecosystems,
and all are seen as part of a still larger social, political, economic,
religious, cultural, and physical surrounding environment.
Within farm family ecosystems, the three major components are plants,
animals, and humans. This conceptual framework is similar to Koenig and
Tummala (1972), and the model developed by Tummala and Connor (1973), which
provide a technique for accounting for the mass and energy flows into and
out of similar agricultural systems. It is also similar to the work of
Thomas (1974 and 1976). While the analytical techniques are similar, this
model differs in that it allows analysis of a basic subsistence ecosystem, in
which most materials and energy are recycled within the system, rather than
exchanged with the outside world.
Energy Flow in Small Subsistence Farm
O Components of
W Components ol Near
SOCIAL POLITICAL ECONOMIC RELIGIOUS CULTURAL PHYSICAL
= COMPONENTS OF SURROUNDING AND FAR ENVIRONMENT
Thus, the major flows of materials and transformations of energy in
this model are among the plant, the animal, and the human components. The
"other production" component deals with such "subsistence industry" activities
as the manufacture of tools, clothing, housing. Major outside flows to
the farm family ecosystem from the surrounding environment are solar energy,
water, firewood, grazing and grass cutting, and small supplements to health
and diet (such as salt and spices). There is significant exchange of both
human labor and animal draft power among the farm family ecosystems in such
a rural social system.
Major inputs to the human component of such a system are cereal grains,
fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, meat, firewood, and water.
Principal energy outputs are in the form of labor. Learning and controlling
(deciding and allocating) reflects small energy transformations, serving
as "triggering" mechanisms as described by Adams (1974).
The animal component of the farm family ecosystem may include such
livestock as cattle, buffaloes, goats, swine, and poultry. Major outputs
from the animal component include draft power, manure, milk and dairy pro-
ducts, meat, and eggs. Inputs to the animal component are straw and fodder,
cereal grain or grain by-products, human labor, tools and facilities (in-
cluding stables and barns), and grazing.
The plant component is the major energy source for the small subsistence
farm family ecosystem. It can be likened to the system's powerhouse as it
converts solar energy into nutrients which can be transformed by both the
humans and the animals, and which supply the bulk of their calorie requirements.
In addition to solar energy, other inputs to this component include
draft power, manure, (or other fertilizer), human labor,tools, seed, and
water, along with such other potential inputs as insecticides, fungicides,
and herbicides. However, the magnitude of solar energy available on each
hectare of land is so much larger than all other energy sources combined
that the entire system can be viewed as one which takes a small fraction
(estimated at one to three percent) of the available solar energy and
converts this as the resource for all other activities.
By combining the flow of materials into and out of each of the major
components of such a system, it has been possible to illustrate differences
between farm family ecosystems on different size pieces of land, and to
demonstrate the relationship among farms of various sizes in a rural social
Beyond that, such a model offers a useful conceptualization to those
who study the whole farming system. It enables evaluation of the costs and
benefits of production, for example, of any particular plant or animal
commodity in relationship to all inputs and outputs as they flow through
such a system.
For example, one variety of cereal grain can be compared to another
one not only on the basis of grain production, but also in terms of the
use of straw and other by-products, as well as costs in terms of seed, human
labor, manure, and draft power.
Further, in addressing such questions as the potential substitution
of small scale garden tractors for animal draft power, such a conceptualization
permits the inclusion of several variables which may be overlooked by
conventional studies of this issue (Axinn and Axinn, 1979, 1980).
Relationship of Materials and Energy Flow to Social Differentiation
With estimates of materials flow and energy transformation in farm
family ecosystems, it is feasible to use these as indicators of functional
differentiation. The supply, production, and marketing functions, in
particular, can be compared among different farming systems. Farming
systems which specialize in production will tend to have greater pro-
portions of materials and energy flows from outside (input supply), and
greater proportions of such flows to the outside (output marketing). Less
differentiated farming systems tend to have a higher proportion of total
flows within the farm family ecosystem.
From this perspective, social differentiation may be used as an
indicator of change. Most strategies for rural development have been
strategies designed to increase functional differentiation in farming
systems. One reason that international attempts in rural development have
not been more successful, has been that designers of such projects have
tended to use such economic indicators as cash flow rather than assessments
of such social phenomena as functional differentiation.
Structural and functional analysis of rural social systems can provide
a base for assessing change, and for development strategy. Such phenomena
as status, role, boundary maintenance, migration patterns, and value orientations
may be much more significant to change in rural social systems than annual
Similarly, farming systems which are less differentiated in function
tend to carry on more different types of operations. A family which supplies
its own inputs and consumes its own outputs will not specialize in one crop.
Rather, it will tend to produce cereal crops, livestock, fruits, and vegetables.
Conversely, in the highly differentiated large-scale dairy farm of mid-
America, for example, although it may produce milk from 300 cows daily,
100 percent of that milk is likely to be sold to a separate firm. If the
farm household requires a quart of milk, they are likely to purchase it from
an outside supplier.
Figure 2 provides a diagramatic illustration of what might be termed
a "pure" type of commercial farming system. Materials and energy flow in
as inputs (arrow A) and flow out as outputs (arrow B). If 100 percent of
the materials and energy flow were describable by indications of the total
flows on arrows A plus B, that would be, by definition, a "pure" type
farming system where the production function dominated all other functions.
If a "pure" type of subsistence farming system were to be described
with a similar diagram, it would look like Figure 3. There,arrow C represents
the materials and energy flow which is both produced by the farm family eco-
system and consumed by that same farm family ecosystem. If zero inputs were
supplied from outside systems, and zero outputs were marketed to outside
systems, then 100 percent of the materials and energy flow would be on arrow
C, and that would be a "pure" type of subsistence farming system.
Neither of these "pure" types exist among the rural social systems of
the world. Even the most remote and undifferentiated farm family ecosystems.
tend to exchange some materials and energy with outside systems, and even the
most commercially specialized farm family ecosystems tend to transform some
of the materials and energy which flow into them within the system, producing
some kinds of outputs which are consumed within the system.
The analysis of social differentiation in rural social systems in-
dicates that the quantities of energy transformed also vary over time. The
evidence presented below suggests the proposition that functional differentiation
and energy transformation vary together. The more highly differentiated
the farming system, the greater the quantity of energy it will tend to transform.
Further, the more differentiated the farming system, the larger the
farm itself is likely to be. The larger the farm, the greater the total flow
of materials and energy per person is likely to be. This wealth tends to be
accompanied by social and political power.
OF "PURE TYPE"
The Recycling Ratio
The extent of functional differentiation in a farming system is in-
dicated in this study by a recycling ratio. The higher the proportion of
materials and energy flow which is within the farm family ecosystem and its
near environment, the higher the recycling ratio. The higher the recycling
ratio, the less the farm family exchanges materials and energy with outside
systems. Farms with a high recycling ratio are usually called subsistence
farms. Farms with a low recycling ratio are referred to as commercial or
The diagram in Figure 4 was constructed by putting together the diagram
in Figures 2 and 3, to illustrate a typical farm family ecosystem. Materials
and energy flow in (arrow A), materials and energy flow out (arrow B), and the
system also recycles some of its materials and energy (arrow C). The recycling
ratio represents the proportion of the total flow which is recycled (internal).
It is calculated by adding an estimate of the total flow in from other
systems (A) to an estimate of the total flow out to other systems (B) and
to an estimate of the total quantity of flow which is recycled within the
system (C); and then dividing that sum into the total quantity of flow which
is recycled within the system. The formula may be represented as:
C A + B + C.
In terms of social differentiation, the recycling ratio deals directly
with three functions: production, supply,
and marketing. Farm family ecosystems with a high recycling ratio tend to
distribute resources among these three functions more evenly than farm
family ecosystems with a low recycling ratio, which tend to specialize in
the production function, and depend upon others for the supply and marketing
IN A FARMING SYSTEM
A + B + C
From the perspective of dependence and independence, farming systems
which recycle larger proportions of materials and energy within the system,
are, by definition, more independent of other outside systems. Conversely,
farming systems which recycle a smaller porportion, and receive greater
quantities of materials and energy from outside, while marketing greater
proportions of their production to others outside, are more dependent upon
those outside the family system.
In the large scale, mono-crop, capital intensive commercial market
oriented farming systems of North America, the recycling ratio tends to be
very low. Most inputs are purchased from outside the farm family ecosystem
(seeds, feed, fertilizer, and fuel for traction). Most outputs are sold in
the market in exchange for cash.
By contrast, in the small scale, mixed-crop plus livestock, labor in-
tensive, subsistence-oriented farming systems of Africa, Asia, and Latin
America, the recycling ratio tends to be much higher. Most inputs are pro-
duced within the farming system. Most outputs are consumed within the
The recycling ratio can be useful as an indicator of rural development,
but the normative issues of good and bad will depend upon what the society
values in terms of its lifestyle. Thus, the community where each farm family has a
high recycling ratio may not be benefited at all by the introduction of
technologies which would reduce this ratio. On the other hand, if that
community wants more of the goods available from the outside, then its goals
may be a reduction of the recycling ratio -- and technologies which will
lead to that reduction may, in fact, be appropriate. Thus, the recycling
ratio can become an indicator of change in rural social systems, but not
the goal for rural development, which is normative. The assumption is that
each family and each society may determine its own goals. The recycling
ratio can be used as a measure of where they are, and as an indicator of
progress in the directions they have chosen.
Development goals, can be stated in terms of the optimal levels
of quantity of materials (converted to energy values). Similarly, the
recycling of human labor, plant production, animal production, or other
production can be separated from each other. Thus, a recycling ratio of
human labor will demonstrate differences between families which must not
only cater to their own needs, but also work as laborers (or servants) for
others in order to sustain themselves. It demonstrates that other families
have sufficient power to be served by outside laborers in terms of their
normal lifestyle. This type of indicator allows a human group to fix develop-
mental goals for themselves which are less likely to be skewed by "outsider's
criteria" and the typical economic indicators of "cash income."
By observing activities on farm family ecosystems, it is possible to
estimate the recycling ratio. This, in turn, permits comparison between
individual families, and between rural groups of different cultures, dif-
ferent types of agriculture, and different religions. It also enables the
separation of "subsistence" agriculture -- where the recycling ratio is very
high -- from market agriculture -- where the recycling ratio tends to be
much lower. Both from the perspective of insiders, who might systematically
organize for their own "development," and from the perspective of outsiders,
determined to assist with "development," different strategies are likely to
be appropriate for farming systems with high recycling ratios than for farming
systems with low recycling ratios. Thus, programs of technology development,
of extension education, of market infrastructure would be quite different for
the farming system with a high recycling ratio than for the farming system
with a low recycling ratio.
To illustrate, supply of chemical fertilizer has been attempted in
areas where farms have a high recycling ratio. Since farmers in those areas
tend not to buy and sell on the market, they tend not to perceive need for
such expensive outside inputs. Thus, chemical fertilizer programs have
tended to fail in those types of situations. Conversely, farms with a low
recycling ratio, and a high potential market output, may have needs for
outside inputs to prevent depletion of soil fertility.
In evolving strategies for rural development, identification of
"target groups" by the relative size of their recycling ratios might provide
a useful focus for programming.
The recycling ratio for any group of farms indicates which farming
systems are more "open" than others. Those with a high recycling ratio
would be characterized as relatively more "closed." As they recycle most
of their energies within the farm family environment, information supplied
by tradition tends to be adequate to maintain the system. These farmers
tend not to look to society's bureaucratic system to provide inputs of in-
formation via extension services, for instance, or material/energy such as
seeds and fertilizer. Those with a lower recycling ratio would indicate
more "openness" for new information which might be provided by outside
systems. It could be assumed that those whose low recycling ratio reflect
labor energy surplus would be responsive to information about alternative
employment opportunities, training for different occupations, or intensive
agriculture options. Those farmers whose low recycling ratio reflects
surplus production available to the market would be open to information on
credit and marketing, as well as alternative energy sources, such as
mechanization, and fertilizer, which would reduce their dependency on
farmers in labor surplus situations.
Additionally, this group of farmers would tend to be more specialized
and hence look to the bureaucracy of the society to provide organizational
management to expedite exchanges among specialized commodity producers.
Utlimately, those with the higher recycling ratios make the least demands
for support services or material/energy inputs and are the least likely to
be motivated to use those which are offered.
The recycling ratio, taken alone, may be considered to be value neutral.
In the particular farming systems studied in Nepal, relationships between
this ratio and other factors, not necessarily value neutral, are demonstrated.
The extent of functional differentiation, the quantities of energy trans-
formed, and the degree of independence tend to relate to various other social,
economic and cultural indicators sometimes used to assess the 'quality of
life.' From these conceptions of function and differentiation come
hypotheses relating social differentiation to energy conversion quantities
and to dependence.
Because of the social dimensions of this approach to rural development,
it provides an alternative set of variables for assessing the social and
cultural impact of change, and it opens new strategies for the social organ-
ization and administration of development.
The major hypothesis which flows from this rationale is that there is a
positive correlation between energy transformation and functional differentiation
in farm family ecosystems.
In addition, each of these characteristics of farm family ecosystems is
related to size. There is a positive correlation between size of farm and
quantity of energy transformed. Also, there is a positive correlation between
size of farm and functional differentiation.
The recycling ratio has been suggested as an analytical tool, and,
by definition, the extent of social differentiation in individual farm
family ecosystems varies inversely with the size of the recycling ratio.
In order to test these propositions, actual quantities of flow, in
terms of large calories, were calculated for the three main components
illustrated in Figure 1 above. Figure 5 illustrates how one component,
the human component, was analyzed on farms which average 0.39 hectares
in the Sundar Bazaar of Lamjung District in Nepal. The quantities shown
represent the quantities of energy flowing into and out of the human group
on that size of farm during the course of one year. The figures are in
Having assembled such data, for each of the main components, it was
possible to put the human component together with the plant component and
the animal component of farms of a given size, as illustrated in Figure 6.
On the basis of this type of analysis, it was possible to construct
Table 6, which is a gross approximation of the total materials and energy
flow in farm family ecosystems and their near environment by size of land
holdings in the same area. There, the total material and energy flow per
farm family figures illustrate wealth in relationship to average size of
landholding. Those who control the most land, also have the most energy
flow per farm family.
The proportion of the total production of materials and energy in such
a farm family ecosystem which is transformed within that family referred to
above as the recycling ratio, is shown in Table 7 for Lamjung
District. It is estimated by adding together the total production of cal-
ories by human, plant, and animal components of such an ecosystem and then
calculating the proportions of these which are in fact recycled within the
Materials and Energy Flow in the Human Component of
Farm Family Ecosystems in Sundar Bazaar Area of Lamjung
District, Nepal, 1977. Average Farm Size 0.39 Hectares.
(Energy transformations are presented in KCals per Ha. per Year)
CD Figure 6
n I Lamjung Farm Size
= 0.39 Ha.
(1K 3 -- 197\
N Vrai;h _Animals\
314 i( 42 health
0094 100 act t
314 948 *
Table 6 -- Gross Approximation of Total Materials and
Energy Flow in Farm Family Ecosystems and
their Near Environment by Size of Land
Holdings, Sundar Bazaar, Lamjung District,
Number Average Size Total Material Total Material
of of Land Holding and Energy Flow and Energy Flow
Families (Hectares) per Hectare in per Farm Family
KCals (x00) (in KCals x000)
16 0.17 185,907.6 31,604.3
17 0.39 130,389.4 50,851.9
16 0.62 113,211.8 70,191.3
17 1.20 68,721.9 82,466.3
4 4.06 23,612.8 95,868.0
Table 7 --
Recycling Ratios* for some farms in Nepal. Based on data
from 70 farms in Lamjung District collected in 1977.
Number of Average Size Recycling Ratio
Farms of Farm in
16 0.17 90.55
17 0.39 96.37
16 0.62 94.83
17 1.20 91.79
4 4.06 77.09
* The Recycling Ratio is the proportion of total materials and energy
flow into, within, and out of a family ecosystem which is recycled
within the system (exclusive of solar energy).
Lamjung r = -.93
farm rather than "exported" from the farm, or "imported" to the farm.
As Table 7 illustrates, the smaller farms have the higher recycling
ratios, and the larger farms have the lower recycling ratios. There is
an inverse relationship between the recycling ratio and the size of farm.
Correlation is -.93 for Lamjung District.
In Lamjung District, the very smallest farming systems, which send
out both labor and draft power and bring in cereal grain, have a slightly
lower recycling ratio than the next three groups, but all four major
groups in this district (66 of the 70 farms studied) recycle more than
90 percent of their total materials and energy flow. As might be expected,
the four "over size" farms, which don't seem to fit the rest of the Lamjung
group have a significantly lower recycling ratio at 77.09.
The second smallest group of farms in the Lamjung area, averaging 0.39
hectare per farm, have the highest recycling ratio (96.37 percent),
approaching what might be labeled complete subsistence agriculture at
100 percent. From there, as the farm sizegrows, the recycling ratio
The recycling ratio was defined as an index of functional differen-
tiation, and these data tend to validate it as such an index. To the
extent that it is a valid indicator of functional differentiation, the
data presented in Table 7 support the hypothesis that there is a positive
correlation between size of farm and functional differentiation. The data
presented in Table 6 support the hypothesis that there is a positive
correlation between size of farm and quantity of energy transformed. By
logic, we infer that there must be a positive correlation between energy
transformation and functional differentiation.
Discussion in Relation to Other Rural Social Systems
The positive correlation between quantities of energy transformed
and functional differentiation is reflected in information available
about other types of farm family ecosystems in other parts of the world.
In the highly commercialized large scale mono-crop agriculture of Michigan,
for example, indications are that farm family ecosystems may have recycling
ratios as low as 2 to 5. Almost all inputs are purchased on a commerical
market, and close to 100 percent of the energy value of farm production is
sold to specialized marketing firms outside. Wheat producers will purchase
bread from outside, and dairy farm families may buy homogenized milk. They
have not only differentiated (specialized) the production function, eliminating
supply and marketing, but they tend to have further specialized to fewer and
fewer different farm products. In quest of economies of scale, they have
further differentiated the production function. (Tumala and Connor, 1973).
In the opposite direction, low income pastoralists in the Rift valley
of Kenya tend to have even higher recycling ratios than the small mixed
farmers of Nepal. The pastoralist family ecosystems must move with the
rains, continually seeking water and grazing for their cattle, sheep, goats,
and donkeys. As they move from one location to another, they take their
whole families, all livestock, their homes (tents, etc.) and all other
worldly goods with them. Such groups live on the milk (and blood) of their
cattle, and the meat of their sheep and goats. Only small and supplementary
inputs like salt are purchased from outside. In times of drought some grain
or other foodstuffs might have to be purchased. On those occasions live-
stock must be sold or bartered. Normally, however, if there is any surplus,
livestock numbers are increased. They represent savings, or family wealth.
With no travelling banks or other investment possibilities, even surpluses
are recycled within. And with no travelling schools or health centers,
most functions must be done by the relatively unspecialized, undifferentiated
nomadic farm family. Therefore, recycling ratios may tend to be in the
high eighties or over 90 percent.
By definition the higher the recycling ratio, the less the social
differentiation. And the data presented above, as well as the international
comparative experience tend to confirm that the less the social differen-
tiation, the less the total quantities of energy transformation for each
farm family ecosystem.
The Recycling Ratio in Social Impact Analysis
The conception of continuity and change in rural social systems as
a cyclical phenomenon, based on the farm family ecosystem approach, can
be useful for several different types of agricultural and developmental
1. From Agricultural to Farming Systems Research. Historically,
the development of agricultural research systems has faced issues of social
control, rewards and sanctions, reference groups and which topics
to study. One of the issues beginning in early organized efforts in
Germany and Scotland, and continuing with the establishment of state
experiment stations in the U.S.A. was whether to service the expressed
needs of farmers, or let the growing scientific community decide which
agricultural problems were appropriate for research. The formal research
institutions have had to mediate not only between farmers' concerns and
scientists' concerns, but also contend with the authority of public
political-economic forces which provide their sustenance. The latter
tend to reflect the changing nature and values of the larger social system
(especially urban forces) and particularly its power structure.
Thus, as European and North American societies became increasingly
differentiated and industrialized, and as the scientific community also
became increasingly specialized, the nature of agricultural research
reflected these trends. While this was perhaps appropriate in countries
like the U.S.A., where highly specialized, large-scale, capital-intensive
agriculture "fit" the larger social trends, it produced a style, mind-set
and level of differentiation which made it quite "unfit" for relevance
to the small-scale, undifferentiated labor-intensive farming systems in
places like Nepal.
In the past three decades of agricultural research, the scientific
community has had difficulty recognizing the fundamental differences
between the types of farming systems found in much of Asia, Africa, and
Latin America, and those found in North America and Europe. During the
past century, North American and European farmers have shifted from rela-
tively high recycling ratios to relatively low recycling ratios. They
have become so low that studies of energy flow in Michigan in 1979, for
example, do not even take into account such factors as human labor and
animal manure, since the energy values of "inputs" such as chemical ferti-
lizer, diesel fuel, electricity and gasoline are so high that the other
figures become insignificant by comparison.
The large scale, commercial, specialized and highly differentiated
mono-crop agriculture of the industrial countries has its own problems.
In response, its scientific community applied science to those problems
and developed technologies which were appropriate. However, the attempt
to transfer some of those technologies to the small scale, mixed-crop and
livestock, labor intensive and capital-short agriculture of the so-called
"developing countries" was a dysfunctional exercise. Usually, the attempts
at technology transfer failed. When the technology transfer succeeded,
sometimes the problems which were caused tended to defeat long run
Perhaps the recycling ratio can inform agricultural research of the
nature of the problems which would be appropriate to study for any particu-
lar type of agriculture. The aspiration is that science applied to the
type of agriculture in which most materials and energy are recycled within
would result in technologies that would be less dominated by goals of
increasing production, and more concerned with reducing storage losses,
increasing consumption, and increasing equity among various members of
rural social systems.
The assumption of a cycle of change, rather than the linear "progress"
model, may encourage more historical analysis in agricultural research, and
could reveal much from the past which might be useful in the future.
Similarly, the conception of a farm family ecosystem, with change in
any component affecting and constrained by the condition of all other
components, may be useful to agricultural researchers who are turning
toward farming systems approaches. A farming systems perspective should
enhance the capacity of the highly specialized scientific community to
relate to relatively undifferentiated types of agriculture by adjusting
the research agenda with different approaches to problem definition.
For example, the issue of the advantages and disadvantages of small
garden tractors as substitutes for animal draft power is a subject for
agricultural research. However, when only cash flow data are used, the
analysis may lead to a different evaluation than when all materials and
energy flows are taken into account. Such matters as use of straw and
other fodder by draft animals, allocation of child labor to livestock
care, manure values, exchanges between the farm family ecosystem and its
near environment, when entered into an evaluative equation, may produce
Further, agricultural researchers are less likely to declare a new
cereal grain selection to be "improved" if they consider more than the
grain yield. If the recycling ratios of the farming system are taken
into account, some varieties will be rejected even when their grain yield
is high, because their fodder yield may be insufficient or their requirement
for innovation in procurement of outside inputs may make them less than
2. Agricultural Extension Education perspectives might also be ex-
panded by a farm family ecosystem perspective. For example, in areas
where small farming systems have a very high recycling ratio, credit
for purchase of inputs tends to be rejected or ignored by farmers. That
is because they usually supply their own inputs, consume their own outputs,
and do not require large amounts of credit for operation.
If those (outsiders) planning the agricultural extension programs
had first analyzed such phenomena as revealed by the recycling ratio, alterna-
tive programs might have been proposed. Technological improvements in
storage of home grown seed and farm yard manure are more promising than
production credit to those with high recycling ratios. Similarly, there
are many agricultural extension programs in South Asia which make the
assumption that farm families keep dairy cattle primarily for milk. Based
on that assumption, the programs are designed to help farmers increase
the milk production of those cattle. The farm family ecosystem analysis
reveals in some parts of Nepal, as an example, that the primary reason
for keeping a cow is usually for the production of a male calf, which might
some day supply draft power. The second reason is usually for the
production of farm yard manure, which serves either as fertilizer or
as fuel. For many families, milk production from their cows may be a
third or even fourth (following certain religious functions) reason for
keeping the cow. Such poorly planned extension education programs usually
fail, thus avoiding any serious damage they might do to the farm family
ecosystem. However, it is normal to blame the farmer, as an "ignorant
peasant," for not following the program's recommendations, rather than
to discover the weakness of the initial assumption.
Farm families with high recycling ratios can use many information
inputs of agricultural extension education at the decision points which
have been identified in Figure 1, as the small circles between the compon-
ents of the farm family ecosystem.
Improved storage technology, for example, can stretch the harvest
of grain to more adequately meet nutritional needs of the family through
the whole year. New information on weather and resource variables can
contribute to planting and rotation decisions which will expand production
to provide food and seed for the family.
Symbiotic relationships among plants traditionally intercropped, as
well as between plants and animals, can be recognized by agricultural
research and those practices supported by the research and extension
professionals. This support can expand the development of the skills
and abilities (human capital) of the small farm family.
3. International Development Assistance can also be informed both
by the cyclical perspective and by the farm family ecosystem approach.
The extent of functional differentiation, as well as the extent of energy
transformation and nature of materials and energy flows all offer clues to
outsiders as to what types of interventions are likely to be seen as
"development" by insiders, as well as to provide strategic help in
determining what is likely to succeed and what is more likely to fail.
Examples of the failure to use this approach are much more plentiful
than examples of success.
The normal international development assistance assumption, whether
it be by host country nationals, by "donor" country staff, or by inter-
national organizations, has been that since development and modernization
vary together along the straight line of advancing technology, whatever
comes from the more "advanced" countries is obviously better for the
so-called less developed countries. The fallacy is that in most cases
a technology invented in one system to solve some of its problems is
not likely to "fit" very well in another very different system. If it
be introduced, like an animal organ transplant which is not appropriate
for the new system, it is likely to be rejected, and may cause damage to
the rest of the system into which it is introduced.
Typical examples are petroleum powered tractors, being introduced
to small mixed farming systems of Asia and Africa. These technological
"improvements" in large-scale, mono-crop, capital intensive farming systems
tend to be rejected after introduction to small-scale, multiple crop and
livestock, labor-intensive farming systems.
Beyond the mechanization example, which is so obvious in retrospect,
there are many less obvious current examples. These include the promotion
of increased cereal grain yields by extension systems controlled from
central governments. It is often in the interest of government to increase
production, since it is assumed this will increase food supplies, and per-
haps reduce pressure on international exchange. However, it is just as
often not in the interest of farm family ecosystems. Sometimes this is
because the cost of such yield increases is in excess of the net gain to
the system. There are many instances of this in situations where the
only feasible way of achieving the increased yields is to increase chemical
fertilizer inputs. With high costs of such fertilizer, the small mixed
farming system is often better off when its yields are lower.
This type of intervention is sometimes encouraged by international
technical assistance, in association with international agricultural
research units. Since the rewards to professional staff within host
countries are much larger from the international research network than
they tend to be from the local bureaucracy, evaluations of foreign materials
with foreign criteria result in local recommendations which may not be in
the interest of local farmers. In fact, just as international reward
systems and values overwhelm the national ones, both of these bureaucracies
tend to overwhelm any influence small farmers might have on the nature of
what is researched, what is extended, or what is the essence of international
There is some direct utility for socio-cultural impact analysis, and
the assessment of the impact of outside interventions on social systems and
their cultures. While progress is being made in this field, there has
been a tendency for social and behavioral scientists to be comparatively
"vague" and general in their findings, particularly when compared with
biologists and economists. This has encouraged international banks,
development agencies, and governments to turn more to the economic data
and the agronomic information. Merely to know that certain customary
practices may be in jeopardy because of the introduction of some new
technology has not seemed to influence those supporting the projects as
much as "hard" data about expected increases in income or agricultural
yields. Demographers have been more convincing, but their data tend to
be macro level, and less helpful for micro impact analysis.
Criteria in addition to cash flow and population trends are greatly
needed if social scientists are to make a contribution in this area.
There is so little documented about such phenomena as the social organization
and administration of change agencies in the rural social systems of the
world, that the opportunity for rural sociologists seems particularly
The concept of a cycle, itself, suggests the need for more research
on patterns of technological change, not only with recent innovations
(which have been so attractive to rural sociologists), but historically,
even going back to ancient times, further documentation of change from
the highly differentiated to the less differentiated is needed. Analysis
of how social change accompanied shifts toward less intensive exploitations
of available energy resources, and the social dynamics of the technological
changes involved, would have immediate utility in contemporary North
America and Europe.
The field of urban-rural and rural-urban migrations also could exploit
the cyclical conceptualization, by relating continuity and change in
different parts of the world at different points in historical time to
each other. Also, long-range migrations and short-range migration patterns
might well be analyzed from the perspective of the social differentiation
and energy transformation measures, and related to continuity and change
in types of farming systems. Here the opportunity includes the assembly
of studies by ethnologists, archeologists, historians, and others and
making analyses from a rural social systems perspective. See, for example,
E. Boulding (1976)..
With respect to phenomena like the recycling ratio, more detailed
field research would contribute significantly. The descriptive base needs
much additional work.
Studies of the decision making process at the "trigger points" identified
in the farm family ecosystem model might reveal continuity and change in
values, and the value relationships associated with functional differentiation.
The independence of a high recycling ratio versus the dependence
associated with a low recycling ratio varies as a social goal from
place to place and time to time. How any why this happens needs
Parallels with local "basic human needs" criteria may be associ-
ated as much with the total quantities of materials and energy flow
as with the proportion which is recycled. More analyses in more parts
of the world would add significantly. Perhaps studies which identify
opportunities for raising recycling ratios in farming systems in the
United States, by such strategies as reducing energy inputs and diversi-
fying functions should be explored?
Beyond the use of social differentiation and energy transformation
analysis within individual farming systems, there is great opportunity
for rural sociologists at the next levels of analysis of larger social
systems. At the village level, it has been observed in this study that
there is a social significance in the collection of forage for livestock
from the near environment, and often from common pastures and forest
lands. This results in inputs of manure for plant production and soil
fertility which are obtained away from the individual family ecosystem.
The relationships between individual family needs and values, and those
of the larger community, can be explored much further with this type of
analysis. The larger questions of energy transformations and materials
flows at the community level, and linkages with the larger social system
of which the community is a part, are already being studied. This conceptual
framework may have utility for such investigators.
in different agro-climatic zones, among different ethnic groups, and with
different types of farming systems offer the rural sociologist research
opportunity almost everywhere in the world. Among the objectives of
such further research are the refinement and improvement of the methodologies
described here, expanding the understanding of farm family ecosystems as
systems, comparative studies of farm family ecosystems in different
cultural and geographic locations, and providing a better base for inter-
national scientific and technical exchanges.
Limitations of Materials and Energy Flow Approach
There are several limitations to this type of analysis. The decision
to consider off-farm grazing and grass cutting, as well as firewood
gathering, to be part of the near environment, increases the recycling
The type of analysis reported above must be considered to be at a
primitive stage. The opportunities for further work far outweigh the
achievements thus far. Within individual farm family ecosystems, time-
use studies such as our work in Nigeria (Axinn and Axinn, 1969) and detailed
quantification of materials flow among the plant, human and animal components,
would certainly contribute to validity. Further, the data were collected at
each location at one point in time. Trend data over the months of a typical
year, or a period of several years, would strengthen the perspective. And
comparisons of different types of family farming systems using this sort of
analysis would also be useful.
However, I have tried to demonstrate that it is possible to assess
materials flow and energy transformation within small family farms, and among
such farms in a rural social system. Assessments of such materials flow and
energy transformation may be more valid as indicators of quality of life than
assessments of the annual cash income which are so widely used at present.
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