Institutionalizing the farming systems approach to research

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Institutionalizing the farming systems approach to research
Norman, D. W.
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Farming ( LCSH )
Agriculture ( LCSH )
Farm life ( LCSH )


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1. Topics
a) Introduction, objectives, and layout
b) Farming system.determinats
c) Defining the farming systems approach to
research (FSAR)
d) Functions
e) Components including funding
f) Boundaries
2. Introduction, objectives, and layout
2.1 The farming systems research is a
product of the 1970s. It developed due to
frustration over partial or complete failure of other approaches in developing technology
relevant for farming families located in relatively unfavourable environments.
2.2 However, there is considerable confusion over
how a farming system is defined and what the
farming systems approach to research (FSAR) is.
It is important to have a concensus of what
these are'in order to address central objectives
of the paper. At the moment, the term FSAR is
used too loosely.
.2.3 The FSAR is still evolving and, therefore, conventional wisdom for solving methodological and implementation problems has still not developed.
However, some general quidelines are emerging, but
these ere likely to be modified in the light of
further experience.
2.4 Layout o. paper. After defining what a farming
system constitutes the FSAR, the foundation is laid for a consideration of the various topics
assigned to this paper; functions, components
and funding, and boundaries. These topics, however, are not mutually exclusive; therefore thereis some overlap in the discussion.
3. Farmina system determinants
3.1 In developing countries, there is considerable
overlap between the unit of production and the unit of consumption. Therefore, the means of livelihood and household are intimately linked
and cannot be separated (Figure 1).
D.Y. Norman. Invited for Africa Sureau Agriculture and Rural Development Officers Workshop, IITA, Ibaden, Nigeria, MaylO-13. No citations are made in the paper; therefore, many of the ideas expressed in the paper cannot be solely attributed to the writer.

3.2 A farming system adopted by a given farming household results from its members with their managerial know-how, allocating the three factors of production i.e., land, labour, and capital, to which they have access,
to three processes (crops, livestock, and off-farm
enterprises)in a manner which, within the knowledge they possess, will maximaze the attainment of
the goal(s) they are striving for.
3.3 The farming system is determined by the environment
in which the farming family operates. The "total"
environment in which it operates can be divided into the technical (natural) and human elements.
3.4 The technical element refll:ts what the potential
farming system can be and, therefore, provides the necessary condition for its presence. The
technical element can be divided into:
a) Physical factors water, soil, solar
radiation, temperatures, etc.
b) Biological factors crop and animal
*physiology, disease, insect attack etc.
Technical scientists have been able to modify the
technical element to some extent.
3.5 The human element has often been neglected in
traditional research approaches to development
of improved technologies, which accounts for
their often being rejected or, at best, being
differentially adopted, thereby resulting in an inequitable distribution of benefits. The
human element, providing the sufficient condition for the presence of a farming system,
determines -hat tha actual farming system will be being a subset of the potential defined by
the technical element.
3.6 The human element can be divided into two components or groups of factors. The exogenous
factors the social. milieu in which the farming household operates are largely out of the control of the individual farming household, but will influence what its members are
able to do. They can be divided into three
broad groups:
a) Community structures, norms, and
- b) ...Eternal institutions or support systems.
This is often provided by government,
both on the input (extension, input distribution) and product (direct and indirect intervention) sides-.
c) Miscellaneous influences location,
population density etc.
On the other hand, endogenous factors land, labour, End ccpital, along with management which are under the control of the individual

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. -derive a farming system consistent with their goal(s) subject'to the boundary conditions laid down by the
technical element and exogenous factors. The en. dogenous factors can. under certain circumstances
be complemented and supplemented in quantitative and
qualitative terms through the influence of exogenous
factors such as capital thrdugh a credit program,
management via extension, etc.
4. Defining the farming systems approach to research (FSAR)
4.1 The primary aim of the FSAR is to increase the
overb2l productivity of the farming system and,
therefore, hopefully the welfare of individual
farming families in the context of the entire range of private and societal goals given
the constraints and potentials imposed by the determinants of the existing farming systems.
4 4.2 Increased productivity 'is achieved through two
types of developmental strategies:
a) Farming systems research (FSR) involving the development and dissemination of relevant improved practices (technologies).
b) Farming systems perspective (FSP)
involving influencing the development of relevant policies and support systems (external institutions).
4.3 Both developmental strategies have a "micro
macro" or "bottom-up" orientation compared
with the more "top-down" or "macro to micro"
orientation of research work that starts at the experiment station or in the upper
echelons of planning ministries.
4.4 Given the right institutional setting and linkages, both FSR and FSP are possible. However, in general, because FSR programs have usually
been located in agricultural research institutes primarily crop oriented often with poor linkages to planning or policy-making agencies, the: FSP has usually not been operative. Thus, the support systems have been considered papameters (implying. a submissive approach to them
on the part' bf the FSR team) rather than
variables amenable to manipulation (implying
mn interventionist approach on the part of the FSR team). An interventionist approach permits
a wider range of possible improved technolocies to be considered in the research process.
4/ ......

4.5 The term FSR has often been used very loosely.
There are programs called FSR that are not FSR,
: and.there,are programs not called FSR that are
indeed FSR. The following characterizes FSR:
a) The farm, as a whole, is viewed in a
Comprehensive manner.
b)' The choice of priorities for research
reflects the initial study of the
whole farm.
c) ..Research on a farm sub-system is legitimate FSR provided the connections
with other sub-systems are recognised
and taken'into account.
Sd)'.. E~Galuation of research results explicitly
take into account linkages between sub" .systems.'
. Using the above characterization, as.long-as
the concept of the whole farm and its environment are preserved, not all factors determi.. . ning the farming system need to be considered
as variables some may be treated as parameters. Therefore, FSP. may be called FSR "in
the small" (low ratio of variables to parameters) or FSR "in the large" (high ratio of
S variables to parameters). Incorporation of
FSP into FSR increases the ratio of variables
to 'parameters. However, methodological and implementation issues become more complex as
the. ratio of variables to parameters increases.
In addition to the methodological issue, the
scope of the FSR program will be partially
determined by the mandate of the institution in which it is located, the effectiveness of
linkages with other institutions and agencies, resources available, i.e. time,skill, finances,
4.6 As well as FSR programs being differentiated on
the basis of the ratio qf variablas to parsmeters, they can be classified as follows:a) ."Upstream" types of FSR programs have a
developmental orientation and usually
do not provide results for immediate
adoption by farming.families. Perhaps
more aptly called resource management
research, "upstream" FSR programs involve using a systems approach to provide prototype solutions on experiment stations
to major constraints to crop or agri* cultural improvement, e.g. watershed
management, intercrcpping etc.
5/ ......

Along with results from commodity research
programs reductionist research they
contribute to the body of knowledge
-(Figure 2) and are:avsilable for feeding
into the "downstream" FSR programs.
b) "Downstream" types of FSR programs, which
are presumably the main concern of this
paper, have an applied orientation and aim
at developing and introducing strategies
that will improve the productivity of
farming systems for target groups of farming families now and in the short-run.
This requires selectively drawing upon
available information, i.e., body of knowledge in Figure 2, in the process of designing practices or recommendations for a
particular farming system on the basis of
an analysis of the constraints of that system. Therefore:, recommendations are produced which are suited to a specific local situation. This involves working
directly with farmers, i.e. on-farm
research,-e and as a result, reducing to
a minimum work on the experiment station.
4.7 There are four stages in applied or "downstream"
FSR (Figure 2):
a) The descriptive or diagnostic stage in which
the actual farming system is examined in the context of the "total" environment to identify constraints farmers face and
to ascertain the potential flexibility in
the farming system in terms of timing,
slack resources, etc. An effort is also
made to understand guals and motivation of
farmers that may affect their efforts t.
improve the farming system.
b) The design sta e in which a range of strategies is identified that is thought to be relevant in daling with the constraints
delineated in the descriptive or diagnostic s.tage. Heavy reliance at this stage is placac on obtaining information from the
"body of knowledge."
c) The testing stage in which a few promising
strategies arising from the design stage
are examined and evaluated under farm conSditions, to ascertain their suitability
for producing desirable and accuptable
changes in the existingnfarmig system.
This stage corsists of 'two parts: initial
trials at the form 12vel with joint researcher and farmer participation
(researcher managed), then farmer's testing with total control by farmers themselves .(farmer.mnnaged).

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F,.. rom ID is

a) FSRt or helping tc cenerats relevant improSved technology; is the primary fucus.
b) FSP or helping to develop relevant agricultural pb.Iicios/support systems, is the primary fccus.
c) If-linkages ar-i good between research and planning/impl.entation institutions, some mix betwccm th,,! two may be possible i.e. FSR plus*FSP iFSAR..
Hoever, at the mcnrent, the major thrust is on developing relevant improved technologies for the crop sub-system. Th.'s is in part because most FSR-type, programs are lccated in agricultural research insatitUtes those mn-ndates revolve around crops.
5.*3 FSAR-type programs holp generate and communicate information in'the following ways:
a) Through piovid:.nq a merns for farmers to
* communicate th..3ir neac~c to researchers
(FSR)-and plannirc/implementation agencies (FSP) vvhich has often been lacking in th2 more conventional "top* down" approechcvs.
b) Through* bringing eb-cut linkages between farmers;- extension opsonnel, and
* research-ar3 (F!'R2)1 and farnmerst extension
personnel, 'and p-Inning/implementation institutions (VSP).
5.4 FSAR-type progra~ms prcfi *'practical component"
in the on-the-job tr-irJ!..q c~f researchers, extension, 3ndplannir.l; perscr~n'Di. In fact, much of the skill obtaine,6 to ito in FSAR-type activities has ltaen derived fl-om longevity in the field rather then throuti Frrmal training programs. Although forral degree training is not available in this general- ai-ea, short courses in the interdisciplir~ary characteristics of FSARtype activities are tbeing developed st a number of international (CIVY.YT, IRRI)q regional (CATIE), and national (ICTA) institutes.
5.5 In these various functions, FSAR-type activities perform a facilitating or intergrating role rather then initiating role. Therefore, these types of activitines chould rot come right at the beginning of rThe dcvolo1o:nent process unless funding agencies .'zr l ln to -accept a long gestation period in iirrni of' achieving-results. For example, FSR proc:ama ore likely to have low
immediate returnu if he'%bcdy of knouledge"l (Figure 2) pao:iy -!evAop-,d. FSR activities are not a substitu'%Q for ex~erirnnt station based commodity roezaeorc.

5.5 Such national research programs can (providing
understandable inhibitions are overcome) benefit
from linkages with CRSFs and IARCs which-can provide expertise in deficient areas and provide critical masses of staff and resources for
looking at complex problems ("upstream" or developmental FSR).
6. Components:
6.1 Because of the vocational specificity of FSAR-type
activities, the future-particularly of "downstream" or applied activities -must lie within
national programs.
6.2 Problems within national programs that make introduction of FSR activities difficult include:
a) Staff constraints:
relative immobility of staff within national settings sometimes discourages changes and encourages maintenance of the status quo, therefore resulting in opposition to "new" FSR programs.
interdisciplinary FSR activities require the interaction of both technical end social science disciplinesthe latter are usually lacking in technical agricultural research in.....stitutes in Africa.
b) Organizational/operational constraints:
- national research programs used to be
organized-along discipline lines which have more recently given way to programs organized along commodity lines.
however, FSR programs involve crossing both discipline and commodity lines.
c) Research resource constraints:
financial and mcnpower constraints are both common-in national settings.
therefore, although experiment, station based research programs, and applied FSR programs are conceptually complementary, they are often perceived as being competitive in terms of using limited research resources.

" 9
d) Locational specificity of applied ("downastream") FSR programs constraint. This
constraint end the fact that FSR programs work with limited numbers of farming families (hopefully representative of much larger numbers) add to the perception of
some, of the expensive nature of such research. In arriving at such conclusions,
sunk costs involved in developing experiment stations, and low returns from
other pas research endeavours, are likely to be heavily discounted or even ignored.
Because of the complementarity of "downstream" FSR activities and other research
approaches, there appears to be little
value in comparing the benefit-cost ratios
of different research approaches. However, a challenge does exist in minimizing
the costs of "downstream" FSR activities
- seeking ways to reduce the time to
move through four research stages.
- maximizing the returns from such
research by making results as widely
applicable as possible.
- seeking better, but not necessarily
best solutions to farmers' problems.
6.3 Implications for instituting the components -f a
FSR program in a national program are, therefore,
as follows:
a) Be minimally disruptive in instituting an
FSR activity within national programs. It
is not necessary, for example, to call it
FSR if this is politically unpalatable,
while, in order to encourage intrninstitutional linkages and coperation,
it is probably not always desirable
initially at lact to have a separate unit for FSR. Rather, improved possibilities for support and commitment are
likely to arise if it is grafted onto an
existing administrative unit, e.g. agronomy.
b) Staff and funding limitations usually require initial "pump priming" through:
- support from dcnLr agencies. This
will mainly have to come from public
rather than private sources.

- 10
- Funds and personnel from the latter
source are not.likely to be forthcoming for institutionalizing an
FSR-type 'program where the gesta. .tion period is likely to be lengthy
in terms of getting results.
S support through developing links
with'relevant IA.RCs that are developing expertise in "downstream" FSR.
- .recourse-to advice and help from a
central'ccre group of expertise on
FSR activities (such as AID is considering providing funds for at present)'and Title XII Strengthening
Grants in the US universities which
are focusing on FSAR-type activities.
c) Although strong arguments can be made for
locating FSR'teams within current institutions, attention needs to be paid to developing inter-institutional linkages, thus improving the possibilities for effective
FSR'activities. Chances for such effectiveness can be increased through, for exomple:
- obtaining somo manpower and financial
commitments on the pert of extension and planning/implementation agencies.
The involvement of the former in the
research p-rogram can potentially help
mend the rift tat'ften exists between research and extension while the
latter -prOvides the opportunity for
the inclusion of an FSP and the possible source of, at least, agricul'tural economists, often locking in
Technical research institutes.
- arranging linkages, perhaps essentially
of an informal nature with institutions/
organizations with expertise in "downstream" FSR. Since "dwnstream" FSR
.-is still evolving, there are many
methodol gical issues that still remain to be satisfactorily resclved.
d) If an FSP is to receive pririty in FSAR
type programs;- a priority that is currently
* rare then tho logical institutional Iccation of such a program is within -a development project, extension program, or
planning unit.

7. Boundaries:
7.1 As has been emphasized earlier, the major activities of "downstream" FSR programs in the future must be within national programs, although linkages with external agencies and
expertise will be important in improving the
effectiveness of national programs, particularly in solving methodological problems, transferring
results across national boundaries in areas
with similar "total" (Technical and human) environments, etc.
7.2 Experiment station based research programs are,
currently, usually organized along commodity
lines and have a national focus.
7.3 Two possible ways exist for organizing "downstream" FSR-type activities:
a) FSR in the small" emphasizing a couple of products throughout the country. b) "FSR in the large" where all products (processes) are considered as in a regionally focused program. (Such a program could still be "FSR in the small" where only the major products are focused on).
Approach b) is currently being emphasized in
preference to approach a), with regions being either defined ecologically (more
relevant for an FSR program), or administratively (more important where an FSP emphasis is expected), or some compromise
between the two.
7.4 In setting up boundaries for FSAR-type programs, it is, however, essential that effective linkages are maintained between:
a) The various regionally focused FSAR programs.
b). The regionally focused FSAR program and the experiment station based research programs, extension, implementing and planning institutions.
This can be facilitated through meetings,
visits of staff to other programs, etc.
8. Conclusion:
FSAR-type activities are not a panacea. They complement and help integrate and improve the pay-off of other activities through providing a "botton-up"
approach. The decision whether to introduce FSAR
activities is not an either-or decision, but rather
one that can help improve the performance of other
on-coing activities.

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