SOME PROBLEMS IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF AGRICULTURAL
RESEARCH PROJECTS WITH A
FARMING SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE
1/ --- V
Farming Systems Support Project
International Programs Office of Agriculture and
Institute of Food and Office of Multisectoral Development
Agricultural Sciences Bureau for Science and Technology
University of Florida Agency for International Development
Gainesville, Florida 32611 Washington, D.C. 20523
NETWORKING PAPER NO. 3
SOME PROBLEMS IN THE
IMPLEMENTATION OF AGRICULTURAL
RESEARCH PROJECTS WITH A
FARMING SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE
by David W. Norman
Agricultural Technology Improvement Proj ect (ATIP) Department of Agricultural Research, P/Bag 0033, Gabornone, Botswana
The opinions expressed-in this paper are those held personally by the
author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organisation with which he is associated. Invited for a seminar for senior agricultural research administrators from Eastern and Southern Africa on the Introduction of On-Farm Research with a Farming Systems Perspective, as a Tool in Agricultural Research. Sponsored by CINMYT in Nairobi 18th 20th April, 1983.
NETWORKING PAPER NO. 3
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1.1 Not all the possible problems discussed in this paper have been
experienced by the author in setting up a FSAR (Farming Systems
Approach to Research) type proj ect in Botswana where the Government
is very responsive and sympathetic to such proj ects and other similar
projects that had earlier been implemented.
1.2 Because of limited agricultural research resources within national
programmes, scepticism about the value of FSAR-type projects, etc., such projects currently receive substantial external funding. This
complicates the problems of implementing such projects and therefore
this dimension is considered in this paper.
1.3 For the purposes of the paper the problems are divided into three
groups corresponding to stages in the implementation of the project,
(a) Pre-project implementation stage
(b) Initial project implementation
(c) Continued proj ect implementation
obviously the severity and character of the problems at each stage
will be determined in part by what happened earlier, while the way in which they are treated when they arise -- ignored or resolved -- will partially determine their magnitude and character at a later stage in
the implementation cycle.
2. PRE-PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION STAGE
2.1 At this stage the crucial issue is for the various
agencies/individuals to have a clear idea of:
(a) What FSAR is.
(b) What is expected of them during the implementation stage.
Problems arise during implementation if the above conditions are not
2.2 There are currently usually three different groups of
agencies/individuals that are vitally concerned in FSAR-type proj ect
implementation. These are:
(a) Agencies within the national programmes involved in agricultural
research, extension and agricultural planning/ development.
(b) The donor/contracting agency responsible for providing the
exernal funding/ personnel.
(c) The team members, both national and expatriates, in the FSAR
2.3 The design stage for a project provides a good opportunity for
ensuring that full understanding on both the conceptualisation of
FSAR and the expected commitment by national and donor agencies is achieved. The recent introduction by USAID of the "collaborative
mode" in which the external contracting agency is, together with the national agencies, responsible for both the design and implementation
of the project, potentialy provides a good way of ensuring this
understanding and should improve the probability that suitable
expatriate personnel will be recruited to help in project
2.4 National agencies.
2.4.1 The nature of FSAR means that to be fully effective it must
have operational links with more than one agency at the
national level. The argument for this is derived from the
nature of FSAR which can be summarised as follows:
(a) The primary aim of the FSAR is to increase the overall
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.
(b) Increased productivity is achieved through two types of
(i) Farming systems research (FSR) involving the
development and dissemination of relevant improved practices (technologies) .
(ii) Farming systems perspective (FSP) involving
influencing the development of relevant policies and support systems (external institutions).
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.
(c) 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 parameters (implying
a submissive approach to them on the part of the FSR
team) rather than variables amenable to manipulation
(implying an interventionist approach on the part of the
FSR team). An interventionist approach permits a wider
range of possible improved technologies to be considered
in the research process.
2.4.2 In planning the implementation of an FSAR-type project within
a national programme problems will arise if the work of such a
project is not perceived as being complementary to the work of
planning/development, extension, and research agencies,
FSAR work is mistakenly perceived as a substitute 2for the
work of any of these agencies then obviously they will be
interested in maintaining the status quo and will vigorously
oppose implementation of such a project. Even if FSAR is
correctly seen as conceptually complementary to the work of
such agencies, problems can still arise during times of constrained financial/manpower resources when FSAR will
obviously be perceived as competitive in terms of resource
2.4.3 To improve the probability of operational linkages between
FSAR-type projects and the various agencies it is important to
plan for some logistical support from each agency although
this complicates problems of coordination, management and control on the part of the FSAR-project team leader. For
example in our proj ect in Botswana local staff are being
provided by the planning, research and extension agencies, office accommodation comes from the extension and research
agencies, while most of the remaining local logistical support
is provided through the research agency. An advisory group consisting of representativeS of each of the agencies, plus
the FSAR proj ect team leader can help in resolving problems
that arise in linking with more than one agency.
2.5 Donor and contracting agencies
2.5.1 The perception and understanding of FSAR on the part of the
donor agency and even more critically important, the
contracting agency, is, together with their commitment, an important determinant of their effectiveness in recruiting
suitable team members, providing sound back-stopping and support activities and providing timely and constructive
2.5.2 Unfortunately it cannot always be safely assumed that
contracting agencies fully comprehend how to implement FSAR
projects in developing countries, while various disincentives
often exist within the contracting agencies which discourange individuals in mid-career from taking long term assignments
particularly for more than two years -- in developing
2.6 Team Members
2.6.1 Obviously planning the implementation of a successful
FSAR-type project involves recruiting suitable team members
both national and expatriate. This is not easy because of
some rather unique features of FSAR-type activities involving
work on farmers? farms, a farming system focus rather than
focusing on one commodity, the necessity of inter-disciplinary
cooperation, and having an appreciation of the role of other disciplines. Unfortunately until very recently effectiveness
in such work has been primarily based on longevity in the
field (i.e., relevant experience) rather than through formal
2.6.2 Substantial field work often under difficult circumstances,
combined with considerable amounts of traveling and sometimes
living in isolated areas, not only can preclude the
identification and participation of suitable local staff but also, together with the nature of FSAR tpye work, often make
it difficult to recruit suitable expatriate staff.
3. INITIAL PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION
3.1 At this stage the crucial issue is to initiate implementation of a
project in such a way as to be compatible with the interests,
commitments and obligations of the involved national agencies, the
donor and contracting agencies and the FSAR team itself.
Considerable misunderstanding and antagonism can arise and be
perpetuated if mistakes are made at this stage. The discussion here
can be divided into three parts as follows:
(a) Setting up suitable administrative procedures and sup port
systems necessary for the implementation of the project.
(b) Ensuring relevant coordinating linkages within the national
(c) Initiating a relevant and effective work programme by the FSAR
3.2 Administrative Procedures and Support Systems
3.2.1 Initially project implementation involving setting up suitable
administrative procedures can be very time consuming
expecially if the team leader has no prior experience in the
country and the donor agency plus the contracting organization
are involved. Communication systems, staff recruitment
methods, satisfactory budgetary expenditure and bookeeping
systems, inventory acquisition and stock-taking systems, and
reporting systems all have to be established that will satisfy
the differing needs of the national agencies, donor agency and contracting agency. Numerous problems can arise at this stage
although potential misunderstandings should be reduced through
the use of the collaborative mode for awarding contracts
referred to earlier (see section 2.3). Other factors that can
be very important in reducing and/or resolving problems are:
(a) Within the national setting a crucial factor is the
nature of the relationships the team leader develops with the leadership of the different national agencies and the quality of the staff helping in the day-to-day administration of the project. A high-quality, locally-hired, admi~Qistrative assistant can play a vital
role at this stage.
(b) The nature of the relationship the team leader
establishes with the donor agency, and particularly with the representatives of the donor agency in the country,
is of criticl importance. In this respect in USAID the project manager (usually the Agricultural Development
Officer) can play a particularly significant facilitating
role in the implementation of FSAR projects partially
funded by USAID. In addition to such constructive
relationshops it is extremely useful if the team leader
is familiar with the administrative and operational
procedures of the donor agency which, for example, can be
gleaned through prior work experience with the
(c) Establishing constructive relationships with the
personnel involved in providing back-stopping activities
of the contracting agency is obviously also of critical importance. Familiarity with the contracting agency of
personnel involved is obviously highly desirable
especially as it is easy for relationships to become
strained through the inevitable difficulites and delays
in communications over long distances.
3.2.2 Combined with administrative problems involved in setting up
relevant administrative procedures is the provision of the
*requisite logistical support for the implementation of the
proj ec t. Changes in circumstances since the project design
stage plus oversights or faults in the origianl design can
give rise to problems in provision of adequate logistical
support such as housing, office accommodation, vehicles, equipment, staff, counterparts, etc. Some problems have
resulted in our Botswana project because of the recession
which coincided with starting the implementation of the proj ect Consequently there have been some problems in
provision of the logistical support systems on the part of the
government although by now these have been mostly resolved.
one fallback strategy we have found particularly useful in our project is a small contingency fund for research and operation
expenses which is funded from USAID sources and is channelled
through the normal Government of Botswana channels using
governmental procedures for expenditures. We have had
considerable flexibility in the use of these emergency funds enabling us to buy small amounts of equipment, paying casual labor, etc. There is no doubt this fund has been extremely
useful in terms of us being able to overcome short term
crises. One of the problems expatriate team leaders have, who
are funded by donor agencies, is the issue of how aggressive they should be in getting national agencies to fullfil their logistical support commitments. Overly aggressive strategies
at this point can alienate and sour relationships which can
have negative impacts on the functioning of the project. On
the other hand too submissive an approach at this time can
cause problems for the donor agency which has entered into a contract of agreement with the government over the provision
of certain levels of logistical support. Thus team leaders are caught in the middle between the two parties and in the
interest of the project often have to pursue a delicate
3.3. Ensuring Relevant Linkages Within National Progrm
3.3.1 The "bottom-up"' or farmer-up orientation of the FSAR and its
nature which involves inter-agency linkages demands special attention in the initial implementation stage. Regrettably
perhaps most governmental organisations have within-agency
operational procedures and lines of communication and
authority which are vertical in nature and move down towards
the farmer. Thus implementation of an FSAR project requires a
cautious approach on the part of the FSAR team to establish
operational links between agencies. Since FSAR teams are usually, but not always, officically located in technical
research organisations, links need to be established between the FSAR team and planning agency (to enable the possibility
of FSP) and between the FSAR team and the extension agency (to
facilitate FSR). Meetings with individuals in these
organisations, although time consuming, can be very important in establishing linkages even if they are informal initially.
3.3.2 For example in the case of extension personnel, who
understandably can view the on-farm work of FSAR team members
as an invasion of their territory, we have tried in our
project to avoid the development of major misunderstandings in
the following ways:
(a) In the design stage it was agreed that DAFS (The
Department of Agriculture Field Services which is the
extension agency in Botswana) would second (sic) one
extension worker for each project village to work with
the FSAR teams while FSAR field teams would be officed at
their district headquarters. This has been implemented.
(b) A position called the Research Extension Liaison Officer
has been established in DAYS which will help to bridge
the gap between research and extension. This position is
funded from our project funds.
(c) The guidance and advice of the DAO's in the districts in
which project villages are located have been constantly
sought. At the same time they have been informed of what
is being done by the FSAR team members.
(d) Meetings have been held with all of the AD's in the
districts where project villages have been selected to explain the aims of the project, tg assure them we are
not trying to take over their jobs or give them more
work, and to answer questions that they may have.
(e) In the project villages special attention has been paid
to consulting and developing constructive relationships with the ADs stationed here. A particularly sensitive
issue is to impress on them that we want their advice while at the same time we want freedom to choose which farmers to work with. We have been very careful not to carry out functions of the ADs stationed there but have
referred farmer enquiries such as how to get loans, equipment, etc. to the resident AD in the village.
(f) In June this year (1983) we are planning, in coordination
with the other three FSAR projects in Botswana, to hold a
workshop which will be attended by senior extension
personnel from the areas where the FSAR-type projects are
located. The objective of the workshop will be to
acquaint them with what FSAR is and what the different
projects are trying to do.
only time will tell whether the above efforts will be
successful in developing strong and effective links
between the project and extension personnel.
3.3.3 The further linkage that is important to develop is within the
research organisation itself. This involves development of a two way linkage between the field oriented FSAR researches and those working on the experiment station. Since the objectives
of the two groups of researchers are complementary to each
other, each group needs to be responsive to the needs of the other. Initial work is likely to emphasise testing and fine
tuning at the farm level of technologies developed on the
experiment station. However later on in the project there is
likely to be increasing emphasis on feeding back requests to the research station based scientists to further modify the farm tested technologies and to perhaps modify the research
priorities of experiment station researchers, based on needs
ascertained at the farm level. This can be a particularly
sensitive issue and becomes increasingly significant in the
continued implementation of FSAR projects.
3.4. Getting The FSAR Teams Started
3.4.1. Two major problems which often exist in the initial stages of
FSAR projects are as follows:
(a) Strains resulting from bringing together in field teams,
national and expatriate individuals who are unknown to
each other, and who at the same time are in the processing of adjusting to living in unfamiliar
environments often away from major centres of population.
(b) The difficulties of ensuring that, such a
multi-disciplinary group of individuals can work properly
as an inter-disciplinary team -- something which such
individuals often have never done before.
3.4.2 Obviously in addition to trying to select individual team
members whose personalities are potentially compatible and who have had relevant prior experience (not always easy to ensure)
time is needed to get.to know each other, to develop
relationships and to develop a meaningful inter-disciplinary
work plan. Unfortunately, at the start of many projects, time
is a commodity that is lacking. For example in our project, delays in the signing of the contract and in the arrival of
some expatriate team members, combined with an early start to
the rains (which unfortunately later ceased leading to a
severe drought) made the initial implementation stage
particularly difficult. Relationships were still being
developed among team members discussions were still being
held on the proposed work plan, and the necessary logistical
support systems were not in place. This led to numerous
problems which have taken time to resolve. Two strategies
however that helped prevent further exacerbation of the
(a) The number of the villages worked in during this first year has been reduced.
(b) In the design stage only one field team was planned
during this first year with the second one being programmed for starting in the second year of the
4.1 Obviously the critical issues to be addressed during the continued
implementation of FSAR-type projects are to produce useful results
and hopefully to institutionalise the FSAR process within the
4.2 Useful results are of course important in order to establish
credibility with farmers, national agencies and the donor agency.
Factors important in obtaining useful results are:
(a) The availability of improved technologies that, with only minor
fine tuning, can be readily adopted by farmers. Such
availability is derived largely from experiment station based research. The lack of these improved technologies will mean
delays in improvement of the welfare of farmers, while research priorities fed back to experiment station based researchers will
hopefully eventually result in the development of relevant
improved technologies. However, critically important in
determining the payoff from this role of FSAR is the strength
and responsiveness of the experiment station based research
organisation. In any case credibility of FSAR-type teams under such circumstances is likely to suffer especially in the eyes of
national organisations and donor agencies, who are often
compelled by their constituencies, to view useful results as
increases in the productivity and hopefully welfare of farmers
in a short period -- for example less than five years.
Unfortunately, in Botswana, because of the difficult climate as
far as crop production is concerned combined with relatively limited availability of improved technologies, our project is likely to have difficulty in establishing credibility in this
(b) A major problem of many FSAR projects in terms of producing
useful results is that of ensuring resource efficient (both in time and quantity) methods of collecting the necessary data and the timely processing of that data in order to provide an input
into the next stage of the research process. Methodologies for
FSAR type work are still evolving thus providing potential for
substantial disagreements within FSAR teams while the
collection-processing link is often poorly developed. We have purchased an Apple [II micro-computer plus a number of software packages in order to try to overcome this problem. At the same time we are trying to organise our survey and trial instruments in such a way that we can quickly process the results. Whether
we will succeed in this remains to be seen!
(c) Useful results or the lack thereof can of course also be
influenced by unexpected events such as drought, illness of key
team members, etc. The drought Botswana has been experiencing this year has been a useful learning experience for us but has
certainly inhibited us from obtaining much in the way of useful
results from this year's work.
4.3 The likelihood of institutionalising the FSAR approach within
national programmes is obviously heavily dependent upon the
credibility it has achieved. In addition, however, two other factors
(a) There have to be trained and motivated nationals to continue the
work by themselves on the departure of the expatriates.
Training, both informal (on-the-job) and formal in nature, must
be a major component of FSAR projects. Identifying an 'd training
suitable individuals is a difficult process where many
organisations are competing for a limited number of individuals.
The issue of motivation to do FSAR-type work is likely to become
an increasingly important one in institutionalising such work
within national programmes. As indicated earlier, the personal
inconveniences of such work plus the fact that it is not
particularly glamorous in nature, may mean incentives will need
to be considered to encourage nationals to participate in such
work on a long term basis. This poses difficult problems for
decision makers in national programmes.
(b) Many of the resources for FSAR type work in East and Southern
Africa are currently coming from donor agencies. In view of the
limited resources of the countries in the region there is an
obligation on the part of current ESAR type projects to produce
useful results with as few research resources as possible, in order to reduce the burden of institutionalising such proj ects
within national programmes. In allocating research resources the criterion of the current FSAR type projects should be not
what it is desirable to know, but rather what is the minimal
level of resources that need to be expended in order to obtain
4.4 A crucial part of the institutionalisation process, early in the
implementation process, is to make a conscious effort not to
perpetuate a self-contained project, but to integrate and cooperate
with other groups/organisations/projects within the-national setting.
This may come at a short-run cost but in the long-run can greatly
facilitate institutionalisation. For example in Botswana efforts are currently being made to have some degree of coordination between the
FSAR-type projects through inter-project meetings, to permit
individuals from the various projects to participate in committees,
in-service training courses for extension staff, etc. Also the 10
micro-computer we have purchased out of our proj ect funds is to be used not only to process data from our project but also to help in
processing data from the other FSAR projects and from experiment
station based research.
Much of what has been discussed in this paper is obvious. ,However writing
it on paper and implementing it in practise are two different worlds!
1. Complementarity in this sense would mean helping to increase the
effectiveness of these agencies.
2. Unfortunately there does sometimes ap pear to have been a
tendency for some donor agencies to consider on-farm FSR work to
be a substitute for experiment station based research work.
3. In addition a representative from the donor agency is also
4. USAID funded projects often used to have a full time expatriate
administrative assistant on teams in the field. However in
recent years this arrangement has become less common. obviously all other things being equal it is much better to have a locally
hired administrative assistant who can play this role.
.5. In our discussions with the ADs we have emphasised that we are
testing improved technologies rather than demonstrating improved
technologies. The latter is of course more the responsibility
of the ADs although the distinction between test and
demonstration can become rather difficult at times.
6. A particularly sensitive work relationship that needs careful
nurturing is the critical one between national staff members who
know a great deal about the local environment but often still have to acquire the technical and analytical skills, and the
expatriates who have the skills but little or no experince of
the local environment. Both groups need each other but
unfortunately when time is very limited the quality of such
relationships suffer and problems can develop.
7. The fact that the range of relevant improved technologies is
currently limited in Botswana is due in part to the uncertain and harsh environment that prevails for crop production in the