Toward an agrosocioeconomic methodology

Material Information

Toward an agrosocioeconomic methodology
Hildebrand, Peter E
Place of Publication:
Gainesville FL
Food and Resource Economics Department, Institute of FOod and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
11 leaves : ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Agriculture and state ( lcsh )
Agriculture -- Economic aspects ( lcsh )
Integrated agricultural systems ( lcsh )
Agriculture ( jstor )
Economics ( jstor )
History of technology ( jstor )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent) ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


General Note:
Cover title.
General Note:
"Presented at the Didactic Seminar on "The Role of Sociologists in the Filed Among Other Professions" at the 76th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 24-28, 1981, Sheraton Centre, Toronto."
General Note:
General Note:
Leaf 9 was photocopied offset - information missing.
Statement of Responsibility:
Peter E. Hildebrand.

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Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
80953541 ( OCLC )


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Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
of Florida


Peter E. Hildebrand

Presented at the Didactic Seminar on "The Role of Sociologists in
the Field Among Other Professions" at the 76th Annual Meeting of the American
Sociological Association, August 24-28, 1981, Sheraton Centre, Toronto.

Food and Resource Economics Department
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida


Peter E. Hildebrand 1

"Mixing social and biological scien-
tists is a little like mixing oil and water.
If you shake them up hard enough they will
mix, but if you leave them alone again, they
soon separate. At least they usually do not

If a mixture of agro-socio-economic scientists is not explosive, it can

be volatile. The secret of more stable mixing is to create an environment

within which scientists can effectively contribute to each other to produce

a synergistic effect. In the absence of synergism, any other limited bene-

fits usually are not adequate to overcome the problems caused by traditional

disciplinary defense mechanisms. Disciplinary defense mechanisms are the

artificial barriers which, above all else, inhibit communication among scien-

tists of different disciplines or even among specialists from the same general

discipline. They should not be confused with the natural barriers created by

the sheer impossibility of becoming profoundly learned in several disciplinary

areas. An inter- or multidisciplinary methodology does not require generalists

with shallow understanding of several fields. Synergism is more pronounced when

several well founded specialists work together in an environment free of the

artificial barriers created to prevent intrusion of the unwashed from other

disciplines. Multidisciplinary tolerance is the key element in this environ-

ment. Multidisciplinary tolerance exists in an individual when he does not

-Professor ,Food and Resource Economics Department, University of Florida.

-/Robert K. Waugh. The Rockefeller Foundation, formerly assigned as Adjunct
Director, the Guatemalan Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (ICTA).

-/This term is attributed by the author to Carlos Tejada, formerly Director
General, the Nutrition Institute for Central American and Panama (INCAP).

feel it necessary to defend his terrain from the intrusion of outsiders, wel-

comes contributions from them and has enough knowledge of their disciplines

to be able to contribute in their fields.

Communication among disciplines and true multidisciplinary teamwork are

difficult to achieve because scientists from different fields tend toward dif-

ferent personalities, their disciplinary training creates different orientation

or goals, and the requirements of their disciplines generate conflicting

methodologies. Biological scientists -- the technology generators in agricul-

ture -- are "product" or "commodity" oriented, they work with soils, plants

and animals which they are convinced are the most important components of

agriculture, and they are trained to work on experiment stations or in other

highly controlled conditions where they consider only a limited number of

variable factors while maintaining the others under rigid control. Many are

uncomfortable in situations where they interact with other people such as

when interviewing. Sociologists and anthropologists thrive on interpersonal

interaction, many are "cause" rather than product oriented and are accustomed

to working with a large number of variables which condition acceptance or re-

jection of agricultural technology. For them, the farmer is the most impor-

tant component of agriculture. Agricultural economists are somewhere in the

middle. They are "goal" oriented, they readily complain that biological

scientists do not consider enough variable factors in their work, but as

easily ignore the pleas of social scientists that including just quantifiable

variables is not sufficient, either. Rather than being concerned with plants,

animals or farmers directly, economists are apt to be more familiar with

desks and computers where they study elegant means of achieving specified

(and frequently unrealistic) goals. Profit, to the agricultural economist,

is the most important component in agriculture.

In the United States, agriculture developed slowly and in a relatively

unconstrained environment. Conditions on experiment stations paralleled

closely the conditions on most farms. As the industrial revolution progres-

sed and farms became more commercialized, profit was, indeed, an important

goal. In this situation agricultural economists and agronomists or animal

scientists could work independently and be reasonably effective. Problems

of concern to social scientists had no large effect on productivity in this

environment whether productivity was measured by the biological or the

economic scientist. Biologists could produce genetic material and manage-

ment practices that increased yields and economists could allocate resources

to enterprises which made them most productive. Social scientists may have

been worried about displaced labor or the effect on the family as a unit,

but these concerns did not worry the biological and economic scientists who

were busily, and rapidly, increasing productivity.

Plantation and other large scale commercial agriculture in most develop-

ing countries has been able to effectively utilize technology generated in

the traditions of that in the United States.. But most farmers in developing

countries of the world do not enjoy unlimited resources. Probably no fewer

than three-fourths of the farmers in the third world, and even a significant

number still producing in the United States and other industrial countries

operate in what could be called a severely constrained agriculture in which,

in addition to scarce and poor quality resources, the family -- its survi-

val, its future and its possibly improved wellbeing -- is of overwhelming im-

portance in farm decision making. In constrained agriculture, independent

disciplinary activity loses so much productivity that appropriately organized

multidisciplinary activity can and does produce a powerful synergistic effect.

But teamwork and synergism do not flow automatically when an appro-

priate situation arises. Differences in approaches to problems -- how to

view them, how to study them, indeed, what are ''problems"? -- must be re-

solved before individual scientists working "together" can produce a syner-

gistic effect. In this present meeting of sociologists I will use an

example of how one failed to achieve a synergistic effect by refusing to com-

promise established methodological procedures: A multidisciplinary team of

agronomists, an agricultural economist and a rural sociologist were working

on a particular commodity at one of the International Agricultural Research

Centers and were describing their work to a meeting of scientists from

several countries. The agronomists presented the results of their experi-

ments in a coastal area of the country and the agricultural economist pre-

sented results of cost studies in that area and of marketing potential for

the commodity in the country in general. The economist had been working

with the agronomists enough that he had, and correctly used, their data.

Last on the program, the sociologist began presenting the results of his

yearlong study on the production and utilization of the same commodity but

in a highlands village in a very different part of the country. Following

a lengthy description of the village and its social, political and economic

structure he just began to discuss the production of the commodity in ques-

tion when he was informed by the Chair that his time was up. He had con-

tributed nothing to the meeting with respect to the commodity, and when

attitudes towards sociologists and their methods are considered, probably

had a negative effect on the commodity-oriented team in the long run.

The theme of this seminar is "Sociologists in the field among other

professions". I suggest that all disciplines must sit back and take a

long hard look at the disciplinary rigidity if any expect to be productive

in a multidisciplinary environment. An agro-socioeconomic methodology to

benefit constrained agriculture must build on the willingness of the partici-

pants to relax rigid disciplinary procedures. Many poor farmers are on the

brink of disaster. Many poor countries are on the brink of widespread famine.

Population in many areas consistently grows at a rate faster than agricultural

production. As shown by massive shifts in world food distribution in recent

years, the capability of many countries to depend on world food supplies is

uncertain. Foremost in modifications required of disciplinary methodologies

is a change toward a sense of urgency.

The sociologist mentioned above had insisted on taking a full year to

study an area unaffected by activities of his colleagues. Hence, he accumu-

lated more information than they were willing to assimilate about an area in

which they were not interested and it was finally presented several months

too late to be useful. The observational capacities of a well-trained social

scientist were lost to the team. Disciplinary orientation which dictates too

much time, too much information and too much isolation are counterproductive

to a multidisciplinary team effort in solving problems of constrained agri-


Agronomists, on the other had, expend most time in controlling the en-

vironment in which they work to such a point that it does not represent any-

thing understandable to the farmer, and then their favorite conclusion fol-

lowing one cycle of work (frequently, also one year) is that the experiemnt

should be repeated. Indeed, two years' work are almost a necessity if one

is to publish in their recognized journals.

Agricultural economists like precision and elegance. Budgets, simple

equations and small models which can be constructed and used in a matter of

days are frowned upon in the profession. Journal articles lacking a prepon-

derance of mathematical jargon are scarce. As a result, so much effort is

put into the construction of the models that time is exhausted before realis-

tic data can be accumulated. Hence, even if a farmer or scientist from

another discipline could read the articles, the list of disclaimers and the

doubtful nature of the data would severely restrict its usefulness to them.

An equally important requirement in a modified methodology to work with

constrained agriculture is reduced cost. Not only are farmers constrained

in most of the third world, but also public institutions face severe con-

straints on resources. Level of training is nearly always low. Few com-

puter facilities are available. Equipment is old or will not function. Even

paper is sometimes scarce. Hence, elegance, precision and quantity are lux-

uries upon which an effective agro-socioeconomic methodology cannot be built.

Lengthy social or economic questionnaires require training to construct and

execute. Worse, any sort of adequate analysis takes time, expertise and

computers. How many surveys have been taken where the questionnaires only

gathered dust because neither people nor funds were available to analyze them?

Experimental precision requires expensive equipment for control and

measurement. Statistical precision is necessary for measuring effect of

different treatments to be able to publish in professional journals. But

the farmer does not have this type of control. As the decision maker, he

must be able to measure differences visually or by crude measuring devises

such as nets, bags or headloads before he will be interested in adoption

of the technology. How many agronomic theses have been built upon results

that were statistically significant but not practically measurable nor

economically viable?

An operative model has developed over the last few years in which agri-

cultural, social and economic scientists are working together to produce and

promote technology for constrained agriculture. Somewhat independent efforts

in what is now known as Farming Systems Research or Farming Systems Research

and Extension (FSR/E) were developing nearly simultaneously in Africa, Asia

and Latin America. In most early efforts, agricultural economists or agro-

nomists and agricultural economists were the primary professionals involved.

Perhaps the oldest and most widely known effort in which sociologists and

anthropologists were effectively involved on a full-time basis with other

disciplines is that at the Guatemalan Institute of Agricultural Science and

Technology (ICTA). This approach has served as a model in other Latin

American countries including Honduras and Panama and is now being used at

the University of Florida in a program with small farmers in the northern

part of the state.

At ICTA, the entire national research institute is organized around the

Farming Systems approach. Social, economic and biological scientists are in-

tegrated in nearly all aspects of the technology generation and promotion

process. Many references describe some or all aspects of the development of

the methods used by the institute so they will not be detailed here. A brief

summary of the agro-socioeconomic methodology as presently developed and in

use will suffice. Most of the action takes place in "sub-regions" where

teams of usually five (B.S. or post-high school technical training) techni-

cians are in residence. These teams are predominately agronomists, but one

on each team represents Socio-economics. The teams are augmented at the

regional level by agronomists from several areas of specialization and a

social or economic scientist (B.S. or M.S.). Other M.S. and Ph.D. level scien-

tists have national responsibilities, At the national level are agrono-

mists, animal scientists and social scientists or agricultural economists.

At the sub-regional level, biological and social scientists work together

in a rapid survey procedure called a "Sondeo" which usually takes one week.

The Sondeo serves to orient the team when it moves into a new area or begins

to work with a different farming system in the same area. All disciplines

participate in the survey, in the interpretation of the information accumu-

lated and in the design of potential solutions to the problems encountered.

Following the Sondeo, all disciplines participate in the establishment of the

trials or experiments and in working with farmers on farm records. Likewise,

all disciplines participate in analysis and interpretation of results and in

the formulation of future work or recommendations to be taken to the farmers.

In this close association of the disciplines with each other and of the

scientists and technicians with the farmers, each of the professionals is

able to contribute unique interpretations to what he sees and hears and

help the whole group converge on an understanding of the problems and aid

in the search for tentative solutions.

The procedure has proven to be fast and efficient in the generation

of solutions which are acceptable to farmers, and hence, readily adopted.

Regular review procedures which include professionals from all fields have

helped reduce the time from conception to testing and adoption of solutions,

Unproductive efforts are reduced and attention is directed to alternatives

which have a high probability of adoption.

ICTA has been in operation just over 8 years. The methodology developed

slowly the first half of this period and although it is still being adjusted

when found necessary or desirable,it has been relatively stable the last four

years. Over the last two years the number of social and economic scientists

has been reduced because of unavailability and active participation from

these disciplines has suffered. However, the lasting effect of the inte-

grated participation of social and economic professionals for a period of

years is that their way of thinking and their approach to problems has been

absorbed by other professionals in the institute. If a new infusion of

social and economic scientists is not achieved in the future, there will be

a slow eroding of this effect. In the meantime, however, the integration

of the social and economic scientists has been institutionalized into that

agricultural organization.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) of the University

of Florida is testing the FSR/E approach as a means of reaching small farmers

in the northern part of the state who lie outside the research/extension main-

stream. Several departments are participating with heaviest current emphasis

from Food and Resource Economics, Agronomy and Vegetable Crops. Part-time

participation includes persons from Anthropology, Geography, Sociology of

Education, Animal and Dairy Science, Soil Science and Food and Resource Eco-

nomics. Institutionalization of the program began a year ago with the assign-

ment of two state positions and field activities were initiated last March

when state funds were made available for operations and authorization was

received to hire into two positions available through a Cooperative Agree-

ment with the USDAo Fulltime professionals at present include an anthropol-

ogist, a horticulturist and an agronomist.

The project has two principal objectives. First is to generate and pro-

ote technology specifically designed for the scale-specific conditions of

mall farmers in north Florida and second is to test the effectiveness of the

proach for conditions in the United States and modify methods where deemed

)ropriate. Key to cost effectiveness is the existence of a sufficient num-

of farmers with sufficiently homogeneous conditions that large numbers

be served. Initial conclusions following the Sondeo are that even though

farms are varied in the region, their most important constraints are

:iently similar that technology generation and promotion can be cost


Although the project is in operation, its multidisciplinary creation

in a university environment has not been without problems. Major among

these has been a means of staff evaluation. We hope this can be solved by

making extension rather than research appointments. In the University of

Florida, as in other Land Grant Universities in the United States, Exten-

sion has moved into applied research as the research arm has moved into

more basic research. Extensionists are expected to produce research arti-

cles, but with less emphasis on articles in refereed journals. In the

FSR/E approach, constant client (farmer) contact during research satisfies

the needs of both technology generation and promotion. When the work plan

of a professional, in whatever discipline, is written and accepted in this

framework, tenure, promotion and raises can be based on the necessities of

the clients rather than on disciplinary requirements.

Administration and distribution of funding have also been problems. It

appears that these are nearly solved at the University of Florida. Each in-

dividual professional is appointed into his appropriate Department.l- The

funds are placed into a centrally administered core, but a portion is allo-

cated to each participating department for general support. Operational

funds are managed from the central unit so that purchases and expenses do

not need to be fragmented. Participation of part-time professionals in the

departments is by mutual agreement between the department (Chairman and

faculty member) and members of the FSR/E team.

Because the project is just getting underway, no results are yet avail-

able and how well the administration will function is yet to be tested.

1An exception at the present time is the Anthropologist. He holds an appoint-
ment in Food and Resource Economics because of additional administrative pro-
blems involved in crossing college lines.


However, it does represent an important breakthrough in multidisciplinary

team activity in a U.S. university environment.

In summary, there is no doubt that sociologists (and other social scien-

tists) have an important role among other professionals in the field. As

members of multidisciplinary teams working in agriculture, their observational

capacities provide insight and interpretation few biological or economic scien-

tists possess. In technology development for constrained agriculture where it

is necessary to work within sociocultural as well as physical, biologic and

economic limitations, it is as important to have an awareness of the sociocul-

tural constraints as economic, biological or physical constraints. Key to

developing the synergistic potential from multidisciplinary teams working in

constrained agriculture is the willingness of professionals from all fields

to modify disciplinary methodological procedures.

An agro-socioeconomic methodology must help solve problems of constrained

agriculture with less information gathered over a shorter period of time than

convential methods dictate. Team effort, however, must include an investment

in the time required to understand the client and his problems to help assure

correct orientation of technology generation and promotion efforts. Institu-

tional resource constraints in developing countries, where most constrained

agriculture is located, impose the requirement for methods which are niggardly

in the use of scarceresources, Institutions, themselves, must be organized

to support multidisciplinary teams who work as a unit and provide appropriate

professional evaluation for members who work on simple step-by-step solutions

as opposed to the complex solutions favored by disciplines. Institutions

must also facilitate appropriate financial arrangements and procedures for

effective team operation. Finally, each member of the team must possess

multidisciplinary tolerance and be willing to work in a team effort with one

objective -- service to the client.

" .


Hildebrand, Peter E. 1979. Incorporating the social sciences into
agricultural research: the formation of a national farm systems re-
search institute. ICTA, Guatemala and The Rockefeller Foundation,
New York.

1981. Motivating small farmers, scientists and
technicians to accept change. Agricultural Administration. (In Press).

1981. Combining disciplines in rapid appraisal:
the sondeo approach. Agricultural Administration. (In Press).

Ortiz, Ramiro. 1981. Generaci6n y promoci6n de tecnologia para sistemas
de producci6n en pequeias fincas: enfoque y estrategias del ICTA en
Guatemala, 1973-1980. ICTA, Guatemala and University of Florida (In Press).

Waugh, Robert K. 1975. Four years of history. ICTA, Guatemala.


Gilbert, E.H,, D.W. Norman and F.E. Winch. 1980, Farming systems research:
a critical appraisal. MSU Development Report, Paper No. 6. Michigan State

Shaner, W.W., P.F. Philipp and W.R. Schmehl. 1981. Farming systems re-
search and development: guidelines for developing countries. Consortium
for International Development. 2 volumes.