Final Report' (draft)
AFSRE 1993 North American Symposium
SYSTEMS APPROACHES IN NORTH AMERICAN AGRICULTURE AND
NATURAL RESOURCES: BROADENING THE SCOPE OF FSRE Gainesville, Florida, October 12-16
The 1993 AFSRE/NA Symposium was unique in that it brought together North Americans and others from different disciplines and varied occupations whose common tie is an interest in improving farming and ranching systems, particularly those in North America. Among the nearly 150 registered participants were farmers and ranchers from North America, representatives of farmer organizations and farm advocacy groups, extensionists, researchers, and farming systems scholars. The diversity of the group contributed immensely to the rich discourse and learning that took place at the symposium. Unfortunately, the vast majority of participants were from the U.S., although Canadians and Mexicans did play key roles in the proceedings. Greater participation from Canada and Mexico would certainly enhance future symposia.
The objective of this symposium was to investigate and expand the possibilities for FSRE methods to be employed more effectively in North America and to use North American applications to broaden the scope of FSRE methods, working toward an effective networking arrangement. The specific objectives were to:
1. adapt FSRE methodology to be more appropriate to North American (Canada,
Mexico, and the United States) issues and more responsive to the needs and interests
of North American farmers;
2. foster interchange and collaboration among FSRE practitioners in North America and
other regions of the world and share research results and methodological approaches;
3. enhance coordination and collaboration among farmers and other users and other
actors (extension, research, NGOs, PVOs, industry, etc.); and
4. determine interest in and viability of pursuing a North American chapter of AFSRE
and define chapter activities and interests.
The symposium was structured to maximize the successful realization of these objectives. Participatory working group sessions formed the core of the meetings, with plenary sessions designed to facilitate and enhance the working groups. Concurrent sessions and poster displays were provided to foster interchange and share research ideas. A final "Next Steps" plenary was designed to bring closure to the meetings by synthesizing the output of the working group sessions and chart a possible future for a North American network for Farming Systems Research-Extension.
'Compiled by Terry Kelly with assistance from the Symposium Coordinating Committee: Chris Andrew, Peter Hildebrand (chair), Sandra Russo, Anita Spring, and Lisette Staal.
The symposium objectives were reached in varying degrees. All involved process, and the process was begun for all four objectives. Much still needs to be done, particularly toward the first objective of adapting FSRE methodology to North American situations. This will likely be a long process involving a number of people and many examples over a period of years. In fact, its realization will depend on the sustained achievement of the other three objectives. There was definitely an interest in and the expressed need for a North American organization. However, whether this interest is sufficient to keep the ball rolling remains to be seen.
The working sessions were planned to try to incorporate into the symposium format a formal way to encourage discussion and interchange between and amongst the varied groups attending the symposium. It was also seen as a way to capture some of the thoughts of the participants to feed into the future discussions and activities.
The goal was to engage in broad discussions. This was meant to expose participants to various perspectives (including production, extension, research, NGOs, PVOs, industry, etc.) regarding current issues, problems, and opportunities which can be addressed through FSRE. These discussions were to provide a foundation to explore the need for, interest in, and viability of pursuing a network of interested groups and individuals to address farming systems and sustainable agriculture concerns. This network idea was discussed in the final session of the symposium. Included were follow-up activities and suggested actions toward promoting network linkages.
The specific objectives of the working sessions were to: 1) Participate in a process which provides the opportunity for diverse interest groups to interact with the sustainable agriculture and farming systems movements in North America to explore linkages. 2) Identify "actionable" problems/situations and opportunities for improvement in North American agriculture which can be addressed through collaborative FSRE methodology. These would be opportunities that could benefit from a North American AFSRE network or other networks. 3) Propose potential actions and approaches to address the actionable problems/situations.
One session was planned for each day.
Session One: Identifying Problems, Situations and Opportunities for Improvement
Session Two: Addressing the Problems, Situations and Opportunities Together
Session Three: Developing Action Plans
Some of the goals and objectives were reached. But, as evident from the discussion in the "Next Steps" session, much remains to be done. During the first session, the participants met in three groups divided by the nature of their work. The groups were 1) producers and farmer services, 2) research and extension in farm, household and community, and 3) policy and institutions. In these groups, they tried to identify some of the most pressing current problems and opportunities for improvement. As a result of the first session, the issues listed below were chosen as the "Opportunity Groups" for more discussion. For the second two sessions mixed groups met to discuss the current situation in each of these areas and what "the ideal" situation might be for the future.
1. Learning and Information
2. Environment and Profitability
3. Role of Science/Systems Inquiry
4. Coalition Building (public and private institutions)
5. Formulating Appropriate Technologies
The process appeared to have been frustrating for some and exhilarating for others. However, a number of interesting discussions resulted in some preliminary statements on the actionable issues that should remain on the agenda in the future. The "action" results of the working sessions are included in the appendix to this report. As a steering committee is formed to look toward the future, much can be learned from this input.
From written and oral comments/reflections/feedback from participants and from returned evaluation forms, the symposium generally was considered quite successful. (A summary of the answers to questions on the evaluation forms is included in the appendix.) The fact that farmers and ranchers were invited to participate together with researchers and academicians contributed immensely to the positive feeling participants conveyed, and set this symposium apart form most other meetings.
Common to most of the feedback was that out of the symposium there came a growing respect from producers and researchers for the difficulties and contributions of the other, and on the needs of each. Both need to be respected in the planning of future symposia. The fact that the producers were not part of the planning or organizing of the conference was evident to most, and they strongly urged that farmers/ranchers be part of the steering and organizing committees next time. The real purpose for their participation was not obvious to most of the producers from the beginning, and only became clearer well into the proceedings. Several people suggested that the opening session, or at least a first-day session, be devoted to extensive introductions of all participants. Even though this might take 2-3 hours, they felt that it would be time well spent. Until people speak and divulge something of themselves, they are only a name on a nametag and it is difficult to interact with them. Also early on, perhaps in the same session, it was felt that the organizers should clearly explain the reasons for inviting such a diverse group of people and what their expectations are, and they should find out what the expectations of the participants are. A participant list should be prepared and distributed as early as possible during the symposium.
Clearly, from the evaluations and reflections, the Shared Experiences sessions were one of the highlights of the symposium. The producers' story-telling was extremely informative and very enjoyable in that it was more detailed and spontaneous and was free of the showmanship that characterizes more traditional presentations. The second of these sessions was organized because participants at the first wanted more opportunity to continue this type of dialogue. It was at these sessions that the participants really began to understand and respect the diverse views, values, and approaches that interacted at the symposium.
Another common comment was an appreciation for the opportunities for interchange and discussion that were facilitated through the working sessions. Many felt that more time should have been spent in these activities and less emphasis placed on formal presentations. However, others commented on the value of the presentations as a way to learn what is going on in their particular area of interest, although some indicated that they would like to see the formal presentations be more innovative and cutting-edge -- really new stuff! Obviously, given the diverse nature of the participants one would expect at a farming systems symposium, some will prefer the interactive nature of working sessions while others like formal presentations. There is a place for both in such meetings and both contribute to overall objectives, although more emphasis might be placed on the working sessions at future symposia.
The ultimate goal of the working group sessions was not clear to some, especially early on. Also, there was a question as to the value of dividing by area of interest for the first session. Perhaps it would have been more useful to divide this way at the end to discuss implementation "back on the farm, on the project, in the department, etc." There is value in both approaches, and it will be up to the new steering and coordinating committees to decide.
Related to the working sessions, some expressed disappointment that the final "next steps" plenary was used more to justify the existence of the association rather than discuss the output of the working groups. Greater emphasis on Next Steps should have been made early on and emphasized throughout so that participants would have been thinking about what the next steps could be, making the final session more fruitful. Also, greater effort needs to be made on coming to some closure in the working group discussions. In this way, the existence of AFSRE/NA could have been addressed more positively.
Regarding the future of AFSRE/NA, there was general agreement (responses on evaluations were unanimous on this) that some form of an organization was needed to facilitate the interchange and networking that everyone felt was so valuable and necessary. Many expressed the need for a forum to exchange ideas and methods and to showcase examples and case studies. Certainly, realization of the first objective requires this. As well, many felt the need for some type of communication such as a newsletter. This, though, will require a certain stable level of financial support.
The new organization should have links with the global aspects of FSRE and with the global Association, and with other farm and agricultural organizations in North America. In the final session, two participants, Lorna Butler and Charles Francis, were asked to report on the symposium at the Consortium of Sustainable Agriculture and at the Agronomy Society meetings, which they did. However, many cautioned that while sustainability in agriculture is important and will be an integral part of the organization, the organization should not be aligned with the sustainable agriculture movement.
Finally, it was generally agreed that another North American symposium should be held, preferably in two years (1995) at a more central location (midwest?) and at a more convenient time for producers (mid-November after most of the harvest activities are finished).
A. WORKING SESSIONS "ACTION" RESULTS:
Session Three Opportunity Group 1: Learning and Information
How actions possibilities:
- Developed open-minded learning attitudes -, listen more.
- Provide regional learning centers
Functions of the ecosystem
System for experiential learning (across generation, gender, occupation, socioeconomic status, location)
- Renew emphasis on ethics in daily activities speak out
- Improve the process for defining problems/opportunities
- Develop team participation
- Don't set limits on community
- Deal with access (retrieval) to information -, dissemination -- sharing
Session Three Opportunity Group 2: Environment and Profitability
- Build bridges between farmers, researchers, environmentalists, academics, consumers
- Inviting consumers, environmentalists. etc. to on-farm trials
- Farmers disseminate information in their farm communities
- Resolve roles of F/S/E/C/A
- Research into relationship between environment and profitability
- Establish on-going dialogue with consumers
- Target market, produce for the market
- Work with neighbors to identify sustainable production options and do on-farm trials
- Farmer networks
- Develop workable curriculum for K-12 on farm/environment interaction
- Develop more farmer participation in classroom
- More researcher participation with cattlemen's associations, Farm Bureau.
- Missionary work at farm bureau meeting
- More FSR input to farm bureau
- Purge imposter FS researchers chasing current Money in sustainability
- Meet in separate interest groups first, then come together to negotiate action plans
- Education to politicians about sustainability and agriculture. Meet with legislators,
recruit funds, organize
- Farmer and academics should meet with legislators together.
- On-farm training for bureaucrats
The Role of Science/Systems Inquiry
- To increase the use and legitimacy of the systems approach in agriculture science
- Interdisciplinary graduate programs
- Earned legitimacy
- Quality system science
- What strategy
- Multiple agendas
- Mix scientists and producers
- Looking for opportunities to promote, interact and increase participation
- Assemble reductionists ideas and people "systems" scientists
Lack of credibility
Cost effectiveness? Positive
- Exchange in the education system
- New partnerships. Greater participation
- Appropriate and timely technology
Session Three Opportunity Group 4: Coalition Building
Questions to be considered
- How to include the excluded?
- How to ensure representativeness?
- How to facilitate the debate?
- At what "level" (national-state-local-global) does this occur?
- How to diffuse the power?
- What communication systems are being used?
- What are the incentives/rewards to form coalitions?
Through the process, projects are identified that represent and include the public,
farmers, producers, and others
- People are empowered and respected
- The world is a better place!
Session Three Opportunity Group 3:
Session Three Opportunity Group 5:
Vision: Attain and maintain satisfactory, sustainable, suitable livelihoods for a global society; a national society.
Appropriate for whom? Who decides appropriateness, soundness or
Know how to nurture diversity. How can you educate for this?
Session Three Opportunity Group 6: Interpersonal family concerns:
Sustaining a farming population if young people all leave or don't want to farm.
Farmland in producing/zoning taxation structure incentives for developers to reinvest in blighted urban areas
- Off-farm employment
- Attractive local options
- Home based rural industry
- Rural values retention through social accountability
(e.g. advertisers, media)
- Provide urban amenities (e.g. movies, theater,
culture) to rural areas
- Respect, support of one another by urban sector
and rural sector and vice versa
- Conflict resolution/mediation groups
- Forward/backward linkage for rural industry which
complements landscape/respects value of farmland
"Developers" could not afford to take prime land out of production
B: SUMMARY OF ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON EVALUATION FORMS:
1. BASED ON YOUR PARTICIPATION IN THE SYMPOSIUM, PLEASE EXPLAIN HOW YOU FEEL FSRE METHODOLOGY CAN BE USEFUL IN YOUR WORK.
The participatory process.
OFR information and benefits of OFR.
Highlighting sociological aspects of agricultural research.
Greater understanding of the scope and meaning of FSRE will help in development work.
Linkages: the common ground between farmers and researchers, between researchers and
Improving farmers' abilities to deal with complex and value-laden issues.
Rigor of step-wise method adds useful dimension to OFR activity.
Greater awareness of the scope of efforts and their availability and usefulness to farmers.
Not too useful now but presents many future possibilities.
Keeps one on target and sensitive to implications of one's methodologies -- keeps one
current (professional development).
Advancing Farm Improvement Club research effort and setting up green manure
It allows a farmer to get a "big picture" overview of his or her operation. It is important
for farmers to learn and implement and should be a required part of every
agricultural school's curriculum.
Expanded insight into the impact of technology on the farm, household and community.
Increases the fun in doing research -- expanded partnerships.
2. IN WHAT WAY WAS THE INTERCHANGE AMONG PERSONS FROM NORTH AMERICA AND FROM OTHER REGIONS BENEFICIAL TO YOU?
Understanding the needs as perceived by others and the breadth of opinion within the
farming community on some issues.
Exposure to socio/anthropology persons' points of view.
Better framework in which to view our current activities.
More complete picture of current and potential North American applications.
Specific work on sustainable agriculture.
Farmer-scientist interaction and learning.
Methods to interview and involve farmers are applicable to North America.
Descriptions of various farming systems.
Insight into attempts of researchers to interface with communities.
Coalition building with farmers, researchers, NGOs, and others.
Appreciation for complexities and struggles of third world agriculture
Appreciation for unfriendly environment for doing FSRE research.
Greater understanding of the agricultural diversity in North America.
Strengthened the idea that farmers across North America must cooperate with each other
in order to succeed.
I learned more about myself as a farmer.
3. PLEASE EXPLAIN HOW THE SYMPOSIUM MAY HAVE FACILITATED OR
ENHANCED COORDINATION AND COLLABORATION AMONG FARMERS, NGOs, INDUSTRY, RESEARCHERS, EXTENSION, ETC.
Farmers were ill-prepared for this, and were very gracious under the circumstances.
They need time to develop their agenda vis-a-vis farming systems.
Great potential for building bridges.
Concerns of farmers about their long-term sustainability.
Explaining OFR methodology.
Important informal settings for exchange.
Would have helped to start with extensive introductions of all.
Challenged our assumptions respectfully.
Presented successful models of several well-funded and organized farmer organizations
from which one can learn.
Positive response from research community in their efforts to help farmers.
Better understanding on the part of farmers of the researchers' approach.
Broadened awareness between farmers and researchers.
Farmers should and will be more involved in planning future symposia -- farmers must
have more of a stake, voice and benefit; collaboration with farmers was not
practiced in planning for these meetings.
Shared experiences showed that verbal communication is still the basic foundation of
getting people together.
4. WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN ATTENDING ANOTHER NORTH AMERICAN SYMPOSIUM ON FSRE AND SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE? WHY OR WHY NOT? IF YES, WHAT TOPIC?
A unanimous YES to the first part
FSRE has potential constituency here, but it must decide whether and why it wants this
relationship; the same with its relationship with sustainable agriculture.
FSRE should not be confined to issues of sustainable agriculture.
Further developments that have taken place in applying FSRE in North America.
No other forum yet exists for fostering collaboration and empowering farmers/ranchers
for sake of better agriculture.
Professional interchange on methodologies and on sustainable ag. systems.
Contacts with colleagues useful for expanding our perspectives.
Broader appreciation of efforts of universities and researchers.
FSRE can help to globalize North American sustainable ag. work and networks.
Networking and sharing information.
Carry on where we left off.
See new friends again.
Enhancing university environment for FSRE.
Indicators of sustainability and how to measure, including indigenous.
Management of watershed, wildlife habitat, and natural resources.
Small farmer problems.
Process methods, participatory process.
Linkage between changing agricultural practices and the community.
Alternative ways to organize meetings as suggested by farmers.
More exploration on the cutting edge of ideas and approaches in the presentations.
Fertilization applications and results.
Pest and weed control.