Farming systems research in Guatemala

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Farming systems research in Guatemala
Ortiz, Ramiro
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Ramiro Ortiz Dard6n

Prepared for presentation at the "Symposium on Farming Systems Research". USDA, Washington D.C. December 8-9, 1980.



Ramiro Ortiz Dard6n*


Technology generation alone, should not be the ultimate objective of a national agricultural research program. Only when the technology is being widely used by farmers has the objective been reached and the researcher accomplished his mission. This is the challenge that a new breed of technicians in many developing countries of the world is accepting. These are the technicians who are solving crop and animal production problems for small, limited resource farmers, who in turn, comprise the largest proportion of farmers in most countries but for whom little has been accomplished heretofore.

The Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (ICTA) in Guatemala is an example of the above. Since its origin in 1973, ICTA has been developing a series of strategies to generate and promote the use of technology in a systematic approach, appropriate to the interests and needs of the small farmers of the country. This approach is the result of contributions of many people based upon many years of experience and combined with participation of institutions, international centers and government's true concern for developing an effective national program. It is also the result of young technicians working in the field with a striving desire to succeed in generating a technology that will soon be adopted by most farmers. The more relevant aspects of this new approach for ICTA's Farming Systems Research program are the following:

Formely Technical Director, ICTA, Guatemala. Presently Research Assistant, Agronomy Department, University of Florida.


1. A thorough knowledge of the agro-socioeconomic conditions of the farmers

in a region is required and is achieved by integrating biological and social scientists who together identify farmers resource, constraints,

and other problems in order to design and conduct "reality-oriented"

projects.2. Most research is moved off experiment stations to farms where it is conducted under the farmers' conditions. This has brought reliability to

the results since they capture the variation throughout a region.

3. The involvement of the farmer in the research process from the beginning,

giving him the main role in the final stages of evaluation of the new technology. This is perhaps the major and most important change from

the traditional approach.

4. Extension agents are not only considered an excellent contact when first

arriving in a region, they can and have participated in surveying the region to determine what the research priorities should be. They also participated in research projects by conducting a portion of the trials before transferring results to the farmers. The purpose of this has been

for them to know the "why's" and the "how's" technology is generated,

"getting the results first hand", and it has made them feel more motivated to do their work; thus, the gap between research and extension

is closed.

5. Research programs are not committing themselves only to the extension
service, they are also establishing close linkages with organized groups in the rural areas (cooperatives, farmers informal groups, etc.) and the

private sector.

The objective of this paper is to provide information about the organization and objectives of ICTA, and to describe the most important aspects of its agricultural technological system.



Historically, national agricultural research programs have been oriented toward the solution of the problems of commercial agriculture' under the assumption that'the production technology designed for this type of agriculture would be adopted with equal success by limited resource farmers in traditional or subsistence agriculture.?/ This assumption has not been proven correct because, in most cases, the technology generated for commercial agriculture has strongly clashed with the traditions of the small farmer. The reasons for this are, 1) this technology is not compatible with the resources and the production systems that are prevalent in subsistence farming, and 2) the risk associated with this technology is too high and does not offer a sufficient increase in income to offset the investment.

In trying to design a program to generate and promote the use of technology appropriate to needs and incomes of small and medium farmers, the deficiencies of traditional research and extension systems were studied in Guatemala (Waugh, 1975). Through the study of systems used in other countries it was hoped a research and promotion model could be designed that would correct the deficiencies identified in the models that failed. It was established that research for traditional agriculture had failed mainly due to 1) the researcher does not know the problems of the farmers nor. his production systems, 2) the

lLaird (1977), defines commercial agriculture as that practiced by farmers that have medium or large holdings, who use modern technology and mainly produce for the market, and they receive medium or high agricultural incomes. 2/Laird (1977), defines this as being practiced by farmers with small land holdings, who make only very limited use of modern technologies, who consume a major part of their production on their own farm, and receive agricultural incomes that are very low. They are characterized by lower levels of productivity, and more labor and high levels of seasonal unemployment. Most traditional agriculture is practiced under unfavorable ecological conditions that limit productivity.


technology that is generated is not tested at the farm level, and 3) the acceptability of the technology to the farmers is not evaluated. Generating technology was the first step in the strategy to increase production through an increase in productivity, but this first step had to be backed up by the knoweldge that this technology would reach the clients. It was because of this that in the model designed for ICTA, the component of promotion of the use of technology had to be included. The deficiencies in the traditional extension system, which until that time had also been a failure, were identified as 1) an appropriate technology is not available, 2) the technology generated is not tested before recommending it, 3) there has been a loss of contact with the researcher, 4) the technology of the farmer is unknown, and 5) an effective extension evaluation system does not exist.

Through this study of the deficiencies in the systems of traditional research and extension, it was determined that the interrelation farmerextensionist-researcher is indispensable in planning and conducting a program of technology generation and validation that is applicable to the needs of the farmers of a region. This relationship is also necessary to insure an effective transfer process of this same technology. In the design of ICTA it was considered that the objective should not be only to generate technology. Rather, the technology should serve as an instrument to increase productivity and to improve farmers' incomes.


ICTA was established May 10, 1973. The specific objectives and its

functions are clearly defined in article number 3 of its organic law (legislative decree#68-72). The Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology is responsible for generating and promoting the use of agricultural science and



technology in the agricultural public sector. As a consequence it has the responsibility to conduct research pertinent to the solution of problems of rational agricultural exploitation that influence social well-being; to produce materials and methods that increase 'agricultural productivity; and to promote the use of technology at the farmer and regional levels. Since the emphasis is directed to increase the production of basic grains, the main group who benefit are the small and medium farmers who produce almost all of these crops. This in no way means that commercial agricultural is excluded since much of the technology generated by ICTA should be applicable to their conditions also.

Even though the main responsibility of ICTA was to increase production, there was also an interest in the well-being of the rural population. In accordance to the characteristics of this population the logical strategy to reach the general objective was to generate technology that was economically favorable. In this way, the production of food would be increased and this in turn, would be the economic base to achieve development.


Using as a guide the law which created ICTA, it was decided to create

a structure that was very simple. This simple structure is shown in figure 1.

Board of Directors. This is the highest authority in the Institute and besides its President, who is the Minister of Agriculture, it is formed by the Ministers of Economy and Finance, the Secretary General of Economic Planning, the Dean of the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of San Carlos and a representative of the private sector.


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General Manager. The General Manager, representative of the Board of Directors, is responsible for achieving the functions of ICTA and directing the work plan jointly with the Deputy General Manager. The General Manager presents the work plan and the budget to the Board of Directors and interprets public policy to the work teams of ICTA. For the executive of its functions, ICTA has three units: 1) the administrative and financial service unit, 2) the program unit and 3) a technical unit of production. TECHNICAL UNIT OF PRODUCTION

This unit is headed by the Technical Director whose principal activity is coordination of all research activities including testing and transferring technology. The Technical Director has consultants who are the Coordinators of Programs and the Support Disciplines. This group is called Technical Coordination. The groups within the technical unit are the following: 1) Production programs. These are national research programs for each crop or product. Their work mainly involves the initial stages of research, i.e., identifying, generating, adaptation and the tests which are preliminary to new technologies. The production programs of ICTA are the following: corn, beans, wheat, rice, sorghum, vegetables, sesame seed, animal production and fruits.

2) Support disciplines. These are groups which support the production programs and the regional teams. The majority of the technical personnel in the different disciplines is assigned to the regional teams. The Support Disciplines are Technology Testing,- Rural Socioeconomics, In-Service Training and Soil Management.

1-The true name of this discipline is technology testing and transfer. This discipline works in groups as teams which form the regional team. Since a regrion is very big a need for a team in order to take care of it. The Coordinator of these groups at the regional level is the Regional Director. The national coordinator of these groups is the Technical Director.


3) Technical services. These groups provide service to the Production Programs and Regional Teams. They comprise the following areas: Seeds, Communications,Soil Laboratory and the Production Centers. 4) Regional teams. These are groups formed of multidisciplinary technical personnel. All the personnel who are assigned to a region, whether in Production Programs, Support Disciplines, or In-service Training groups, are all part of the regional team. This means that a technician can be assigned to a regional team and at the same time be part of a program or discipline. The regional team is managed by the Regional Director, the maximum authority of the Institute within the region, who as the representative of the General Manager and the Technical Director, is responsible for the coordination of all activities of the Institute in the region.

All the groups in the Technical Production unit coordinates activities

based on a technological system (Waugh, 1977). ICTA has developed a research model based on a series of strategies which are mainly directed to eliminate the deficiencies of the traditional research and extension systems. Fumagalli and Waugh (1977) call this series of strategies "A Technical System for Production" or an "Agricultural Technological System".


The operational flow chart shown in Figure 2 represents the Agricultural Technological System. The technological system is continuous even though it is shown and discussed in parts. The process does not necessarily move from left to right. The most logical place to start is in the last block to the right with the gathering of agrosocioeconomic information.

The tools used by ICTA are the identification of the agrosocioeconomic characteristics of the region through a sondeo; research results from experiment stations and farms; and the results of the evaluation of acceptability


Figure 2





Generation, adaptationand
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Farmers tests






Agriculture Sector Agencies

Organized Groups

Private Sector Industry, etc.






of technology. These are used in planning a regional program adapted to the necessities of the farmers that live in the region. Perhaps the most important characteristic of the regional teams is the fact that the members of the regional team participate in and define their own work priorities. With the multidisciplinary approach they work and live with the farmers of the region, getting to know the different production systems and management practices. It is the type of activities conducted by the Regional Teams and the way in which they do it, that provides this team with an ample and objective experience concerning the prevailing conditions. This has determined that the members of this team, guided by the Regional Director and supported by a group with recognized scientific and technological capacity (Technical Director and Technical Coordinators) have the responsibility of defining the priorities of agricultural research for the region within the context of the functions and the objectives of ICTA and also of the national development plan. The main components of this system are here described:

Identifying the Problems

When a new work area is determined, the first activity is a reconnaissance through a methodolgoy called "sondeo" (Hildebrand, 1979). This is a type of modified survey developed by ICTA to provide information to be used as a basis for guiding the work of the regional ICTA team. The objectives of this reconnaissance are to identify a group of farmers that are "homogeneous" in the characteristics of the production systems and their traditional production technology and define the limits of the area within which this group is a main component of the population. The identification of the prevalent production system and of a group of farmers who use the system have been grouped through a natural selection process, responding in a similar way


to common limiting factors (Hildebrand, 1979). The Sondeo is carried out by a multidisciplinary team comprised of the Technology Testing Team that will develop the research program in the area and technicians from the Discipline of Socioeconomics. Occasionally, technicians from the Productions Programs of ICTA or agronomists of DIGESA have participated in the Sondeo.

The Sondeo methodology, developed by the discipline of Rural Socioeconomics of ICTA, was designed in response to budget restrictions and time requirements as an efficient methodology for obtaining the agrosocioeconomic information in a region where the generation and promotion of technology is to be started (Hildebrand, 1979). This methodology gives the team in ICTA qualitative information about a new area that is sufficient for planning and implementing the activities for the first year. Nevertheless for following years it is necessary to have quantitative information to orient or guide research. After the second year, this information is available from the research results of the first year, the farm records and the evaluation of acceptability of technology.

Generation of Technology

ICTA bases its technology generation approach on an understanding of the production systems of the farmers and the management given them. The farmer has, through the years, designed a technology that is a function of his resources and his perception of the risk that exists given the conditions that surround his production system. It is expected that when the technician knows all the characteristics of a specific system he can identify some modifications that could produce an increase in profitability. Therefore rather than design "technological packages", ICTA has developed simple technological production alternatives that farmers evaluate and select according to their own criteria.


It is very important to use all the resources that are available to

initiate this research program. Many of these resources, that form technological support in Figure 2 are outside institutions. Such resources are materials, methodology and technologies in general which are developed in international centers, universities, and other governments and national research programs, industry (fertilizers, seeds, herbicides, etc.) and others.

Research planning is the most important activity of the regional teams of ICTA during the year. It requires a week in the region to present the results of research, what has been accumulated through the farm records, the evaluation of acceptability of technology, and the conclusions of Sondeos that have been done in new areas within the region. In these meetings, that are.presided over by the Regional Director and in which the Technical Director and members of Technical Coordination take part, the results are discussed widely, in depth and objectively trying to reach conclusions that are in agreement with the actual situation that is presented. This regional Operational Plan is the work which the regional team will do for the following year.

On the basis of the regional operational plan, the team carries out technology generation on the production centers (experiment stations) and on farms. The tests are called "experiment" if done on a production center and "farm trial" if conducted on a farm. This distinction has been very useful to identify where activities are located. Today around 90% of the resources are directed into working on farms. The production centers are mainly used for work that requires controlled conditions (crosses, early generations of new materials); for the evaluation of germ plasm when the reaction under local conditions is unknown; and to evaluate a new practice that can be very risky and could result in a loss in the crop of a farmer, such as tests with her-



The main objective in the design of all farm trials in ICTA is obtaining realistic results for technology design that reflect the conditions of the farmers and result in substantial increases in productivity and/or profitability of the production system. The design of this appropriate technology is based on the concept that one must achieve maximum efficiency in the use of resources that are available to the farmers or that they can easily obtain.

Technology Testing and Evaluation of Acceptability

Without taking away the importance of the other aspects of the technological system of ICTA, this component without a doubt is the most important. It is here where the results of the technology generation process, the production alternatives, receive their test "under fire" when they are managed completely by the farmer. Up to this point it has been the technician who has evaluated the technology based on statistically reliable research results. Ultimately, it will be the farmer who will decide if the generated technology is relevant to his production system based on his own choice criteria.

The test of the generated technology is done through the "Farmer's Test", which consists in using the technological alternatives developed by ICTA on part of his land. The technician of ICTA acts as an advisor, orienting, and being a friend of the farmer during this evaluation process. But it is the farmer who will manage the test, during all its phases so he really gets to know the new technology. This knowledge will allow him to decide for himself if the technology is applicable to his crops and if it pays for the resources used and if the technology translates into some increase in his yields and profits.


The Farmer's Test is the way to put technology in the hands of farmers for their evaluation without exposing the farmer to too much risk, since the technology has been evaluated technically and economically on farms by the ICTA teams. It is important that the farmer, besides providing the land, also pays for all the expenses of the test. This is done to assure the farmer's interest so that he will know all that is involved during the test and will give as much attention to it as he does to the rest of his farm.

The evaluation of acceptability of the technology tested by the farmer is done in the following agricultural cycle. The farmer, who, investing his resources and his work, conducted the farmer's test, had the opportunity to observe how the technological alternativesworkedand decide which ones to integrate in the management practices of his system.

The technical team of the Discipline of Rural Socioeconomics conducts the evaluation with the assistance of the Technology Testing Team of the area. These technicians determine the acceptability index (A.I.) of a technological alternative by identifying the farmers that adopted the alternative and the proportion of their crop in which they applied it. Therefore the A.I. measures the active acceptability of technology (from those farmers who tested it the previous year) and is calculated as follows: Acceptability Index = (%of the farmers that used the practice) x (% of the

area of the crop in which the practice was used) / 100

Besides determining the A.I. the ICTA team identifies the causes of

adopting or rejecting the new technology. The A.I. helps the regional team determine if they should promote the use of technology. If it has not been accepted but has technical and scientific merit and is promising, they feedback the reasons of non acceptance. With this information the researchers


modify the design so it will better fit the demands of the farmers and gain acceptability.

Promotion and Transfer of Technology

Since the results of research are not the final ICTA product and because ICTA is responsible for promoting the use of the technology that has been generated, there must be a mechanism to make the transfer process more fluid. ICTA has focused the promotion of technology towards the public agricultural sector, organized groups and the private sector:

1. ICTA considers its main client to be the "promoters" of the General Directorate of Agricultural Services (DIGESA). DIGESA is an institution responsible for transferring technology generated by ICTA for the farmer. The communication between these two institutions has been strengthened progressively, especially after the formation of the Regional Agricultural Development Committees (COREDA). It is in these COREDA that the representatives of ICTA and DIGESA discuss, at the regional level, the procedures and mechanisms that will be used to achieve an efficient transfer of technology generated by ICTA. Through the COREDAS an in-service training course has been institutionalized in transfer of technology for the "promoters". The main objective of this course, which takes a whole agricultural cycle, is to give to the promoters the technology that ICTA has generated and validated. They, in turn, pass it on to the farmers on a large scale through technical assistance. In these courses, which are specific for each agroeconomic region, the DIGESA "promoters" dedicate one day a week to participate in conferences, seminars agricultural encounters, /- and field days. This type of activity conditions

1-This is an activity developed in a farmer's field where the group defines and solves specific problems.


them to increase their knowledge of agricultural topics and improve verbal communication. In addition,.they are responsible for working in a "teaching plot" to develop their capacity as agronomists and to understand better why they use certain practices. In other words, they have more contact with day to day reality, at the same time, they must conduct Farm Trials, Farmers Tests, and Commercial Trials 1I with farmers working next to them. This is an efficient transfer mechanism. In general terms it has been proven that these courses improve the technical capacityof the promoters and it makes transfer activities much more effective when the "promoters" get to know the system that generated the technology.
2. ICTA realizes that the services of the public sector will hardly benefit all farmers, so it is working with private organizations hoping that through them the technology will reach the farmers. The process has consisted of signing letters of understanding with organized groups to formalize projects with the objective of promoting the use of the better technology. In this case ICTA assigns a technician who, besides working in technology generation and testing, trains and advises selected farmers to conduct Farmers' Tests, and Commercial Tests on the land of other members of the organized group. This creates a multiplier effect by directing the technicians activities towards a whole group with the same resources that were going before to help more isolated farmers.

3. The private sector has a very important role in the process of agricultural technification. Much of ICTA's technology depends on the participation of the private industry. Its contribution radiates in a series of

The technological alternatives are put into practice with the appropriate use of technical assistance services and credit.


services through which the farmers obtain inputs such as fertilizer, seeds, herbicides, etc. It is hoped that the collaboration of the private sector will be to have inputs available at the right time with the correct instructions for their use.

The most interesting case of how the private sector has been incorporated in the transfer of technology is in the development of the seed industry in Guatemala. This phenomenon is the result of the application of a strategy of incentive used by ICTA who, through a series of mechanisms, has been able to intervene in the private sector in the production and commercialization of better seeds of basic grains (Ortiz, 1980).

The results of this strategy has been extraordinary. At the present

time all improved corn seed for the Guatemalan lowlands is composed of ICTA materials. This can be compared to 1977 when ICTA materials contributed less than 10% of the necessities of this seed and ICTA produced 60% of this amount (Ortiz, 1980).


ICTA does not consider itself only an institution of research. Neither does it believe that research results are the final product; instead, it has considered that the appropriate objective is that technology be widely used by farmers. With this belief it has developed a practical approach based on the needs and characteristics of the rural population of Guatemalan and through its application has taken the first steps toward identifying the solutions to farming systems problems in this country.



Fumagalli, A. and R.K. Waugh.
The Bellagio Conference.

Hildebrand, P:E.
de Ciencia y

1977. Agricultural Research in Guatemala. Bellagio, Italy.

1979. A Summary of the Sondeo Methodology. Institute Technologfa Agricolas (ICTA), Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Laird, R.J. 1977. Investigaci6n Agron6mica para el Desarrollo de la
Agriculture Tradicional. Colegio de Postgraduados, Chapingo, Mexico.

Ortiz, D.R. 1980. Mecanismos Utilizados para el Desarrollo de la Industira de Semillas de Granos Basicos en Guatemala. III Training Course
on Seed Technology, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT).
Cali, Colombia.

Waugh, R.K. 1975. Four Years of History. Institute de Ciencia y Technologfa
Agricolas (ICTA), Guatemala.