- Farming Systems Research- Extens ion -9? ~3
Newsletter, U. Florida, 2:4-5, 1989
FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EXTENSION (FSR/E)
IN SUPPORT OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Charles A. Francis* and Peter E. Hildebrand**
This paper defines a close and complementary consensus achieved by 350 members of the ASA, CSSA relationship between Farming Systems Research and and SSSA following a "free wheeling two-hour discussion": Extension (FSR/E) and Sustainable Agriculture. Sustaina- "A sustainable agriculture is one that, over the long term, ble agriculture is a set of goals or objectives for agricultural enhances environmental quality and the resource base on systems. FSR/E is a methodology that incorporates a which agriculture depends; provides for basic human food systems, or holistic perspective. When the time dimension and fiber needs, is economically viable, and enhances the is incorporated in the systems perspective, sustainable quality of life for farmers and society as a whole." necessarily becomes a concern in FSR/E. This group, as have others, agreed that the concept of
Concern about the sustainability of agricultural "low-inputs: is not essential to sustainable agriculture, but, production has been expressed in books throughout most under some circumstances, may be an appropriate of this century: Farmers of Forty Centuries (King, 1911), approach to meeting the four criteria listed in the definition. An Agricultural Testament (Howard, 1943), and Feeding As reported by E. T. York in a recent issue of Environment, a Billion (Wittwer et al.,1987). Growing interest in this the Technical Advisory Committee of the OGIAR considers concept has developed over the past several years. The that: National Research Council of the National Academy of "The goal of sustainable agriculture should be to Sciences of the United States is, atthis writing, completing maintain agricultural production at levels necessary to a major study on "alternative" agriculture. Recent USAID meet the increasing needs and aspirations of an and World Bank projects, among others, must demonstrate expanding world population without degrading the concern with sustainabilityy. Yet, the growing dialogue has environment." not contributed to a single definition of the term "sustaina- Some of the above statements convey the concept of ble". sustainable agriculture as a philosophy. The TAC
A mechanistic definition is used by the Cooperative statement expresses sustainable agriculture as a goal to Extension System in Nebraska (Univ. Nebraska, 1987): be achieved. It is in this latter context that the relationship
"...a sustainable agricultural system is the result of a between sustainable agriculture (an end) and farming management strategy which helps the producer to choose systems as a clearly defined methodology (a means to an. hybrids and varieties, -soil fertility packages including end) can be seen. rotations, pest management approach, tillage methods and The current polemic on sustainable agriculture obviously crop sequence to reduce costs of purchased inputs, manifests' a concern with the thought that modern minimize the impact of the system on the immediate and agriculture, as practiced in much of the world today, is the off-farm environment, and provide a sustained level of non-sustainable. Conventional technologies and strategies production and profit from farming." have led to an agriculture that uses non-renewable
More recently, Harwood (1988) defined sustainable resources at rates which cannot be sustained, and/or which agriculture as: creates a gradual contamination of the environment.
"...an agriculture that can evolve indefinitely toward Through the use of petroleum-based products for
greater human utility, greater efficiency of resource use mechanization and chemically enhanced production
and a balance with the environment that is favorable practices, non-sustainable agriculture as we know it today both to humans and to most other species." is in part the result of standardized practices over large
The Committee on Agricultural Sustainability for geographic areas.
Developing Countries, "a coalition of organizations The opposite extreme, a perfectly sustainable agriculture concerned about agricultural development" in a concept (one that could go on forever) no longer dominates. It is paper, "The Transition to Agricultural Sustainability: An found only in a few cases and as isolated habitation in the Agenda for AID" defines sustainability in agriculture as: world's largest humid tropical forests where the popultion
"...the ability of an agricultural system to meet evolving density is so low that the environment can recuperate from human needs without destroying and if possible, the occasional slash and burn scars created in the process
improving the natural resource base on which it of sustaining human life.
depends." A practical working definition of "sustainable" must lie
The Agronomy News, in January 1989, reported a between these two extremes. In this context, it would probably be useful to speak of "a more sustainable
*Profesr, Department of Agronomy, University of Nebraska, Uncoin. agriculture" rather than the absolute term "sustainable". A
-Professor, Food and Resource Economics, University of Florida, more sustainable agriculture than that being practiced Gainesville.
in what we might call "modern agriculture' today would commodity programs, or even outside the tradjti6nal rely less on standardized, often chemically-enhanced agricultural university or research institute. production practices and instead depend on renewable 5) feature partnership with farming families who help in its resources and use practices more in tune with local planning and implementation.
conditions. This implies more diversity in crops produced, The current rate of degradation of the environment changes in rotation practices, the development (or demands urgency in achieving more sustainable redevelopment) of germplasm well adapted to local agricultural practices. In practice, FSR!E: environmental niches (as opposed to germplasm with 6) reduces the time from conceptualization to adoption by "broad adaptability") and the necessary accompanying incorporating the knowledge base of farmers into the changes in infrastructure. A more sustainable agriculture process of technology generation. would be more in tune with the local resource base, make 7) stimulates the acquisition and use of new technological maximum use of internal production inputs, and have information by farmers by helping them learn about it
potential for sustained production and profits further into first hand. This is critical because sustainable the future. agricultural requires more management time, substitutFarming Systems Research and Extension methodology ing information for external inputs. By its very nature, is well adapted to help create the type of technology then, FSRIE methodology is distinctly appropriate for envisioned in a more sustainable agriculture. FSR/E helping develop the kind of agricultural practices that
methodology: are more in tune with local resources, that will help to
1 ) was developed to help generate technology which fits enhance the environment, and ultimately, help create a
the particular types of farming systems in a specific more sustainable agriculture.
2) has been especially successful in areas where REFERENCES CITED
conditions often change rapidly from one zone or ethnic ASAICSSA/SSSA. 1989 (Jan.) Agronomy News. p. 15.
Committee on Agricultural Sustainability for Developing Countries. 1988. group to another. The transition to sustainable agriculture: An agenda for AID.
3) is an approach which acknowledges diversity as implied (Unpublished).
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and Tipp, 984).framework for on-fann research. CIMMYT Economics Working Paper (Harrington adTip194.02/4. Mexico.
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4) have come to grips with the challenges of combining National Research Council. 1989. Alternative Agriculture. National Academy of Sciences. Washington, D.C. (in press).
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lie outside the mandates of single departments or Environment 30(9):18.