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Chapter 3

Traditional technologies - types and suitability

The previous chapter distinguished between different kinds of mixed farming. Such a classification is made to emphasize the variety in forms and functions of mixing. It also underlines that what is useful in one place may be counterproductive elsewhere. For example:

This chapter continues on the theme of system classification by distinguishing between different kinds of technologies. Some technologies are useful to an individual, others to a group of farmers, some are inherently more sustainable than others, and some depend on use of more inputs while others can help to reduce dependency on external inputs. Some technologies can be called exploitative; others are regenerative, as explained in the following section.

The application of technology is not necessarily progress, but may be a response to a shortage situation (Wilkinson, 1973; Schiere and De Wit, 1995; Slingerland, 2000). For example, in EXPAGR with ample feed available there is no incentive to plant fodder unless the existing fodder base runs out. In that case the farmers start to feed straws for lack of grass (LEIA), or they start to grow fodder based on fertilizer or legume-nitrogen (NCA). Farmers will not be convinced to vaccinate or house the animals if there is no danger of disease or predators; attention to veterinary aspects is a necessity, not a luxury. Then again, one technology may serve several goals at once and it may also carry disadvantages. Housing helps to protect the animals, to facilitate daily chores or to conserve feed. It also costs money and resources, it constrains the freedom of the animals and it may even negatively affect the health of the animals (if poorly designed). Similarly, there is hardly any technology that comes alone. The use of a milking machine requires the availability of skilled technicians and training of a farmer; the introduction of purebred pigs requires more elaborate housing, arrangements for supply of genetic material and availability of veterinary care. In some cases even the local food habits may have to change - for example, when slow growing pigs with much fat are replaced by fast growing pigs that have relatively lean meat and that use certain kinds of feed more efficiently.

Technology in general can be defined as a method to overcome a problem. A farmer getting tired of milking the cow will be happy if there is a labourer or a machine to do it instead. Farmers who get tired of hand weeding the crops will be happy to use a hoe or chemicals to make the job easier. Any intervention can be considered a technology - whether it is technical, management or policy related - but there is one condition. The cost of the technology should be paid by a combination of the extra return and the saved effort, a "calculation" that tends to be done differently among farmers themselves, scientists and/or policy-makers.


Several different technologies exist in relation to mixed farming and the following distinctions are made in this report:

As in any other classification there is always another way to distinguish between types of technology. The purpose of this classification is to show major differences. The interventions discussed later will, in practice, always be a mixture of those mentioned above.

Input- and management-based technologies

Input- and mechanization-oriented technologies in -c rease the output of a particular animal or farm by using more inputs (feed, fertilizer, pesticides), by using a machine to save labour, or by digging wells if there is not enough water. Management-based technologies are focused on trying to understand the farm as a combination of soil, plants or animals; the region as a combination of farms, people, mountains, underground water reservoirs, etc. Proper management can help to avoid losses where possible. For example:

Accelerating and defusing technologies

The distinction between accelerating and defusing technologies is difficult, but it is related to the earlier distinction between input and management oriented technologies, and to the exploitative-regenerative technologies. An example of an accelerating technology is when a cow is given a medicine that "forces" the animal to become pregnant even when the cow's body is too weak to conceive. By forcing it to conceive again the cow will collapse and even more inputs are required to get the cow in shape again. Liming of the soil or cultivation of Brachiaria or cassava on poor soils can also be considered as accelerating technologies. Brachiaria is a fodder grass and cassava is a tuber crop for human consumption, but they have in common that they both grow well (initially) on poor soils (Photo 13). However, they exhaust an already poor soil even more. The same process takes place when goats or cattle are left to graze already eroded hillsides. Liming, also called marling, was a well-known form of fertilization in Europe for many centuries. It was done, among other reasons, to release phosphorus from the soil-nutrient complex by adding calcium (the main component of lime). Ultimately it led to soils being depleted, as evident from this example of old British farmers' wisdom of several centuries ago:

"It brings the grounde to be starke nought, wherby the common people have a speache, that ground enriched with chalk makes a riche father and a beggerly sonne." (Based on Lord Ernle, 1961.)

or in more common language:

"Lime and lime without manure, makes both land and farmer poor."
(G. Montsma, personal communication, 1993.)

Defusing technology as opposed to accelerating technology tends to consider the problem to a greater depth, to look for its root causes and see how the basic processes can be stalled or reversed. Defusing technologies are relevant in NCA and they tend to be approaches that fallow land, that rotate the crops rather than treating them with chemicals (as in HEIA) to enhance fertility or to combat weeds / disease, or that reduce erosion rather than living with the consequences of erosion (Photos 1 and 14). By accepting natural limitations the defusing technologies would use tolerant breeds such as N'dama or Baoulé in areas with sleeping sickness, where otherwise heavy control measures would be required. When a cow is weak a diffusing management practice would be to stop milking her a few weeks sooner to help her rebuild the reserves necessary for the next lactation. Ultimately, the diffusing management approach implies attention to stress signals from the environment. It aims to reduce or adapt consumption and to restore the (local) resource base rather than to aim beyond (local) carrying capacity (Scoones, 1996).


Accelerating technology: growing of Brachiaria on poor soil is successful in the first years but it leaves the soil more exhausted if it is not accompanied by additional measures to enhance soil fertility (Peru)


An example of defusing technologies is found where farmers grow grass on hills and contour ridges to counter erosion and to rebuild the local resource base (Nicaragua)

Indigenous and exogenous technologies

The distinction between indigenous and exogenous technology is again not strict but it serves to make a difference between solutions generated and collected over many generations by farmers themselves and solutions that come from outside. By stressing the existence of indigenous technology one unlocks a vast potential of local knowledge and creativity that helps to modify external technologies for local use. Farmers can often come up with cheap solutions that would not have been generated from outside. Technical solutions from outside can certainly be useful - a vaccine against disease, a new way of conserving feed, etc. Others, however, do not fit the local conditions and it may be better to use a local and cheaper solution. Typical examples of indigenous knowledge are ethnoveterinary medicine, where women know the local herbs to cure or prevent disease in their goats, chickens or other animals, and knowledge about the best timing for ploughing or planting. Use of indigenous technologies can also be relevant for coping with variations in soils, herding rights, local business people, etc. Indigenous knowledge is no "cure for all", e.g. it has no or almost no ways to cope with infectious diseases and occurrence of new disorders that come with development. Still, the use of local knowledge for local problems has been shown to improve the uptake of development programmes substantially.

Technologies for national and/or local problems

Some problems in animal production are felt more at national than at local farmers' level. Rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), classical swine fever, etc. cause damage for the farmers, but they mostly threaten the export licences of countries. In other words, many farmers will not feel motivated to do things that are not in their own direct interest. Large-scale programmes will have to take that into account. A more dramatic example is when governments want food to be cheap and plentiful for urban populations. This may require the production of cereal varieties that are not liked by the farmers themselves. It may even force governments to work against local traditions that, for example, consider milk as a gift from the gods that is not to be traded for profit. Improper handling of such tensions will not lead to effective development.

Technologies for individual farmers and for society

Cooperatives are useful forms of farmers' organizations for development, for example to supply inputs, to work on credits and savings, or to work on a watershed programme. However, not all technologies are useful for collective action. For example, a vaccination campaign almost certainly needs the organization of groups, whereas the treatment of a broken leg or a difficult birth in an animal is based on individual interests (even though a cooperative can play a role). Farmers' study groups are collective action but farmers' investment decisions and cropping/livestock keeping strategies are the decisions of the farmers and/or their extended families themselves.

Exploitative and regenerative technologies

This distinction resembles that under the section Accelerating and defusing technologies, but it treats the time horizon of the farmers and of farming. Planting of Brachiaria leads to rich yields but also to more exhausted soils. The planting of legumes or investments in soil regeneration give lower short-term yield but ensure a livelihood for the future generation. In particular, the mixed farming of the NCA mode puts heavy emphasis on regeneration by involving technologies such as the use of leys, recycling of nutrients, mutual adjustment of cropping/livestock components and erosion control through fodder crops.


One particular issue in the suitability of technologies for mixed systems is in the concept of the "communal" ideotype. This term was coined by Donald (1981) for wheat breeding and it emphasizes that the yield of an individual plant needs to be made subject to the yield of the entire plot. More practically, no farmer is interested in high individual plant (i.e. subsystem) yield if it does not lead to the increase of total farm yields. The principle of the communal ideotype and choice of technologies for the design and choice of technologies in mixed crop-livestock farms can be illustrated in many ways:

Field observations and common sense support the point that farmers adjust parts of their farms to achieve larger overall output. In many tropical and temperate contexts they use crossbred cows or medium-producing animals rather than purebreds. In drought-prone areas farmers choose grain crops that also yield good straw/fodder, even at the expense of some grain yield (Joshi, Doyle and Oosting, 1994; Seetharam, Subba Rao and Schiere, 1995).


As in all farming systems, there are many different technologies. The use and application of a particular technology and/or management strategy are responses to a stress situation. In addition, what works in one place may not work in another. Participation is often undervalued in identifying local problems and modifying exogenous problem-solving technology to local conditions. The term "participation" here should be understood in a broad sense to imply that policy- makers should listen to farmers and vice versa; that the needs of animals are seen in relation to the needs of the crop and the soil; and that the price of food in the city is related to what would be required to have and maintain strong rural communities for long-term food security. It means that the optimum production level of an individual component is established in relation to the yield of the total. This principle is called the communal ideotype and requires governments, research and education systems to refocus their attention from parts of the farm towards the whole, whether it be a plot, farm, region or community. Farmers have always known this and in mixed systems have often opted for a combination that gives medium yields, e.g. for crossbreds rather than for purebreds, for dual- or multiple-purpose animals and/or crops rather than for single-purpose species.


Yields of napier (Pennisetum purpureum) and leucaena (Leucaena leucocephala) in pure and mixed stands


Yield (tonnes/ha/yr)




Napier alone




Leucaena alone




Napier + leucaena




Source: Based on Mureithi, Tayler and Thorpe (1995).




Optimum crop combinations, herd size and production at different individual cow productions with or without treatment of stover, when the farmer also has access to a small fixed area of good quality fodder

Individual production

Total production (litres/day/system)

Herd size (cows/farm)


Total income from milk and crop (litres/day/cow) (Rs/day/farm)





















Notes: Total area is 1 ha, i.e. 0 ha cotton implies 1 ha of sorghum, 0.4 ha cotton implies 0.6 ha sorghum.

The cows used in this modelling are "tropical" cows; they are smaller than their temperate cousins. A milk yield of 10 litres for an animal of 350 kg is comparable with a yield of 20-25 litres for a temperate cow.

Source: Based on Patil, Rangnekar and Schiere (1993).




Optimal farm crop areas as calculated with linear programming for an area with mixed crop-livestock systems in Kenya


Large farm holding

Small farm holding

Gross margin (Kenyan shilling)

7 952

6 560

Land used (ha)



Grade cows (cow/farm)



Crossbred cows (cow/farm)



Coffee (ha)



Maize (ha)



Beans (ha)



Potato (ha)



Banana (ha)



Source: Based on Kidane (1984).

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