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Considerations in Introducing
Integrated Agriculture-Aquaculture Technology

Sociocultural considerations when introducing
a new integrated agriculture-aquaculture technology

by Eric Worby

It is important to know how farmers understand the world before trying to introduce new technological options. Discover whether or not the new system can fit in well with the farmer's concerns, beliefs and values. Remember farmers are «scientists», too. They have been developing, testing and adopting their own technologies for centuries in ways that are tailored to their cultural setting. If you first make effort to learn from them about the fit between cultural outlook and technology, then you will have a much better idea of which new technologies they are likely to take an interest in.

Some general considerations

1. Even science is cultural. It is a belief system that incorporates certain values and goals, and promotes a particular view of the world.

2. Cultural rules often limit what particular members of a given society (e.g. women versus men) can do. Cultural factors may determine who usually makes decisions, who is allowed to work in the fields, who may go to town to market produce and who may travel to a research station to attend demonstrations. These factors may set limits on the flexibility of households and communities to adopt new technologies. For example:

Considerations of gender, religious beliefs, caste or clan membership may limit the distribution of benefits to be derived from farming innovations.

3. Interactions between extension agents or institutions and farmers may be constrained by culture.

4. Culture changes over time. Children often have different beliefs, attitudes and values than their parents. This can cause conflicts over resource use priorities. For example:

5. Communities and consumption need to be considered. Farming communities are often divided by factors, such as religion, caste, economic class and political affiliation. A given technology may not be suitable for the whole community and may increase conflict within it.

Consumption constraints

There is no reason to encourage people to raise fish if they will not eat the fish themselves and if they cannot find anyone who will buy the fish. The same is true for any livestock or vegetable product that may be part of an integrated farming technology. It is, therefore, essential to consider the local cultural and economic constraints on consumption before attempting to introduce such a new technology.

Cultural constraints on consumption may include:

1. Religious beliefs

For example:

2. Totemic beliefs

3. Beliefs about gender differences

4. Beliefs about food cleanliness and health

Below is a consumption checklist to help you think about how cultural beliefs might affect the adoption of the new technology you want to introduce. What other technology might be more culturally appropriate?

This checklist will help you decide whether or not a new technology will generate products that will be available and acceptable to all members of the producing households as well as to buyers in the market. However, you must still make a separate assessment of the long-term level of demand and prices in the markets of a farmer's product before deciding whether or not a given technology will be viable. (See this volume.)

Consumption checklist

Labour time

In most farming communities, women and men do different kinds of tasks on and off the farm and in the house. A new integrated farming system technology will usually require changes in the way members of the farming household use their time. Some might have a greater burden of work (e.g. feeding fish or livestock, repairing dikes, selling fish) and need to reduce the time they spend on other activities. But this is not always true. Sometimes, new tasks can be easily combined with present activities (e.g. digging a trench can supply fertilizer for horticulture crops on an embankment) or children and elders can perform new tasks that are not physically demanding but costly in terms of time (e.g. feeding fish in a distant pond).

The following labour requirement checklist will help you think about these problems and whether or not they can be easily solved by the farming household. But remember, households differ. Some have many young children who require supervision. Sometimes, an elderly widow lives alone and does most things by herself because her children have gone to find jobs in town. How can an integrated system help someone like her to increase her food and income without demanding more labour time? Are there neighbours, relatives or a women's group with whom she can cooperate and get help from?

For each task on the checklist, make a mark under «Present» if the category of family member (children, women, men, elders) contributes substantial labour under the existing system. Then make a mark under «Future» if they will need to contribute once the newly integrated system is adopted.

Labour requirement checklist

Decisionmaking in the household

Before introducing a new integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) technology, it is important to consider who will make the management decisions that are crucial for its success. For example, elders might have ultimate authority in the household concerning when to sell crops or livestock, but make few day-to-day decisions on stocking rates, feeding and fertilizing.

Women often manage family finances, as well as making day-to-day decisions concerning food purchases and preparation. Because women are usually responsible for ensuring adequate nutrition for themselves and their children, they are often more motivated than men to adopt new technologies that provide nutritional benefits, such as fish culture. Also, women are eager to invest their time in improving the productivity of a resource over which they have control of both management and the harvested product (for example, a backyard pond).

Distribution of resources

When we speak of «distribution», we mean the ways in which the resources needed for an integrated farming technology are made available to farmers. Some resources will be available on the farm and cost nothing (if the farm household owns them). These may have to be diverted from other uses, however, thus, constituting a hidden cost. Other resources may have to be borrowed, leased or purchased.

Before attempting to implement any of the technologies in this primer, you should try to answer the following questions together with the farmers you are working with. (You can do this as part of the drawing exercise discussed in the paper on working with new entrants to integrated agriculture-aquaculture, this volume.)

1. What resources are easily available on most farms in the area? (A new system should not depend upon resources that are scarce, difficult or expensive to obtain.)

2.Which of these resources is underutilized/not utilized? (A new system should focus on bringing these into the system.)

3.Which of these resources is overutilized/not utilized in a sustainable fashion? (A new system should strive toward restoring sustainability.)

4.Which of these resources is a common property resource? (A common property resource is one that is jointly drawn upon and managed by a community or a part of it, e.g. grazing lands, ponds, irrigation water, forest products. A new system should enhance the benefits all users receive from such resources.)

5.Which of these resources are controlled by only a small percentage of farmers or nonfarmers? (Farmers will be reluctant to invest in a system that requires resources that are not under their ownership or control, such as land that might be sold or an irrigation water supply that might be cut off someday.)

On-farm resource availability and utilization checklist

Managing risk: investing in social relationships

It is useful to remember that most farmers in the world have little margin for taking risks. Sometimes building a store of value to provide insurance against catastrophes (such as drought, flood, political upheaval, market instability, social and legal obligations) may be perceived by the farmer to be more desirable than investing for maximum returns.

Farmers view their ties with friends, neighbours and kinfolk as insurance against risk as well, since they will rely on them for help if disaster strikes. This is why farmers invest in social relationships--by sharing resources (such as money, tools and labour), paying visits, attending community celebrations and religious ceremonies and exchanging gifts. If a farmer harvests fish or poultry before these mature, it may be because he or she must meet a social obligation that can't be put off until later. Farmers should not be expected to make decisions in accordance with fixed models. Rather, the models for integrated technologies should be flexible enough to accommodate farmers' varying needs and perceptions of acceptable risk.

Most farm households will be familiar with the benefits that may be derived from integration in terms of reducing risk. Most likely, they already combine diverse enterprises (e.g. livestock, crops, wage labour, gardening) in order to protect themselves from possible failure of any single endeavour. The integration of agricultural enterprises with fish culture can increase household security by providing additional sources of income, improving cash flows over time and enhancing the long-term sustainability of the household and community resource base. Also, when nutrition is improved through integration, people become less vulnerable to illness.

Inequality between households

The farming households in any community are likely to have unequal access to resources and unequal control over their use. Often, extension agents focus on «leading or progressive farmers»--those with the greatest access to resources on the farm or with sufficient income to purchase these off the farm. Extension agents do this because it is easier to show a complete, complex system on a single farm or because the farmers often have more education and are more likely to think like the extension agent. These farms are often used to «demonstrate» the gains to be achieved from an integrated system. However, there are good reasons not to focus on resource-rich farmers in technology extension efforts.

Issues for further consideration

Through adoption of integrated farming, farmers can develop an improved understanding of resource use. How does this insight lead to further application of this knowledge elsewhere in people's livelihoods? Seasonality is an important aspect in fish farming and influences livelihood options in general.

The relationship between extension agents and farmers as described above is, unfortunately, not the norm. In reality, in most parts of developing countries, farmers have never seen a government extension agent. Considering this, alternative methods (which exist) for assessing and disseminating information may be sought.

The considerable variability in characteristics of families and communities, such as living individually or in joint households, levels of literacy and education, existing farming activities, food preferences, faiths and taboos make it difficult for occasional outside visitors, such as extension agents, to easily suggest appropriate technologies to adopt. After community-level discussions and presentations of a portfolio of options in adequate simplicity and format, individual families can decide to seek further advice on technologies they consider appropriate to their specific situation.

Benefits which nonproducers can gain from integrated farming in any area are potential employment and greater access to cheaper, nutritious food. Where fish culture cannot be adopted by the poorest sector, the latter may still be involved and/or benefit.

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