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Chapter 20 - Extension's role in sustainable agricultural development

Niels Röling and Jules N. Pretty

Niels Röling is Extra-ordinary Professor of agricultural knowledge systems, Department of Communication and Innovation Studies, Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands. Jules N. Pretty is the Director of Sustainable Agriculture Programmes, International Institute for Environment and Development, London.

Emerging challenges for sustainable agriculture
Sustainability and levels of action
Resource-conserving technology development and transfer
Incorporating farmer experimentation
From teaching to learning and a whole new professionalism
From directive to participatory extension
Challenges for supportive policy processes

Emerging challenges for sustainable agriculture

During the past fifty years, agricultural development policies have been remarkably successful at emphasizing external inputs as the means to increase food production. This has led to growth in global consumption of pesticides, inorganic fertilizer, animal feed-stuffs, and tractors and other machinery.

These external inputs have, however, substituted for natural processes and resources, rendering them less powerful. Pesticides have replaced biological, cultural, and mechanical methods for controlling pests, weeds, and diseases; inorganic fertilizers have substituted for livestock manures, composts, and nitrogen-fixing crops; information for management decisions comes from input suppliers, researchers, and extensionists rather than from local sources; and fossil fuels have substituted for locally generated energy sources. The basic challenge for sustainable agriculture is to make better use of these internal resources. This can be done by minimizing the external inputs used, by regenerating internal resources more effectively, or by combinations of both.

Evidence is now emerging that regenerative and resource-conserving technologies and practices can bring both environmental and economic benefits for farmers, communities, and nations. The best evidence comes from countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where the concern is to increase food production in the areas where fanning has been largely untouched by the modem packages of externally supplied technologies. In these complex and remote lands, some farmers and communities adopting regenerative technologies have substantially improved agricultural yields, often using only few or no external inputs (Bunch, 1991; GTZ, 1992; UNDP, 1992; Lobo & Kochendörfer-Lucius, 1992; Krishna, 1993; Shah, 1994; SWCB, 1994; Pretty, 1995).

But these are not the only sites for successful sustainable agriculture. In the high-input and generally irrigated lands, farmers adopting regenerative technologies have maintained yields whilst substantially reducing their use of inputs (Kamp, Gregory, & Chowhan, 1993; UNDP, 1992; Kenmore, 1991; van der Werf & de Jager, 1992; Bagadion & Korten, 1991). And in the very high-input lands of the industrialized countries, farmers have been able to maintain profitability even though input use has been cut dramatically, such as in Europe (Vereijken, 1992; Vereijken, Wijnands, Stol, & Visser, 1994; Van Weeperen, Röling, Van Bon, & Mur, 1995; Pretty & Howes, 1993; Jordan, Hutcheon, & Glen, 1993; El Titi & Landes, 1990) and in the United States (Liebhart et al., 1989; NRC, 1989; Hanson, Johnson, Peters, & Janke, 1990; Dobbs, Becker, & Taylor, 1991; Faeth, 1993).

All of these successes have three elements in common. They have made use of resource-conserving technologies such as integrated pest management, soil and water conservation, nutrient recycling, multiple cropping, water harvesting, and waste recycling. In all, there has been action by groups and communities at the local level, with farmers becoming experts at managing farms as ecosystems and at collectively managing the watersheds or other resource units of which their farms form a part. And there have also been supportive and enabling external government and nongovernment institutions, which have reoriented their activities to focus on local needs and capabilities.

Most successes, though, are still localized. They are simply islands of success. This is because an overarching element, a favourable policy environment, is missing. Most policies still actively encourage fanning that is dependent on external inputs and technologies. It is these policy frameworks that are one of the principal barriers to a more sustainable agriculture (Pretty, 1994a). Figure 1 illustrates this chapter's area of discourse and its focus on the interfaces between natural resources, local stakeholders, supportive institutions, and the policy context.

Sustainability and levels of action

A necessary condition for sustainable agriculture is that large numbers of farming households must be motivated to use coordinated resource management. This could be for pest and predator management, nutrient management, controlling the contamination of aquifers and surface water courses, coordinated livestock management, conserving soil and water resources, and seed stock management. The problem is that, in most places, platforms for collective decision making have not been established to manage such resources (Röling, 1994a, 1994b). The success of sustainable agriculture therefore depends not just on the motivations, skills, and knowledge of individual farmers, but on action taken by groups or communities as a whole. This makes the task more challenging. Simple extension of the message that sustainable agriculture can match conventional agriculture for profits, as well as produce extra benefits for society as a whole, will not suffice.

Sustainability is commonly seen as a property of an ecosystem. But Sustainability can be seen from other perspectives, which are more relevant for extension. Environmental issues emerge from the human use of natural resources. Sustainability can therefore be defined in terms of human reasons, activities, and agreements. The definition of Sustainability then becomes part of the problem because people need to agree on how they define Sustainability and what priority they will give it (Pretty, 1994b).

In this approach, Sustainability is not a scientific, "hard" property which can be measured according to some objective scale, or a set of practices to be fixed in time and space. Rather, Sustainability is a quality that emerges when people individually or collectively apply their intelligence to maintain the long-term productivity of the natural resources on which they depend (Sriskandarajah, Bawden, & Packham, 1989). In other words, Sustainability emerges out of shared human experiences, objectives, knowledge, decisions, technology, and organization. Agriculture becomes sustainable only when people have reason to make it so. They can learn and negotiate their way towards Sustainability. In any discussions of Sustainability, it is important to clarify what is being sustained, for how long, for whose benefit and at whose cost, over what area, and measured by what criteria. Answering these questions is difficult, because it means assessing and trading off values and beliefs. Campbell (1994) has put it this way: "[Attempts to define Sustainability miss the point that, like beauty, sustain ability is in the eye of the beholder.... It is inevitable that assessments of relative Sustainability are socially constructed, which is why there are so many definitions."

It is therefore crucial to focus on more than one system level (Fresco, Stroosnijder, Bouma, & van Keulen, 1994). At the farm level, there is the farm household. At the above-farm level, there are the collective stakeholders, who might or might not be organized for sustainable use of the whole resource unit. In an irrigation scheme, it is common for an irrigators' association collectively to manage water use at the scheme level. But when it comes to watersheds or other vulnerable resource units, it is usually impossible to identify an appropriate "platform" for decision making (Röling, 1994a, 1994b).

A key example is the Indonesian programme for integrated pest management (IPM) in irrigated rice (FAO, 1994; Van de Fliert, 1993; Röling & Van de Fliert, 1994; Kenmore, 1991). At the farm level, this programme involves farmer field schools teaching individual farmers to manage their rice plots as ecosystems, carefully maintaining the balance between pests and their natural predators and only reverting to pesticides when observation shows that the situation is running out of hand. But IPM also needs collective management of resources comprising several farms. Thus nematodes can effectively be controlled by interrupting the cultivation of wet rice by a dryland crop such as soybeans. This requires decision making at the irrigation block level. The population dynamics of rats, the most important pest in irrigated rice, cannot be controlled at the farm level. Integrated rat management requires collective action at the village level (Van de Fliert, van Elsen, & Nangsir Soenanto, 1993).

Resource-conserving technology development and transfer

Although many resource-conserving technologies and practices have been widely proven on research stations to be both productive and sustainable, the total number of farmers using them is still small. This is because these technologies involve the substitution of management skills, knowledge, and labour for external inputs. The modern approach to agricultural research and extension, however, has been to emphasize comprehensive packages of technologies. Few farmers are able to adopt the whole modem packages of production or conservation technologies without considerable adjustments. Part of the problem is that most agricultural research still occurs on the research station, where scientists experience conditions quite different from those experienced by farmers.

This is true of many sustainability-enhancing innovations. Even though resource-conserving technologies are productive and sustainable, if they are imposed on farmers, then they will not be adopted widely. Alley cropping, an agroforestry system comprising rows of nitrogen-fixing trees or bushes separated by rows of cereals, has long been the focus of research (Kang, Wilson, & Lawson, 1984; Attah-Krah & Francis, 1987; Young, 1989; Lal, 1989). Many productive and sustainable systems, needing few or no external inputs, have been developed. They stop erosion, produce food and wood, and can be cropped over long periods. But the problem is that very few, if any, farmers have adopted these alley cropping systems as designed. Despite millions of dollars of research expenditure over many years, systems that have been produced are suitable only for research stations.

Where these systems have had some success, however, farmers have taken one or two components of alley cropping and adapted them to their own farms. In Kenya, for example, farmers planted rows of leguminous trees next to field boundaries, or single rows through their fields; and in Rwanda, alleys planted by extension workers soon became dispersed through fields (Kerkhof, 1990). But the prevailing view tends to be that farmers should adapt to the technology. Of the Agroforestry Outreach Project in Haiti, it was said:

Farmer management of hedgerows does not conform to the extension program.... Some farmers prune the hedgerows too early, others too late. Some hedges are not yet pruned by two years of age, when they have already reached heights of 4-5 metres. Other hedges are pruned too early, mainly because animals are let in or the tops are cut and carried to animals.... Finally, it is very common for farmers to allow some of the trees in the hedgerow to grow to pole size. These trees are not pruned but are harvested when needed for house construction or other activities requiring poles. (Bannister & Nair, 1990)

Farmers were clearly making their own adaptations according to their own needs.

Just occasionally, however, an environmentally beneficial technology is developed that appears to require no knowledge of farmers' conditions. The IPM programme to control cassava mealybug (CMB) (Phenacoccus manihoti) in west and central Africa is one example. CMB was first recorded in Africa in 1973, and an effective natural enemy, the wasp Epidinocarsis lopezi, was found in 1981. Since releases began, it has become established in twenty-five countries, providing good control of CMB. It is to some extent a "perfect technology" for scientists, because it is released from the air without the knowledge of farmers. It is, however, not necessarily a perfect technology for farmers. The contrast with another IPM programme in Togo is significant when it comes to issues of sustainability (Box 1).

Incorporating farmer experimentation

The problem with agricultural science and extension is that it has poorly understood the nature of "indigenous" and rural people's knowledge. For many, what rural people know is assumed to be "primitive," "unscientific," or overtaken by development, and so formal research and extension must "transform" what they know so as to "develop" them. An alternative view is that local knowledge is a valuable and underused resource, which can be studied, collected, and incorporated into development activities. Neither of these views, though, is entirely satisfactory because of the static view of knowledge implied (Chambers, Pacey, & Thrupp, 1989; Röling & Engel, 1989; Warren, 1991; Long & Long, 1992; Scoones & Thompson, 1994). It is more important to recognize that local people are always involved in active learning, in (re)inventing technologies, in adapting their farming systems and livelihood strategies. Understanding and supporting these processes of agricultural innovation and experimentation have become an important focus in facilitating more sustainable agriculture with its strong locality-specific nature.

The problem with modem agricultural science is that technologies are finalized before farmers get to see them. If new technologies are appropriate and fit a particular farmer's conditions or needs, then they stand a good chance of being adopted. But if they do not fit and if farmers are unable to make changes, then they have only the one choice. They have to adapt to the technology, or reject it entirely.

Box 1. Comparison of Farmers' Involvement in Two IPM Programmes.

A: Cassava mealybug (CMB) control with Epidinocarsis lopezi

The programme has involved close collaboration between IITA and NARSs, involving training of local technicians to participate in releases. Now mass rearing of the wasp E. lopezi is done in Benin; from there they are transported by air for air release. According to IITA, an important component of success has been that farmers and extension agents have not had to be involved. Farmers do not, therefore, know anything about the releases. One survey of farmers in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire found that they recognized CMB and how it was a devastating pest. All those where E. lopezi had been introduced at least six months before had observed a significant decline in CMB. But because none of them knew about the programme, they attributed the decline to recent heavy rains and other climatic factors.

B: Mango mealybug control in Togo

The CMB programme is in contrast to the successful introduction of the parasitoid Gyranusoides tebyii to Togo in 1987 to control the mango mealybug (Rastrococcus invadens). The parasitoid was found in India, and following testing, rearing, and release, it rapidly spread over the whole of Togo. By 1989, no mango trees could be found on which mango mealybug was present without being parasitized. But success would be threatened without public interest, as any use of chemical control methods would kill the parasites. A great deal of publicity was given through radio, TV, and advisory leaflets. Considerable economic losses are now being prevented by the biological control system.

Source: Kiss and Meerman (1991).

The alternative is to seek and encourage the involvement of farmers in adapting technologies to their conditions. This constitutes a radical reversal of the normal modes of research and technology generation, because it requires interactive participation between professionals and farmers. Participatory technology development (PTD) is the process in which the knowledge and research capacities of farmers are joined with those of scientific institutions, whilst at the same time strengthening local capacities to experiment and innovate (Jiggins & De Zeeuw, 1992; Reijntjes, Haverkort, & Waters-Bayer, 1992; Haverkort, van der Kamp, & Waters-Bayer, 1991). Farmers are encouraged to generate and evaluate indigenous technologies and to choose and adapt external ones on the basis of their own knowledge and value systems.

But, of course, researchers and farmers participate in different ways, depending on the degree of control each actor has over the research process. The most common form of "participatory" research is researcher designed and implemented, even though it might be conducted on farmers' fields. Many on-farm trials and demonstration plots represent nothing better than passive participation (Pretty, 1994b). Less commonly, farmers may implement trials designed by researchers. But greater roles for farmers are even rarer. Fujisaka (1991) describes researcher-designed experiments on new cropping patterns in the Philippines. Even though farmers "participated" in implementing the trials, there was widespread uncertainty about what researchers were actually trying to achieve. Farmers misunderstood experiments and rejected the new technologies. The reason, as Fujisaka explains, was that "cooperation between farmers and researchers implies two groups continually listening carefully to one another. Claveria farmers are avid listeners to... researchers. The challenge is for all on-farm researchers to complete the circle."

Although this means that technology development must involve farmers, it does not mean that scientific research has no place. Research will have to contribute on many fronts, such as in the development of resistant cultivars, knowledge about the life cycles of pests, biological control methods, suitable crops for erosion control, and processes in nitrogen fixation. Such research also gives insight into complex processes such as the movement of nutrients in the soil and their accessibility for plants. But all these contributions must be seen as providing choices for farmers as they make farm-specific decisions and move the whole farm towards greater sustainability.

From teaching to learning and a whole new professionalism

The central principle of sustainable agriculture is that it must enshrine new ways of learning about the world. But learning should not be confused with teaching.

Teaching implies the transfer of knowledge from someone who knows to someone who does not know. Teaching is the normal mode of educational curricula and is also central to many organizational structures (Ison, 1990; Argyris, Putnam, & Smith, 1985; Russell & Ison, 1991; Bawden, 1992, 1994; Pretty & Chambers, 1993). Universities and other professional institutions reinforce the teaching paradigm by giving the impression that they are custodians of knowledge which can be dispensed or given (usually by lecture) to a recipient (a student). Where these institutions do not include a focus on self-development and on enhancing the ability to learn, they do not allow students to grasp an essential skill in the sustainable management of a complex agroecosystem. In that case, "teaching threatens sustainable agriculture" (Ison, 1990).

The problem for farmers is that they cannot rely on routine, calendar-based activities if they engage in sustainable farming. Their interventions must be based on observation and anticipation. They require instruments and indicators which make more visible the ecological relationships on and among farms. Technology for sustainable farming must emphasize measurement and observation equipment or services that help individual farmers assess their situations, such as soil analysis, manure analysis, and pest identification (Röling, 1993). It also has to focus on higher system levels. Predators and parasitoids to control pests often require a larger biotope than that of a small farm. Erosion control, water harvesting, biodiversity, access to biomass, recycling waste between town and countryside and between animal and crop production, all require local cooperation and coordination.

What becomes important is the social transition, or new learning path, that farmers and communities must take to support sustainable agriculture. This is much less obvious and often remains unrecognized by extensionists. Learning for sustainable agriculture involves a transformation in the fundamental objectives, strategies, theories, risk perceptions, skills, labour organization, and professionalism of farming. This learning path has four key elements:

1. The information system. Sustainable agriculture must be responsive to changing circumstances, so farmers need to invest in observation, observation equipment, record keeping, and monitoring procedures.

2. Conceptual framework. Sustainable agriculture is knowledge intensive, and so farmers must know about life cycles of pests and disease organisms and their recognition, biological controls, ecological principles, soil life processes, nutrient cycles.

3. Skills. Sustainable farming requires a whole set of new skills, including observation and monitoring, compost making, mechanical weed control, spot application of pesticides, and risk assessment.

4. Higher system-level management. Generally, sustainable management of the farm is not enough, and it is necessary to think at system levels higher than the farm and take part in the collective management of natural resources at those levels.

In educational systems, therefore, the fundamental requirement for sustainable agriculture is for universities to evolve into communities of participatory learners. Such changes are very rare, an exception being Hawkesbury College, which is now part of the University of Western Sydney, Australia (Bawden, 1992, 1994). However, a regional consortium of NGOs in Latin America concerned with agroecology and low-input agriculture recently signed an agreement with eleven colleges of agriculture from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay to help in the joint reorientation of curriculum and research agendas towards sustainability and poverty concerns (Altieri & Yuryevic, 1992; Yuryevic, 1994). The agreement defines collaboration to develop more systemic and integrated curricula, professional training and internship programmes, collaborative research efforts, and the development of training materials.

Box 2. The Key Principles of Farmer Field Schools.

1. What is relevant and meaningful is decided by the learner and must be discovered by the learner. Learning flourishes in a situation where teaching is seen as a facilitating process that assists people to explore and discover the personal meaning of events for themselves.

2. Learning is a consequence of experience. People become responsible when they have assumed responsibility and experienced success.

3. Cooperative approaches are enabling. As people invest in collaborative group approaches, they develop a better sense of their own worth.

4. Learning is an evolutionary process, and is characterized by free and open communication, confrontation, acceptance, respect, and the right to make mistakes.

5. Each person's experience of reality is unique. As people become more aware of how they learn and solve problems, they can refine and modify their own styles of learning and action.

Sources: Adapted from Kingsley and Musante, 1994; Van de Fliert, 1993; Kenmore, 1991; Stock, 1994.

A move from a teaching to a learning style has profound implications for agricultural development institutions. The focus is less on what we learn, and more on how we learn and with whom (see Box 2 for principles of farmer field schools used in the FAO IPM programme in Southeast Asia). This implies new roles for development professionals, leading to a whole new professionalism with new concepts, values, methods, and behaviour. Typically, normal professionals are single-disciplinary, work largely or only in agencies remote from people, are insensitive to diversity of context, and are concerned with themselves generating and transferring technologies. Their beliefs about people's conditions and priorities often differ from people's own views. The new professionals, by contrast, are either multidisciplinary or work in close connection with other disciplines, are not intimidated by the complexities of close dialogue with rural and urban people, and are continually aware of the context of interaction and development.

From directive to participatory extension

Extension has long been grounded in the diffusion model of agricultural development, in which technologies are passed from research scientists via extensionists to farmers (Rogers, 1962, 1983). This approach is exemplified by the training and visit (T&V) system. It was first implemented in Turkey in 1967 and later widely adopted by governments (Benor, 1987; Roberts, 1989). It was designed to be a management system for energizing extension staff, turning desk-bound, poorly motivated field staff into effective extension agents. Extension agents receive regular training to enhance their technical skills, which they then hope will pass to all farmers through regular communication with small numbers of selected contact farmers.

But the contact farmers are usually selected on the basis of literacy, wealth, readiness to change, and "progressiveness," and so this sets them apart from the rest of the community. The secondary transfer of the technical messages, from contact farmers to community, has been much less successful than predicted, and adoption rates are commonly very low among noncontact farmers. Without a doubt, T&V is now widely considered as ineffective (Axinn, 1988; Howell, 1988; Moris, 1990; Antholt, 1992, 1994; Hussain, Byerlee, & Heisey, 1994).

Important lessons have been learned from the problems associated with T&V, and there is clearly a need to address the systemic issues facing extension (Zijp, 1993; Antholt, 1994). Extension will need to build on traditional communication systems and involve farmers themselves in the process of extension. Incentive systems will have to be developed to reward staff for being in the field and working closely with farmers. There must be a "well-defined link between the well-being of field officers and the extension system, based on the clients' view of the value of extension's and field workers' performance" (Antholt, 1992, P.). Participation, if it is to become part of extension, must clearly be interactive and empowering. Any pretence to participation will result in little change. Allowing farmers just to come to meetings or letting a few representatives sit on committees will be insufficient.

There have been some recent innovations in introducing elements of farmer participation and group approaches into extension. Differences in impact between individual and group approaches have been well documented in both Nepal and Kenya. In western Nepal, Sen (1993) compared the rate of adoption of new technologies when extension worked with individuals or with groups. With groups, better communication between farmers and extensionists led to more adoption. When the individual approach was resumed after the experiment, adoption rates fell rapidly in succeeding years.

In Kenya, the Ministry of Agriculture is increasingly adopting a community-oriented approach to soil and water conservation. This is steadily replacing the former individual approach of the T&V system. Where extension staff interact closely with communities in developing joint action plans, and local people freely elect members to a local catchment committee, then the impact on agricultural growth is immediate and sustained. Strong local groups mobilize the interest of the wider community and sustain action well beyond the period of direct contact with external agents. Recent studies comparing the impact of the catchment approach with the individual T&V approach have shown that, for a wide range of indicators, farmers' livelihoods were more improved where the community approach was implemented (SWCB, 1994; Pretty, Thompson, & Kiara, 1994; MALDM, 1988-1994; Eckbom, 1992).

There have been similar successes in IPM, which requires a level of analytical skill and certain basic training in crop monitoring and ecological principles. Where farmers have been trained as experts, such as in Honduras (Bentley, Rodriguez, & Gonzalez, 1993) and in the rice-IPM programmes of Southeast Asia (Kenmore, 1991), then the impacts are substantial. Ordinary farmers are capable of rapidly acquiring and applying the principles and approaches. Fewer programmes are now teaching farmers new technologies and knowledge; rather, they are concerned with developing farmers' own capacity to think for themselves and develop their own solutions. These are producing substantial reductions in insecticide use, whilst maintaining yields and increasing profits (Table 1). But where extension continues to use the conventional top-down approach, then few farmers adopt, let alone learn, the principles. As Matteson (1992) put it: "[F]ew IPM programmes have made a lasting impact on farmer knowledge, attitudes or practice."

There are three major lessons for extension. First, it is important to make new things visible. An important role of extension is to make visible the state of the environment and the extent to which present farming practices are untenable. In addition, extension can demonstrate the feasibility of sustainable practices. Even more important is to give farmers the tools for observation and to train them to monitor the situation on their own farms.

The second lesson is the use of farmers' knowledge. The location-specific nature of sustainable agriculture implies that extension must make use of farmers' knowledge and work together with farmers. Often, indigenous practices which have been ignored under the impact of chemical farming can be fruitfully revived. Indigenous technology development practices and farmer experimentation can be an important "entry point" for introducing sustainable farming practices (Brouwers & Röling, in press).

The third lesson is an emphasis on facilitating learning. Instead of "transferring" technology, extension workers must help farming "walk the learning path" (Box 3). Extension workers should seek to understand the learning process, provide expert advice where required, convene and create learning groups, and help farmers overcome major hurdles in adapting their farms.

Challenges for supportive policy processes

Policy making is commonly considered the prerogative of some central authority that formulates a policy, which is then decreed, imposed, and implemented regardless of conflicting knowledge and concerns. But policy is, in practice, often the net result of the actions of different interest groups pulling in complementary and opposing directions. This is particularly true with environmental problems because they are marked by uncertainty, complexity, and high stakes complexity, and high stakes (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993). There is therefore a growing tendency to see policy as a negotiated agreement resulting from interaction among citizens, in which central authorities play a facilitating role (Van der Poel & Van Woerkum, 1994). Policy is only effective if it is based on a widely shared consensus. From this perspective, it is easy to see why so many environmental policies which rely on coercion, control, and transfer have failed (Pretty & Shah, 1994; Pimbert & Pretty, 1994).

Box 3. The First Steps on the Learning Path in the Netherlands.

Predator mites were introduced into Dutch fruit orchards to control the red spider mite, which had become resistant to chemical controls. The use of this biological control meant that growers had to learn how to manage their orchards as biotopes for the predator mite. Soon they were carrying magnifying glasses to study the progress of their little helpers. This made them much more observant and accustomed to investing in regular observation. Furthermore, the health of the predator mites precluded use of broad-spectrum pesticides against other pests. As a result, growers also had to learn alternative controls for those pests.

Table 1. Impact of IPM Programmes Involving New Participatory Approaches to Farmer Learning on Pesticide Use and Crop Yields

Country and crop

Average changes in pesticide use (as % of conventional treatments)

Changes in yields (as % of conventional treatments)

Togo, cotton1



Burkina Faso, rice1



Thailand, rice2


no data

Philippines, rice2



Indonesia, rice2



Nicaragua, maize3



USA, nine commodities4

no. of applications up volume applied down


Bangladesh, rice5



India, groundnuts6



China, rice2



Vietnam, rice2






Sri Lanka, rice2



a Even though yields are lower, net returns are much higher.

Sources: (1) Kiss and Meerman, 1991; (2) Kenmore, 1991: Winarto, 1993; van der Fliert, 1993; Matteson et at, 1992; FAO, 1994; (3) Hruska, 1993; (4) NRC, 1989; (5) Kamp et al, 1993; Kenmore, 1991; (6) ICRISAT, 1993

For sustainable agriculture to succeed, policy formulation must arise in a new way. Policy processes must be enabling and participatory, creating the conditions for sustainable development based more on locally available resources and on local skills and knowledge. Effective policy processes will have to bring together a range of actors and institutions for creative interaction and address multiple realities and unpredictability. What is required is the development of approaches that put participation, negotiation, and mediation at the centre of policy formulation so as to create a much wider common ownership in the practices. This is a central challenge for sustainable agriculture. The management of higher level systems, whether common grazing lands, coastal fisheries resources, communal forests, national parks, polders, or watersheds, requires social organization comprising the key stakeholders. All successful moves to more sustainable agriculture have in common coordinated action by groups or communities at the local level (Pretty, 1995). But the problem is that platforms for resource use negotiation generally do not exist, and so need to be created and facilitated (Brinkman, 1994; Röling, 1994a, 1994b).

Different methodologies are emerging to help stake-holders achieve collective resource management capacity. Well known are participatory rapid appraisal (PRA) and related methodologies (see chapter 6). In addition, the soft system methodology (SSM) developed for corporate environments is highly promising for resource use negotiation (Checkland, 1981; Checkland & Scholes, 1990). For stakeholders who have come to appreciate the fact that they share a problem, SSM takes them through a number of steps which allows them to create a "rich picture" on the basis of their multiple perspectives, reach some accommodation with respect to major causes of the problem, and hence decide on collective action. "Rapid appraisal of agricultural knowledge systems" (RAAKS) (Engel, 1995) is a related methodology for facilitating innovation as an emergent property of a knowledge network, comprising such actors as farmers, extension workers, researchers, NGO workers, and policy makers. This system provides stakeholders with different "windows" (such as mission, task differentiation, integration, articulation, coordination, performance) on their own collective practices which allow them to capture the potential synergy of their contributions to innovative performance.

A fundamental requirement if such approaches are to work is that stakeholders in a particular natural resource learn to appreciate that they have a common problem (Box 4). Extension has an important role to play here by making visible the interdependence between stakeholders and the extent to which the resource unit on which they depend has been destroyed by their uncoordinated action and the collective impact of their individual activities. It is within policy contexts thus made conducive for sustainable agriculture that technology development and extension can be especially effective.

Box 4. Resource Mapping by Farmers in Landcare Programme, Australia.

Landcare in Australia provides examples of learning to care for natural resources at higher system levels. Consider resource mapping. Farmers from a subcatchment (usually a subgroup of a Lancare group) are convened by the facilitator of the group to discuss the soils and their susceptibility to erosion. First, a soil typology is established by the farmers through field visits, digging soil pits, and so forth. After a suitable classification (which might deviate considerably from the official scientific one) has been agreed upon, farmers receive an air photo mosaic of the entire subcatchment with their property drawn in. They are also provided with a transparent overlay on which to map the soils and main features of their own properties.

These farmer maps are digitized and fed into GIS software, which allows the property resource maps to be combined into one consolidated subcatchment map. Following meetings to discuss the results, farmers agree on the resource map of the subcatchment and now have a firm grasp of the interaction between their property and the subcatchment. They also realize that vulnerable soils span several properties and that measures to prevent further soil erosion and solination require alignment of fences, roads, vegetation belts, and other features.


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