My final comment concerns Monitoring & Evaluation. This is a major concern as it has to be done objectively and independent of the projects being monitored. The most important objective of an M&E program is to guide future programs to better serve the beneficiaries. Thus in addition to protecting the under writing taxpayers in assuring their taxes are being effectively invested and the beneficiaries are profiting as much as possible, the M&E effort also represents the beneficiaries. What they cannot be is a tool for propagandizing the projects. Unfortunately, the USAID MEL (Monitoring, Evaluation, & Learning) program is far more intent on propagandizing then evaluation and does wonder to develop impressive but meaningless number, making innovations that by all normal standards are total failures, appear to be highly successful. This does nothing for the beneficiaries, and reinforces the failure to be included in future projects. Hopefully, FAO can do considerable better and develop M&E programs that effectively guide future projects.
Please review the following webpages:
My third concern is the over emphasis on the cooperative business model to assist smallholder farmers. This is very disturbing because it only takes some brief computations on basic business parameters to show that reliance on a cooperative is far more likely to push smallholder farmers deeply into poverty than be a mechanism for poverty alleviations, despite the tremendous rhetoric to the contrary. The reason is the cumbersome administrative overhead costs associated with running a cooperative, particularly if the success of the cooperative requires seconded outside managers. This overhead cost will usually exceed the much promoted but never quantified financial benefits from bulking input purchases or produce for sale. When this happens you have to find a buyer who will pay extra for dealing with a cooperative, or reduce what you can pay the farmers, pushing them further into poverty.
The emphasis on cooperative in development projects goes back some 40 years and is based on the unsubstantiated vilifying claims that private traders were exploiting farmers. Such claims if not substantiated are slanderous and thus subject to litigation. Given the financially suppressed economy common to developing countries this is actually impossible. The limited buying power of the general population put tremendous downward pressure on consumer prices. Fortunately the farmers aren't that gullible and avoid the cooperatives like the plague leaving the development effort catering to a very small percent of the potential beneficiaries and even then the members’ side selling the bulk of their produce to the vilified private traders in contradiction to approved cooperative by-laws. The only market volume passing through most cooperatives is in-kind loan repayments and the net impact on the community economics is trivial.
Please review the following webpages:
My second comments is really an outgrowth of my first concern. It is the dietary energy balance of smallholder farmers. This gets to the major emphasis on nutrition. However, as I have reviewed the nutritional projects, the emphasis mostly academic with primary interest in providing quality nutrition particularly for pregnant and nursing women. What it does not address is the nutritional need to optimize economic opportunity. Since most of the intended beneficiaries are smallholder farmers or other manual labourers, the need is for sufficient calories to put in a full day of work. This is rarely mentioned in the project, and when it is the reference is for active people with a calorie exertion of 2800 kcal/day. I would contend that this represents an office worker with a healthy exercise program of 2 hr/day. That is far from the 8+ hrs a day a smallholder farmer is expected to work which has a calorie estimate I place at 4000+ kcal/day. Unfortunately the data on caloric consumption by smallholder is very limited often in the range of 2000 to 2500 kcal/day. That barely meets basic metabolism requirements with limited work energy. I think this does wonders to explain why farmers are taking 8 weeks for basic crop establishment, how often are our innovations for improving smallholder production expecting them to work harder? Where will that energy come from? As you address the issue of improved nutrition you might take a look as some of the tough choice they have to make in balancing nutrition with their income. Please review the following webpages:
I have reviewed the opening comment and glanced through all the comments, or at least those in English. I have several diverse comments I would like to add, but will do so on separate comments with links to various pages on the Smallholder Agriculture website I Manage. I believe these comments apply to most developing countries.
The first comment is a major oversight in the approach to development. That is the operational limits face smallholders. The agronomist, which includes myself, do a great job of determining the physical potential of an area, but small plot research does not address the operational resources need to expand the small plot research to a full field, farm, or smallholder community. It just assume it is not a problem. It often blames non-compliance with agronomic research as limited education or risk aversion. However, when limited to just manual tools it takes up to 8 weeks for basic crop establishment with the farmers working as hard as possible, but perhaps limited by diet. The real need is to provide the farmers with access to some forms of contract mechanization to remove the basic drudgery. Who in a typical development project is responsible to determine the labour requirements, the availability of the labour, and what are the rational compromises when that labour is not available? Has this fallen into an administrative void between the agronomist and social scientists? Please review the following webpages:
While I have only been able to briefly look at the draft document, there are a couple concerns that I have which are historically overlooked as I have harped on in previous forums. Thus, please allow me to mention them and ask how these are being or will be addressed in the final draft of the report.
1. The operational feasibility of agronomic interventions: This is basically an oversight in the development effort, but it severely hinders acceptance by smallholder farmers. When you carefully look at agronomy it does an excellent job of determining the physical potential of an area but says nothing about how the farmers will operationally achieve that. That is how much labor or access to contract mechanization is needed, and how readily available is it, with the default assumption that it is not a problem and labor is infinitely available. Basically, how often is it assumed that smallholder farmers working alone or maybe assisted by an adolescent son can manage their hectare plus of land as easily as research/extension officers can manage a 0.10 ha research of demonstration plot assisted by a hired labor crew. When you think about it, it is kind of a ridiculous assumption! The underlying problem is that the operational limitation in smallholder cultivation has fallen into an administrative void between the agronomist as applied biological scientist and the social scientist. Within the typical development effort who has the responsibility to estimate the labor requirements need to implement innovations, the availability of that labor and most critically what are the rational compromises smallholder farmers should make as integrate the innovation into their limited operational resources and the other farm enterprises they are involved with. When this is done most likely you will find the farmers are maxed out and maximizing, not the return to a give crop or livestock enterprise but maximizing the total return to all farm enterprises. I like to think of this a separating THE SCIENCE OF FARMING as defined by research/extension for the ART OF FARMING taking into consideration the limited operational capacity and integration across all enterprises. How much of the persistent yield gap between research/extension and farmers can be accounted for the limited operational capacity of the farmers? Is this a greater problem than lack of knowledge? Please visit and consider the following webpages and links within them: https://smallholderagriculture.agsci.colostate.edu/integration-an-under-... ; https://webdoc.agsci.colostate.edu/smallholderagriculture/OperationalFea...
2. Dietary Energy Balance: Another but highly related concern is the dietary energy balance between what smallholder farmers have access to and what they are expected to exert in doing a full day of agronomic field work. The difference is about 50% with farmers only having access to approximately 2000 to 2500 kcal/day when the need more than 4000 kcal/day. While we recognize that most smallholders are poor and hungry we usually fail to see that as a major hindrance to crop production. If you consider 2000 kcal/day as representing basic metabolism, smallholder farmers often are barely able to have access to enough energy to meet the basic metabolism requirements with little energy for heavy manual labor such as land preparation using a hoe, which consume some 300 kcal/hr. This then substantially curtails the workday to a few diligent hours of labor, perhaps paced for a couple more. It than extends the crop establishment time for up to 8 weeks with progressively declining potential yields, until the crop is established too late to for sufficient yield to meet domestic food security needs let alone have some surplus to move up the value chain. The result of both these issues is to consider emphasizing drudgery relief instead of crop or animal extension education. Please consider the following webpages and included links: https://webdoc.agsci.colostate.edu/smallholderagriculture/ECHO-Diet.pdf ; https://smallholderagriculture.agsci.colostate.edu/ethiopia-diet-analysis/ ; https://webdoc.agsci.colostate.edu/smallholderagriculture/BrinksDrudgery...
I think that hits the main point. If these issues are included please point out where so I can quickly review them. Thank you.
As I have been following the conversation I think we have done a great job of academic side of the egg and defining how nutritious it is and important to get into the diet, I hope we can start focusing on the development side and how to afford the egg so it can get into the diet. Thus I would like to return to the exercise is introduced into my initial comment about "hart choices: compromises in quality Nutrition". Has anyone downloaded and attempted to the exercise and for the poor of the world relying on heavy manual labor as their only economic opportunity tried to see what the compromises are in including or excluding the egg for the diet or the children’s diet. The exercise link is: http://smallholderagriculture.agsci.colostate.edu/1028-2/
Please allow an additional comment to my previous one. That is I tend to get upset with the term illiterate and the implication that it means uninteligent as applied to smallholder farmers. Please note that literacy requires inteligence, opportunity and motivation to take advantage of the opportunity. Remove the opportunity does not mean lost of inherent inteligency. Thus the result is there are many poorly educated but reasonable inteligent smallholder farmers, who are actually fairly skilled practitioners in the art of farming, and can quickly sort out what is and is not in their best interest. They are quite capable of sorting out fertilizer rates best suited to thier land and the decline production function as crop establishment is delayed.
If you will excuse me I would like to return to the discussion and mostly reiterate my previous concerns regarding code of conduct regarding fertilizer use. This goes back to keeping careful track of the financial limits of most developing country that limits the amount of effective regulation and supervision that is possible without providing civil officer a major opportunity to extract gratuities for service assumed run, but not done. The result of this is an almost total reliance on the private sector to handle the distribution of fertilizers, with an emphasis on the village based family enterprises that are in direct contact with the smallholder farmers. They are also friends and neighbors and their best prospects for remaining in business is highly dependent on return business, which make them very quality conscience of the service they are providing.
Also, there is a need to be careful on any soil testing expected. Typically soil test cost approximately the same as a bag of fertilizer, and thus if the text in like to result in less than a bag of difference in fertilizer application, it will not be cost effective. Since most of the fertilizer in N based the difference of a whole bag of fertilizer on a one hectare or less field is unlikely. Can any host country actually get soil test results in the timely manner available in the USA (24-48 hours).
Also, be careful on your emphasis on organic fertilizer. While fully support the idea, it must be cost effective both financially and operationally. The latter being mostly associated with the labor needed to move around large volumes of low concentrated nutrients. In the context of developing country smallholder farmers that are already energy limited, the extra energy must come from the increased yield resulting from the organic nutrient application even if this is some 6 months later. I would guess that the farmer will need to gain 100 g of grain for each hour of additional labor handling the organic material. (100 g grain = 300 kcal, the energy exerted by an hour of diligent effort). Is this possible? In addition, there are limits on the amount of organic material available on farm for nutrient recovery. I think when dealing with crop residues the ratio of accumulated area to distributed area is about 3 to 1. Given all this I suspect the best means of nutrient recovery and recycling is to leave it up to the mobile composter (goats) they will take material normally burned and fairly quickly convert it to a material easily in cooperated, while actually gaining some energy from the process. Isn’t feeding rumens animals the same process as composting? Microbial de-carboning and concentration of the material. Again, please check the webpage:
Before being with my commentary, I would like to express my concern and disappointment on the limited commentary being submitted to this forum. Only 15 comments for a forum that is over half completed. Perhaps it is just poor time around the major Christmas/New Year Holidays.
Introduction – Economically Suppressed Economy (Revisited)
for my additional commentary. Having been encouraged by the facilitators comment that the forum was intended to look at the administrative issues surrounding fertilizer usage, allow me to continue where my first comment left off and review the other aspect of a financially suppressed economy, with limited tax base to support public services. That is the need to rely on the private sector for most business activity with an emphasis on the family enterprise system that is in most direct contact with smallholder producers. These are the default service providers that handle the bulk of the agriculture support business, both inputs and marketing, even when there are major development NGOs and public-sector entities trying to assist small farmers, and often boasting how great they are. Given the limited government budgets to provide a regularity service, and the fairly large prospects that when attempting there is greater prospects that the service will be on the honor/gratuity system more providing an informal income opportunity for the civil officers than an effect quality or regulatory control, there really is not much alternative.
Private Service Providers – Family Enterprise System
The question is how necessary is such quality and regulatory control over fertilizer and other agronomic inputs in a financially suppressed economy? That is, with the limited purchasing power of an impoverished society, there is tremendous downward pressure on consumer products. Typically, consumer price of locally produced foods will be only 1/3rd or 1/5th that in more developed countries like the USA. For this to happen, the crop production delivery system must be extremely efficient with razor thin profit margins, particularly if fuel prices are at a primum to at least the USA price more in line with European prices, and inputs such as fertilizer and crop protection chemicals are on the world market prices. There is no room for any cumbersome business model as usually found with Government Parastatals or even Producer Organizations. Under these suppressed economic conditions, it is possible for the nominal price the farmer receives be only 1/3rd the consumer price, with the difference representing easily accounted for in packing, spoilage loses, pilferage, shipping costs, etc. leaving only reasonable profit margins for the middle men preforming the essential services.
It should be noted that the private service providers are often condemned as being exploitive of smallholder farmers. However, this done by decree without any supporting documentation of costs of business accounting, including the nearly transparent tripling of ton/km transport costs for working off the tarmac to serve remote smallholder areas. Without any supporting data, such condemnation could be considered slander and those making such claims subject to the host country liability laws governing slander. It should also be noted that those making the slander condemnations usually have a vested interest in promoting government support services and producer organizations seeking donor support, etc.
Parastatal and Producer Organizations
These alternative of government parastatals and producer organizations and touted as being ideal and in the best interest of the smallholder farmers. However, this is again done by decree without any accounting or other supporting data comparing the costs of business between them and the competing private service providers. Just a rather arrogant assumption that because they represent the government or farmers, they are automatically competitive with no need to keep track of overhead costs. Certainly, parastatals have been fully discredited for their cumbersome non-transparent business model, and we need not return to the ADMARCs that plagued Malawi for many years. However, the producer organizations may not be much of an improvement. While they claim they can bulk up commodities for sale or inputs for purchase to get the farmers a better price, and this is possible but I have never seen what this means in terms of percent of financial benefit. Is it 1%, 2%, does it go as high as the 35% needed to offset the overhead costs mentioned by the Central Growers Association in Kitway, Zambia. Nor have I ever seen the overhead costs to obtain these benefits to make certain the overhead costs are less than the private service providers thin profit margins. Thus, the proclaimed and envisioned financial benefit remains completely unsubstantiated. Instead there appears a large complaint about not honoring commitments and members side selling the bulk of produce to the “much condemned” private service providers for immediate cash and necessary by the overall financial management strategy of retaining goods in-kind as long as possible, selling only to meet immediate cash needs and needing the cash. The net result is that producer organization rarely have a market volume appreciable exceeding the loan repayments with 90% or more being side sold to private service providers. I don’t think you can substantially impact poverty with that limited market volume. This is than covered up with some exceptional promotional reporting, that rambles on but avoid including the basic business parameters that determine the success and sustainability of an enterprise.
While one of the important concerns in fertilizer management is quality control and avoiding someone diluting the nutrient content, the question how can this be best done with financially stalled government that would struggle to maintain a fertilizer testing lab to verify the nutrient content of imported or manufactured materials, and fudge the results as an informal income opportunity. For this I don’t have a real answer nor webpage to reference. However, the starting point would be to import only well bagged fertilizer with the manufactures label clearly visible including a date/batch stamp that could be traced and at least the age and expiration date clearly discernable. I would expect the cost of tampering with such bags would not be worth the added value of diluted material, and any breakage bags would have to be sold at a discount. Again, I would expect the private traders would be more concerned with maintain high quality as they rely on repeat customers. One aspect of private sector business model is the importance of inventory control and not get overstocked that ties up needed capital. It also must be noted that some fertilizer like urea, and NH4SO4 can usually be visible identified just by looking at the granular structure, and if someone attempted to dilute the fertilizer with sand this would also be easily seen with quick bag check.
Finally, one must look carefully at the recommended application rates and possible need for farmers to adjust them to their specific conditions. In this regard, it must be noted that recommendations are based on small plot analysis aimed at maximum yield, and not the economic optimal yield that provides the farmers the best return on their investment. I would venture that under developed country conditions the optimal fertilizer applications would be 75 to 80% of the maximum yield recommendation, however, under the suppressed economic conditions of most developing counties with the more limited returns they can receive the optimal percent could go as low as 60% of maximum. This might then be further eroded by the operational limits under which smallholder operate particularly if relying mostly on manual labor working with hoes. This operational limit will extend crop establishment up to 8 weeks, with considerable additional compromise in terms of plant populations and quality weeding. All of this progressively costing potential yield and impacting on fertilizer response.
At this point I have said more than enough and will sign off. I hope you all have a chance to review some of the referenced webpages and additional links within them.
Thank you for putting up with this bit of unrepentant heresy.
After reviewing Andrew's comments I have to put in a note of concern regarding the emphasis on Organic Fertilizer. There are 2 main concerns one is the volume of organic material available to make organic fertilizer relative to the potential demand. I fear you can only meet a very small fraction of total need through organic material. The second concern is the labor required to collect process and redistribute organic fertilizers, the caloric energy this will require, and will that energy be recovered by the higher yields. I seriously doubt it. Please review the following webpages including links to other pages: