Crop production systems of perennials, especially olives and vine, are important in agronomic, ecological, socio-economic and cultural terms for the Mediterranean vicinity. In the present paper, a methodology for designing and disseminating prototypes of ecological production systems for Mediterranean perennial crops is described. The production in these systems fulfils the organic farming standards and principles.
Conventional farming systems face increasing agronomic, ecological and socio-economic problems. These problems are due to the side effects of the current production systems (Kabourakis, 1996). Current production aims at maximum yields and returns ignoring agro-ecosystem principles and processes. Besides, profit maximization goals often lead to an unsustainable knowledge system and ruin local economic growth. Therefore, production systems should be ecologised at farm level as well as regional level for sustainable rural development. Current organic agriculture offers valuable starting points for developing Ecological Production Systems (EPS). The lack of experience, agrotechnology, knowledge and quantitative data are the main barriers for the development of sustainable organic farming.
Designing, developing and disseminating EPS at farm level is a first step towards sustainability of the perennial cropping systems. A prototyping methodology, developed for arable farming systems by a European Union network (Vereijken, 1997) may be adapted and used for Mediterranean perennial cropping systems (Kabourakis, 1996), while an Ecological Knowledge System (EKS) (Rolling, 1998) is essential for establishing and disseminating prototype production systems (Kabourakis, 1996). In the Mediterranean Region, many sustainable practices, rich cultural settings as well as many elements of an EKS may often be found in the traditional production systems. However, these practices and elements should be updated to the current and future needs and technological progress.
The designing process of EPS is done in stages.
Diagnosis of the shortfalls of the current production system is the initial stage. Diagnosis should be done both at farm level as well as at regional level. Furthermore, both qualitative information and quantitative data should be examined.
The next stage is the methodical prototyping of EPS. Prototyping perennial crops may adopt the steps of prototyping ecological arable farming systems (Vereijken, 1997). These steps include: a) the setting and hierarchy of objectives of sustainable systems to be designed; b) the selection of parameters (indicators) for the quantification of objectives and methods to achieve the objectives in practice; c) the design of a theoretical prototype by linking parameters to methods; d) the establishment of the prototype in practice on pilot farms, its test and improvement.
The development of an EKS is important for the development and dissemination of the designed EPS. An EKS may be developed and introduced in three steps by: a) a pilot group of farmers for prototyping; b) an agri-environmental group offering institutional support to ecological production in an area; and c) a network of groups covering a whole region (Kabourakis, 1996).
A final stage is the dissemination of the prototype in accordance with standards of production in order to achieve quantified objectives at regional level. However, dissemination starts earlier as many farmers may adopt and try the farming methods. Methodical prototyping of perennial crops is a cyclic process and its end depends on the strictness of the standards set for the parameters. Real dissemination and adoption of the prototypes requires the development of an EKS that will support the social, institutional and economic operational framework of the prototypes, as well as the production. Dissemination processes may be enhanced by studies that will determine the optimum agronomic and economic structure of the farms that will adopt the prototypes. Besides, such studies at regional level may determine the economic impact of the widespread adoption of the prototypes at regional level as well as the required policies for the adoption of the prototypes and the knowledge system.
Design, development and dissemination of EPS is done in cooperation with pilot farmers. Farmers' participation and contribution is particularly important in all the stages of the designing process. Their main contribution is in a) determining the shortfalls of existing production systems; b) setting the goals of the new systems to be designed; c) developing farming methods; and finally d) disseminating prototypes and developing and introducing an EKS. However, the development of the required agrotechnology maybe backed-up by experimentation and research on experimental farms.
Since 1993 a pilot research project for Ecological Olive Production Systems (EOPS) has been initiated on the island of Crete, Greece (Kabourakis, 1996). Prototypes of EOPS have been developed in cooperation with a pilot group of 12 farmers and the dissemination process has been started. A cooperative with more than 100 small farmer members has been initiated from the pilot group. Work is done for the development of an EKS. Cretan agri-environmental groups facilitate the introduction and development of this EKS. An economic study has been completed which relates to the economic performance of the prototypes, economic impact of regional dissemination of the prototypes and to the optimum farm size for adopting the prototypes (Vassiliou, 1998). An innovative research project is starting for the development of ecological vine production systems in the same area.
Designing EPS in the Mediterranean is crucial for the sustainable development of organic farming. Interdisciplinary on-farm research is required for the development of such systems as well as networks. Education is particularly important for the development of EKS. Traditional perennial cropping systems should be integrated with animal husbandry especially at the regional level.
Kabourakis, E. (1996): "Prototyping and dissemination of ecological olive production systems. A methodology for designing and a first step towards validation and dissemination of prototype ecological olive production systems (EOPS) in Crete", Published Ph.D Thesis. Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands.
Rolling, N.G. and J. JIGGINS (1998): "The ecological knowledge system". In: Rolling, N.G. and M.A.E. Wagemakers (1998) Facilitating sustainable agriculture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Vassilou, A. (forthcoming): "Farm structure optimization of and the impact of widespread transition to ecological olive production systems", Ph.D Thesis.
Vereijken, P. (1997): "A methodical way of prototyping integrated and ecological arable farming systems (I/EAFS) in interaction with pilot farms", European Journal of Agronomy 7:235-250 pp.