4.1 The relationship between agriculture and science
Since the scientific method and its results were applied to more
and more fields of practical activity, it was inevitable that agriculture, too,
became an area where scientific knowledge and methods were introduced. This
produced a body of applied science of its own, much like engineering. Science is
organized according to areas of specialisation, called disciplines. Agriculture,
like many other fields of activity (medicine, building, administration), does
not fit neatly into any one of them. It presents problems that can only be
solved by calling on a number of disciplines. But even the most sophisticated
agriculture does not rely on science alone. It draws on a body of long-standing
traditional experience and skills which cannot be replaced by science. Today,
agricultural sciences are recognized as areas of applied science in their own
right. The following subdivisions are known:
- Soil Science dealing with soil formation
(geology), its physical and chemical properties, and generally speaking with all
factors affecting soil fertility.
- Plant Production dealing with topics
such as plant physiology, plant nutrition, plant breeding, weed control, plant
diseases, and pest control.
- Animal Production, treating problems like
animal breeding, animal nutrition, and animal husbandry.
- Economics and
- Agricultural Engineering dealing with tools, implements, farm
machinery, and buildings.
The diagram shows the relationship between agriculture and
Relationship between science and
Although science does not simply replace traditional knowledge,
it helps to rationalize it and to make it more systematic. It is when they come
face to face with scientific knowledge that certain elements of a given
agricultural tradition will be regarded as erroneous or even "superstitious". On
the other hand, a well established, experience-based agricultural tradition acts
as a check on science running wild: sometimes scientists rush into the open with
results that have not yet been really tested in real-life conditions.
Science does not simply replace traditional knowledge, it helps
to rationalize it and to make it more systematic.
Having established the link between science and agriculture does
not prove that agriculture must be taught using a scientific approach. One would
have to prove that a scientific orientation to agriculture is necessary, and
that this approach can be used with primary school pupils. Traditional
agriculture so far has produced most of the food needed for Africa's population.
This in itself is a measure of success. It is a fairly coherent system based on
experience, and by no means closed to innovation. If conditions change only
slowly, traditional farming methods will probably adjust to these changes. But
during and after colonisation conditions have changed more and more rapidly, and
traditional farming is not adjusting fast enough to guarantee a steady food
supply in the long term (see Volume 2, part I (Farming Methods), sections 4.1.
"The need for a new approach", and 3.1., "The meaning of scientific
agriculture"). The following are the main factors of change which require
traditional agriculture to seek help from science:
- Population Growth
As the population keeps growing, more and
more land has to be cultivated. This leads to a shortening of the fallow period
(see volume 2, part I (Farming Methods), section 2.1. "Traditional land use
systems - from shifting cultivation to degraded bush fallow"). Systematic
research into continuous farming, building on traditional agriculture, is
important if a disastrous decline in soil fertility is to be prevented.
In all African countries there are urban
settlements. The urban population is not able to grow the food it needs. Towns
rely on food produced in the surrounding rural areas. This is only possible if
the rural population produces a greater marketable surplus than before. Both
land and agricultural labour become scarce, and changes are needed which allow
farmers to produce more crops on the same land and with the same amount of work.
Here again, one would look to science for possible solutions, new farm inputs,
improved farming techniques, better storage facilities etc.
Many industries need raw materials
derived from plants for their work. Sugar cane is used to produce sugar, maize
is used to brew beer, cotton is made into cloth, sisal fibres into ropes and
mats, cocoa into chocolate, groundnuts and palm nuts into oil. Factories operate
on a large scale and need a steady supply of inputs of standard quality. If they
use large quantities of food crops (as for instance in brewing), they compete
directly with local consumers and may create food shortages. If they use
non-food crops these must be grown somewhere, and the areas growing industrial
crops are no longer available for food crop farming. Industrial activity will
also push traditional agriculture to its limits. These limits can only be
overcome if productivity in farming can be raised, and this is one of the main
tasks of applied science.
- Financing National Development
Development plans usually
require large amounts of foreign goods and services. This has to be paid for in
foreign exchange. The main part of the foreign exchange is earned from sales of
agricultural products. Science is called on to play a vital part in improving
productivity in this area.
There is a widespread belief that science can be taught properly
to primary school children. In Africa, there is the well known APSP (African
Primary Science Programme), later on the Science Education Programme for Africa
(SEPA). Basic science can be taught at primary school. Experience with
SEPA-material seems to prove, furthermore, that pupils enjoy it.
Basic Scientific Skills Taught
It seems clear that all the basic scientific skills can be
taught through primary school agriculture. The flow chart above and the next
Figure show this in a rather general way, but detailed examples will be given
later in the manual.
An important part of school agriculture is school farm work.
School farm work deals with plants and the conditions of plant growth. This
quite naturally leads to topics taken from different natural sciences, as can be
seen from the diagram above. The emphasis in science teaching should be on
method rather than on content. It would be possible to memorize a large amount
of scientific knowledge. However, without an elementary grasp of the scientific
method one might not be able to apply such knowledge to practical problems. On
the other hand, somebody who masters the basic scientific approach will be in a
position to find out for himself answers to problems in everyday life which he
would not find in books. He would also understand that a scientific approach to
problem solving is open to everybody.
In order to understand better what is meant by the scientific
method let us look at the meaning of science. The Oxford Advanced Learner's
Dictionary offers the definition:
"Knowledge arranged in an orderly manner, especially knowledge
obtained by observation and testing of facts; pursuit of such knowledge."
Significantly, this does not refer to any content of knowledge
but rather to its orderliness and to the methods by which it was obtained.
Therefore we are fully justified in stressing the need to familiarize children
with elementary scientific methods rather than with a mass of findings.
Science based education, if well done, enhances personal self
reliance. It will not only enable a person to take a rational stand in matters
concerning traditional ways and beliefs, it will also protect him or her against
uncritical acceptance of new methods and proposals.
Thus, in agriculture, a farmer with a basic scientific outlook
will retain from tradition whatever seems valuable after comparison with other
ways of doing things. On the other hand, the same person will carefully listen
to the advice of the agricultural extension agent and ask for proof. Maybe he
sets his own little experiments in order to test the innovation under local
conditions. In this way he would be better protected from risks than if he
accepted the new ideas and methods mainly because the extension man is a
· The emphasis in science
teaching should be on method rather than on content.
· Science based education, if well done, enhances
personal self reliance.