Cover Image
close this bookPrimary School Agriculture: Volume I: Pedagogy (GTZ, 1985, 144 p.)
close this folderPart I: Pedagogical foundations of primary school agriculture
close this folder4. A Science-Based approach to primary school agriculture
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1 The relationship between agriculture and science
View the document4.2 Environment-Based school agriculture
View the document4.3 The Political dimension: Self-reliant development, social justice, and the link with traditional culture
View the document4.4 Objectives for primary school agriculture

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 Management.
- Agricultural Engineering dealing with tools, implements, farm machinery, and buildings.

The diagram shows the relationship between agriculture and science.

Relationship between science and agriculture

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.

- Urbanization
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.

- Industrialization
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 Through Agriculture

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 government employee.

· The emphasis in science teaching should be on method rather than on content.
· Science based education, if well done, enhances personal self reliance.