|CERES No. 074 (FAO Ceres, 1980, 50 p.)|
Public concern and controversy aroused in recent years by the continuing industrialization of agriculture have been expressed in a variety of forms, depending upon the particular issues and interests involved. Since the process is one of many facets, it is not surprising that perceptions of its economic and social impact differ sharply or that even the term itself may be subject to assorted definitions.
For some public interest groups that have become active during the last decade, mainly in the wealthier countries, the industrialization of agriculture is equated almost exclusively with the activities of transnational corporations. The focus of such groups is on the manipulative power that transnationals are able to exercise within food and fibre production systems in order to acquire raw materials at the lowest possible cost, or to assure markets for manufactured agricultural inputs, or even, not infrequently, to combine these two objectives through the complete integration of both input and product-processing services. The poultry producer whose occupation is to feed broilers he does not own with rations he did not calculate for consumers he will never meet is a prototype that has been with us for more than a generation, and not only in the developed world.,
Reaction against these trends arises across a wide spectrum of society, but can probably be identified most readily within two major groups-environmentalists and consumer activists -neither of which, admittedly, is especially homogenous. Indeed, their interests and campaigns often overlap, but in general the former have concentrated their attention on alerting the public to the potential impact, on natural resources, of monocultural farming systems relying heavily on chemical inputs, and the latter on the nutritional and human health aspects of highly processed food products often incorporating additives to enhance appearance, longevity or convenience, but not necessarily nutritive value.
Areas of controversy
In a few cases, concern has been expressed within both groups over yet another aspect of agricultural industrialization: the impact on farm employment and rural communities. In this they follow in the wake of much debate and many doubts evident in North American farm organizations as early as the 1950s. For there were sharp differences of opinion within the farm community itself, as varied as the forms that the integrative efforts assumed. Some regarded corporate infiltration as unfair competition to small or modest farming enterprises, some saw it as a threat to cherished independence and decision-making capabilities, while others welcomed arrangements that appeared to offer greater security and a sharing of entrepreneurial risk.
These areas of controversy - environmental, nutritional, social and economic - have been most clearly delimited in those countries where the industrialization of agriculture is most advanced, especially North America and Western Europe. But recently a new argument has been added: whether the industrialized model of agriculture, with its heavy dependence on capital and commercial energy, is suitable for introduction into the developing world, and whether the principal vehicles for such introduction, transnational corporations, ought to be subject to more stringent regulation.
It is worth noting here that at least some corporate planners may have a more open attitude toward a less energy-intensive agriculture than is often supposed.
Here is what the editors of The Furrow published by Deere and Company, a major farm equipment transnational, had to say after extensive research into the question of a trend toward more "natural" agriculture: "Many observers believe that agriculture of the future, even the near future, will be more 'natural' than now. But it will be a far cry from the farming of 40 years ago. Coming is a kind of supernatural agriculture in which nature's most useful biological systems will be enhanced, magnified, fortified, hyped-up-call it what you will. This agriculture will be more self-sufficient and less vulnerable to climate and pests. It will use less energy and no more labor than today, and it will be more productive than ever."
The argument about the kind of technology that is most appropriate to agriculture in the developing world has been, of course, sharpened during the past six years by the upward trend in costs of petroleum-based energy. This has provided an economic, as well as an ecological, incentive to re-examine carefully the costs and benefits of industrialized agriculture. Unfortunately, many of the arguments put forth have been characterized by fragmented evidence and polarized attitudes. The most vocal critics and most vociferous defence arise from the extremes of the spectrum, creating an atmosphere in which conspiracy theories thrive and common ground is hard to find. Notably absent from most such debates are representative views of working farmers whose investment and perhaps livelihood are at risk in their selection of an appropriate production system. Instead, these issues have provided an arena for development theorists and even political dogmatists, despite Edward Hyams' observation, in introducing a reprint, after 25 years, of his classic Soil and Civilization. "All that has happened since 1952," he wrote, "strongly confirms me in my conclusion that both state ownership and capitalist ownership of farming land are economically and socially disastrous, and that the soundest system of tenure is working farmer ownership without right of alienation for gain."
For policy planners and investment counsellors charged with the creation of an economic and political climate in which the agricultural sector will have the capability to respond to the needs of much larger urban populations, as well as to its own requirements, the polemical type of debate is not especially helpful. There is need for a calmer, more objective appraisal of the relative potential of alternative farming systems, both for meeting future food and fibre requirements and for sustaining and enhancing the productive capacity of agricultural land.
Some well-advertised premises
Some small beginnings in this direction have been made. In the aftermath of the UN Conference on the Environment in Stockholm in 1972, FAO's governing Conference approved a programme for natural resources which included an assignment: "to compile existing experience and promote programmes on the development of integrated self-relying systems of production associating crops with animal husbandry, silviculture, and aquaculture with maximum use of local resources and local skills, minimal dependence on external sources of inputs and increased recycling of wastes for feeds, organic fertilizers and other uses."
The conceptual foundation of this programme rests upon some already well - advertised premises: unprecedented population growth, increasing awareness of the ecological limits of natural resources and especially of fossil fuels. But it is also hinged to the apparent changes in attitudes about overall agricultural development, to the desire for self-reliance at local or national levels, to an increasing recognition that traditional local agricultural practices have often been designed to meet particular local ecological and cultural conditions.
Jacques J. Poly, Director-General of the National Agricultural Research Institute in France (Institut national de la recherche agronomique), is a strong advocate of introducing more biological techniques into agricultural production systems. Like the defenders of modern industrialized agriculture, Poly's point of departure is the evident need for agriculture to become more productive-50 percent more by the end of this century. But, from that point, the expressions which he uses to describe the desirable agriculture of the future bear a very different emphasis.
To begin with, he believes that it will have to be a much more economical agriculture, economizing both in the use of industrial inputs such as fertilizer, equipment and chemicals and through the systematic reduction of production losses before, during and after harvest. Such an approach would include better utilization of by-products and wastes from agriculture and a saner, more rational exploitation of all of the planet's natural resources.
Only 3 percent
Poly sees the agriculture of the year 2000 as necessarily a "clean" agriculture better adapted to the needs of society, furnishing consumers with food whose nutritional and hygienic qualities are indisputable. He believes that the agricultural systems of the developed countries are, in effect, "mining" soil, water reserves, microclimates and "biological capital." "Are we really sure," he asks, "that we can leave, intact, to succeeding generations, the full potential of this heritage?" From this arises Poly's concept of an end-of-the-century agriculture that would be much more imaginative about the contributions that biology can make to it. His concept is of an agriculture that would incorporate to the maximum discoveries and practical innovations arising from the most fundamental concepts and methods of molecular biology, an agriculture, as he describes it, "with optimal biological value added."
Some proponents of this approach have begun to call it the "Third Agricultural Revolution," the first being the eighteenth century introduction of crop rotations and manuring in enclosed fields, and the second the twentieth century mechanization and chemicalization of agriculture (of which the so-called green revolution might be regarded as an offshoot). It is a term, however, that many agricultural officials prefer to avoid.
Dieter F. Bommer, Assistant Director - General of FAO's Agriculture Department, feels that the historic changes in agriculture would be better regarded as part of one evolutionary process. In the attempt to define and shape a new agricultural revolution, he sees a further risk of confusing techniques that can be rationally applied now with futuristic scientific concepts that will require much more basic research before their practicality can be evaluated.
Bommer, and others, are also concerned lest campaigns for less energy intensive agriculture obscure the fact that agriculture's present share of total world fossil fuel consumption amounts to only 3 percent. The inputs to food production in developing countries, he argues, should be the last to suffer from any energy conservation programmes.
At least some of the apparent diffidence toward promoting a more "natural" system of agriculture seems to arise not so much from objections to the proposed technology itself as from the fear that it could be misunderstood and misrepresented by wellmeaning but ill-informed public interest groups.
Ten years ago, a ceres article entitled "Who's afraid of advanced technology?" raised the question as to whether the transfer of modern agricultural technology, such as chemical pest control, to developing countries might be inhibited by growing environmental concern, primarily in industrialized countries. Even one of the strongest advocates for an integrated approach to crop pest control, Professor Ray Smith, chairman of the entomology department at the University of California in Berkeley, was expressing concern about what he described as the insistent "hordes of instant ecologists."
"The fact is," he told ceres at that time, "that some of us today are concerned about the pendulum of public opinion swinging too far in the current anti-pesticide climate. There are indications of disturbingly negative, restrictive and extremist positions being taken against pesticides."
It is precisely the danger of misinterpreting and misapplying the concepts of biological approaches to agriculture that worries Dr. Rudi Dudal, Director of FAO's Land and Water Development Division. "In developing countries," he points out, "crops lose most of the benefit of photosynthesis because of the very low inherent fertility of the soil, and because of pests and diseases. The answer is to improve the ways in which photosynthetic energy can be utilized by raising the fertility of the land, by combating disease and pests." Now, because industrialized countries are seeking less energy-intensive modes of agriculture, Dudal sees a danger that such a trend might be extended to the developing world. This, Dudal warns, would condemn poor farmers of the developing world to a perpetuation of their existing drudgery.
Dudal's cautionary remarks are directed in particular to the enormous gap between levels of fertilizer used in developing and in industrialized countries. As a case in point, the Regional Food Plan for Africa, which FAO drew up at the request of member governments from that continent, calls for a sixfold increase in fertilizer use per hectare by 1990, from 6 to 36 kg. By contrast, Western Europe is already consuming more than 200 kg/ha of fertilizer on arable and permanently cropped land.
The "third revolution" concept also seems destined to encounter criticism from detractors who view it simply as a "turn-back-the-clock" movement.
Should meet halfway
Louis Huguet, chairman of an FAO interdepartmental working group on natural resources and the human environment, is careful to point out that this is not the case. "We do not suggest," he says, "that either the eighteenth and nineteenth century technology or the 'traditional' rural technology used in developing countries should be slavishly copied. On the contrary we think that modern research and experimentation can improve on these technologies and make them more productive. The trouble is that up to now research and experimentation have almost completely neglected these so-called natural or biological technologies. It is not only that a more appropriate technology has to be devised for the poor farmers," Huguet adds, "but also that the agricultural technology now used in the developed countries has to be revised if the quality of the environment, which for us means the sustained productive capacity of the land, is to be improved or at least maintained for the future generations."
Last August, when the United Nations convened a symposium of eminent scholars, managers and high-level UN officials in Stockholm to discuss the inter-relations among resources, environment, population and development, FAO's Director-General Edouard Saouma presented the case for what he described as "a sophisticated technology which is more complex, but more natural."
"This technology," he said, "should not be confused with biological culture which is often more emotional than rational. There can certainly be no question of denying the poor countries the use of inputs like fertilizer and pesticide, but they should avoid a baneful copy of so-called advanced methods that are misused in rich countries. Ideally, the rich and poor should meet halfway: the rich should have a more biological agriculture relying more on interactions among the elements of the ecosystem or of the environment in general and less dependent on energy-wasting inputs, whereas the poor, while also basing their production on such natural interactions, should use a little more of those inputs."
The cafeteria approach
This carefully balanced approach has a strong advocate in Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in India, who terms it "economic ecology." In his view, economic ecology is intended to maximize the economic benefits from a given ecological milieu and to minimize the risks and hazards to that environment. "Crop planning in the future," says Dr. Swaminathan, "will have to take into account the effective use of both horizontal and vertical spaces. Plant architects now have unusual opportunities for designing crop combinations which can help to exploit in an integrated manner both soil and air spaces and thereby give farmers the maximum return from the available water, nutrient and sunlight resources."
"Most of the efforts in plant breeding," points out Dr. I. Bozini, chief of FAO's Crop and Grassland Production Service, "have been made in developing varieties that demand optimum conditions for soil fertility and water requirements. This approach has given brilliant results. However, I can't stop questioning myself if this approach is the best one when you know very well that you cannot reach the optimal fertility level, by any means, at least from the farmer's point of view."
Swaminathan agrees that plant breeders should be conscious of the need for maximizing the return from a given level of management that is within reach of a farming community at a particular point in time. He points out that many breeders and agronomists today adopt what is known as "the cafeteria approach," which permits a broad spectrum of technological choices suited to different local conditions.
It seems evident from this that both the agricultural research and the rural extension establishment face a formidable task if masses of peasant farmers are to become involved in putting such new concepts into practice. As Michael Lipton has tartly observed: "It is easier for social scientists to get cash and chairs, by mocking high yielding varieties in Sussex, Bellagio or Washington than by devising, with technologists, inputs for poor farmers in field situations. That perhaps is why appropriate technology remains largely wind ..."4
Any decision on the part of governments to lend encouragement to the systematic development of less energy intensive agriculture is confronted with one overwhelming reality: the urgency, for the majority of developing countries, to reduce domestic food deficits now. "While new technology is certainly most welcome," declares Swaminathan, "we know that the more urgent task is to take advantage of the untapped production potential available even at current levels of technology. The urgent problem in developing countries is not to work for the year 2000. It will come some day, of course. But the most urgent problem is to feed people right now."
A factor of unification
Is there thus a danger that the thrust for designing appropriate farming systems will be obscured by the more immediate concerns of national food policies? "In my opinion," Edouard Saouma told the symposium in Stockholm last summer, "the greatest danger to the world is not the energy shortage or the kind of techniques which depend on energy. The greatest danger stems from the division of the present world, from the gulf which separates rich and poor, between nations and within the same nation. The solution to such a problem evidently belongs to the political sphere. Since both sides are faced with the energy crisis and the degradation of their environment, the rich and the poor would have a common interest to lay the foundations of a third agricultural revolution based on observance of the laws governing the environment. I regard this joint design not only as a factor of unification, peace and harmony in the world but also as one of the aspects of the New International Economic Order."
One can ask: which is valued and rewarded more, professionally - research that benefits small and poor farmers more but generates fewer publications or research that generates more publications but benefits farmers less? Research on crops or animals for the market or for export (coffee, jute, tea or exotic cattle?) or on low-status, more subsistence crops or animals (millets, goats, hens, for example), which are important for the poorer people? Work that makes use of indigenous technical knowledge and is carried out in collaboration with farmers as equal colleagues or work that is based solely on modern scientific knowledge regardless of the on-farm situation and without farmers' participation? Trials (a low-status word?) on farmers' fields or research (a highstatus word?) on agricultural research stations? If the implications of these rhetorical questions are correct, then there are forces restraining agricultural scientists from too close contact with farmers. Like small farmers, agricultural scientists are professionals and rational. They are likely to behave in ways that are rewarding, given their environment - ways that lead to promotion, higher incomes, opportunities for travel and residence in urban centres where there are various conveniences, including good schools for their children. They are then not merely restrained from contact with small and poor farmers; they are drawn away from it.
Some of the effects of these and other forces that have kept professionals and small farmers apart have been astonishing. One is the long time it has taken in East Africa for the benefits of intercropping to be recognized. It took decades for it to be realized that farmers' "primitive" practices were efficient and to adapt agricultural research accordingly; and, in the meantime, there had been many demoralizing years of sub optimal research generating inappropriate advice.
Introspection also leads one to ask how objectives are chosen. Do we have a tendency to fix on one straightforward objective or criterion as a way of simplifying work and thought, and of eliminating awkward "political" or "social" aspects of development? Agricultural literature is replete with books and papers that treat production as though it were the sole and adequate objective of interventions. Such a view has been widely challenged. Again and again, those who have benefited from agricultural change have been the strong, the powerful, those who were already better off. The poor and the weak have sometimes gained a little, sometimes gained not at all and sometimes lost. Whatever the myths, agricultural research is highly political in its implications since it affects who gets what in society. Unless approaches to research deliberately incorporate equity considerations, then the familiar pattern will be repeated. But agricultural scientists may protest that this is none of their business. In the words of the Tom Lehrer song "... when the rockets go up, who cares where they come down -that's not my department...". And yet, to pursue the metaphor, the choices about what sorts of rockets to build (what sorts of research to carry out) do determine where they are likely to come down-who will gain and who may lose. Research on poor people's food crops will benefit different groups of farmers more than research on a cash crop grown only by the larger farmers, or only by those with irrigation.
An infatuation with computers
All this is well known. Part of its relevance to understanding small farmers is the question: understanding which small farmers? Professional training, the biases of rural development tourism and incentive and rewards systems point professionals toward the better-off farmers and away from the poorer and smaller ones.
If agricultural research is to achieve optimal trade-offs between equity and production objectives, then these reversals appear necessary.
Valuing indigenous technical knowledge. Modern scientific knowledge and the indigenous technical knowledge of rural people are grotesquely unequal in leverage. The former is centralized, and associated with the power and machinery of the state; and those who are its bearers believe in its superiority. The latter, in contrast, is scattered, and associated with low-prestige rural life; those who are its bearers may believe it to be inferior. It is difficult for some professionals to accept that they have anything to learn from rural people, or to recognize that there is a parallel system of knowledge to their own which is complementary, usually valid and in some respects superior. The ability of the Hanunoo people in the Philippines on average to name 1600 plant varieties, 400 more than in a botanical survey, illustrates the point. Rural people often have their own categories and fine discriminations; they often have much detailed knowledge of soils, of plant indicators of fertility, of weather patterns, of pests and weeds, and the like. Unfortunately, many of those who are bearers of modern scientific knowledge have been trained away from being able to learn these different ways of seeing the environment, or to understand the problems and rationality of small farmers. They do not realize that as John Hatch has written, "... small farmers too are professionals." The challenge is to be able to learn from them, as colleagues.
Quick-and-clean versus long-and-dirty. Rural appraisal has tended to have two polar forms - the casual empiricism of rural development tourism, and the long-drawn-out and extensive rural survey. The former has been described as quick-and-dirty; and the latter might be described as often "long-and-dirty." The need is to develop methods that are quick-and-clean, where clean means cost-effective, in terms of trade-offs between quantity, accuracy, relevance, actual use of information and the costs of obtaining it. The reversal required here involves seeing that cost-effectiveness may often (though not always) be best achieved by the quick-and-clean, even though it is not an entirely respectable sort of activity. The dominance of mathematics in education and the reverence for precision in scientific research have generated a whole industry of analysis and publication around the subjects of surveys, sampling and statistical analysis, now reinforced by infatuation with computers, which draws us away from farmers and seems to justify analysing figures in offices rather than observing crops in fields. We undervalue "judgement" and "experience." It is often possible to know something on the basis of judgement and experience that it would take many months, perhaps years, to "prove." The challenge is to develop methods for rapid rural appraisal that combine judgement, experience, indigenous technical knowledge and a new set of methods.
Reversing research station bias. Do precise measurement, controlled conditions, convenience, the location of staff housing, and cost-effectiveness in terms of personal goals (publication, prestige, being noticed by senior colleagues, promotion) have a magnetic effect in holding agricultural scientists on research stations? For some forms of agricultural R & D, there is a valid case for conducting work under controlled conditions. But these controlled conditions are artificial. They leave out farmers' needs, resources, and problems.
Controlled conditions are in this sense peculiar and incomplete. Leaving out farmers is a heroic simplification of the environment. Given the many attractions of working on research stations rather than with farmers, one may ask whether there may not be a tendency to rationalize the desirability of on-station work. If the criterion of good research is beneficial impact- benefits to farmers and others in terms of production and equity-might it not be cost-effective for much more work to be conducted with farmers in farmers' conditions?
These three reversals - learning from farmers, using rapid and approximate methods and offsetting research station bias-are reflected in recent work by Michael Collinson with CIMMYT in East Africa and Peter Hildebrand with ICTA in Guatemala. Collinson has been shortening the period of survey required to identify research priorities. Hildebrand has developed an ingenious method for rapid appraisal combining agricultural and social scientists in investigating farming situations leading straight into innovations that are then tested with farmers on their fields.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency for those who engage in and develop these new approaches not to write them up in full detail. It is only in the past few years (as far as I am aware) that describing exploratory or reconnaissance surveys, and quick-and-dirty or quick-and-clean methods, has become a half-respectable activity. It is now, or should be, more than respectable: for these activities are at the frontier of important developments leading to greater cost-effectiveness in agricultural research.
Away from small farmers
Much of the argument concerns changes in professional values and behaviour. But we are faced with a complex system with many interlocking parts-the dominant influence of the agricultural professions in industrialized countries, the policies of editors of journals, urban and research station bias, the curricula of university courses, ideas about respectable and rigorous research methods, disciplinary blinkers, belief in the universal superiority of modern scientific knowledge over indigenous technical knowledge, and so on. Combined, these various forces direct attention and effort away from small farmers, away from learning from them and with them, toward the citadels of professional advancement and toward inappropriate research.
The presentation of the self
In seeking to change this, some of the obstacles are cognitive. The problem is often the way in which people have been conditioned to perceive and interpret experience. It is difficult enough for a sociologist, for example, to learn to think like an agronomist, let alone for either of them to learn to think like a small farmer. And yet seeing the world in the other person's way-whether the view of another discipline or the multidisciplinary view of small farmers-requires a difficult combination of openness, imagination and humility. Our status and self-esteem are often built on the premise that we have superior knowledge. It becomes then important in public situations for us to display that knowledge, and for the knowledge to be indeed superior. A recent reports listed among the competencies required in young professionals for agricultural research and development, "Ability to handle farming skills confidently in front of farmers" (my emphasis). This conjures up precisely the problem of the presentation of the self in such situations. It may be more important to have the greater confidence required to admit ignorance. But even that does not go far enough, for it treats ignorance as something shameful. Rather, ignorance should be accepted positively as an opportunity to learn, whether from another discipline or from small farmers.
The practical problem is how to achieve such an attitude, and the cognitive changes that result. For social and agricultural scientists concerned with small farmers, four suggestions can be made.
1. Joint field work with professionals in other disciplines. This is a key part of the Hildebrand and CIMMYT approaches. It is fascinating and illuminating to work in field situations with people from other disciplines. One is continuously surprised and intrigued by the things they see, the questions they ask and the inferences they draw. There are few better learning experiences. Numbers should, however, be kept small. For short periods, two people, as in part of the Hildebrand approach, may be ideal. Such work might be a required part of university education and of subsequent specialized training. It should certainly be a crucial part of agricultural research for defined area projects, not just as a learning experience but also in its own right as a means to effective work.
2. Required learning from small farmers. Professional and career development in all fields typically involves periods of further training. In India, for example, this has been organized for senior agricultural experts and administrators. One activity might be investigation of the knowledge of small farmers. For example, glossaries of local terms can be compiled. Among some pastoralists, a listing of words for colours would show a series of very fine discriminations, especially in the browns, which are not captured in other languages. More directly relevant are investigations of names for plants, soils and plant indicators of fertility and microclimates. Farmers' categories, related to their experience and needs, differ from those of scientists, and not only in the Third World: recent work at Cornell has shown that farmers in up-state New York do not find the USDA soil classification helpful, and use their own names for soil types. Another example is the calendar system of Bihari farmers, which has been found to be more appropriate for describing changes in climate and the sequences of cultivation than the months of the more usual calendar.
One promising approach to reaming how small farmers (and professionals) construe their environment is the triads test. This has been used independently by Paul Richards in Sierra Leone with weeds, and by Stuart
Hawkins in Australia with dairy sheds. Richards used it to elicit the way in which university botany and geography students, farmers and trainee extension workers saw weeds. In the test or game, four weeds were taken, and respondents presented with groups of three, asked to identify which two were most similar and then asked to explain the "construct" underlying their choice. This was repeated for different combinations of threes until the latter were exhausted. The university students' constructs were taxonomic and morphological. There was no overlap with the farmers' constructs, which were utilitarian. But the most startling finding was that the extension trainees' constructs were close to those of the students and also did not overlap with those of the farmers." This test was enjoyed by the participants, and led to: "a spontaneous 'seminar' by the trainees on how they would communicate with farmers if their 'scientific' approach to farming made them think in text-book botanical terms rather than in terms of farming utilities. Tentative action proposals for syllabus development and for studying alongside the farmers were beginning to emerge at the end of the period."
An affront to dignity
Perhaps learning from farmers, using the triads test, might be tried out to see whether it could be a suitable part of future professional training. To require professional staff to learn from farmers in these ways should not be considered demeaning or threatening. On the contrary, it is inherently fascinating to try to understand how other people construe the world. Moreover, where "games" are involved-as with the triads test-the activity is enjoyable as well as intellectually exciting.
3. Learning through games. A further approach is to play specially devised games. Some "green revolution games" have been developed. In these, each player starts with similar resources (finance, family labour, land, water) and makes farming decisions, season by season, in the face of uncertainty about weather, input supply pests, diseases and the like. A simple computer programme with coefficients derived from actual small-farmer situations and incorporating random contingencies then presents the outcomes of the decisions. Over a period, players become differentiated: some become wealthy, others landless. But in the process, they are forced to think like small farmers, and to understand their rationality, for example in risk aversion. Such games could become a required part of every course for those, of whatever discipline, who are concerned with agriculture and rural development.
4. Learning by doing. The suggestion likely to be least acceptable to established professionals is that we should go and work at farm tasks with farmers in their fields. To some, this would be totally unacceptable, an affront to dignity. To others, it may appear quite a good idea, but not implementable. To a few, it may commend itself as something to be quietly tried out. And there are some who have done it already. The value of this activity is not to discover the extent to which one's muscles have atrophied, but rather to provide an opportunity for insights and learning. John Hatcht's remarkable work in Peru is an eloquent testimony to this. He worked for farmers without pay on condition that they would teach him the task they wanted done.
"The scheme worked beautifully" he reported. "Most small farmers took to their role as teacher very conscientiously. Rather than waiting to respond to my questions, they often v volunteered task information I would never have known enough to inquire about. In fact, most of the information I gathered was gained in this way. Hired labourers often proved excellent instructors as well."
Learning from other disciplines
It may be objected that for professionals to work with farmers in their fields would be a waste of time. That is a matter for judgement. Given, however, that Hatch came to the remarkable conclusion that total labour use might be 50 percent higher than that estimated by outsiders, one may ask whether some professionals can afford not to use this approach some of the time. At least there is a case for gaining more experience with it, its costs and benefits, and especially the insights to which it leads.
The thrust of this article is toward changes in values and behaviour: to value learning from and with other disciplines, and especially from and with small farmers; to value equity as well as production; to seek out experiences that are cost-effective, if unconventional, in identifying research priorities; to conduct more research with farmers. It is easier to sit in a room in a rich country and write a little paper about this and the tough things other people should do than it is to be those other people rid to do those things.
Perhaps agricultural research that is moving closer to small farmers through defined area projects presents an unusual opportunity. The value systems in agricultural research are international. In the past, this may often have exercised a conservative and inappropriate influence (toward the needs of temperate climates, toward capital intensity, and so on); and much of this may still be enshrined in the curricula of universities all over the world and perpetuated through their graduates. But that same international system could also help to create and invest with prestige a different climate of values so that national researchers would have more freedom to adopt new practices and turn inappropriate professional values around. If this could occur, some of the beneficiaries would be those national researchers who were at the forefront of pioneering the new methods; but the largest group of beneficiaries should be small farmers whose interests would then be more directly and better served by agricultural research.