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Integration: Differentiating Research/Extension from Development Officers – Science vs. Art of Farming

RiceTerracesIn the overall development effort to assist the poverty alleviation of smallholder producers to obtain food security and quality nutrition, it is usually not enough to develop and promote technical innovations, but it also requires sorting out the constraints the farmers or other beneficiaries might have in accepting the technical innovations and perhaps providing supporting technologies that will further address the constraints faced by beneficiaries. If one thinks about it, from a crop management perspective, it is somewhat absurd to think that hungry impoverished smallholder farmers have the same operational resources to manage their hectare to hectare and a half farm with the same ease as research stations and extension demonstration plots have to manage their 0.1 ha research/demonstration plots, and the farmers have full discretionary control over their farming activities or dietary needs.

Research vs. Development

In this regard, it must be recognized that most replicated small plot agronomic research is done at regional research stations under most ideal operational conditions available including unlimited labor, access to mechanization, etc. This does an excellent job of determining the physical potential of an area. Unfortunately, says nothing about the operational needs such as labor, contractible mechanization, etc. to extend the small plot results across the remainder of the field, farm or smallholder community or what are the rational compromises farmers must make in adjusting the promoted recommendations to their specific operational limitations. Such compromises include: time of planting, plant populations and quality of weeding, as well as the need to distribute their limited resources over all farm enterprises, both plant and animal, in an effort, not to obtain maximum yield of a specific crop or farm enterprise, but “MAXIMIZING TOTAL RETURNS TO ALL FARM ENTERPRISES” effectively and rationally sacrificing yield on one enterprise to improve returns on another. This also represents more concern with returns to labor than returns to land and a disconnect with research and extension only emphasizing returns to land, usually for a specific crop. Regrettable, research/extensions officers, usually concentrating on a specific crop, are mostly oblivious to these compromises and just assumes it is not a problem, and the only things preventing smallholder farmers acceptance is knowledge to be provided by the extension/education effort and motivation on the part of the farmer. With this assumption, the research/extension effort is finished, and their hands are washed of further responsibility. Under these circumstances the research officers are responsible for one crop and developing recommendations for an extensive area, but with little direct contact with the smallholder farmers they are serving, and usually concentrate on their own closely defined discipline to determine what subjects will be researched. What little discussion there might be with the limited educated smallholder farmer beneficiaries would be mostly a downward imposition rather than serious interactive dialogue. This is based on the research officers’ higher formal education and “technical knowledge” of crop management for maximum yields, with no regard for the operational limits the famers may have, and how this compromises the maximum yield, but could be the optimal yield for the smallholder farmers overall economic opportunities.

The Development Officers are usually associated with some externally funded projects and thus more confined in the area they work but are in more direct contact with the intended beneficiaries, often carrying out verification trials on the farmers’ fields. They can, if they chose to look beyond extension demonstrations, carefully look at the constrains facing smallholder farmers, the extended time required to accomplish various activities, as well as the interaction between the various on-farm and off-farm enterprises smallholder farmers maybe engaged in. They can then concentrate on facilitating access to various supporting technologies or facilitating access to additional operational resources essential to expediting all farm operations and provide solutions that will reduce the operational constrains. For example, they would be able to note that farmers are spending only limited time in the field tending their crops and recognize there could be major concern with dietary energy balance in which the farmer only have access half the 4000 kcal/day they need for a full day of diligent manual agronomic field work. This limits the hours they can work, the diligence of the effort, and substantially prolongs the time needed to complete specific agronomic tasks, with associated decline in potential yield, response to inputs, and food security. Specifically limiting the intensive manual effort to less than three hours of questionable diligence, and requiring up to 8 weeks for basic crop establishment, as partly shown in the case study from Ethiopia.

Both research and development officers are essential to comprehensively addressing the problems of poverty alleviations, food security, and quality nutrition for smallholder farmers and their families. The research officials tend to get the greatest respect, but really have the easier task, as they are mostly confined to their specific discipline. Their effort also allows publication of refereed research papers to their peers, but rarely the beneficiaries, and they provide donor good publicity opportunity of their efforts to assist the beneficiaries “clearly” specifying what is required. While the researchers accurately define the Science of Farming, because of the need to adjust result to the farmer limited resource base the actual accomplishments can be limited.

The development officials have the more challenging task as they frequently must work across disciplines to sort out needs and address the constraints of the farmers, and the well rationalize compromises they make, identifying and adjusting the science of farming to their individual and specific limited operational base. These rational compromises in the science of farming defines the Art of Farming. Most smallholder farmers are well experienced and very good at the Art of Faming, and have optimized all their farm enterprises to their limited operational capacity. Not a lot of publicity opportunity for development officers, but a good sense of personal accomplishment.

There is a little emphasized component in some technology development/transfer models that addresses this concern. It is the process of integration, which is placed off to the side between Extension and Users in the accompanying figure. Normally integration is defined in terms of information, persuasion, and reinforcement, implying a refinement in the education/extension process. However, it could be expanded to include additional farm level participatory diagnostics of the resource limitations, and adjustments of the resource base and supporting infrastructure that will provide farmers with the additional resources needed to increase the extent of adoption, in essence moving the dotted line that runs from D through Integration and back to C, and having it run from D back to B in the figure. More emphasis on the integration process with additional participatory involvement could help identify the “Operational Constraints” in terms of labor, power, etc. and then the rational compromises farmers wisely make and identify some “Supporting Technologies” that need to be promoted or provided that would assist the farmers in overcoming the operational constraints and allow them to increase the percent of their holdings that can be utilized according to desired innovations. This would then assist in separating the extent to which delayed adoption represents a Lack of Knowledge vs. Lack of Means. Also, if more attention was given this component of technology transfer, the limitations in the Basic Premise most likely would have been identified and addressed early in the development effort, and the overall development effort for poverty alleviation, food security and quality nutrition been considerably more effective.

Usually there are two components to the integration process. The first is rational compromises in the recommendations to optimize the technology to the farmers limited operational base, and second identifying and promoting various supporting technologies that will allow the farmers or other beneficiaries to overcome the limited resources. Perhaps a couple example will illustrate the importance of integration for both agronomy and quality nutrition.
Compromises in Recommendations

Agronomic Example: In smallholder farming, when there is not enough labor or access to mechanization, the compromises farmers make is first and foremost time of planting and adsorbing the loss in potential yield associated with delayed planting. To minimize this lose they will quickly reduce plant population particularly of hill planted crops like maize and beans, less so with broadcast crops like rice, and forages. The rational is that with limited labor you get a higher total yield from planting a full hectare at half the recommended plant population, instead of half hectare at recommended rates. This follows the well-established sigmoid crop production function by remaining in the steepest part of the curve (See Figure 1.3) in which when labor is limited the maximum output is to concentrate on extending the area rather than enhancing the quality. Time of planting and plant populations can be visually easily seen and photographically documented. The time of planting often extending up to 8 weeks from the beginning of the season voiding the impact of most mid-season recommendations for weeding and fertilizer application rates and accepting the declining yields including its impact on food security. It just requires understanding and appreciation the “poor” quality crop management is more likely reflecting limited labor than limited knowledge so badger farmers with the need to plant early or increase the plant populations is counter-productive. Since the Monitoring, Evaluation, and “Learning” (MEL) effort by USAID does not include timing or range of timing, the operational limits of smallholders remain undetected, overlooked, and unaddressed. Likewise, there is no accounting for availability of labor and the impact scarce labor has on yield, food security, and quality nutrition.

Less easily identified would be the quality of land preparation and weeding. Both can be highly compromised resulting in lower yields and/or lower quality. The latter being particularly a problem for high value quality sensitive crops often heavily promoted for the value chain in the hopes that market for high value cash crops will pull productivity up. However, obtaining those high income usually requires high quality which again implies more labor that is scarce for smallholder farmers. Inputs with lower labor components such as fertilizer and plant protection chemicals would be less effected, other than the fertilizer response being impacted by the delayed planting.

Quality Nutrition Examples: While as an agronomist I mostly look at development from a crop management perspective, the importance of integration can equally be applied to the current effort for improved nutrition with the emphasis on pregnant and nursing women. These are important concerns, but the acceptance can be highly compromised. In this case the question is how easily can smallholder farmers, with their limited caloric diet, produce an improved diet, and how might this impact on their overall economic opportunities that largely represent heavy manual labor requiring 4000+kcal/day? Anything less will limit the work day or at least the diligence of the work effort and possibility reduce the wages earned or the time and effort at agronomic field work. Two hypothetical examples synthesized from some current consumer price data and casual labor wages in Angola. While hypothetical I believe they are realistic.

Affordability: Take the case of porters, as my go to deeply entrenched impoverished laborers. The choice of porters is because I think they are some of the more impoverished workers who tend to be among the “invisible” people, frequently overlooked by development workers, etc. even while providing essential services. They tend to work piece meal manhandling 100 kg bags, hopefully without wrenching their backs and forced to miss a week of economic opportunity to recover. but without any income. Now suppose the porter has a wife, young toddler daughter, and pre-school son. He loves his family very much and wishes to provide for them as best he can. This would include the recent recommendation from a World Bank Webinar/Seminar promoting providing young Infant/toddler children an egg a day to minimize stunting. Allow me to locate this porter in Luanda, the capital of Angola, where he earns piece meal income loading or unloading lorries. His typical daily wage is $2.50 for working as part of 6-man teams loading or unloading 5 10-ton lorries typically filled with 120 100kg sacks per day. Yes, that is a deliberate 20% overload, which I think is typically based on an interview with rice transporter in Tanzania. The wages represent $0.50/lorry/person. The $2.50/day is set to equal the government established agriculture casual labor wage for Angola. Of this $2.50 he earns he can only spend $2.00 on food as he still as non-food costs for transport, rent, cooking fuel, light at night, etc.

His basic family caloric needs are:

• As a heavy manual laborer, he needs at least 4000 kcal/day
• His wife doing mostly domestic work around the house including spending several hours getting water and child care will need 3000 kcal/day
• The pre-school child will need 1200 kcal/day and
• The infant daughter will need 550 kcal/day.

Of this the first 2000 kcal/day represent basic metabolism for both the husband and wife, that will be consume even if they are doing no manual exertion as porter or domestic chores. The total family energy requirement will be 8750 Kcal/day. Now with your $2.00 food allowance what can you purchase to meet just this calorie demand? At the current Consumer Prices in Angola, if you spend the whole $2.00 on maize meal as the primary staple food you could purchase 1.7 kg maize meal which would provide only 6000 kcal/day which, with nothing else, would leave a daily deficit of 2500 kcals. No opportunity for substituting some beans to increase the protein in the diet but will reduce the calories and work potential, let alone some green vegetable to enhance the vitamins and mineral consumption. That egg to minimize the little girl’s stunning is really totally out of the question. If they spent the $0.40 for an egg, how would that impact the porter’s ability to load or unload the lorries? Would he have to quit after only 4 lorries were worked, coming home early but with $0.50 less income? Keeping the wage rate and consumer prices as stated what adjustment would you make in food purchased and consumed. Isn’t this an example of some of the Hard Choice: Compromises in Quality Nutrition many impoverished people have to make? Perhaps Angola should adjust the casual daily wage to accommodate a quality diet for the family of four? Would that make for a good policy adjustment for the nutrition improvement effort?

Producibility: Transferring the impoverished family to a smallholder farming community and the question is what can they produce to meet the family’s dietary needs? In this case the farmer has retained two 100 kg bags of maize per adult for subsistence use (based on Malawi interview with similar results from Ethiopia). The 200 kg of maize will provide a daily diet of about 2000 kcal, just enough to meet basic metabolism needs for the husband and wife, but not necessarily the children. This does not allow for any manual agronomic field work. Thus, the family must have some additional stocks of beans etc. or purchase additional food. They do have a few “smart” country chickens that forge around the homestead staying away from predators and providing a couple eggs a day. What should they do with the eggs? They can sell them for $0.40 ea. or provide them to their daughter to minimize the stunting. If they sell the eggs as mentioned as a common practice in the World Bank Secure Nutrition webinar/seminar they could buy 300 g of maize meal that would provide sufficient energy for 3 to 4 hours of diligent agronomic field work, that ultimately assist in improving the family overall food security. What is the rational thing for the farm family to do? Again does this represent Hard Choices? How would you adjust the decisions to better provide the quality nutrition and food security to this smallholder family? How effective will an educational program on quality nutrition be for this family deeply entrenched in poverty?

Finally, I would like to encourage anyone interested to work through the exercise on Hard Choices. It should take about an hour wandering through the open market to collect consumer data, then another couple hour to work through the purchasing and checking with the USDA or other source on the nutritional value of your results. I will be happy to post any results on the website duly crediting the contribution. Isn’t this the most appropriate place to start a nutrition improvement program? Typically, the results of the Hard Choices exercise are both mind-boggling and depressing.

Supporting Technologies

Potato-Wheat in Malawi: An example of how supporting technologies contribute to the integrations process is the introduction of Potato-Wheat sequential cropping in Malawi. This was done by the Adaptive Research Program and illustrates how a comprehensive farming systems research program can effectively undertake integration studies. Using an annual set of on-farm field trials for periodic visits to the area and continuous informal discussions with the farmers, the adaptive research program started out with a traditional climatic evaluation that indicated the physical potential for potato-wheat sequential cropping in high altitude areas such as Dedza Hills some 100 km south of Lilongwe, the capital. This was quickly confirmed with simple on-farm field trials. The potato-wheat sequence would improve upon a maize-wheat relay combination, in which the wheat was planted too late to effectively utilize the residual moisture, resulting in very low yields. Under normal research and extension procedures, the technology could have been recommended to the farmers for adoption with accompanying extension demonstrations. However, it is highly unlikely it would have been widely accepted. It was necessary to undergo an iterative integration process over several years. In the subsequent years the iterations in the program identified and addressed:

1. Problems with fluctuating prices with the seasonal low at the peak potato maturing season in February resulted in farmers lifting only what they needed to meet short-term cash requirements while storing most of the potatoes in the soil until the prices increased from June to August. Without good storage facilities, potatoes store better in the ground than lifted. With the potatoes occupying the ground it was impossible to plant wheat. The solution to this problem was promoting simple on-farm potato storage structures, which were being developed by the engineering research section that would allow the potatoes to be stored for up to four months, without the weight losses exceeding 10%.

2. The introduction of storage structures quickly highlighted the need to cure potatoes for a few days before storage, which was difficult in the wet season. Thus, it was necessary to modify the curing technology slightly to include curing with weather protection.

3. Dibbling individual wheat seeds was too time consuming and costly to plant large areas as expediently as needed following potatoes for an economically viable wheat crop. Thus, it was necessary to introduce and test alternative planting technologies modified from upland rice cultivation in the Philippines (see photo right). The new planting technique helped reduce the time for wheat establishment and lowered the production cost to an economically viable level.

4. One area was too isolated, located some four hours from the main road and next to the Mozambique border. At that time, Mozambique was embroiled in a civil war, making security a major concern for private truckers needed to haul the potatoes from the area. The only trucks going in and out of the area were United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) trucks contracted to bring in relief supplies and return empty prior to dark. During this period, potato production was temporarily not feasible, and farmers who previously grew potatoes left their fields fallow for most of the rainy season prior to planting wheat. Wheat, at least, could be sold at a modest price through the government marketing structure, but with a noticeable economic decline for the farmers. The potato-wheat sequential cropping promotion had to be curtailed because it was constrained by factors beyond the control of the Adaptive Research Program, and thus the technology was not appropriate for that time. Hopefully, with the improved security resulting from the end of the civil war in Mozambique, the farmers can revert to growing the more profitable potatoes.

5. In areas not affected by security problems, concern developed regarding the quality and quantity of seed potato, and the need to multiply a new potato variety introduced into the area by the project. The problem originated from the farmers selling all potatoes, including the small ones, that would normally not command good prices and are usually retained as seed potato, during August and September when the prices had increased substantially. However, there was a means for indigenous seed increase in wetter areas, and this included the new variety without project facilitating. It also provided some positive feedback on acceptance of project inputs. However, the bulking rate for potatoes is very low at 6:1 compared to a 50:1 ratio for most grains, and it is difficult to get an adequate supply of seed potato. This lifting and selling all the potatoes was very much the opposite of four months earlier, when at maturity prices were too low and farmers retained as many potatoes as possible in the ground, hindering the planting of wheat. However, this problem was solved by the farmers as they could increase seed potatoes in the dambo (small wet land areas) within the area.

6. Concerns developed regarding survivability of the introduced variety when the onset of the coming rainy season was delayed by three weeks or more, which is the outer limit of normal variation in on-setting rains and has to be included in any planning or anticipations of rainfall variation. The seed potatoes of the introduced variety when dry planted in anticipation of the rains, as was the normal practice, deteriorate with prolonged exposure to the dry condition. This contrasts with the local varieties that could tolerate the delayed onset of the rains. Also, there seemed to be a slow buildup of a virus on the introduced variety, which lowered the yield and increased the percent of potatoes too small to get a high market price.

The bottom line for the potato-wheat sequence cropping is that despite the physical fit to the environment, with careful analysis, several socio-economic and operational constraints were identified that needed to be overcome prior to large-scale farmer acceptance of the potato-wheat sequential cropping. Most of the constraints were eminently valid and indicated the farmers, regardless of limited formal education, were very knowledgeable of their system, highly market oriented, and understood the constraints imposed by limited resources and infrastructure support. The potato-wheat sequential cropping remained a physically appropriate technology, but gaining wide spread acceptance required a full knowledge of the systems and sorting out the various constraints encountered. Many of these constraints were local or regional and would have to be evaluated at that level, and thus not something that national or international research efforts could address. The evaluation is more for development projects and development officers instead of researchers. The promotion of various supporting technologies, such as storage structures, planting methods, etc., will assist in overcoming these constraints and make the technology more appropriate. It also shows a combination of adjusting both the technology and the farming system into which it was being introduced to form a viable combination.

Last Revised: 14 October 2018.

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