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Research and reality

The quest for sustainable agriculture brings about a search for new approaches to and methods for research and development. Especially the complexity and diversity of sustainable agriculture challenges professionals. In this editorial, key issues raised in the articles of this issue are placed in a wider perspective.

Table of contents:

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    The quest for sustainable agriculture brings about a search for new approaches to and methods for research and development. Especially the complexity and diversity of sustainable agriculture challenges professionals. In this editorial, key issues raised in the articles of this issue are placed in a wider perspective.
  • 6 - 7
    Since experimental research on agricultural stations began, over 150 years ago, variations in yield have been observed and, although undesired, they were not viewed with concern. It was not until the beginning of this century that researchers began to bother. The solution to handle this undesired variation came from statisticians, who elaborated on the problem of the error of a mean and the analysis of variance.
  • 8 - 8
    Most low-external-input agriculture is fundamentally different in nature from the agriculture familiar to researchers. Much of it is associated with food rather than cash crop production and is based upon priorities and objectives very different from the commercial sector. Research for low-external-input systems needs to question some of the assumptions that have dominated cash crop thinking. One of these is the importance of statistics.
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    Visualising the diversity of their strategies allows farmers to evaluate their practices and allows researchers and extensionists to better guide farmers in improving these practices. Monitoring of crucial parameters based on farmers' criteria may further help to finetune extension programmes and policies.
  • 12 - 13
    The Conservation Tillage Project has been involved in tillage and soil and water conservation research using a combined on-farm and on-station research approach since 1990. The initial objective was to test and develop tillage systems for soil and water conservation for smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. Quantitative research data were obtained by both the on-station and the on-farm component. Farmer participatory research on-farm also focuses on qualitative aspects in farmers' experimentation, adaptation and adoption process. A major challenge has been the integration of quantitative research into the process of farmer participatory research.
  • 14 - 15
    Agricultural innovation emerges from the social interaction between many different stakeholders such as farmers, researchers, traders, extensionists, bankers and policy makers and their respective organisations, institutions or agencies. They all try to improve what they are doing continuously. Of course, each of them looks at agricultural development from a very different angle and as a consequence, has very different purposes in mind. Yet their social interaction determines to a large extent what type of technological development will eventually be achieved. To develop sustainable forms of agriculture, therefore, technology development is not enough. We have to address the interaction between relevant stakeholders as well.
  • 16 - 17
    In developing sustainable agro-ecosystems as part of landuse planning, several difficulties are encountered. Firstly, agricultural production systems show large variability and secondly, mono-disciplinary research conducted on sites of which the representativity is unknown is of limited value. Another shortcoming of various methodologies for landuse planning is that they are only directed at one level (village, region, province) and do not take into account the interrelation between these levels. This article describes an approach recently designed to try and overcome these shortcomings.
  • 18 - 20
    In the ILEIA Newsletter a broad number of relevant practical experiences in making farming systems sustainable at farmers' level are reported. The economic appraisal of these practices, however, receives relatively minor attention, while costs and benefits are not always clearly identified. Also, a positive cost-benefit relation does not mean that adoption is feasible for all types of farmers. Therefore, methods are required that permit the appraisal of different technical options from the viewpoint of farmer economy. However, suitable methods for economic appraisal of sustainable agriculture are still little developed. Moreover, guidelines for economic policies that may enhance farmers to adopt LEISA practices are not readily available. In this article the appropriateness of some basic tools for economic appraisal will be discussed.
  • 21 - 22
    More and more scientists now accept that farmers' indigenous technical knowledge plays an important role in deciding about agricultural innovations. However, when farmers assess new activities they do not consider technical criteria only. Rural people's economic decisions are also determined by their specific social and cultural context. The considerations of farmers in making choices on production, exchange and consumption can be called indigenous economics. Development workers need to acquire knowledge about the indigenous economics of the society in which they work, if they want to understand the priorities and constraints of the people involved. (ILEIA)
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    The agroecology programme of the university of Cochabamba (AGRUCO) started its activities in the Bolivian Andes in 1986 with the aim to contribute to sustainable development. This article describes how the programme changed from a transfer-of-technology agent to an institution seeking the enhancement of the intercultural dialogue. (ILEIA)
  • 24 - 25
    A number of research projects are implemented in Kerala which can be considered under the headings of post-Green-Revolution agriculture, low-external-input agriculture or sustainable agriculture. These are implemented by many people like scientists of government departments and research stations, activists and the technical staff of non-governmental organisations and concerned and innovative farmers. These projects conducted in Kerala can be classified into four types: conducted in controlled situations in research stations or demonstration plots; conducted by scientists in farmers' fields; conducted at the level of villages or watersheds; conducted by farmers on their own farms. Based on case studies, this article discusses certain limitations of these types of research. (ILEIA)
  • 26 - 27
    In the international development community most efforts to better the lives of poor people focus on the use of improved technologies, or making better use of traditional practices, to address the increasing variety of problems that people are facing worldwide. The Center for Holistic Resource Management takes a completely different approach, saying that in trying to improve their lives by solving their problems people end up in an endless cycle: when one problem is solved, there is always another to replace it. This constant attention to problems keeps people from looking beyond their difficulties and prevents them from working on a plan for truly improving their condition. Holistic Resource Management focuses on helping people change the way they make decisions - from decisions made to solve problems to decisions that lead people toward a defined future. This future is defined by a holistic goal set by the people who make up the group or community - the whole. (ILEIA)
  • 28 - 30
    Resource poor farmers often find themselves trapped in extractive ways of farming. They do not know what to do. This article describes a participatory process for NGOs to assist farmers get out of the trap. Using a set of sustainability indicators farmers and NGO staff brainstorm ways to experiment with, and monitor changes in, the sustainability of their farming system. This process was developed over three years of collaborative work between farmers in two communities of Cavite province, the Philippines, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction and the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management. (ILEIA)
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