Date of this Version
Presented at the ninth annual International Farming Systems Symposium, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, October 8-11, 1989.
Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) has strongly influenced the direction of agricultural development over the past two decades. Involving farmers, change agents and researchers, this participatory approach to technological improvement has evolved as an efficient means to develop individual components and more integrated systems that are uniquely suited to specific biophysical and socioeconomic conditions. Farmers with similar conditions and for whom specific recommendations are appropriate are grouped, in FSR/E, into identifiable Recommendation Domains. The technologies recommended conform with the biophysical and socioeconomic constraints that create environments within the domains, based on the philosophy that new technologies must conform with the environments where they will be used because most farmers are unable to modify their environments to meet the needs of new technologies. This characteristic differentiates FSR/E from the approach of developing conventional technologies to dominate environments through use of machinery, chemicals, irrigation and other capital-intensive inputs.
The philosophy of sustainable agriculture is gaining ground in a world becoming acutely aware of finite fossil fuel resources and adverse impacts of agriculture and other industries on the environment. In spite of substantial advances in productivity through applications of fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, we are learning that inappropriate or excessive use of these inputs can have unexpected and undesirable effects on the environment, natural ecosystems, and the world's human inhabitants. In order to develop the systems that will provide for our needs without endangering the quality of life of future generations, we must concentrate on an efficient use of renewable resources that are available within the immediate production environment. We need to reduce fossil fuel use to minimum essential levels. We must develop technologies that conform more closely with the environments where they will be used. The urgency associated with coming to grips with the problem is becoming more evident every day. These necessities precisely coincide with the capabilities of the FSR/E approach.
FSR/E practitioners work with families who live on the land and are acutely aware of their surrounding environments and how they are influenced by cropping and farming practices and systems. Because farmers participate in the development and testing of alternatives, their evaluation criteria will be used for screening. These may differ from the narrower and often misleading criteria used by researchers trained in specific disciplines. This aspect, in itself, enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of the technology development and adoption process.
When the farmers' concerns and resource base are more explicitly taken into account, technologies thus developed are more readily adapted to the farmers' environments. Perhaps most important, FSR/E on-farm research and technology evaluation methods have proven efficient for screening and selecting technologies that conform to the divergent environments found on farms throughout the world.