In the overall development effort in assisting 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 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, it is somewhat absurd to think that impoverished farmers have the same ideal operational resources as research stations and extension demonstration plots, and they 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 ENTERPEISE” effectively and rationally sacrificing yield on one enterprise to improve returns on another. Regrettable, research/extensions officials, 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 the hands are washed. Under these circumstances the researchers with responsible for one crop and developing recommendations for an extensive area, but has 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 limited discussion there might be would be mostly a downward imposition rather than serious interactive dialogue.
The Development Officials 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 carefully look at the constrains facing smallholder farmers, the extended time required to accomplish various activities, as well as the interaction between different farm and off farm enterprises. They can then concentrate of facilitating access to various supporting technologies or facilitating access to additional operational resources essential to expediting farm operations, and provide solutions that will reduce the 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 they need for a full day of 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 work day 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 officials are essential to comprehensively address the problems of poverty alleviations, food security, and quality nutrition for smallholder farmers. 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 not necessarily to the beneficiaries, and they provide donor good publicity opportunity of their efforts to assist the beneficiaries “clearly” specifying what is required. However, 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. Not a lot of publicity opportunity here, 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 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.
Perhaps a couple example will illustrate the importance of integration for both agronomy and quality nutrition.
Potato-Wheat in Malawi: From the agronomy, crop management perspective, a comprehensive example of integration of technology into a smallholder system, and how a comprehensive farming systems research program can effectively undertake integration studies, is illustrated by the efforts of the Malawi Adaptive Research Program to introduce potato-wheat sequential cropping. 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 of the country 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 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, 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. 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 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.
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 with improved nutrition. 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 work effort and possibility reduce the wages earned or the time and effort at agronomic field work. Two examples based on some current consumer price data and casual labor wages in Angola.
Affordability: Take the case of porters, as my go to deeply entrenched impoverished laborers. The choice of a porter 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. 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 per lorry. 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 and light at night.
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 effort as porter or domestic house work. The total 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 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 vitamin and mineral. That egg to minimize the little girls 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?
Producibility: Transferring my impoverished family to a smallholder farming community and the question is what can he produce to meet his family 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 he must have some additional stocks of beans etc. or purchase additional food. He does have a few “smart” country chickens that forge around the homestead staying away from predators and providing a couple eggs a day. What should he do with the eggs? He can sell them for $0.40 ea. or provide them to his daughter to minimize the stunting. If he sells the eggs as mentioned as a common practice in the World Bank Secure Nutrition webinar/seminar he could buy 300 g of maize flour 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 farmer 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 market to collect consumer data, then another couple hours 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?