This work summarizes and synthesizes thirty years of experience in working with small scale producers around the world to provide a comprehensive coverage of conceptions and misconceptions and realities about constraints to small scale agriculture in developing countries. In the first chapters, Tinsley examines and refutes popular assumptions that smallholders are inefficient resource users who are highly risk averse, and poorly motivated, and shows how these misconceptions have led to ineffective or detrimental approaches to agricultural development. Concluding chapters discuss specific recommendations for supporting and assisting smallholders based on the reality of smallholder agriculture.
Tinsley identifies physical, economic, and social factors that determine types of smallholder agricultural enterprises and the management of those enterprises. Land tenure is an extremely important factor and merits a chapter of its own. Most development efforts have focused on physical factors. Direct assistance to farmers needs to address the factors that farmers have some control over, although indirect assistance has more potential to improve farmer well being.
Support services to enable smallholders to enhance crop management and productivity are provided by a combination of public agencies and private individuals and companies. The author argues that the public sector tends to focus on keeping food prices low to support the urban population, and this urban bias reduces the ability of the public sector to provide effective support to small scale agriculture. Support to individual farmers in terms of inputs, markets and credit is best provided by the private sector. This section is enhanced by case studies illustrating the author’s arguments.
Transfer of specific technologies including sustainable agriculture, mechanization, and irrigation are examined. Farmer acceptance of more sustainable agriculture will depend on the development of a more favorable economic environment, and when practices such as integrated pest management which offer direct economic benefits to the smallholders are more likely to be adopted.
Tinsley concludes with recommendations for providing the most effective assistance at both public and private levels. At the public level, government is most effective at providing infrastructure and setting policy, such as ceiling prices, that which create s a favorable production environment. Given that smallholders are effectively utilizing the resources available to them, assistance that enhances the use of those resources through labor substituting technologies, such as mechanization and irrigation, is most likely to be effective. The private sector is best suited to provide this type of support. Donors are ultimately in the best position to support smallholders. Rather than supporting unsustainable public sector capacity building, donors need to “develop ways to get past the government” to support building the capacity of the private sector to provide resource enhancement and crop production support facilities.
The author says “different chapters can be used as a textbook for students, a handbook for extension workers, and a resource book for development practitioners, researchers, and policy makers.” Indeed, Tinsley has managed to condense the most important lessons learned in thirty years of experience in small scale agricultural development in a format which is accessible to a wide range of audiences from lay people to experienced practitioners.
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National Center for Appropriate Technology