Topic Area: Agriculture
Geographic Area: Zambia
Focal Question: Has Zambia's Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) approach to agricultural expansion facilitated sustainable development?
(1) Bezuneh, M., Ames, G.C.W., and Mabbs-Zeno, C., 1995. "Sustainable agricultural development using a farming systems approach in Zambia". Ecological Economics, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 149-156.
(2) World Bank, 1980-1994. World Bank Development Report. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Reviewer: Marc Small, Colby College '96

According to the World Bank, over the last twenty years agricultural production in Zambia has accounted for, on average, only fourteen percent of total GDP. In comparison, industrial production and manufacturing, combined, have made up approximately eighty three percent of total GDP over the last twenty years. Clearly, the agricultural industry is not one of the most economically powerful industries in Zambia. Consequently, the Zambian government has neglected the agricultural industry in order to pay more attention to the politically and economically influential industries such as manufacturing and industrial production.

Since the 1970's, Zambia has relied on simple, relatively inexpensive agricultural research programs to enhance agricultural productivity. In the early stages of the research programs, research was conducted in order to develop productivity enhancing technologies (i.e. fertilizers, pesticides and capital intensive crops). During this period, research took place on research stations, which did not imitate the typical conditions of a Zambian farmer's fields. In general, the research programs were designed by wealthy bureaucrats, who were only interested in fast results, and short term productivity gains.

By the late 1970's, the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development recognized that the needs of small scale and traditional farmers were not being appropriately addressed by the previously implemented research programs. In 1978, with the help of CGIAR (The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), the Zambian government implemented the Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) approach to agricultural development.

The FSR/E approach to agricultural development involves development and implementation of production technologies for the traditional and small scale farming sectors. The FSR/E methodology relies on provincial Adaptive Research Planning Teams (ARPT) to carry out the appropriate farming system research. Each provincial ARPT has at least one agronomist, one economist, and one research extension liaison officer, who acts as the middleman between the farmer and the ARPT. In addition, each team is supported by a national ARPT rural sociologist and nutritionist (Bezuneh et al. 151).

In Zambia, significant differences exist among traditional and small scale farmers within each province. For example, the type and degree of technology requirement varies with each farmer. In order to take these differences into account, the Adaptive Research Planning Teams developed specific technology recommendation domains for each farmer. These domains were defined on the basis of wealth, risk aversion and level of mechanization. In the Central Province, recommendation domains existed with the following criteria: (1) low wealth, high risk aversion and manual tillage; (2) intermediate wealth, intermediate risk aversion and manual/oxen tillage; (3) relatively wealthy, low risk aversion and oxen/tractor tillage (Bezuneh et al. 151). Such criteria made up the basis for developing appropriate production technologies for each farmer.

Since it's implementation, the Zambian Farming System Research and Extension approach to agricultural development has achieved significant productivity gains in several Zambian provinces. For example, in the Central Province, the development of an improved bean variety (Carioca) has produced significantly higher yields than the farmers' own local variety. Also, the implementation of no till technology in the Central Province has proven to be highly efficient, especially during the critical period of crop establishment when labor is scarce. With these gains in productivity have come higher farm income. In the Central Province, for example, the improved bean variety generated over 61 percent higher income than the previously used local bean variety (Bezuneh et al. 153).

Although the Zambian FSR/E approach to agricultural development has achieved some success, there is little indication that the FSR/E program promotes sustainable agriculture. The FSR/E program, like Zambia's original research programs, has continued to emphasize fast results and the meeting of farmers short term needs. Productivity gains have often come through the expansion of cultivated land. Far too often, this expansion has been into marginally productive areas that are susceptible to soil erosion. Also, the Adaptive Research Planning Teams have placed too much emphasis on developing environmentally harmful, capital intensive technologies such as toxic fertilizers and pesticides. According to the World Bank, fertilizer consumption in Zambia more than doubled between 1970 and 1987. Not enough emphasis has been placed on developing "farming systems that are compatible with the particular environmental attributes constraining small scale producers" (Bezuneh et al. 153).

The FSR/E approach to agricultural development in Zambia has adequately addressed the agricultural productivity issues of small scale and traditional farmers, but has, unfortunately, overlooked the concept of sustainable agricultural development. What could be done so as to incorporate sustainability onto the FSR/E approach? In general, reform of the current FSR/E system should include changes which incorporate natural resource management issues into agricultural development strategies. In order for this to occur, the Adaptive Research Planning Teams must first become familiar with the concept of sustainable agricultural development. Researchers must gain an understanding of farmers needs for long term food security. Finally, there must be more coordination between the research teams and the farmers they are trying to help.

Once researchers understand farmers' needs and realize the long term importance of sustainable agricultural development, they will be more likely to design farming systems that are compatible with the particular constraints (i.e. financial, environmental) on each farmer. More emphasis will be placed on achieving improvements in productivity, through the development and implementation of low input technologies (i.e. organic and green manure, and non capital intensive crops).

Sustainability has been defined in a number of ways. According to Bezuneh et al., sustainability in agriculture "reflects a sense of intergenerational obligation to manage agricultural resources so that subsequent generations can continue to produce food and fiber at acceptable costs" (150). It has been shown that the Zambian FSR/E approach to agricultural development has failed to take into account the issues of sustainability. The Zambian system has placed too much emphasis on meeting the short term needs of small scale and traditional farmers. If the Zambian FSR/E system is to be sustainable, both short term and long term development issues must be addressed.

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