5
Conclusions

This committee was charged to review the constraints on productive and environmentally sound soil and water management and to outline a research strategy for addressing these problems in the developing countries. The imperative for this activity arises from the ever-increasing pressures on soil and water resources caused by escalating world populations and changes in markets. The implications of possible changes in the global climate adds another dimension to these stresses.

The committee finds that the fundamental problems of soil and water management are predictable and, in many cases, solutions can be developed. However, soil and water management are not, and cannot be, "stand alone" issues. Rather, they are components in the overall fabric of resource use to meet basic human needs, and thus should be addressed within the context of whole farm and overall societal interests. Consequently, soil and water research should interact with all elements of the land use system and should be focused not only on solving immediate crop production problems but also on ensuring long-term preservation of these vital natural resources. Continued, increased attention to population issues, of course, is also critical.

Accomplishing this goal will require changes in our traditional approach to problem-solving. Researchers increasingly must cross the boundaries of their individual disciplines; they must broaden their perspective to see the merits of local forms of knowledge; and they must took to the farmer—the ultimate client for their information—for help in defining a practical context for research. This change in vision is under way to various degrees already, but the pace of change is slow.

This chapter presents highlights of the committee's deliberations on the mechanisms needed to speed progress toward sustainable approaches to agriculture and natural resource management. This framework of ideas is presented as broad conclusions rather than detailed recommendations with the hope that they will spark internal debate, and perhaps change,



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Toward Sustainability: Soil and Water Research Priorities for Developing Countries 5 Conclusions This committee was charged to review the constraints on productive and environmentally sound soil and water management and to outline a research strategy for addressing these problems in the developing countries. The imperative for this activity arises from the ever-increasing pressures on soil and water resources caused by escalating world populations and changes in markets. The implications of possible changes in the global climate adds another dimension to these stresses. The committee finds that the fundamental problems of soil and water management are predictable and, in many cases, solutions can be developed. However, soil and water management are not, and cannot be, "stand alone" issues. Rather, they are components in the overall fabric of resource use to meet basic human needs, and thus should be addressed within the context of whole farm and overall societal interests. Consequently, soil and water research should interact with all elements of the land use system and should be focused not only on solving immediate crop production problems but also on ensuring long-term preservation of these vital natural resources. Continued, increased attention to population issues, of course, is also critical. Accomplishing this goal will require changes in our traditional approach to problem-solving. Researchers increasingly must cross the boundaries of their individual disciplines; they must broaden their perspective to see the merits of local forms of knowledge; and they must took to the farmer—the ultimate client for their information—for help in defining a practical context for research. This change in vision is under way to various degrees already, but the pace of change is slow. This chapter presents highlights of the committee's deliberations on the mechanisms needed to speed progress toward sustainable approaches to agriculture and natural resource management. This framework of ideas is presented as broad conclusions rather than detailed recommendations with the hope that they will spark internal debate, and perhaps change,

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Toward Sustainability: Soil and Water Research Priorities for Developing Countries within the relevant research organizations and development assistance organizations. The issues fall into five categories: (1) the better use of existing knowledge; (2) the importance of new approaches to research that link traditionally discrete elements; (3) the use of both scientific and indigenous knowledge; (4) the need for a periodic reassessment of priorities for research; and (5) current high priority research areas. Use of Existing Knowledge A major constraint on progress in solving soil and water problems in the developing world is the limited application of known principles and techniques. Years of experience and experimentation have given rise to a fairly good understanding of these basic principles, yet our ability to apply this knowledge to solve problems in the complex local and cultural settings of the tropics is weak. One reason for this deficiency is the difficulty encountered in transferring information between temperate and tropical environments. Judging what information is appropriate takes a special understanding of both environments and their people. Another important factor is institutional: sustainable agriculture is not a high priority within many universities and research institutions, whether in the developing or developed world. Therefore: Research organizations and individual researchers should be encouraged and funded to synthesize available information into formats and languages useful to policymakers for strategic planning and forms useful to activists working at the production level (e.g., extension agents, representatives of private voluntary organizations, and producer associations and cooperatives). The Need for a Change in the Research Paradigm Traditional, typically single-discipline approaches to research brought great progress in the past, but this research paradigm is inappropriate for the types of problems that must be addressed to develop and implement sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. Developing sound land use practices for marginal lands, expanding production on quality lands, and restoring degraded lands all require a systems approach to research. Single-discipline research has an inherent limitation when used to address problems with complex scopes. Past approaches also tended to distance the researcher from the ultimate recipient of the information—the farmer. These problems affect the whole research establishment and not isolated funding agencies. Ways must be found to encourage more collabo

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Toward Sustainability: Soil and Water Research Priorities for Developing Countries rative, interdisciplinary research, and to reward efforts to investigate the linkages between components that make sustainability questions particularly complex. The shift in paradigm should encourage more on-farm interactions and a vision of the farm not just as a producer of commodities but as a system. In particular, the links between physical and social issues, between agriculture and environmental issues, and between commodity approaches and ecosystem approaches deserve attention. Therefore: Research organizations should develop incentives to encourage collaborative, interdisciplinary research focused on bridging the gap between scientific principles and field-level application of knowledge. Universities, other research organizations, and professional societies should, as a matter of urgency, increase professional recognition for contributions in interdisciplinary and international areas. Specialists working in the commodity-focused CRSPs should seek ways to integrate their knowledge into work on sustainability questions. Research organizations should work to develop integrative, systems models to address the soil and water problems critical to long-term natural resource management. Links Between Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge When two libraries are available, each containing a different wealth of information, both should be used. Many insights about methods of managing agriculture and natural resources are available from local people. Although trial and error is a slow process, it has served farmers for generations and still has lessons to share. Often, indigenous knowledge can guide researchers in the selection of pertinent research questions. It can provide a base upon which more analytical, precise scientific investigations can be built. Indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge can be blended to bring about practical new techniques. What is needed is more than simple inventories, it is the additional steps of analysis and evaluation that the scientific method can provide. Yet, in most cases these types of knowledge are rarely combined in effective ways. Therefore: Research organizations should sponsor efforts to document and scientifically validate local indigenous knowledge. The documentation should include collection and analysis of indigenous methods and technologies, such as information on classification of soils, water harvesting techniques, land management protocols, and cropping systems. Promising technologies should be evaluated and the possibilities for local improvement and adaptation to other locations explored.

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Toward Sustainability: Soil and Water Research Priorities for Developing Countries The Process of Setting Priorities Although it is important to define a clear set of priorities to guide soil and water research, the process of setting those priorities may in time prove to be more important than any specific list of issues. Priorities change over time. Agricultural systems evolve, as does our knowledge of them. Hence it is critical that the selection of research priorities be an ongoing process. Research priorities should be reviewed periodically and adjusted to serve the most urgent issues at hand. A framework is necessary to evaluate and revise soil and water research priorities to keep them flexible and responsive. The process should include mechanisms so the research is driven by client need, which would require a carefully designed feedback system. Therefore: A clear mechanism should be established to ensure that a recurrent priority-setting process occurs, perhaps by delegation to an existing institution that is close to the research environment. To be most effective, the priority-setting process should begin with attention to regional needs by defining regional priorities. Whatever the mechanism used for this task, it should involve the combined assessment of researchers, change agents, research users, and funding agencies. Current Research Priorities Increasing stress on the world's agricultural systems necessitates a strong emphasis on improving agricultural production and also makes attention to the long-term stewardship of the earth's natural resource base imperative. Sustainable agricultural systems must maintain and enhance both biological and economic productivity. They must be stable and resilient. To be acceptable to the people who must use them, such systems must be economically viable over the short and long term, and must be socially compatible with the needs of the local population as well as broader political agendas. Accomplishing these goals is no small task, and research of numerous types will be essential. Although the realm of potentially valuable research topics is vast, some focus is necessary to speed progress. From its deliberations, this committee selects the following broad research areas for priority attention during the 1990s: Institutional constraints on resource conservation; Soil biological processes; Management of soil characteristics;

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Toward Sustainability: Soil and Water Research Priorities for Developing Countries Water resource management; Matching crops to environments; and Incorporating social and cultural dimensions into research. Research to encourage the wise management of soil and water resources is critical to maintaining and enhancing agricultural productivity over the long term. The United States is in a position to provide leadership, offer technical and financial assistance, and encourage international cooperation to support this emphasis on sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. It will not be easy to implement integrated systems-based collaborative research into the ecological and socioeconomic characteristics of sustainable agriculture and natural resource management, but it is imperative.