Many agricultural and natural resource management practices are increasingly implicated in environmental deterioration around the world. The symptoms include soil erosion and other forms of soil degradation, deforestation and desertification, declining water quality and availability, the disruption of hydrogeological cycles, and the loss of biological diversity. Land use practices may also be affecting regional and global climatic patterns. These interrelated phenomena, in turn, can lead to losses in agricultural productivity at local and regional levels, and they raise concerns about food security, food quality, public health, and other long-term development issues.
The symptoms and human costs of environmental deterioration are evident everywhere to varying degrees, but they are of special concern in the developing nations of the tropics, where soils are often shallow, highly weathered, low in fertility, and easily eroded; where agricultural ecosystems are subject to a greater number and variety of diseases, weeds, and other pests; where biological diversity is so remarkably rich—and at greatest risk; and where economic constraints and development needs are most pressing.
The size of the human population is expected to increase by 1 billion people—the equivalent of an additional China—each decade well into the next century. Most of this growth will occur in developing nations, where the limits of available arable land are being reached. In light of these expectations, environmental quality and economic development can no longer be considered separately.
THE CONCEPT OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Sustainable agriculture is a relatively recent response to these environmental and economic concerns. Early discussions of the concept stressed
the importance of the renewal capacity of agricultural ecosystems and claimed that many conventional agricultural practices were detrimental to this capacity. Out of further discussion has emerged an approach to agriculture that incorporates the principles of ecology by emphasizing interactions among and within all the components of agroecosystems (including, by definition, the social and economic components).
As more individuals and organizations have begun to recognize the need for adjustments to conventional agriculture that are environmentally, socially, and economically compatible, the phrase sustainable agriculture has come to connote approaches to agriculture that provide for the needs of current and future generations while conserving natural resources. Indeed, a major development in the past decade has been the emerging recognition on the part of agricultural production and environmental management groups that they share common, rather than competing, goals. In this context, sustainable agriculture is often used to refer to agriculture and all its interactions with society and the greater environment; as such, it can be considered a vital component of current discussions of sustainable development.
The literature offers hundreds of definitions of sustainable agriculture, virtually all of which incorporate the following characteristics: long-term maintenance of natural resources and agricultural productivity, minimal adverse environmental impacts, adequate economic returns to farmers, optimal crop production with minimized chemical inputs, satisfaction of human needs for food and income, and provision for the social needs of farm families and communities. All definitions, in other words, explicitly promote environmental, economic, and social goals in their efforts to clarify and interpret the meaning of sustainability. In addition, all definitions implicitly suggest the need to ensure flexibility within agroecosystems in order to respond effectively to stresses. These characteristics of sustainable agriculture provide a framework and suggest an agenda for the evolution of agriculture and natural resource management to meet the needs of changing societies and environments.
THE RESEARCH CHALLENGE
Fundamentally, achieving sustainable agriculture under the mounting pressure of human population growth will demand that the world's agricultural productive capacity be enhanced while its resource base is conserved. If the well-being of the world's less advantaged people is to improve in any lasting sense, long-range concerns about food security and the health of natural resources must be addressed in planning future economic and social development. Research on sustainable agriculture and natural resource management will be essential to this task. More specifically, researchers must devote greater attention to developing integrated cropping, livestock, and
other production systems—and the specific farming practices within these systems—that enhance (or, at minimum, do not degrade) the structure and functioning of the broader agroecosystem. Most agricultural research focuses on single commodities, components, or disciplines within agriculture. More research is needed that approaches agriculture in an integrated, interdisciplinary manner.
The Need for a Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program
The collaborative research support programs (CRSPs) of the Agency for International Development (AID) are the main mechanisms through which U.S. universities implement Title XII of the International Development and Food Assistance Act of 1975, which supports agricultural research of benefit to developing countries and the United States. To date, eight CRSPs have been established. They are focusing their research efforts on specific commodities (sorghum and millet, beans and cowpeas, and peanuts), livestock (small ruminants), soils, fisheries, aquaculture, and human nutrition. The distinguished research record of these CRSPs, and their important contributions to solving agricultural problems, are recognized worldwide.
The importance and timeliness of research into sustainable agriculture and natural resource management, and the need for integrated approaches to this research, demand that a new CRSP be implemented as soon as possible. Moreover, sustainability and agroecological considerations are so important and central to attaining development goals that they should be fundamental to planning and carrying out all the agricultural and natural resource programs that AID supports. Thus, the new CRSP should not be viewed as the only AID sustainable agriculture activity; all other AID-supported activities, including the existing CRSPs, address various aspects of sustainability, and they must continue to do so. The new CRSP should complement these existing efforts and add a critical dimension of integration as the core activity of a comprehensive Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (SANREM) program. The program, proposed herein, should include the CRSP and related collaborative research activities funded by AID. It should serve to stimulate and support innovative, integrated systemsbased collaborative research into the ecological and socioeconomic characteristics of sustainable agriculture and natural resource management within the world's major agroecosystems.
Commitment to Systems-Based Research
Across all systems, sustainability implies the securing of a durable, favorable balance of economic and environmental costs and benefits. An
integrated systems approach, whether defined formally or informally, is therefore essential to all research under the proposed SANREM program. The research location should encompass a landscape or political unit of sufficient size and diversity to support studies of all the principal determinants of sustainability within the agroecosystem. To the fullest extent possible, farmers should actively participate in each phase of the research process, from initial planning and testing to technology development, dissemination, and other extension-related activities. An appropriate balance of university research station and farmer-field effort is recommended. Because considerable attention is already being given to input-intensive agroecosystems, efforts should be directed primarily, but not exclusively, to the more fragile agroecosystems.
The SANREM effort would benefit not only the developing countries in which it is conducted and to which it is directed, but also the United States, through the development of more effective research methodologies, the training of U.S. researchers, and the acquisition of results pertinent to the sustainability of U.S. agriculture and natural resources.
Commitment to Interdisciplinary Inquiry
The goal of sustainability and the scientific questions it raises are complex. Accordingly, research conducted under the SANREM program should involve natural, agricultural, and social scientists who have a commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry. This commitment must be shared by collaborating institutions and local governments if the program is to succeed.
Research should take into consideration all the basic elements involved in agricultural systems performance (including soil and water resources, tillage and cultivation methods, cropping patterns, animal husbandry, nutrient management, and pest management), but it should devote attention to additional components (such as aquaculture and farm forestry) as appropriate. Resource policies and other institutional factors play a critical role in determining the choices that farmers make and, hence, the sustainability of farming systems. Accordingly, research must also be directed to the socioeconomic and policy context within which farmers make their decisions.
Knowledge of all relevant components and their interactions is fundamental to understanding the functioning and management of agroecosystems. However, this knowledge is often inadequately integrated or lacking altogether. Greater understanding of the sustainability of agroecosystems will require that all relevant factors be researched, and that they be researched together.
It is not possible to prescribe here recommendations or research priorities for specific locations. The conditions conducive to sustainability in any
particular agroecosystem, or at any particular site, will differ depending on the constraints, opportunities, and interrelationships among various factors at that location. However, certain factors —soil conditions, water quality and availability, biodiversity, nutrient cycling, pest pressures, cultural traditions, economic incentives, and public policy—affect all sites and agroecosystems, and together they help determine the sustainability of the system. Thus, the SANREM program should encourage an approach to research that emphasizes these cross-cutting ecological and socioeconomic concerns.
Special attention should be given to the following areas of inquiry, which are the least understood and least researched topics common to all agroecosystems. Integrated pest management seeks to control pre- and postharvest weeds, arthropod and vertebrate pests, and pathogens using biological and cultural techniques along with minimal levels of synthetic pesticides. Integrated nutrient management seeks to provide plant nutrients through the optimal use of on-farm biological resources (including manures, plant rotations, cropping patterns, and legumes) and, where necessary, purchased inputs. Integrated pest and nutrient management depend on conserving biological diversity and soil organic matter and, thus, on a sound understanding of biological processes and ecological interactions.
Greater attention should also be given to research on integrated institutional management, including a production economics component, to guide the complex interactions between food and fiber production and the policy, trade, and political environments. The social, political, and institutional contexts within which both on-farm and off-farm activities take place must also be given greater attention to identify those opportunities that can be reinforced, and those constraints that can be removed, to promote sustainability. This calls for a strong and innovative social science component in the research design that is focused on the institutional and policy conditions that influence on-farm resource management patterns. This research should address issues of gender and age, the impact of production alternatives on social structure, and ways to strengthen critical human resources, including especially local and indigenous knowledge. If the adoption of more sustainable methods and technologies should involve hardship for some local farmers, such results should be anticipated, forthrightly acknowledged, and studied with a view toward amelioration.
THE GRANT PROGRAM
Progress toward the objectives of the proposed SANREM program should be furthered through competitive research grants. (To support research activities, AID employs contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants. In this report, grant is used generically to refer to all of these mechanisms.) No single, established model exists for the successful conduct of the integrated,
multidisciplinary research and development efforts that the SANREM program would require. Thus, the grant program should be designed so that maximum reliance is placed on the ingenuity of the researchers who will do the work. Innovative research design, reflecting creative approaches to the full range of sustainability issues, should be the key criterion for research sponsored under this program. Research proposals should reflect this in following the guidelines and meeting the requirements set forth below. A competitive, peer-review granting process is the most effective means of identifying research proposals that meet these criteria and requirements.
Three types of competitive grants should be made available under the SANREM program: research planning grants, a research core grant, and research support grants.
Research planning grants should support enhanced interdisciplinary interaction, on-site visits to potential host countries, and the development of links with cooperating institutions in the process of preparing and refining proposals for the research core grant. A maximum of six planning grants of up to $50,000 each per institution or consortium should be awarded during the initial year of the program.
A research core grant should support a long-term, full-scale interdisciplinary collaborative research program (the SANREM CRSP) on sustainable agriculture and natural resource management in one or more of the world's principal agroecosystems. It should be awarded in the second year of the program at a level of about $2.5 million annually.
Research support grants should support research of direct and immediate relevance to the goals of the SANREM program within other collaborative research programs, including existing CRSPs. Two types are recommended: type A, to be awarded by the CRSP management entity as soon as the SANREM CRSP is established; and type B, to be awarded directly by the AID Bureau for Science and Technology as soon as possible. A limited number of grants of up to $100,000 per year should be awarded for an initial 3-year period.
Research conducted under the SANREM program would demand a broad range of expertise and international experience in the natural, agricultural, and social sciences. To be successful, projects may require the involvement of organizations and institutions that are not currently Title XII program participants. All colleges and universities should be eligible to receive SANREM program funds, and subcontracts should be available to other
groups with the requisite expertise, including private voluntary, nongovernmental, and other private sector organizations. The SANREM program should capitalize on the research and development capabilities of the entire U.S. system and of diverse collaborators in developing countries. Since collaboration with host country institutions would be essential to achieving SANREM goals, subcontracts with relevant developing country entities would be encouraged.
Content of Research Proposals
In evaluating grant proposals, and thereafter in monitoring and evaluating funded research, AID should require that applicants provide information and demonstrate capacities as indicated in the following list:
description of research location and site description;
significance of research and site;
problem description and research methodology;
systems-based approaches to ecological and socioeconomic research;
capacity for interdisciplinary research;
capacity to develop technologies and disseminate knowledge;
collaborative arrangements among U.S. and host country institutions;
information about researchers and other collaborators; and
Proposals for research planning grants and the research core grant should meet the same set of requirements to the fullest degree possible. Research support grant proposals, on the other hand, should meet those requirements from among this list as necessary to augment their established research agenda.
To achieve the grant objectives, AID should observe the following procedures in administering the grant program:
Current CRSP guidelines, with modifications as needed to meet the broader SANREM program goals, should be followed and made available to all potential applicants.
Expanded planning grant proposals can serve as final core grant proposals, but core grant applicants should not be required to have applied for, or to have received, a planning grant.
The awarding of type B research support grants should neither hinder nor promote the eligibility of the same institution for the core grant.
All SANREM grant applicants should be required to adhere to the special concerns guidelines for research grants required by AID's Program
in Science and Technology Cooperation (Agency for International Development, 1990). These guidelines, which pertain to the handling of genetic materials, pesticides, radioactive and other hazardous materials, and other concerns, should be made available to all potential applicants.
In awarding the research planning grants and research support grants, and in selecting the core grant recipient and management entity, the timetable outlined in Chapter 4 (Table 4-1 ) should be followed.
The establishment of the proposed SANREM program, and the competitive grants it would make available, would provide focus and support for collaborative research on agricultural sustainability. Although the need for new approaches, innovative experimental designs, and integrated training in support of sustainable agriculture and natural resource management has been recognized for some time, the institutional and financial means to implement responses have been scarce. Research of the kind needed is long term and complex, requiring sustained commitment that a new collaborative research support program can provide. Although a modest step given the extent of the challenge, the establishment of the SANREM program should catalyze support from other parts of AID and from other donor agencies, and contribute directly to developing sustainable agricultural systems and natural resource management strategies.