Considerations and Criteria for the SANREM Program Design
The establishment of the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (SANREM) program would foster creative approaches to sustainable agriculture and natural resource management at the Agency for International Development (AID). It should build on the efforts of previous programs and work as far as possible with them in defining sustainability issues that involve as much of AID's research and related activities as possible. The nature of this task would require the SANREM program to adopt an approach to research that integrates the various disciplines in determining priorities that focus on the health of the entire agroecological system.
A research proposal and granting structure for the SANREM program should encourage the above qualities by providing a framework for the optimal mixture of specialized expertise and systemswide perspective, as outlined previously. In the review of grant proposals, weight should be given to creativity in the design of research that promises new insights into the physical, biological, and chemical bases of agroecosystem interactions; that examines the impact of those interactions on productivity; and that addresses social, cultural, environmental, and institutional issues in innovative ways.
The research approach must take into account those factors that influence the ability of people to improve their livelihood, income, and health. It must make use of and strengthen existing pools of indigenous knowledge available for the design and adoption of sustainable production systems. Research projects should seek to understand how physical, biological, economic, and social factors interact and must be balanced to manage agroecosystems in a sustainable manner. The SANREM program should primarily
seek to promote research that adds to this understanding and that works with the farmer and across disciplines and institutions to fashion the tools, perfect the techniques, and design the farming systems that can shape a sustainable future.
Suggestions for research in four agroecological zones (the humid tropics, semiarid range and savannah, hill lands, and input-intensive systems) are summarized in Appendix D of this report. This material is included with the caution that, in focusing attention on a specific agroecosystem, the broad commonalities among all agroecosystems and their interrelationships must be kept in mind. In SANREM program activities, the agroecological zone should serve mainly as a tool for organizing and implementing new strategies in the investigation of common properties and processes; namely, the functions of on-farm and off-farm biodiversity; soil and water management; the role of biological nutrient flow and cycling in enhancing fertility; and the human dimension of sustainability, including especially the role and impact of farmer-consumer relationships, infrastructure, institutions and their management, land tenure patterns, gender roles, and agricultural and natural resource policies and programs. Similarly, in all agroecosystems, inputs can be characterized according to their nature and impact. Within each zone, the level (high or low), source (farm or purchased), and relationships of inputs should be addressed in the experimental design.
The primary aim of the proposed SANREM program is to stimulate and support innovative, integrated systems-based research that will lead to the identification and development of sustainable agricultural production systems. This research must address all agroecological factors in devising cropping, livestock, and other food production systems—and specific farming practices within such systems—that are capable of improving human welfare, countering the detrimental effects of current agricultural practices and policies, and conserving natural resources as pressures on the global resource base increase. This effort will 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.
The sustainability of any agroecosystem is influenced by many factors —social, economic, biological, and environmental. Some of the factors, such as nutrient management, the control of pests, and the influence of policies and institutions, are common around the world. Others are regional and require that questions be resolved and measures adopted on the basis of the unique geographical, ecological, historical, political, social, and economic
circumstances at a given site. Sustainability implies the securing of a durable, favorable balance of economic and environmental costs and benefits within the context of the system as a whole. The objective is to increase the per capita productivity of farming systems and the long-term ability of the farmer to meet family, local, and regional livelihood and economic goals. Progress will ultimately depend on the ability to engage human ingenuity in the maintenance and enhancement of the natural resource base—its diversity, fertility, stability, and renewal capacity.
An integrated systems approach, whether formally or informally defined as such, will be essential to all research under this 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. Because considerable attention is already being given to input-intensive agroecosystems, efforts should be directed primarily, but not exclusively, to the more fragile agroecosystems.
A major aim of the SANREM program would be to design and field test systems of sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. Research, thus, must illuminate the principles and theory that underlie sustainability. Those general principles and theory can then be applied to specific situations across broad ecological zones. Knowledge of the effects of system structure is crucial to managing systems for biological stability, environmental protection, improved efficiency of resource use, and greater productivity. Research should test improved technologies for cropping systems. The knowledge needed can only be gained over a relatively long period of time—at least 10 to 15 years under most circumstances. However, specific test results and recommendations should be available within the first 3 to 5 years. At the same time, the problem focus will be sharpened, and crucial experience will be gained in assembling and managing complex international, multidisciplinary research efforts.
In carrying out these functions, the SANREM program will lend needed support and recognition to interdisciplinary research and the publication of results in peer-reviewed journals. The goal of sustainability and the scientific problems it raises are complex. Accordingly, research 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.
The implicit involvement of students and other training activities should contribute to strengthening institutional capacities in the host country. It is expected that the SANREM program would include elements that have a significant degree and nondegree training component. The U.S. institution
or consortium of institutions participating in the SANREM Collaborative Research Support Program should have the necessary scientific capability, field experience, and training capacity to form working agreements with relevant international and national institutions to effect the needed research.
CRITICAL AREAS OF INQUIRY
Research should take into consideration all the basic elements involved in agricultural system 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. The approach to research therefore should emphasize the following cross-cutting ecological and socioeconomic concerns.
Four research areas are common to all agroecosystems, and they provide the framework within which projects can address the broad range of issues relating to sustainable agriculture and natural resource management. They are integrated pest management, integrated nutrient management, the social, political, and institutional context, and integrated institutional management.
Increased concern for environmental and human safety and for the long-term sustainability of agricultural production systems has given added incentive and importance to one area of research with a strong legacy of innovation—integrated pest management (IPM). Over the past 30 years, IPM has built a solid record of research and demonstration of pest management methods that are less costly and more flexible, reduce the human health and environmental effects of synthetic pesticides, successfully combat pest resistance, and help to ensure viable, consistent yields.
As the SANREM program seeks to advance sustainable agriculture and resource management, IPM will assume an even more critical role. Many of the regions where sustainability is most at risk are areas where pest pressures (from weeds, insects, and pathogens, as well as pre- and postharvest vertebrate pests) are most persistent and safe, affordable, and accessible control methods are most needed.
Traditionally, the aim of most IPM programs has been to use multiple
chemical, biological, and cultural tactics to maintain pest damage below the economic injury level while providing protection against hazards to humans, animals, plants, and the overall environment. In practice, there has been a lack of true integration in managing inputs for the control of injurious arthropods, diseases, weeds, and other pests. To achieve this goal IPM must be integrated with sustainable agriculture and resource management. More research is needed into fundamental ecological relations and management techniques involving pests and their hosts, parasites, predators, and antagonists; cultural and biological pest controls; and other factors that determine the ultimate impact of pests.
Integrated nutrient management is concerned with the integration of chemical, biological, and cultural sources of nutrients essential for crop production. Although the concept is applicable in all systems, it is of particular importance, in an operational sense, to the poorer soils that predominate in the tropics. Traditional agricultural systems depend on the use of organic nutrient sources, including animal and green manures, crop residues, legume crops, crop rotations, agroforestry, and fallows. Such cultural methods provide other benefits, including improved soil tilth and water-holding capacity, enrichment of soil biota, more efficient binding and release of mineral nutrients, and protection against persistent weeds, diseases, and other pests. Dependence on excessive chemical inputs can have a negative effect on these important factors.
Much of the recent interest in sustainable agriculture has grown out of concern over the agronomic, environmental, and economic costs of increased reliance on off-farm sources of nutrient inputs. The authors of the 1989 National Research Council report Alternative Agriculture point out that “efforts to provide adequate nutrition to crops continue to be hindered by inadequate understanding and forecasting of factors that influence nutrient storage, cycling, accessibility, uptake and use by crops during the growing season. As a result, farmers often follow broad guidelines that lead to insufficient or excessive fertilization” (National Research Council, 1989a:144).
This situation is not unique to high-input cropping systems in the United States. Inadequate understanding of the ecological dynamics of nutrient cycling in all agroecosystems hinders progress toward more efficient and effective integrated nutrient management strategies. This progress must be achieved to take full advantage of all nutrient inputs—chemical, biological, and cultural—and to cut nutrient loss. Integrated nutrient and integrated pest management are basic to crop and animal integration for sustainability, and they relate directly to the important roles that biological diversity and the availability of organic matter play in sustainability.
The social, political, and institutional contexts within which on-farm and off-farm activities take place must be given full attention by researchers if they are to identify and suggest remedial steps that can help remove con-
straints to sustainability. This must include attention to land tenure issues, property rights, the social and environmental impacts of policy, and economic incentives and disincentives.
Attention to these concerns will demand a strong and innovative social science component in the research design, the focus of which should be 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 the base of native 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.
All of the considerations above suggest the need for integrated institutional management, including a production economics component. Such management is needed to guide the complex interactions between food and fiber production and the policy, trade, and political environment.
The four focus areas of SANREM research must proceed concurrently as research projects mature. Projects should focus attention on agroecosystems in a manner that enhances stability, environmental protection, and resource conservation. Work on integrated pest management and integrated nutrient management will be central to this effort in that they seek to understand technically how to optimize the use of on-farm and, where necessary, purchased inputs while conserving the soil and water resource base. The social science work will be central to understanding how the people in both farm and nonfarm sectors view the systems and to identifying the policies and incentives needed to sustain them. These perspectives must be integrated at the time research is initiated, and not added as an afterthought, if results are to be meaningful and applicable.
Research needs in these areas will depend on the specific site conditions and the specific changes required there. However, a broadened systems approach is needed to define specific needs and to apply the findings. The goal is to realize the biological production potential of the area while ensuring social and economic viability, environmental quality, and resource conservation. The trade-offs among environmentally friendly technology, enhanced farm family income, and increased capital or input investment can then be better understood. That understanding, in turn, will permit local and national decisions to be made according to development objectives.