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Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (1991)

Chapter: Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
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APPENDIX B

Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Research Collaboration

The first section of this appendix reviews the contributions of national and international organizations and U.S. universities to research on sustainable agriculture. The second section highlights the importance of increasing farmer participation in sustainable agriculture research, following which several strategies for effective collaborative research are outlined. The concluding section draws implications for the role of the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (SANREM) program in advancing sustainable agriculture.

INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH ON SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

The Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) on SANREM to be established by the Agency for International Development (AID) will be an important contributor to the effort to promote sustainable agriculture and

This discussion is based on two background papers prepared for the Forum on Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Research Management held in Washington, D.C., on November 13– 16, 1990: “Contributions of International Agricultural Research Centers, Agency for International Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, and U.S. Department of Agriculture to Sustainable Agriculture and Gaps in the Information Base,” by Charles B. McCants, professor emeritus, North Carolina State University; and “Forging Effective Broad-Based Linkages for Sustainable Agriculture Research Among Universities, International Agricultural Research Centers, National Agricultural Research Systems, Nongovernmental Organizations, and Farmers,” by Thomas B. Fricke, director, Guild for Sustainable Development, Marlboro, Vermont. Copies of these papers are available through the National Research Council's Board on Science and Technology for International Development.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
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natural resource management, but it will not be working alone, nor will it lack precedents to guide it in its task. On the contrary, the new program will be building on, working with, and working through other institutions that have long been committed to various aspects of sustainability. To understand better the function of the program, the institutional context in which it will operate, and the special role it can play, it is worthwhile to review how other institutions have taken on the challenge of research on sustainable agriculture.

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS

The growing recognition that human welfare, environmental concerns, and development strategies are fundamentally interconnected is reflected in the greater attention that established agricultural research institutions are devoting to sustainability. Under the broad rubric of sustainability, these institutions are initiating new projects, and integrating proven ones, in the necessary effort to introduce a broader and longer term systems perspective to agriculture and development. The SANREM program itself is an important expression of this process. The established research institutions can provide, and in many cases have long provided, the professional, educational, and scientific leadership that meeting the challenge of sustainable agriculture will require. Sustainable agriculture and resource management will, virtually by definition, demand the involvement of organizations and institutions beyond those that have traditionally undertaken agricultural research. This review of the principal agricultural research institutions, and of the role of private, voluntary, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), highlights the important initiatives that are under way in these sectors to explore and promote sustainability—initiatives that the new CRSP must draw on in developing its own agenda.

National Agricultural Research Systems

The national agricultural research systems (NARSs) are the main mechanisms through which national governments coordinate and conduct agricultural research. Often working closely with international agricultural research centers (IARCs; described below), NARSs obtain, develop, and adapt agricultural technologies and innovations to increase productivity. In the past few years, some NARSs have begun to address sustainability issues or to develop sustainable agriculture programs. This trend can be attributed to several factors: local environmental and economic problems associated with conventional systems, the positive results of farmer participation in research, and increased demand for assistance on the part of nongovernmental organizations, farmers, and others. This trend is particularly evident in West

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
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Africa, where NARSs lack resources and farmer participation is widely supported by nongovernmental organizations. Many other NARSs, however, continue to rely primarily on IARCs and universities for technologies, methodologies, and expertise.

The diversity of the NARSs makes it difficult to generalize about the status of their research efforts even within the principal geographic regions. The International Service for National Agricultural Research and others have reviewed the general status of the NARSs (see, for example, African Academy of Sciences, 1990; Hariri, 1990; Jain, 1990; and Senanayake, 1990). Although there are some striking examples of well-focused, mission-oriented interdisciplinary research, and even some long-term programs, that have important components that can contribute to understanding sustainable agriculture, few projects exhibit the types of integrated approach sought for the new CRSP across disciplines and institutions, and from farmer to policymaker. Many NARs, especially in Africa, lack the resources to undertake more than traditional commodity trials unless subsidized by international or bilateral donors.

International Agricultural Research Centers

The international agricultural research centers contribute significantly to the development of production systems and the technological base critical to sustainable agriculture. The IARCs were established in the 1960s and 1970s to complement NARS research on crops, commodities, and farming systems. Many of the initial centers (for example, the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo, Centro Internacional de la Papa, and the International Rice Research Institute) were commodity based and focused on developing and disseminating highly productive varieties and technology packages. A second group of centers (for example, Centro International de Agricultura Tropical, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) focused on improving multiple crops and cropping systems in specific agroecological zones or bioregions. The goal of all these centers is to improve agriculture in developing countries by using research as a tool for change. Of the 19 IARCs, 13 are members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of countries, international and regional organizations, and private foundations that support a worldwide system of agricultural research centers and programs.

The IARCs have had a major impact on agricultural production through the development of improved varieties of major crops (notably wheat, rice, and maize) that are grown in developing countries. The research efforts of the IARCs have also proven effective in improving the efficiency of water and fertilizer use, strengthening the overall performance of farming sys-

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

tems, and training developing country scientists. The CGIAR now recognizes that agricultural sustainability is a dynamic challenge that must be met by developing countries within the context of rapidly growing demands for food and fiber. The CGIAR has identified the following four major sustainability concerns that will provide the focus for its research (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, 1990).

  • Protection of the genetic base for agriculture. For the commodity-based research centers, this is considered to be a primary task. As improved cultivars are grown over wider ecosystems, a broader range of resistance to pests and ability to respond to environmental constraints become paramount. Maintaining the genetic base of future cultivars through protection and preservation of natural diversity thus becomes increasingly important.

  • Preserving the natural resource base. Although they recognize the importance of cultivars in achieving sustainable agriculture, the IARCs are aware of the critical role of the natural resource base. Accordingly, they have increased their efforts to ensure that current production methods do not undermine the ability of future generations to meet their natural resource needs. A central theme of the IARCs ' mission is to design agricultural systems that do not force a trade-off between current and future production, that is, systems that are sustainable even as they meet expanding production needs. The IARCs recognize that sustainability of agricultural production hinges on improved efforts to manage natural resources. Increasingly, they are recognizing the need for policies and programs that encourage soil and water conservation, long-term investments in improving common property resources, and the application of new techniques, such as conservation tillage.

  • Problems pertinent to less favorable environments. Most of the IARCs are giving increased priority to, and allocating more resources in support of, research that can help to resolve production and sustainability issues in agroecological settings where stress conditions are dominant. The current research strategies can be divided into two categories: (a) “research to raise and sustain output in high production systems in favorable environments such as irrigated areas or fertile rainfed areas” and (b) “research to meet the needs of farmers in areas where production is constrained by unfavorable agroecological conditions” (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, 1990). The increased emphasis on research in the second category is especially prominent in those IARCs established to serve marginal ecosystems (for example, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) and among nonaffiliated centers that were established to study particular production factors (for example, the International Board for Soil Research and Management and the Indian Council on Agricultural Research).

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
  • A further element is being added to research in those IARCs that have historically focused on increased yields of major cereals in irrigated and other favorable environments. For example, the research strategy of the International Rice Research Institute has evolved from one focused primarily on increasing aggregate rice production to one that balances regional production growth with the needs of poor farmers who depend on marginal ecosystems. The challenges of achieving sustainability in fragile areas are substantially different from those encountered in more intensive agricultural areas. It is unlikely that major breakthroughs will occur in any one crop, farming system, or input package that will result in sustained yield increases in such areas. Diversification may well offer the most attractive alternative. Consequently, research is being increasingly directed toward developing genetic traits conducive to raising productivity within integrated cropping and livestock systems that offer a higher probability of sustainability in marginal environments. This research concentrates on the development of cultivars that are suitable to adverse ecological conditions and that are compatible in mixed farming systems, but it also includes work on efficient mixed and relay cropping systems, crop and livestock interactions, agroforestry systems, and minimum tillage.

  • Sustainable agriculture and external inputs. The IARCs recognize that concerns of sustainability overlap concerns about reducing costs for poor farmers, and they have increased their efforts to develop a better understanding of how they can maximize the use of on-farm resources to increase agricultural production. Thus, more attention is being given to biological and ecological interactions, nutrient-cycling techniques, and organic matter and pest management practices that require a minimum of purchased inputs. More social science research is being conducted on how to enable farmers to deal more effectively with the political and economic constraints on sound natural resource management practices. The IARCs recognize the need for greater outreach and cooperation with organizations directly concerned with natural resource management and the application of scientific and technical information to sustainable agriculture.

In the future, the CGIAR centers plan to give greater emphasis to components of sustainable agriculture and to address the more complicated, multidisciplinary issues of agroecosystem management, long-term measurement of sustainability, and interactions between technology and institutional policy (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, 1990). More broadly, their contributions to sustainable agriculture will likely concentrate on activities they have always done well: (a) developing genotypes that permit greater efficiency in the use of the natural resources within particular agroecological settings; (b) promoting component research that maximizes the integration of biological processes, enhances soil fertility, and protects production systems from pests and nonbiological stresses; (c) de-

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

signing technologies that do not force trade-offs between current and future production systems and that sustain or enhance the natural resource base; (d) undertaking socioeconomic studies that will help make sustainable systems more acceptable; and (e) assisting national agricultural research systems—through cooperative research, training, and information exchange—in contributing to and creating conditions for national sustainable agricultural development.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS

Recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has undertaken a number of initiatives that will have a major influence on its future programs on the environment and sustainable development. These include the formulation of a strategy and action agenda for sustainable agricultural development, attention to plant genetic resource issues relative to biodiversity and biotechnology, and consideration of the effects of climatic change on agriculture, forestry, and fisheries (Food and Agriculture Organization, 1990).

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Sustainable agriculture is a major theme within the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. Recently, the Agricultural Research Service reviewed current research activities considered to be supportive of sustainable agriculture and placed them in the following categories (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1989):

  • biological pest control and integrated pest management of insects, soil nematodes, crop toxins, weeds, and internal animal parasites and diseases;

  • improvement of crop varieties for resistance to acid soils, air pollution, insects, soil nematodes, diseases, drought, and other stresses;

  • water and soil management to conserve water, improve water quality, and sustain production;

  • management systems that are economical, environmentally sound, and sustainable;

  • erosion control;

  • nutrient management to reduce fertilizer use, avoid water pollution, and maintain yields;

  • forage production and animal production; and

  • beneficial organisms.

Although this research seeks to develop information useful to guiding U.S. agriculture toward sustainability, the basic principles that issue from it

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

can also be valuable in formulating management practices in countries throughout the developing world. Alternative pest control methods; efficient soil, water, and nutrient management practices; and the development of crop varieties that produce economical yields under stress conditions—all are fundamental inputs for any sustainable agriculture system.

A recent addition to the sustainable agriculture initiative is the special program originally referred to as LISA (low-input sustainable agriculture), now simply called sustainable agriculture. This approach to farming uses lower amounts of purchased inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides, and emphasizes greater reliance on on-farm resources and naturally occurring processes (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1990a). It gives considerable attention to efficient use of natural resources and environmental protection, but it also emphasizes profitability, based on the premise that a farming method must be profitable to be sustainable. Because the concept calls for the careful integration of various components in the production scheme, its effective implementation requires skilled and intensive management. Low-input practices vary from farm to farm, but they commonly emphasize the use of crop rotations, soil and water conservation, crop and livestock diversification, mechanical cultivation, animal and green manures, and biological pest control (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1990b).

AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Making agriculture more sustainable has been an implied, if not expressed, goal of AID since its inception. In support of this objective, AID has provided leadership and funding for a wide range of research and development programs that have made important contributions to the cause of sustainability.

The Agency for International Development has been a primary source of funds for the core budgets of the IARCs—from a high of approximately 30 percent to the current 18 percent of the total core budgets. This commitment has given the IARCs the financial stability essential for long-term research on sustainable management practices. Examples include the development of cultivars adaptable to stress conditions, soil and water management practices that enhance plant growth, and farm management systems that minimize erosion and environmental degradation.

The Agency for International Development has also been the primary source of funds for U.S. university and other nongovernmental research and development programs tailored to the unique needs of the developing world. This support has given such institutions the opportunity to develop their high level of expertise in international development and can contribute new technologies in the design of sustainable agricultural systems. The CRSPs (collaborative programs involving AID, U.S. universities, and host country

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

institutions) are a primary component of this effort, and they are making major strides toward sustainable agriculture. Although total costs are shared among the collaborators, the CRSPs depend heavily on AID for operational funds.

In developing countries, AID provides leadership and financial support to enable local agencies to address policy, institutional, and operational issues influencing sustainable agriculture programs. Actions that lead to available credit, ready markets, and stable land tenure are as important to the realization of sustainable agriculture as are improved cultivars or efficient soil management practices.

The support from AID has come from many of its structural units. Regional bureaus have focused on issues of highest priority within the countries of their respective regions. Specific activities have included institution building, policy reforms, and technology adaptation and promotion—all of which are essential to sustainable agriculture. The Bureau for Science and Technology has primary responsibility for providing leadership in the development of new science-based technologies within AID. Recently, the bureau has been directed to place additional emphasis on actions needed to support and promote sustainable agriculture. Within the bureau, the primary leadership is expected to come from the Office of Forestry, Environment, and Natural Resources, the Office of Agriculture, and the Office of Rural and Institutional Development. The focus of the Office of Rural and Institutional Development is on cross-cutting institutional and human issues that can broaden people's economic opportunities and sustain economic growth (Agency for International Development, 1990a,b). Increasing people's access to production resources and technologies broadens their economic opportunities.

A major underlying cause of natural resource degradation in the developing world is human poverty. Thus, efforts to achieve sustainability must encompass increased economic returns as well as increased productivity (Agency for International Development, 1987). A part of the program strategy of the Bureau for Science and Technology's Directorate for Human Resources is based on the premise that sustainable natural resource utilization is achieved by strengthening those human incentives and institutions that encourage rational use of natural resources critical to economic growth. In support of this strategy, the directorate supports a range of programs that address land tenure and access issues, human and institutional factors related to the use of multipurpose tree species, and the expansion and refinement of geographic information systems. The following are examples of directorate projects that contribute to the goal of sustainable agriculture (Agency for International Development, 1990b):

  • Access to land, water, and other natural resources. The purposes of

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

this program are to improve understanding of the relationships between resource tenure and sustainable growth and to facilitate the application of such understanding to development programs and policies.

  • Development strategies for fragile lands. This program assists cooperating countries in developing and implementing strategies to arrest degradation of fragile lands so as to foster sustained production of food, fuel, and income.

  • Forest/fuelwood research and development. This project supports research and management activities that promote country-specific fuelwood and forestry plans and programs.

The activities of the Bureau for Science and Technology's Office of Agriculture are guided by the AID goals of increasing incomes of the poor, expanding the availability of food, and maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base. The office supports research and development involving crops, livestock, fisheries, soil, water, economics, and agricultural policies. It has a large and diverse group of projects, most of which contribute to components or processes essential for sustainable agriculture.

The Office of Agriculture also manages AID's technical and scientific relationships with the international agriculture research centers within the CGIAR and with the International Fertilizer Development Center, a nonaffiliated center (Agency for International Development, 1990c). The goal of the latter is to ensure that farmers in developing countries have a dependable and economical supply of fertilizers to meet special crop and soil requirements. It conducts research on fertilizer use to provide guidance in the selection of rates, methods of application, and sources that will relieve nutrient constraints to plant growth in an agronomically and environmentally sound manner. In addition, all of the CRSPs are funded through and managed by the Office of Agriculture. The office also supports other collaborative research support projects, primarily with U.S. land-grant universities, that are highly relevant to sustainable agriculture (Agency for International Development, 1990c). These include the following:

  • improving cropping systems through the use of soil-improving legumes,

  • developing technology for soil moisture management,

  • using biotechnology to improve animal vaccines,

  • developing models and expert systems to evaluate options for sustainability in agriculture,

  • improving biological nitrogen fixation, and

  • increasing knowledge and understanding on how economic policies affect agricultural development.

In its recently released strategic plan for the 1990s, the Office of Agriculture emphasizes that agricultural development in the developing coun-

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

tries is a paramount component of sound economic growth (Agency for International Development, 1990c). The ability to continue agricultural growth by expanding land under cultivation is no longer a viable option. The challenge for the future is to develop cost-reducing technologies and appropriate policies that can increase yield per unit of area and time while maintaining the natural resource base. This goal must be achieved through science-based practices that are economically remunerative, environmentally sound, and organized within a coordinated framework that is based on the concepts of sustainability.

U.S. UNIVERSITIES

The U.S. universities, and the academic sector in general, are involved in international research on sustainable agriculture through many different programs (including those listed above), in many different regions, and with many different emphases. Many of the land-grant universities have been actively involved for decades in sustainable agriculture research through their colleges of agriculture, but research efforts germane to sustainability issues are just as likely to be found in universities and university departments that have not traditionally been involved in basic agricultural research (for example, geography and anthropology departments, regional studies programs, environmental focus programs, and interdisciplinary institutes). These other academic sectors, which may or may not be active in current collaborative research support programs, must be identified and engaged if the SANREM program is to be truly innovative, interdisciplinary, and effective.

In recent years, more and more universities have been expressing support for and targeting their resources to sustainable agriculture research. Often this research is conducted within traditional departments. In other cases, special departments, centers, and/or programs have been created to stimulate the necessary interdisciplinary efforts this research requires. This is the case in such major land-grant universities as Ohio State University, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Maine, the University of Wisconsin, and Iowa State University. Many of these programs are new and still gaining their institutional “wings”; the SANREM program may, in this instance, provide additional benefits by helping to strengthen these fledgling initiatives. In addition, the academic and professional societies that serve to unite these diverse programs and institutions are an important channel for gathering and disseminating information within the rapidly growing community of researchers—traditional agricultural researchers as well as scholars and scientists from other fields —who are studying various aspects of sustainable agriculture and natural resource management.

A review of major institutions active in research on sustainable agricul-

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

ture leads to several conclusions. First, much is being done that is contributing to the information base of sustainable agriculture. Second, much is being planned for future programs that will broaden as well as deepen this information base. And, third, the level of commitment to these programs and to sustainability as a goal is and must remain high over time to ensure progress.

Research on sustainable agriculture contains few if any absolute voids, but in some areas the information base is thin and the level of effort lower than their importance would seem to justify. Three areas in particular deserve greater attention: synthesis and analysis of information, improvement in the knowledge base, and strategic planning.

Synthesis and Analysis of Information

The limitation on success in solving many situation-specific problems is not so much what is not known as the inability to use what is known. Much of the relevant information has not been organized, integrated, or delivered, and thus it is not available to guide decisions. The effective information base contains scientifically ascertained data as well as personal insight and experience. Some progress in organizing this vast body of knowledge has been made through the development of simulation models, systems, and other mechanisms that take advantage of the powerful advances in computer technology. Although these efforts show great promise, they must be applied more broadly in making on-site management decisions. Greater cooperation in identifying information gaps and planning experiments would help to bring this about.

Improvement in the Knowledge Base

With respect to the knowledge base, two general areas need more work. First, researchers must characterize landscapes with respect to carrying capacity (both human populations and biodiversity more generally), production potential, development constraints, and risks—and do so in a manner that provides guidance for achieving sustainable agriculture in that area. In evaluating these features, researchers must not only identify natural characteristics of the landscape, but also provide information on the limits to sustainable agriculture in the given area and the level of risks to be expected when the development process is undertaken. Second, researchers must take greater advantage of indigenous knowledge in identifying constraints to development and in prioritizing development efforts in specific situations. This approach is unlikely to reveal heretofore overlooked miracle solutions to fundamental problems, but it will provide invaluable leads that can aid in meeting the requirements of local farmers and local environments.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
Strategic Planning

In terms of strategic planning for advancing sustainable agriculture, two needs stand out. First, more emphasis must be given to interdisciplinary research. Many of agriculture's most pressing problems demand a systems approach and the interaction of different disciplines. If more interaction takes place at the front end of the research process—as opposed to belated attempts to fit the pieces together after research on individual components is completed—the effectiveness of the work as a whole will be improved. The call for interdisciplinary research is not new, and success in this regard will not be overwhelming. Nonetheless, this is a highly significant aspect of research on sustainable agriculture, and as such it warrants continued and constant encouragement. Second, mechanisms are needed that can provide management responses to specific, on-the-ground problems and to the conditions that fostered them. Each of the many determinants of sustainability entails a broad range of variables and interactions. In combination, they create an essentially infinite number of conditions that can and do occur. Each farmer or producer has unique circumstances and needs; broad generalizations or recitations of fundamental principles of soil, crop, and live-stock management are therefore seldom useful. Providing management options that are based on sound, complete information and that are communicated in an understandable manner will always be the most practical way to fit proper decisions to individual circumstances.

THE CRITICAL CHALLENGE: REACHING THE FARMER

The above review of agricultural research institutions suggests not only the desirability of, but also the need for and effectiveness of, broad-based collaboration in sustainable agriculture research. Many of the CRSPs' research efforts have clearly defined goals, roles, and structures and function well. Their success reflects the ability to adapt to changing needs and opportunities.

Ineffective collaborative efforts, however, can also be found. If research objectives are unfocused or overly ambitious, research projects can lose momentum or collapse. If linkages engage incompatible entities, collaboration can be difficult or impossible. Moreover, poorly conceived and managed collaboration can be very costly and unproductive and can undermine chances for further collaboration in the country or research area. Constituencies may work against each other for good reasons, and barriers to communication are often formidable. For example, differing objectives and approaches among NGOs, farmers, research institutions, and other participating groups may inhibit collaboration. Disparities in the allocation of resources and spheres of influence may further inhibit collaboration. These

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

barriers must be overcome if the SANREM program is to succeed in working with the farmer to identify constraints, conduct research, and disseminate the knowledge and tools that promote sustainability.

Nongovernmental organizations are playing an increasingly important role in reaching farmers, particularly in developing nations. The private organizations that make up the NGO community are highly heterogeneous. They may be international or indigenous, community-based or national associations, rural farmers as well as technical and financial support intermediaries, and networks for information dissemination and for cross-cultural exchange. In general, the number of NGOs with extensive research and extension capabilities is still small. In the United States, a small group of NGOs, including Rodale International, CARE, World Neighbors, and Winrock International, have well-developed field capabilities in sustainable agriculture. Until recently, NGO linkages with IARCs and NARSs have been limited by mutual distrust or a lack of collaborative mechanisms.

Many NGOs have strong farmer outreach capacities. They strive to create horizontal rather than vertical linkages with farmers to stimulate agricultural improvements and innovations. Most NGOs actively engage farmers in an attempt to reduce the gap between basic and applied research. Although relatively limited in terms of technical resources and scientific rigor, NGOs, with their emphasis on field-based approaches, serve as increasingly critical links between farmers and scientists. They can also play useful roles in shaping policy and the research agenda. National and regional NGO networks and agencies are able to articulate and advocate research priorities. Organizations that exemplify these roles include the Committee on Agricultural Sustainability in the United States, the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in the Philippines, and the Latin American Consortium on Agroecology and Development in Latin America.

Until the emergence of the sustainable agriculture concept, the various constituencies tended to polarize. Parts of the NGO community regarded the IARCs, NARSs, and university faculties as promoters of top-down cropping systems and technologies that were unsustainable, commodity based, and high in chemical and energy input. For many NGOs, such systems ignored rural poverty and environmental degradation. Conversely, parts of the research community viewed NGOs and farmers as strident, unscientific, or naive.

Because it emphasizes and incorporates interdependencies, sustainable agriculture creates conditions in which broad-based collaboration in research is not merely possible, but necessary. The successful examples of collaboration—and most concerted attempts are successful —show how the various constituencies have created effective research linkages. There are no precise formulas or shortcuts, however. The literature describing research collaborations is generally project specific or overly conceptual. The sys-

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

tem of collaborative linkages has been developed largely by organizational development experts. Their work emphasizes strategic management, team building, communications, conflict resolution, and learning processes. Information from the practical side is limited. Only a few field practitioners and program managers have published useful reflections on their experiences (see, for example, Agency for International Development, 1984; Brown, 1990; Osborne, 1990).

STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE RESEARCH COLLABORATIONS

In looking ahead to the implementation of the SANREM program, it is worthwhile to note that the mechanisms by which collaboration occur are many and diverse and must be tailored to specific situations. It will be the responsibility of researchers to discover the mechanisms that are most suitable for the specific groups involved and research undertaken. Although authoritative case studies and standardized guidelines are generally lacking, a number of conditions and criteria that appear fundamental to successful and viable agricultural research collaboration can be identified.

Build Consensus Through Outreach and Consultation

Collaboration grows from a process of dialogue and negotiation. The various constituents must first be aware of the existence and resources of one another, be they NGOs, local farmers, or scientists. Targeted outreach must follow. Subsequently, it is important to create forums for the exchange of views and discussion of opportunities through consultations. These may be held in the field, in seminars, or at workshops. This process of collaborative consensus building requires patience and compromise. Expert facilitation and considerable personal initiative are often essential to the process.

As an example, the On-Farm Seed Project used an extensive process of outreach and consultation to develop its program and mobilize its constituencies in the United States and Africa. The initial concept emerged in the United States, through the joint initiative of Winrock International and the Center for PVO/University Collaboration in Development. The center tapped its existing network of academic institutions and development-related NGOs to discuss needs and devise strategies for improving on-farm seed technologies in West Africa. In Senegal and The Gambia, the project engaged a broad array of representatives of the national government, the Peace Corps, and local and international NGOs. The design and planning process included national consultations, on-site field needs assessments, and institutional surveys. According to project personnel, the investment in a thorough and inclusive consultative process paid off in the form of a more dynamic and effective program (Winrock International, 1990).

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
Establish Genuine Partnerships

Collaboration must be based not on dominance or methodological bias, but on mutual respect, partnership, and goodwill. Effective partnerships recognize complementary roles and mutual self-interest. Participants from disparate disciplines and constituencies must overcome or compromise their parochial concerns. Most successful partnerships rely on good personal relationships and compatible approaches. In the case of SANREM research, for instance, it will be important for researchers, NGO personnel, and farmers to understand and reconcile each other 's views of traditional versus conventional agriculture, external inputs, and sustainability.

Rodale International's program in Senegal exemplifies the concept of research partnerships. In this program, farmers are brought into the research and extension process as equal partners. According to Rodale, the national agricultural research system in Senegal has the technical and financial resources to generate viable alternative agricultural practices. However, researchers seldom ask the right questions and are weak in developing partnerships with small farmers. The NGOs in Senegal have strong links with farmers, but they lack the capacity to do applied research. Thus, the NGOs act as the bridge between the national system and local communities. By working together, all of these constituencies greatly enhance their impact.

Develop Shared Objectives, Work Plans, and Time Frames

Research objectives and work plans should be demand driven and field based to the fullest extent possible. All parties should participate in program planning and design in the field or as close to the research sites as possible. Time frames should be based on realistic expectations and should take into account the opportunity costs for each party 's time and labor. Finally, logistical and financial constraints should be discussed and reconciled prior to starting the research.

This principle is well illustrated by two research and technology development initiatives in West Africa: the Farmer Innovations and Technology Testing Project in The Gambia (Gilbert, 1990) and the Low-Resource Agriculture Project in Liberia (which has been interrupted by civil strife). In both projects, representatives of farmer groups, NGOs, and the national agricultural research system cooperated fully in the design and planning process. The teams first established a long-range research framework and assigned specific responsibilities among the national system, universities (in Liberia), NGOs, and farmer groups. The planning teams then identified the cropping systems and technology that would be the initial focus of the research, as well as testing objectives, timetables, and resource allocations. Both projects make provision for further modifications and innovations by farmers and other constituencies.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
Pursue Practical and Feasible Research Agendas

Collaboration is enhanced when research agendas can generate practical, applied results within a reasonable period. Research objectives should be focused topically or geographically; they should not be overly ambitious nor dispersed. Demands for closure on objectives vary among constituencies. Farmers and NGOs, in particular, must be able to apply and disseminate research results. Thus, close linkages between research and extension is highly advantageous, for example, through inclusion of on-farm adaptive trials and demonstrations.

The two initiatives based in Senegal have created close linkages among research, extension, and broader dissemination. Both programs have attracted ongoing farmer involvement by addressing their immediate priorities. The Rodale program mentioned above combines on-farm cropping systems and soil fertility research with village-based demonstrations of practical soil conservation and livestock improvement techniques. The On-Farm Seed Project is improving the quality of the 80 to 90 percent of total seed stocks in Senegal that are selected and saved on-farm. The project uses agroecological surveys and on-farm trials, and it disseminates improved technologies widely once they are proven.

Create Responsive Communications Mechanisms

Research teams should communicate effectively. Appropriate means of exchanging information, documents, and feedback should be established before research begins and should be monitored closely thereafter. Weak infrastructures may dictate the use of creative communication alternatives. Language barriers and cultural differences between farmers and researchers will also have to be addressed to avoid misunderstandings.

The Informationcentre for Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture (1988) asserts that the interpersonal aspects of communications are more important than the technological aspects. The methodologies for farmer participatory research incorporate many useful techniques for improving communication among farmers, field-workers, and researchers, including community appraisal, innovators' workshops, and mapping and systems diagrams (Chambers, 1989). All of the projects mentioned above use similar methods to improve the flow of information on agricultural innovations, traditional and improved technologies, and research and extension results.

Install Effective Management and Decision-Making Systems

Collaboration requires flexibility, coordination, and leadership. Management entities may assume many different forms, including secretariats, lead

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

agencies, and consortiums. Decisions should be made with the help of consultative or coordinating bodies. These bodies should represent all parties involved and should actively engage in program review and evaluation. Effective leadership in collaborative efforts responds to the needs of the various constituencies, maintains linkages, and guides the overall progress of the research. The roles and responsibilities of all the participants should be understood and, if possible, put into written agreements.

All of the projects cited above developed effective management and decision-making systems. In the On-Farm Seed Project, for example, the consortium established parallel structures in the United States and in the field. To coordinate activities, it also established a central secretariat at the headquarters of the designated lead agency in the United States. Other member agencies were encouraged or designated to assume supportive leadership roles in countries where field operations were taking place. Primary planning and coordination of program activities are conducted by a coordinating committee representing all members in the field, and an advisory board in the United States provides oversight of agendas, policies, and programs. To date, these structures are working to provide coordination, mediate conflicts, and sustain active broad-based participation.

CONCLUSION: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE SANREM PROGRAM

The collaborative linkages essential to the success of the SANREM research support program will be more difficult to establish than those associated with the existing CRSPs. The SANREM program will have to develop collaboration along multiconstituency as well as multidisciplinary lines. The examples presented above, however, illustrate that the program can achieve its objectives.

Sustainable agriculture is not an event that occurs at some point in time or at some site on the global landscape. Rather, it is a goal that is useful in focusing programs and arranging the application of resources.

This review of the activities, strategies, and plans of institutions engaged in agricultural research and development reveals clearly that much has been done, is being done, and will be done to contribute to achieving sustainability in agriculture. Much of the current work is targeted toward the components and principal determinants of sustainability; as this work continues, it will broaden and deepen the information base. The weakest point in the overall approach is the ability to integrate these components and develop management options for specific situations and conditions. The SANREM program cannot fill this gap on its own, but it can serve an important role in bringing together the wide variety of disciplines, constituencies, and organizations that must work together to put agriculture on a sustainable path.

In the final analysis, it is the individual farmer who will examine his or

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

her resources, needs, and dreams and make the decision whether to slash and burn another hectare or to grow another crop on existing land. It is the farmer who will elect whether to use manures or purchase fertilizers, to plant a monoculture or interplant crops. It is the farmer who will choose whether to control pests by purchased inputs or by other means. Finally, it is the farmer who will decide what risk he or she is willing to take in making each of these and other decisions. The better the information at the farmer's disposal, and the easier that information is to understand and act on, the higher the probability that the ultimate decision will increase productivity while conserving agricultural resources. The thriving interest in sustainable agriculture and the increased commitment to research on its essential components and their interactions should increase the long-term benefits of these incremental decisions to the farmer, consumers, society at large, and the environment that contains and supports them all. This is not to indicate that all farmers will benefit from this approach. Sustained agricultural growth will place increased demands on farmers, and some will find the demands more than their circumstances can tolerate. Rural urban drift, however, should occur through planned and informed political choice, not by default, and to the extent possible in a manner that enables good farmers to continue to sustain agriculture, while their less-skilled or motivated brethren move into industrial and service employment, rather than the reverse.

REFERENCES

African Academy of Sciences. 1990. Scientific Institution Building in Africa: Report of the Bellagio Symposium. Nairobi, Kenya: African Academy of Sciences.

Agency for International Development and U.S. Peace Corps. 1984. A Guide to AID/Peace Corps/PVO Collaborative Programming. Washington, D.C.: Agency for International Development.

Agency for International Development. 1990a. Global Research for Sustainable Food Production. Collaborative Research Support Program Council. Bureau for Science and Technology. Washington, D.C.: Agency for International Development.

Agency for International Development. 1990b. Portfolio Directory. Directorate for Human Resources, Bureau for Science and Technology Washington, D.C.: Agency for International Development.

Agency for International Development. 1990c. Strategic Plan of the Office of Agriculture in the 1990s. Office of Agriculture, Bureau for Science and Technology. Washington, D.C.: Agency for International Development.

Brown, M. 1990. PVO/NGO-NRMS project: Lessons learned. NRMS Newsletter (August 1990) Washington, D.C.: Energy/Development International.

Chambers, R., A. Pacey, and L. A. Thrupp. 1989. Farmer First: Farmer Innovation and Agricultural Research. London, England: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Committee on Agricultural Sustainability for Developing Countries 1987. The Transition to Sustainable Agriculture: An Agenda for AID. Committee on Agricultural Sustainability for Developing Countries Washington, D.C.: Committee on Agricultural Sustainability for Developing Countries

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. 1990. Sustainable Agricultural Production: Final Report of the CGIAR Committee Document No. MT/90/18. Presented at CGIAR Meeting, May 21–25, The Hague, Netherlands.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1990. FAO Activities Related to Environment and Sustainable Development Report of the 98th session of the FAO Council. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Gilbert, E. 1990. Non-Governmental Organizations and Agricultural Research: The Experience of The Gambia. The Gambia: Gambia Agricultural Research and Development.

Hariri, G. 1990. Organization and Structure of Arab National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS). ISNAR Working Paper No. 31. The Hague, Netherlands: International Service for National Agricultural Research.

Informationcentre for Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture (ILEIA). 1988. Participative technology development. Newsletter for Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture (October 1988). Leusden, Netherlands.

Jain, H. K. 1990. Organization and Management of Agricultural Research in Sub-Saharan Africa: Recent Experience and Future Direction. ISNAR Working Paper No. 33. The Hague, Netherlands: International Service for National Agricultural Research.

Osborne, T. 1990. Multi-Institutional Approaches to Participatory Technology Development: A Case Study from Senegal. Dakar, Senegal: Winrock International.

Senanayake, Y. D. 1990. Overview of the Organization and Structure of National Agricultural Research Systems in Asia. ISNAR Working Paper No. 32. The Hague, Netherlands: International Service for National Agricultural Research.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1989. Agricultural Research, October 1989.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1990a. Low-Input Sustainable Agriculture (LISA). Research and Education Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research Service. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1990b. Alternative Opportunities for U.S. Farmers. Cooperative State Research Service, Special Projects and Programs Systems. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Winrock International and Center for PVO/University Collaboration in Development. 1990. On-Farm Seed Project. Third Annual Report. Morriltown, Ark.: Winrock International.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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×
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×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix B: Sustainable Agriculture, International Agricultural Research, and Strategies for Effective Collaboration." National Research Council. 1991. Toward Sustainability: A Plan for Collaborative Research on Agriculture and Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/1822.
×
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Toward Sustainability recommends a design for a new Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) for the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). Currently, eight CRSPs operate under legislation that supports long-term agricultural research of benefit to developing countries and the United States.

This book defines a process by which knowledge from all relevant AID-supported programs could be integrated and applied to advance profitable farming systems that improve local conditions and contribute to environmental goals. It makes recommendations on the types of competitive grants that should be made available under a new program, institutional participation, content of research proposals, and administrative procedures.

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