Source data
Title Traditional Field Crops
Year 1981

Introduction[edit | edit source]

From 1961 to 1975, total food production in developing countries increased about 47 percent. This seemingly impressive gain was reduced to only 10 percent in terms of food production per person because of rapid population growth rates. In more than half of the developing nations, per person cereal grain production was less in 1979 than in 1970. Presently, some two-thirds of all people in the developing countries are considered undernourished.

Current world food supplies compared with dietary requirements show only a minor deficit on paper, but the reality is far more serious for two reasons:

  • Food supplies are distributed inequitably among countries, different income groups, and even within the family. Since the quantity and quality of food intake is strongly linked to income level, increases in per person food production will have little effect on hunger and malnutrition without a large rise in the incomes of the world's poor.
  • Postharvest food losses of cereals and legumes (dry beans, peanuts, etc.) during processing and storage are conservatively estimated to be 10 percent on a world basis, but losses of 20 percent are common in developing countries. Looking to the future, there is little reason for optimism. A 1974 UN study predicted that in the next 30 years, human population will increase by 26 percent in the developing countries, 62 percent, and 119 percent in the developing nations. The study concluded that if current food production trends continue in developing countries, they will need to increase their grain imports fivefold between 1970 and 1985. Aside from the problem of financing such imports, it is very questionable whether the major grain exporters can meet these needs.

It is not likely that developing countries can increase food production rapidly enough during this decade to achieve selfsufficiency. However, the food deficiency can be narrowed if these countries strengthen their recent interest in crop improvement practices and introduction of new techniques to both small- and largescale farmers.

The small-scale farmer and agricultural development[edit | edit source]

The great majority of farmers in developing countries operate on a small scale. Despite much local and regional diversity, they share a number of important characteristics:

  • Most small farmers operate as independent economic units, either as independent proprietors or under a rental arrangement allowing them to make production decisions. In some cases, however, individual decision-making may be subject to tribal or village controls, or restricted by insecure tenancy.
  • Since they have a small amount of land and capital, they depend mainly on the family labor supply.
  • The small-scale farmer is less likely than large-scale farmers to use capital for commercial inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and equipment.
  • The small farmer tends to use credit for consumption needs rather than for purchasing farming inputs.
  • Compared to larger farmers, small farmers have limited access to important production factors associated with agricultural development such as agricultural credit and supplies, adapted technology, technical assistance, market information, roads, and transport.

Assisting small farmers[edit | edit source]

In the developing world, most small-scale farmers with whom the extension worker is in contact are farmers in transition from traditional to improved production practices. They are aware of outside inputs like fertilizers, insecticides, and vaccines for livestock and may actually be using one or more of these, though often in a haphazard manner. Although their first production priority is usually subsistence, there is a strong motivation to produce a marketable or exchangeable surplus once the family food needs are met.

Much of the solution to hunger and rural poverty in the developing countries hinges on the small farmer's ability to increase his or her returns from traditional crops by adopting appropriate improved production practices. "Appropriate" means in harmony with the environment and the cultural and economic situation of the farmer. "Improved" refers to the use of non-traditional inputs like fertilizers, agricultural chemicals, new equipment suited to small-scale farming, and technical advisory services. It does not imply the total abandonment of traditional growing practices but rather the incorporation of suitable new elements.

Most small-scale farmers will benefit by participating in agricultural development programs. Since nearly all of them want to increase their yields and incomes, they will adopt new techniques--if these offer a reasonable assurance of a meaningful return without excessive risk and the necessary inputs are available.

Until fairly recently, yieldimproving technology was usually developed with little regard to the realities of the small farmer's situation. It is not surprising that these so-called "improved" practices often encountered a cool response. Crop production research and extension are becoming more attuned to the small farmer's needs, and there are numerous examples of successful yield-improving programs involving small farmers throughout the developing countries.

The Small Farm As a Viable Economic Unit

When yield-improving practices are used in developing countries, competitively low production costs can be realized over a wide range of farm sizes. Increasing the size of the farm alone is usually not the answer to production problems for all small farms, although it can be an important factor for some.

There are basically two types of small farm. One is the family-size farm, which can gainfully employ the equivalent of two to four adults and a team of oxen. This type of farm is much smaller in size and capital than its equivalent in the developed countries, probably because land and machinery are more expensive than labor in most developing countries.

The sub-family farm is too small to effectively employ the equivalent of two adults and a team of oxen. Unfortunately, in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru, up to 80-90 percent of the total farm units are classified as subfamily. The sub-family farm is too small to become economically successful no matter how much improved technology is used. In this case, increased size is vital to production.

The Availability Of Improved Production Practices

Since the 1960s, there has been a growing effort on the part of national and international crop research organizations to develop feasible yield-improving practices for the reference crops included in this manual. This is a long, ongoing process, but for many farming regions in developing countries there is now a group of improved practices that will provide significant increases in both yields and returns over traditional methods. These developments are the small farmers' best hope for increasing yields and returns so that they can remain (or become) competitive economically and improve their standard of living. The ideal conditions for promoting improved crop production practices among small farmers would ensure that:

  • the new practice does not increase farmer risks, depart radically from current practices, or require considerable retraining of the farmer.
  • the potential gains exceed the added costs by at least two to one. (This is the cost/ benefit ratio.)
  • the commercial inputs and associated services required for the practice are readily obtainable on reasonable terms.
  • The pay-off from the new practice occurs in the same crop cycle in which it is applied.
  • The costs of the new practice are within the farmer's means. This usually implies access to credit.

All of these conditions are seldom fully met in small farmer agriculture in a developing country. Nonetheless, with a good extension service and a well-developed "package of practices", agricultural extension workers can improve crop yields on small farms dramatically.

The ''Package'' approach to improving crop yields[edit | edit source]

In most cases, low crop yields are caused by the simultaneous presence of several limiting factors, rather than one single obstacle. When a specially developed and adapted "package" of improved practices is applied to overcome these multiple barriers, the results are often much more impressive than those obtained from a single factor approach. A crop "package" consists of a combination of several locally proven new practices. (Few packages are readily transferable without local testing and modification.) Most include several of the following: an improved variety, fertilizer, improved control of weeds, pests, and diseases, improvements in land preparation, water management, harvesting, and storage.

The likelihood of a positive response is greatly increased using a package approach. However, there are possible disadvantages:

  • If the package fails, farmers may conclude that all of the individual practices are unproductive.
  • More adaptive research and extensive local testing are required to develop a proven package for an area.
  • The package may favor the larger farmers who have easier access to credit for buying the added inputs.
  • Unavailability of a component input or its faulty application may make the entire package fail.

It should be streseed that a package does not always have to involve considerable use of commercial inputs. In fact, an extension program can focus initially on improvement of basic management practices that require little or no investment such as weeding, land preparation, changes in plant population and spacing, seed selection, and timeliness of crop operations. This helps assure that small farmers benefit as least as much as larger ones, especially in those regions where agricultural credit is poorly developed.

The role of the extension worker[edit | edit source]

To work with small farmers to improve yields of the six reference crops (maize, sorghum, millet, peanuts, cowpeas, and beans), extension workers need both agricultural and extension skills. The general agricultural skills required by extension workers who will be involved in crop improvement projects as intermediaries with a limited advisory role include:

  • understanding the need for crop improvement programs
  • interpreting the agricultural environment
  • knowledge of the reference crop characteristics
  • knowledge of crop improvement practices
  • understanding of reference crop management principles.

Extension workers also will need to have an appropriate level of "handson" and technical skills relevant to the reference crops, and an ability to adjust recommendations for variations in local soils, climate, management, and capital.

This manual provides most of the information extension workers need to work with the six reference crops. In promoting any crop improvement practice, however, it is very important to work with the local farmers, extension service, universities, and national and international agricultural research institutions. These individuals and organizations are much more familiar with the prevailing local environmental, economic, social and cultural conditions and should be consulted first before attempting any crop improvement program.

Page data
Authors Eric Blazek
Published 2006
License CC-BY-SA-4.0
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