Source data
Title Traditional Field Crops
Year 1981

The agricultural environment[edit | edit source]

The purpose of this chapter is to identify how extension workers can survey and interpret important features of the local agricultural environment and the individual farm units which are a part of it. This is vital to effective extension since it enables workers to fully comprehend the area's farming systems and practices.

The local agricultural environment is made of up those factors which influence an area's agriculture. The most important of these are the natural (physical) environment and the infrastructure.

The natural environment[edit | edit source]

The natural environment consists of the climate and weather, the land and soils, and the ecology (the interaction among crops, weeds, insects, animals, diseases, and people).

Weather refers to the daily changes in temperature, rainfall, sunlight, humidity, wind and barometric pressure. Climate is the typical weather pattern for a given locality over a period of many years. To quote one definition, people build fireplaces because of the climate, and they light fires in the fireplaces because of the weather.

The climate and weather factors that have the greatest influence on crop production are solar radiation (sunlight and temperature), rainfall, humidity, and wind.

Solar Radiation

Solar radiation markedly influences crop growth in several ways:

  • It provides the light energy needed for photosynthesis, the fundamental process by which plants manufacture sugars for use in growth and food production. Sugars are made by this process in the green cells of plants when carbon dioxide from the air combines with water from the soil using sunlight and chlorophyll (the green pigment in plants) as catalysts.
  • The daily duration of sunlight (daylength) and its yearly variation greatly affect time of flowering and length of growing period in some crops.
  • Solar radiation is the primary determinant of outside temperature, which strongly influences crop growth rate and range of adaption.

Regional and yearly variations in solar radiation

Unlike the temperate zone latitudes, the region between the Tropic of Cancer (23.5°N) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5°S) has relatively little seasonal variation in solar radiation, since the sun remains fairly high in the sky all year long. Measurements above cloud level show an annual variation in solar radiation of just 13 percent at the equator versus 300 percent at a latitude of 40°. However, this supposed advantage of the tropics may in some cases be largely offset by cloudiness, which can be excessive in the higher rainfall zones, particularly near the equator (cloudiness can reduce solar radiation by 14-80 percent depending on depth and extent of the cloud cover). For example, due to heavy cloud cover, the equatorial Amazon Basin receives only about as much total yearly solar energy at ground level as the Great Lakes region of the U.S.


The length of time from plant emergence to flowering as well as the actual date of flowering can be strongly affected by daylength in the case of some crops. Among the reference crops, soybeans and the photosensitive varieties of millet and sorghum are the most affected.

Maize is less influenced by daylength unless a variety is moved to a latitude where daylength is markedly different from that of its point of origin (see Chapter 3). Daylength is usually not a critical factor with peanuts, beans and cowpeas.

As shown by the table below, both latitude and season influence daylength. Note that the annual variation in daylength markedly decreases as the equator is approached.

Table 1 Length of Day in Various Northern Latitudes





















Temperature is the major factor controlling a crop's growth rate and range of adaption. Each crop has its own optimum temperature for growth, plus a maximum and minimum for normal development and survival. Even varieties within a crop differ somewhat in their temperature tolerance. Excessively high daytime temperatures can adversely affect growth and yields by causing pollen sterility and blossom drop. In addition, the hot nights common in the tropics can reduce crop yields. This is because plants manufacture sugars for growth and food production by the daytime process of photosynthesis, but "burn up" some of this at night through the process of

respiration. Since high nighttime temperatures increase the respiration rate, they can cut down on the crop's net growth. Several factors affect an area's temperature pattern:

  • Latitude--Seasonal temperature variations are pronounced in the temperate zone where solar radiation and daylength fluctuate considerably over the year. In the tropics, this seasonal temperature difference is much smaller. Nighttime lows are seldom below 10-30°C near sea level and are usually above 18°C. Seasonal variations become more pronounced as the distance from the equator increases.
  • Elevation--Temperature drops about 0.65°C for each 100meter rise in elevation. This greatly affects a crop's length of growing period as well as its adaptation to the area. For example, at sea level in Guatemala, maize matures in three to four months and the climate is too hot for potatoes; however, about 50 km away in the highlands (above 1500 m), maize takes five to ten months to mature and potatoes thrive.
  • Topography, or the shape of the land surface, can cause differences in local weather and climate (micro-climates). A work area may have two or more distinct micro-climates.
  • Cloud cover has a definite buffering effect on diurnal (daily) temperature variation. It will lower the daytime high but raise the nighttime low.
  • Humidity exerts an effect similar to cloud cover on temperature. Humid air takes longer to heat up and cool off and therefore is subject to considerably less daily temperature variation than dry air. Maximum shade temperature rarely exceeds 38°C under high humidity, while maximums of 54°C are possible under dry conditions.


In dryland (non-irrigated) areas of the tropics with year-round growing temperatures, rainfall is the major environmental factor that determines which crops can be grown, when they are planted, and what they will yield. Rainfall varies greatly from place to place (often within surprisingly short distances), especially around mountainous or hilly terrain. The dryland farmer is keenly aware of his area's seasonal rainfall distribution. This includes deviations from the normal cycle such as early or late rains, or unseasonable droughts. Too much rain, which can drown out the crop, delay harvest, and accelerate soil erosion, can be just as serious as too little. It may be too wet for plowing one day, yet too dry the following week for good seed germination.

When gathering rainfall data for an area, one should keep in mind that annual rainfall averages have little meaning. Seasonal distribution and reliability are far more important in terms of crop production.

For example, Ibadan, Nigeria is located in the transition zone between the humid and semi-humid tropics and receives about the same annual rainfall (1140 mm) as Samaru Nigeria, which is located to the north in the savanna zone. Ibadan's rainfall is spread out over nine months from March to November in a bi-modal pattern (i.e., two rainy seasons with a drier period in between). The first season is long enough for a 120-day maize crop, although there is some periodic moisture stress. The second season is shorter, and soil moisture is usually adequate for only an 80-90 day crop. On the other hand, Samaru's equal rainfall is spread out over five months in a uni-modal pattern, providing for a single maize crop not subject to moisture stress.

From the example it is apparent that annual rainfall averages alone are not a dependable gauge of the rainfall in an area. The same goes for seasonal rainfall distribution. Although it gives a good general indication of the amount of moisture available for crop production, it does not tell the whole story. The amount of rainfall that actually ends up stored in the soil of a farmer's field for crop use depends on other factors such as water run-off and evaporation from the soil surface, and the soil's texture and depth.

When interpreting the rainfall pattern of a work area, it is good to remember that averages are somewhat misleading. Variations to the average can be expected even though the general seasonal distribution curve usually maintains a consistent shape (Figure 1). Cropping cycles and how they relate to the rainfall pattern:

Cropping cycles are determined by using the cropping calendar (planting and harvest dates for crops involved), and are closely tied to the seasonal rainfall distribution. This can be seen by comparing the cropping calendar in the next column with the rainfall chart in Figure 1.

File:Field crops P014A.GIF

Crop Calendar, Managua Area of Nicaragua

A primary source of rainfall information in a given area is the local farmer. Although official weather station rainfall data is handy to have if it is reliable and representative, it is not essential. Most of the information needed about rainfall distribution can be found by talking to experienced local farmers.

File:Field crops P014B.GIF

Figure 1 Monthly Rainfall Pattern, Managua, Nicaragua, 1958-67


Relative humidity affects crop production in several ways:

  • Daily temperature variation is greater under low humidity; high humidity exerts a buffering effect on temperature.
  • High humidity favors the development and spread of a number of fungal and bacterial diseases (see the disease section in Chapter 6).
  • The rate at which crops use water is highest under hot, dry conditions, and lowest when it is very humid.

Wind and Storm Patterns

High winds associated with thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados can severely damage crops. Among the reference crops, maize, sorghum and millet are most prone to damage from heavy rain. Hot, dry winds can markedly increase the water needs of crops. The frequency of high winds is also a factor that warrants investigation when surveying a work area's climate.


The shape of the land surface influences agriculture by causing local modifications in climate and weather and often is the major factor that determines the suitability of land for various types of farming. A work area may include several topographic features such as mountains, hills and valleys. Individual farms, too, often have significant topographic variations that affect crop production. Mountains and hills can greatly alter rainfall, and it is not uncommon to find a drier, irrigated valley on one side of a mountain range and a wetter, rainfed valley on the other side. Cold air usually settles in valleys, making them considerably cooler than the surrounding slopes. Steep slopes drain rapidly, but are very susceptible to erosion and drought, while flat or sunken areas often have drainage problems. Slopes angled toward the sun are warmer and drier than those angled away from it.


After climate and weather, soil type is the most important local physical feature affecting cropping potential and management practices. Most soils have evolved slowly over many centuries from weathering (decomposition) of underlying rock material and plant matter. Some soils are formed from deposits laid down by rivers and seas (alluvial soils) or by wind (loess soils).

Soils have four basic components: air, water, mineral particles (sand, silt and clay), and humus (decomposed organic matter). A typical sample of topsoil (the darker-colored top layer) contains about 50 percent pore space filled with varying proportions of air and water depending on how wet or dry the soil is. The other 50 percent of the volume is made up of mineral particles and humus. Most mineral soils contain about two to six percent humus by weight in the topsoil. Organic soils like peats are formed in marshes, bogs and swamps, and contain 30-100 percent humus.

Climate, type of parent rock, topography, vegetation, management and time all influence soil formation and interact in countless patterns to produce a surprising variety of soils, even within a small area. In fact, it is not uncommon to find two or three different soils on one small farm that differ widely in management problems and yield potential. Important Soil Characteristics

There are seven major characteristics that determine a soil's management requirements and productive potential: texture, filth (physical condition), water-holding capacity, drainage, depth, slope, and pH.

  • Texture refers to the relative amounts of sand, silt and clay in the soil.
  • Tilth refers to the soil's physical condition and capability of being worked.
  • Water-holding capacity refers to the ability of the soil to retain water in its spaces.
  • Drainage refers to the soil's ability to get rid of excess water and affects the accessibility of oxygen to roots.
  • Depth is the depth of the soil to bedrock and the effective soil depth is the depth to which plant roots can penetrate.
  • Slope is the inclination of the land surface, usually measured in percentage (i.e., number of meters change in elevation per 100 m horizontal distance).
  • pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil on a scale of 0 to 14. These characteristics are discussed in detail in Soils, Crops and Fertilizer Use, U.S. Peace Corps Appropriate Technologies for Development Manual #8, Parts I & II, by D. Leonard, 1969, and Crop Production Handbook, U.S. Peace Corps Appropriate Technologies for Development Manual #6, Unit I, 1969.


For our purposes, ecology refers to the presence of, and interaction among, the reference crops, weeds, insects, diseases, animals (humans, wildlife and livestock), and the environment in general. Agriculture is a perpetual contest with nature and farmers have developed many preventative and control measures, as well as special cropping systems, to give agriculture the advantage over natural succession. Each area will have its own combination of weeds, insects, diseases, and wildlife (including rats and graineating birds) that affect crop production. Identifying these and learning how farmers cope with them is crucial to understanding and dealing with the agricultural environment. The effect of people and agriculture on the overall environment

Modern technology, land shortages, and increasing populations have increased agriculture's ability and need to "beat back" and manipulate nature. Often little thought is given to the possible environmental consequences of agricultural development. Potential ecological impacts of agricultural projects include:

  • Deforestation
  • Soil erosion
  • Desertification
  • Laterization
  • Salinization
  • Agrochemical poisoning of soil water, animals and people
  • Flooding.

The infrastructure[edit | edit source]

The infrastructure, which refers to the installations, facilities, goods, and services that encourage agricultural production, consists of these elements:

  • Local farming practices
  • The physical infrastructure
  • Land distribution and tenure
  • Agricultural labor supply
  • Incentives to farmers.

Local Fanning Practices and Systems

Farming practices include:

  • Land preparation-tillage methods, type of seedbed, and erosion control methods
  • Planting--method, plant population and spacing, choice of variety
  • Soil amendments--kind, amount, timing, placement of chemical or organic fertilizers and liming materials
  • Control of weeds, insects, diseases, birds, rodents and nematodes (tiny, parasitic roundworms that feed on plant roots).
  • Special practices such as irrigation or "hilling up" maize
  • Harvest and storage methods.

The terms "cropping system" not only refers to the overall cropping calendar (planting and harvest dates for the crops involved) but more specifically to the actual crop sequences and associations involved, namely:

  • Monoculture versus crop rotation--Monoculture is the repetitive growing of the same crop on the same land year after year. Crop rotation is the repetitive growing of an orderly succession of crops (or crops and fallow) on the same land. One crop rotation cycle often takes several growing seasons to complete (for example, maize the first two years, followed by beans the third and cotton the fourth).
  • Multiple Cropping--There are two types of multiple cropping. One is sequential cropping, which means growing two or more crops in succession on the same field per year or per growing season. The other is intercropping, which is the most common definition of multiple cropping and involves the growing of two or more crops at the same time on the same field. See Chapter 4 for details on the different types of intercropping.

Due to differences in soils, climate, management ability, available capital, and attitudes, important differences in farming practices and systems may be found within a particular area.

The Physical Infrastructure

The physical infrastructure refers to the physical installations and facilities that encourage agricultural production such as transportation (farm-to-market roads, railroads), communications, storage and market facilities, public farm works (regional irrigation, drainage, and flood control systems), and improvements to the farm (fencing, wells, windbreaks, irrigation and drainage systems, etc.). All of these are important, but adequate and reasonably priced transport is especially critical since agriculture is a business that involves handling bulky materials. A farmer's distance from the road network is often the prime factor determining whether or not he or she can profitably use fertilizer or move his or her surplus crops to market.

Land Distribution And Tenure

In a settled area, all the agricultural land may be occupied. The land distribution and tenure situation in an area thus has enormous social and economic consequences and greatly affects farmer incentives. The two most important issues in this regard are:

  • Who occupies the land and on what terms do they use it or allow others to use it?
  • What is the ratio between the number of people dependent on farming for their livelihood and the amount and kinds of land available?

The Agricultural Labor Supply

The ratio of farmers and farm laborers to the amount and types of land provides a good indication of land use intensity. The existence of adequate farm labor for peak periods is another important consideration affecting farm practices and returns. For most of the year, many farming areas in developing countries have a generally high rate of agricultural underemployment, except during a few peak periods such as planting at the start of the rains or weeding time, if mechanical cultivation is not used. At these times, the scarcity of labor can become the most critical factor limiting production, and labor productivity assumes an unusual importance.

Incentives for Farmers

These can be very broadly interpreted, since they include equitable land tenure and distribution, adequate markets and prices for farm produce, and the existence of a viable improved technology.

Understanding the individual farm unit[edit | edit source]

Each farm has its own unique characteristics, but those located in the same area usually share enough similarities to allow grouping them into several general types of farm unit, such as subsistence, marketoriented field crop, plantation, etc. If an area's environment is fairly uniform, only one type of farm unit may predominate. If it is characterized by irregular topography and lopsided land distribution, the area may have two or more types of farm units.

There are eight basic criteria that can be used to differentiate types of farm units:

  • Location
  • Type of occupancy
  • Size of farm, parcelling, and land use potential
  • Size of the farm business
  • Type of farm enterprise
  • Production practices
  • Farm improvements
  • Farm labor supply.


The principal factors here are:

  • Natural characteristics such as soil type, slope, soil depth, drainage, access to water, etc.
  • Proximity to the transportation network and other facilities such as public irrigation and drainage systems
  • Location in relation to other farm units
  • Local name of the farm's location.

Type of Occupancy

The principal considerations are:

  • Who owns the land?
  • If not owner-operated, what is the tenancy arrangement (i.e., cash rent, crop share, or work share) and on what specific terms? How secure is the arrangement?
  • If no one has legal title to the land, is it occupied under squatters' rights that are protected by law?
  • Who manages the farm unit and makes the basic decisions?

Size of Farm

  • Total farm size in terms of local units of measure
  • Location of farm parcels: If they are dispersed, how far are they from the farmer's house?
  • Actual land use: tillable versus pasture versus forest; irrigated versus non-irrigated
  • Characteristics of its soils: local name, color, texture, depth, drainage, slope, plus farmer's opinion of them.

Size of Farm Business

  • Land value of the farm unit
  • Value of other fixed assets
  • Amount of operating capital employed per land or livestock unit
  • The value of production per land or livestock unit. The value of the farm unit compared to its number of workers indicates whether it is capital-intensive (using machines and money to harvest) or laborintensive (using human labor to perform farm operations). The value of production per land unit indicates the intensity of land use.

Type of Farm Enterprise

Some farms are engaged in only one enterprise such as growing sugarcane, coffee, rice, etc., but this type of monoculture is unusual among small farms. More likely, some form of mixed agriculture will exist. The main considerations are:

  • Relative importance of each enterprise
  • The yields obtained from each enterprise
  • The disposal of the products from each enterprise (subsistence or cash sale) and where sold
  • Crop rotations and associations
  • Relationship between crop and livestock production, if any.

Production Practices

  • The specific factors used in agricultural development
  • Rate, method, and time of application.

Farm Improvements

  • Condition of the farm family home (or the farm manager's and farm workers' homes).
  • Presence and condition of fences, wells, irrigation works, field access roads, storage facilities, livestock shelters, corrals, etc.

The Farm Labor Supply

  • Degree of reliance on the family's own labor force and the composition of that force
  • Degree of dependence on hired labor
  • The seasonal nature of work requirements
  • Use of animal or tractor-drawn equipment.

Guidelines for the orientation of the extension worker[edit | edit source]

These guidelines are designed to help newly assigned agricultural field workers (AFW) orient themselves to the local agro-environment and its individual farm units within one or two months after arrival in the area. When using the guidelines, keep in mind the following:

  • Do not undertake a highly detailed survey of local resources at the start of the assignment unless the host agency specifically requests it. Such a survey is likely to arouse local suspicions, especially if you are overzealous or overbearing with your initial contacts.
  • The host agency may provide a basic orientation to the work area, but it may be very limited.
  • If there are discrepancies between the information gathered from local sources (farmers, etc.) and that from outside or official sources, trust the local "grass roots" information until proven otherwise. Local farmers are the ultimate authorities on the local environment.
  • The guidelines that follow are organized mainly by subject area but do not have to be followed in a set order. You will be picking up bits and pieces of information from a single informant that may deal with a number of areas, and you will have to put them into their proper context.

Introductory orientation[edit | edit source]

This initial phase focuses on the agricultural environment in general and is designed to help you familiarize yourself with it and adjust your work schedule and activities to the seasonal rhythm of the area's agriculture. Unless severely limited by your local language ability, you should be able to complete this phase in two to four weeks if you spend several hours a day talking with local farmers and other sources of agricultural information throughout the area.

Establish Communication

A major part of your time will be spent talking with and listening to farmers and other knowledgeable sources (local residents) who have a vested interest in agriculture.

Locate Farmers

  • Get a general idea of how farmers are distributed geographically.
  • Get a specific idea of where likely client farmers are located (i.e., those with whom your job description deals). Locate Other Knowledgeable Individuals Agricultural technicians stationed or working in the area, local buyers of farm produce, agricultural supply dealers, and truckers are good sources of information. Select Reliable Local Sources

At the early stage, your contacts do not have to be completely representative so long as they are knowledgeable. The best farmerinformants are usually among the more progressive farmers. For example, a progressive small farmer will provide more information and insight into small farming operations than a larger-scale commercial farmer. Likely initial contacts are: your landlord's relatives, the local mayor or other local official, the more easily accessible and talkative farmers, or farmers who have worked with extension services for some time. Keep a careful record of all initial contacts.

How to Interview

  • Introducing yourself--Ideally, you should have a third party make the initial contact and introduction. If this is not possible, be prepared with a practiced explanation of your presence. It is important that you emphasize that you are the learner at this stage.
  • Suggested techniques--Allow the farmer to talk as spontaneously as possible. Any leading questions almost always get "yes" responses. Use a memorized interview schedule rather than a written one which is likely to inhibit responses. Avoid over-familiarity.
  • It is generally not a good idea to take written notes in front of a farmer, although in some cases he may expect you (as a "technician) to do so. Some farmers may view written notes as having some possible conncection with future tax collections, etc. It's best to wait until an unobtrusive moment such as the mid-day break to summarize information in written form.

Become Familiar With the Principal Physical Features

In order to locate farms, farmers, agricultural suppliers, etc., you should pinpoint their locations with reference to roads and trails and dominant topographic features. The principal physical and demographic features of the work area should also be located and understood. These include:

  • Topographical features-altitude, streams, principal features (landmarks) recognized locally as reference points, valleys, farm and non-farm lands
  • Communications (roads and trails)--seasonal access, distances, travel times-and modes of travel between points
  • Demographic--locations of communities (and their local names), farmers
  • Infrastructure--irrigation systems, drainage systems, agricultural supply stores, schools, extension offices, etc.

You can make a base reference map yourself which shows these features, relying on your own observations as well as road maps, geographic maps, or soil survey/land use maps available from government agencies and international or regional organizations working in the area.

Become Familiar With Climate and Weather Patterns

Sources of Information

  • Weather station records-Obtain all available meterological data from the official weather station nearest to your area of assignment. Its orientation value will depend on the station's proximity and how well it represents your area's conditions.
  • Relief maps--Altitude is the main temperature determinant in the tropics; remember that for every 100 m rise in altitude, average (mean) temperature will drop about 0.65°C.
  • Local farmers--Official weather data can be valuable, but it is not essential. Information about local climate and weather conditions can be learned from experienced local farmers.

You can draw a rainfall chart which is accurate enough for the initial orientation simply by systematically recording farmer's comments about the seasonal distribution of rainfall; the same can be done for seasonal temperature variation.

Climate and weather checklist

Make tables and/or charts showing the monthly distribution of rainfall using these criteria:

  • Dry to wet scale: (See rain fall section, Chapter 2.)
  • Rainfall frequency: the number of times it normally rains in a week or month

Risk factors associated with climate and weather (i.e., droughts, hail, high winds, flooding) can be established by having farmers recall bad crop years over a span of years. Be sure to distinguish weather factors from other causes such as insects and diseases.

As for temperature, be sure to record:

  • Monthly temperature averages.
  • Periods of significantly high or low temperatures.
  • Occurrence of first and last killing frosts if applicable

Become Familiar With Prevailing Fanning Systems and Practices

Identify the major crop and livestock enterprises in the work area. For each of the crop enterprises which predominates in the area, indicate the following and note any local variations:

  • The growing season--Indicate the normal growing season and its variations (early-late), and make a cropping calendar using line bar graphs (see rainfall section, Chapter 2).
  • Describe production practices --Do not confuse the practices recommended by extension with those generally accepted by farmers. Your interest is in the prevailing practices used by most of the farmers in the area. Make note of any significant differences among different groups of farmers.
  • Describe the principal-land preparation practices--Specify the earliest and latest dates of application and indicate what the practices are called locally. For example, in many areas of Central America, the practice of hilling up maize (throwing soil into the row) is called "aprogue".
  • Describe the kind and amount of inputs associated with the practice. This includes the amount applied, method and timing of application, and worker-days of labor.

Estimate yields and returns

At this stage of the orientation, it is not necessary to make a detailed account of costs and returns. Seeking such data can arouse local suspicions or fears of future tax levies. Rough estimates of production costs, and gross and net returns are sufficient.

  • Record reported yields per unit of land.
  • Record recent prices at normal time of sale.
  • Multiply recent prices by approximate average yield to get approximate gross returns.
  • Subtract approximate production costs from gross returns to obtain approximate net returns. There are two ways to do this: net return to capital, land, and family labor where the only labor costs you account for are hired labor, or net return to land and capital in which case an opportunity cost (exchange value) must be assigned to family labor and subtracted from the gross return. The first way is the easiest.

Indicate the relative tendencies of production

  • Estimate the percentage of the crop that is marketed.
  • Identify the principal local market outlets (buyers).
  • Indicate the seasonal movement of production off the farms: is it sold at harvest, some sold at harvest, some held for higher prices, etc.?
  • Indicate the seasonal price fluctuations (average over several years).

List the outside production inputs which are available locally. ("Available" means when needed.)

  • Crop production supplies (give brands, grades, and unit prices): fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, hand tools, handoperated equipment, seeds, etc.
  • Agricultural machinery and equipment (if used): tractors (horsepower and make), implements, irrigation pumps, etc.
  • Services: such as custom machinery services and rates charged, and professional services (indicate whether public or private), technical assistance and soil testing, etc.

Summarize the Information

Every area's agriculture is tuned to a time schedule or seasonal rhythm to which work schedules and activities must be adjusted. Getting oriented in time is vital to effective agricultural extension. The best way to do this is to summarize the initial phase of orientation by making graphs and calendar charts that show the area's seasonal rhythm of climate, agriculture, and social life. The following graphs, charts, and observations were made by a group of Peace Crops Volunteers assigned as rural credit agents in the Pacific region of Nicaragua during an orientation-training exercise. The principles involved apply worldwide.

Make a generalized climate and weather calendar

Chart the normal monthly distribution of rainfall as related by farmers using terms such as wet, dry, some rain, wettest time, rainfall drops off, etc. There are three ways to do this:

1. Use the frequency of rainfall to measure seasonal distribution (see chart above).

  1. Use a dry-to-wet scale.
  2. Measure rainfall, if you have access to reliable meteorological data. Indicate the range and frequency of possible deviations from normal rainfall patterns from information passed on to you from farmers, or recorded by a weather station. (See chart above.)

File:Field crops P030.GIF

Frequency of Rainfall

Make a calendar of agricultural activity.

For each of the major crop enterprises, display the length and possible range of growing season, including likely variations in planting and harvest times.

(See example at the top of page 31.)

Indicate the time for performing critical operations and relative labor requirements of those operations.

(See example at the bottom of page 31.)

File:Field crops P031A.GIF

Example: Crop Calendar, Crops and Order of Importance in the Esteli Area of Nicaragua

File:Field crops P031B.GIF

Example: Distribution of Work and Timing of Principal Farming Operations in the Esteli Area of Nicaragua

Indicate the relative seasonal labor demand, whether there are any periods of labor movement into or out of the area.

Determine the seasonal demand for other critical inputs: keep in mind an input is not considered critical unless farmers feel it is. (For example, if fertilizer is not generally used, it is not presently a critical input.)

Make a calendar of economic activity related to agriculture.

Indicate relative demand for short-term production credit. (See example below.) Indicate seasonal marketing patterns (the rate at which the crop is marketed).

Graph the seasonal range of prices.

Make a calendar of social activity that includes religious holidays and other holidays or seasonally determined social obligations. The summary concludes the initial orientation phase. With a good understanding of the local agricultural environment and farming practices, you are ready to move on to the next step: orientation to the individual farm unit.

File:Field crops P032.GIF

Example: Demand for Production Credit, Branch Office of the National Bank of Nicaragua

Orientation to the farm unit[edit | edit source]

Learning to communicate effectively with individual farmers about their farm enterprises and their farm businesses will help move you out of the questioning stage into a more active role. Expressing an interest in and being knowledgeable about the farm business can be the means as well as the purpose of communicating with farmers and will definitely increase your rapport and credibility with them.

Describe Typical Farm Units

Make a general farm profile which is representative for each of the types of farm unit with which you will be working.

Describe the Annual Agricultural Cycle as Perceived By the Farmer

For each type of farm unit with which you are likely to work, make an annual diary which indicates:

  • Normal operations by months or seasons
  • The decisions which the farmer has to make that are related to these operations
  • The farmer's concerns throughout the year, such as the timing of the rains, dry spells, bird damage to crops, flooding, obtaining inputs, completing operations in time, etc.
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Authors Eric Blazek
Published 2006
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