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close this bookAgricultural Extension: Guidelines for Extension Workers in Rural Areas (SKAT; 1994; 298 pages)
View the documentPreface
View the documentA few words on this English edition:
View the documentImpressum
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentIntroduction to the Guidelines
View the documentCommon Difficulties
Open this folder and view contentsQuestions List
close this folderTheory Chapters
View the documentA Definition of Extension
View the documentB Communication
View the documentC Value Concepts - Value Systems
View the documentD Functions of Extension
View the documentE Animation / Organizational Development
View the documentF Adult Education
View the documentG Transmission of Information
View the documentH Problem Solving Assistance
View the documentI Developing Extension Topics
View the documentJ Extension Approaches
View the documentK Farming Systems Research (FSR)
View the documentL Goal Oriented Project Planning
View the documentM Dialogue in Extension
View the documentN Recommendations for the Writing of Reports

K Farming Systems Research (FSR)

1. Definition

A farming system is a farming pattern or combination of farming activities practiced on a farm. It is a production system that provides an opportunity for farmers to exploit the full productive potential of their farm through the optimal use of ecological and economic resources over a longer time frame. (After Noor, Hashim Mohd.)

2. Objective

The major aim of FSR is to better understand a farming system to be able to increase the welfare of individual farming families by improving the relevant development activities. The yield of their farm should be increased and maintained while taking into account the limitations of the resources available to the families and the customs of the area.

Individual farms are regarded as systems because of the increased awareness among scientists of interlinkages and mutual dependencies of the different components of farming livelihood. From this point of view a farming system is like a living organism which is capable of changing and adapting itself according to its development potential, its preferences and the impact of internal and external forces. The following diagram shows the main elements that determine a farming system.

3. Schematic Representation of some Determinants of a Farming System


4. Steps for Implementing FSR Programmes (after Norman and Collinson) a) The descriptive' diagnostic stage

An interdisciplinary team of experts (agronomists, sociologists, economists, ethnologists) identifies as quickly as possible the voiced needs of the farming families, the limits and constraints to which the families are subject and the level of flexibility which the existing farming systems permit. b) The design or planning stage

A group of experts identifies a set of strategies for solving the identified problems. The proposed solutions can come from knowledge obtained at experiment stations; they can also be developed from the results of field trials or from the farmer's own knowledge and experience. c) The testing stage

The most promising strategies are chosen by discussing with the farming families and then tested under conditions comparable to those existing on the local farms. OFR (On-Farm Research) in its different forms may also be part of this stage:

1. The research worker carries out trials on the farmer's land.
2. The research worker supervises trials on the farmer's land.
3. The farmer independently tests a proposed innovation. d) The recommendation and dissemination stage

This stage also contains a research element. The innovations under trial are observed and analyzed by the farmer and the researcher.

Remarks concerning the Situation Analysis

A list of the information to be collected during a situation analysis might include the following keywords (the list may be shorter, more detailed or more focussed on a specific topic according to requirements):

a) Natural Conditions

· Climate, amount and distribution of rainfall
· Soil, topography
· Pests and diseases

b) Socio-economic Conditions

· Social structure of the village
· Infrastructure
· Marketing and processing of products
· Labour market
· Land tenure
· Settlement patterns
· Availability of credit
· Relation ship between farmers and extension service
· Price policy and politics

c) Production Factors

· Land: Forms of tenure, availability, intensity of use, farm size
· Manpower: family work, division of labour, peak labour periods
· Capital: availability

d) Type of Farming

· Crops cultivated
· Animal husbandry
· Priority among the various farming activities
· Interrelations between the various farming activities

e) The Farmers' Objectives

· Preferences, consumer behaviour, taboos
· Willingness to take risks

f ) Cultivation Techniques of the Target Group

· Land preparation
· Sowing Thinning
· Weed control
· Fertilizing
· Plant protection
· Crop rotation
· Mixed cultivation
· Irrigation
· Harvest, storage
· Seed production

9) Limiting Factors

· Suitability of varieties
· Soil fertility
· Plant density

Even carefully conducted studies often suffer from systematic errors which bias the results. Among these are:

· Information is collected mostly from places along roadsides

· Information is collected from places where projects are already being implemented

· The study team prefers to travel during the dry season and not just before the harvest when living conditions of the farming families are most difficult

· Approachable and talkative people - those who are contacted by the researchers - are usually better off than the average inhabitant

· Politeness and hospitality by the farmers distort both the information collected and the impression of the researchers about food habits

Generally speaking, a poor farming family has the following order of priorities:

· Social and cultural responsibilities to the community/society Assured self-sufficiency for day-to-day necessities

· Cash for the purchase of additional goods (e.g. wood, matches, medicine)

· Additional cash for investment and use.

This is why farmers carefully assess any innovation before using it. The following diagram shows the process of a decision.


The Limits of FSR

· Every farm is a unique system with its own family situation and their particular likes and dislikes.
· Changes of climate and marketing conditions are unpredictable.
· Short-term benefits and yield-sustaining measures are often conflicting (e.g. short-term food supply and long-term protection of the forests).

Difficulties while implementing FSR

Suggestions for overcoming these difficulties

Farmers cannot give all the required information.

Ask questions differently.


Rely more on direct observation.

Farmers are tired of answering more and more questions; they want to see results.

· No inquiries without a direct benefit for the farmers.


· Start micro-projects immediately after the survey.


Ask only the most important questions.

Hidden and unmentioned reasons are difficult to uncover.

· Contact people who know the region very well.


· It is difficult to set up interdisciplinary teams.


· Engage people from the "outside" to assist in the first diagnostic stage.

· Specialists have a limited understanding of the whole complex of problems.

· Informal brainstorming helps to broaden the horizon.


The team engages a generalist or a social scientist to assist in checking the objectives and the procedure the diagnosis

Researchers restrict themselves to analyzing the situation and elaborate on the results of their surveys. They do not produce any practical suggestions for further action.

Let the farmers decide which topics the researchers should work on.


· Include research, testing and implementation stages in your planning from the start.


Clearly formulate researchers' job descriptions.

Literature and sources

The following two sources give a general introduction into FSR:

· Collinson, M.: 1983: Farming Systems Research:

· Diagnosing the problem. Paper for the 1984 Annual Agricultural Symposium, The World Bank, Washington.

· Harwood, Richard R.: 1980: An overview of farming systems methodology. Rodale Press Inc.

· Neuenschwander, B. 1985: Farming Systems Research. Uberblick uber verschiedene Farming

· Systems Konzepte von internationalen Forschungs zentren. Diplomarbeit am Institut fur Agrarwirtschaft, ETH, Zurich Collinson also points out ways and means for practical procedures, whereas Harwood puts more emphasis on the basic notions.

· Procedures and interview-check lists for situations analyses are mentioned also in the following papers and books:

· Beebe, J.: 1985: Rapid rural appraisal the critical first step in a farming system approach to research. USAID Networking paper No. 5, San Francisco.

· Hildebrand, P.E./Ruano, S.: 1982: El sondeo. Folleto Tecnico No 21, ICTA Guatemala.

· Collinson, M. 1980: A low cost approach to understanding small farmers. Applied Science Publishers Ltd., England.

A useful critique of the use of the FSR-methodology so far is in:

· Chambers, R., Ghildyal, B.P.; 1985: Agricultural Research for resource-poor farmers: the farmerfirst-and-last model. IDS Sussex, England.

Wnitten and compiled by:

Ernst Bolliger, Tonino Zellweger

Related Keywords

Pointers, to the GTZ - Manual

2.2 Situation Analysis

Volume 1:

6.5 Research

157 Situation analysis

I Developing Extension Topics

Volume 2:


67 A10: FSR (Farming Systems Research)


265 E1: Identifying target groups


349 F4: Checklist for information gathering

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