An Exploratory Literature Review of Efforts to Help the Small-Scale, Resource Poor Farmer in International Agricultural Development


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Virginia Tech


Since the 1979 World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD) and the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment Development, international agricultural development organizations have been urged to strengthen their focus toward the sustainable development of the small-scale, resource poor farmer.

A recent report from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO, 1996) indicated that many small-scale farmers were not being reached by agricultural extension, although approximately 75% of the worlds' farmers are small-scale, resource poor farmers. The report suggested that in some instances agricultural extension services reported reaching one out of three farmers in Africa. In other areas such as the Near East, the report stated that one out of seven farmers had been reached by the extension services.

This study investigated the small-scale, resource poor farmer's ongoing level of participation, rate of adoption of agricultural technology, and the sustainable benefits of the implemented projects within the documents of several international agricultural development organizations to determine if the farmers can positively impact the forecasted food shortage expected during the early part of the 21st Century. To accomplish this, the methodology utilized the Light and Pillemer (1984) method of exploratory literature review. The Light and Pillemer method provided the foundation for data collection as well as numerical and narrative document analysis.

Data collection: Eleven key governmental and non-governmental international agricultural development organizations were contacted by the researcher and supplied the following types of documents: (1) unpublished completed projects reports, (2) unpublished annual reports, and (3) published news reports. A planned systematic investigation of the documents was carried out (Girden, 1996).

Numerical and Narrative Document Analysis: Both numerical and narrative data were collected from the documents. The Light and Pillemer (1984) method was used to determine the level of overall project change in those documents which provided numerical or quantitative data. Meta ethnography and the QSR computer software (Qualitative Solutions and Research Pty. Ltd., 1996) were used to investigate themes and characteristics of the narrative data within the documents.

The findings of the study were placed in matrices which provided a systematic examination of the characteristics of the implemented projects of 51 international agricultural development organizations located within 38 developing countries. The narrative document analysis indicated the participation of the smal-lscale, resource poor farmers. The characteristic indicators of farmer participation were farmer participation in: farmers groups, select groups, community development, and in capacity building methods such as training, leadership development, and planning and decision making.

The findings of the study suggest that though many international agricultural development organizations claim that they are making some progress there remains a grave need for international agricultural research and extension to provide more documentation of project outcomes especially those outcome which are concerned with more than 75% of the worlds' farmers, the small-scale, resource poor farmer. For example, of the study’s 51 projects, only six reported small-scale, resource poor farmers participation percentage. Seven projects reported numerical data on before and after rate of adoption of the technology. Sixteen of the 51 projects reported numerical data on sustainable benefits of the project to the small-scale, resource poor farmer.

Only one document reported data on both the adoption of technology and sustainable benefits to the small-scale, resource poor farmer. However, in light of the world impacting Plan of Actions (i.e. 1979 World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development held in Rome, Italy; 1991 Plan of Action for Peoples’ Participation report of the Twenty-sixth Session held in Rome, Italy; 1992 Agenda 21 document a product of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Brazil; and the 1996 Plan of Action for Global Partnership in Agricultural Research held in Washington, D.C.) all of the documents should have indicated this type of essential data, and should be striving for a development which would be both productive and sustainable to the farmer.

The results of this study suggested that the impending need for improved global food production as we move into the 21st century through the more than one million small-scale, resource poor farmer participants within the projects of this study may not be met due to the low amount of evidence in the implemented project reports of adoption of the technology, and the inadequate reporting of benefits essential to the small-scale, resource poor farmer.



Subsistence Farmer, Sustainable Development, 21st Century, International Agricultural Research and Extension