Nepal's agriculture, sustainability and intervention : looking for new directions

B.B. Basnyat

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    <p>This study focuses on intervention processes that support sustainable agriculture. It argues that we know very little about how to intervene for sustainable agriculture, particularly for those areas where the Green Revolution has passed almost unnoticed and where degradation of natural resources is the normal practices, rather than the exception. As sustainability is a constructed, contextual and complicated concept, it is far from clear what sustainability is, how it comes about, and what it is actually for, although it has been at the top of the agenda for nearly a decade. No substantial biological or socialinstitutional breakthroughs or innovations have yet emerged, despite the considerable efforts that have been devoted so far to sustainable agriculture. Impressively, the word "sustainability" is such a powerful symbol that the very thought of an unsustainable agriculture immediately conjures up images of massive human deprivation and suffering and, ultimately, mass starvation.<p>This study is an attempt to seek answers to the following questions: How to intervene, where to intervene, and with whom to intervene to support sustainable agriculture? What effects are likely to be produced by development efforts that seek to introduce sustainable agriculture? What are the factors associated with the effects of those efforts?<p>The setting for this research is Nepal. The research had two phases. The first comprised a reconnaissance, the objective of which was to assess problem situations in sustainable agriculture and understand farmers'perceptions of and responses to sustainability/unsustainability of agriculture. It was conducted in two villages each of the Gorkha, Tanahu and Nawalparasi districts of Western Nepal, located in the mountains, hills and Terai regions respectively. Not only did this phase provide useful insight to the researcher to select cases of development efforts for the second and main phase of the research, but it also unveiled several sustainability problems of Nepalese agriculture. If resource degradation appeared a major problem for agriculture in the mountains and hills, the Terai presented the problems of post-Green Revolution agriculture. In addition to this, the findings indicated that the notion of sustainability will not attract or motivate farmers to participate voluntarily in any program of change or innovations, unless improving net farm income along with increased productivity is a part of the definition of sustainability. An interrelatedness of agriculture and culture was also observed. Based on the findings of the first phase, four cases each of agroforestry, permaculture, community forestry and agricultural extension were selected for the second phase.<p>This study reviewed the meanings of and approaches to sustainability. In this regard, the author took the side of the school of thought which viewed sustainability as an emergent property of a soft system, because goals such as productivity and sustainability are objectives of people, they emerge from soft systems, human activity systems, not from natural (e.g. plants) or designed systems (e.g. computers). Likewise, the author was of the view which opted for a fundamental "paradigm" shift in the way we think about and practise sustainable agriculture, and for adjusting, adapting and expanding knowledge systems as<br/>consistent and coherent with the logic of sustainable agriculture. Crucial in this approach is the need to loosen the grip of the dominant view that sustainability is a goal which can be attained through making some adjustments to the standard development models. Keeping this in mind, concepts and theories on intervention were reviewed.<p>On reviewing intervention concepts and theories, it emerged that intervention is a problematic concept which means different things to different people according to their orientations. Three intervention approaches were reviewed, namely Transfer of Technology, Farmer First and Beyond Farmer First. Thus, having introduced multiple viewpoints of intervention and models for intervention, the author proposed a framework to study intervention viewed as a soft system. Crucial in this view is the realization that intervention can only have an impact through shared learning and collective decision making by its constituent actors with respect to problem situations. At this point, the author offered the following definition of intervention. <em>Intervention is an interaction or a negotiation process where intervening agencies, intervened parties and other actors bring in different (rather than a different level of) expertise and analytical capacity to facilitate mutual learning, joint action, negotiation, accommodation, consensus building and so forth.</em><p>The aforementioned four cases were examined using the knowledge systems perspective as a diagnostic tool. The case study was the method of research. Of the four cases, the case on agroforestry was a pilot case which helped to refine data collection plans in terms of both the content of the data and procedures to be followed for the next cases, permaculture, community forestry and agricultural extension.<p>Each of the four cases illustrated that unless all components of the knowledge systems are calibrated appropriately, innovation cannot realize its full potential. The findings indicated that development efforts are likely to be unsustainable or fail, no matter which governmental or non-governmental agency promotes them, if social variables remain unaddressed or not handled properly. The cases revealed the improved thinking and attitudes concerning the intervening agencies on the need to give considerable attention to farmers' needs and priorities, although some problems were noted. Likewise, factors such as means-ends confusion, inadequate' communication structure and lack of interinstitutional coordination and linkages were identified. The cases show that the projects have slipped back into a TOT mode of working despite the fact that they disapproved of TOT or recognized its problems.<p>This research argued against the pessimistic view of projects or development intervention. For this, two examples from Nepal were presented. It was contended that neither intervened parties (e.g. farmers) nor intervening agencies are part of problem, but rather that both of them are part of the solution. People are likely to come to a platform when problems become visible to them or are made visible to them. The problems can be made visible to them through language, sense making and other mental exercises, as people are knowledgeable, capable and sense makers. Hence, the need is to shift our emphasis from things (plants, water, animal, fodder) to people. The research concluded that mechanistic models of intervention are too rigid and too specialised to address messy real-world problems, and reductionism too small and too thin to understand intentional, sense-making human beings. Hence, based on the soft systems perspective a skeleton of theory of intervention to support sustainable agriculture is presented. The need is now to fill it with flesh, blood and soul. This, an alternative view of intervention, provides answers to many questions raised earlier.<p>Last, but not least, this <em></em> research draws implications from the findings to provide some recommendations for policy and implementation. As the recommendations provide a proposal or a framework for discussion and debate in order to initiate action in the future, they are not prescriptions. This research argues that as long as national policy is sectoral, it cannot be expected that people from different disciplines will think holistically, through a systems perspective. In view of this, it calls on policy makers to reconsider the objectives of the Eighth Plan (1992-97). They are not likely to bring together multiple actors and stakeholders in a common platform or enable them to view the problem situation through a systems perspective.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Röling, N.G., Promotor
    • Gibbon, D., Promotor, External person
    Award date29 May 1995
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789054853961
    Publication statusPublished - 1995


    • sustainability
    • forestry
    • agroforestry
    • nepal

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