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Research Implications of a Paradigm Shift in Agriculture: The Case of Organic Farming

Wynen, Els (1996) Research Implications of a Paradigm Shift in Agriculture: The Case of Organic Farming. Resource and Environmental Studies, no. 12. Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies , Australian National University, Canberra.

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Online at: http://www.elspl.com.au/abstracts/abstract-g1b.HTM


It is proposed in this report that organic and conventional agriculture belong to two different paradigms.
The first type of agriculture, called conventional farming in this paper, is characterised by an approach of control and reductionism, emphasising treatment of symptoms instead of prevention in management. Solutions to problems within chemistry are an important part of the science involved in conventional agriculture. Although there is awareness of off-farm problems, in general these are not paid a great deal of attention.
The second, called organic farming, approaches farming as an holistic enterprise, with the whole farm seen as one integrated, dynamic system. Changes in one part of the system might influence a number of other parts. Attempts to prevent problems by encouraging biological processes, especially in the soil, are central in this approach. The emphasis is on biological processes, rather than on chemistry. The effect of farming on the off-farm environment is seen as an important part of farming.
Since there cannot be proof that a particular change is more than a marginal shift, Kuhn's (1970) trajectory of moving towards a new paradigm is followed. It is argued that the move towards organic farming can be seen as satisfying Kuhn's description of what happens during a paradigm shift. Beus and Dunlap's surveys (1990; 1991) underline the notion that organic and conventional farmers each tend to conform to characteristics thought to be typical for their group, thus suggesting fundamental differences.
Accepting a shift in paradigm has implications in several areas. The first concerns research into technological issues, such as the relevance of research topics (related here to soils and pests); comparisons of the organic and conventional systems, and the location of technical research. An emphasis on how to stimulate soil life so that the soil can perform optimally in terms of nutrient cycling and preventing pest and diseases is essential in organic farming. Certain pests generally found under conventional management are not relevant under organic management, or are approached from a different angle in organic farming than under conventional management. Comparisons between the two systems were of interest to organic farming in the early years. However, continued work in this area should now be considered for the benefit of conventional researchers and farmers. The organic sector is more interested in how and why processes under organic management work rather than whether they work. Different requirements for research location stem from the fact that on-farm research is more relevant, and that problems under organic management are more region-specific than under conventional management so that solutions will need to be found regionally.
The second area of implications of a paradigm shift is the need for changes in infrastructure. Changing policies towards institutions which influence agriculture, such as research allocation, input costs, marketing, education, extension and risk management can be efficiency-enhancing within the conventional agriculture paradigm. Reforms of these institutional arrangements are likely to be important for the efficient development of agriculture within the organic paradigm. In the absence of appropriate reform in these areas a shift to the new paradigm is likely to occur more slowly.
The distinction between organic and conventional agriculture makes it likely that some stages of research (such as planning, implementation of projects into organic farming and resource allocation) are carried out most efficiently by those who are aware of the fundamental and practical differences between the management systems. Consideration of all aspects concerned with research lead to the conclusion that, when research into organic agriculture is pursued, an organisation specifically dealing with this is worthwhile contemplating.

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:organic agriculture, paradigm shift, research implications, Australia
Subjects:"Organics" in general
Research affiliation: Australia > Eco Landuse Systems
Related Links:http://www.elspl.com.au/pubs/ResearchPol.HTM
Deposited By: Wynen, Dr Els
ID Code:3053
Deposited On:23 Jul 2004
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:29
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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