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Agro-designing: sustainability-driven, vision-oriented, problem preventing and knowledge-based methodology for improving farming systems sustainability

Znaor, Darko and Goewie, Eric (1999) Agro-designing: sustainability-driven, vision-oriented, problem preventing and knowledge-based methodology for improving farming systems sustainability. In: Zanoli, R and Krell, R (Eds.) Research methodologies in organic farming, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, pp. 173-174.

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Document available online at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/x6089e/x6089e00.htm


While classical research focuses to problem solving, design is a problem- prevention methodology, and is suitable for multi- and and interdisciplinary research teams with the vision of how to improve the agricultural sustainability. Since organic agriculture is based on the holistic approach and is also problem-prevention oriented in that it refrains from certain inputs and practices, design is an interesting methodology that could be applied more often in organic agriculture.
1. Introduction, the need to redesign agricultural systems
The demand for a more careful stewardship of a-biotic and biotic resources is central to the philosophy of sustainable development. A widely recognised concept, sustainable development is an essential element in future development. Agriculture plays a vital role in the concept of sustainable development. Without sustainable agriculture, no sustainable development is possible. Agriculture related problems such as environmental pollution of soil, water and air; resource depletion and nature degradation; as well as socio-economic problems are high at the agenda of various communities and interest groups (including those of farmers, environmentalists, nature-conservators, scientists, consumers and policy makers. This has resulted in the serious demand that today’s farming systems be redesigned and transformed into more sustainable ones. However, this is not an easy task, because agriculture is a multifunctional and multiple objective activity (Goewie, 1997; Vereijken, 1995). Agriculture has to supply food in sufficient quantity and quality and the supply itself must be stable, sustainable and accessible. It must provide employment and generate basic income and profit at farm, regional level and national levels. In addition, agriculture also has to try and avoid and minimise the pollution of a-biotic resources, protect and steward nature and landscape, as well as ensure the overall health and well-being of farm animals and rural and urban people (Vereijken, 1995).
2. Desired improvements of farming systems and the measurement of their sustainability
Taking into account agriculture-related problems, the following improvements seem to be desirable in order to make farming systems more sustainable:
1) “ecologisation”: prevention and/or minimisation of environmental pollution through the overall management and the use of agricultural inputs;
2) production of more “nature” and (bio)diversity on farms;
3) ensure stable and fair income for farmers allowing them to maintain their dignity and function in society;
4) a higher degree of ethical and political acceptability;
5) in non-EU regions such as Central and Eastern Europe overall farm management and yields should be improved.
A farming system should be designed and function in a way that complies as far as possible with the requirements, criteria and parameters of sustainable agriculture (van Mansvelt and Znaor, forthcoming). However, the above mentioned functions and objectives of agriculture are not necessarily always compatible. Sometimes they conflict as in the case of economy and nature protection (Goewie, 1997). Besides, each farm is an agro-ecological and socio-economic entity, operating under specific conditions, which makes it impossible to impose a set of uniform sustainability criteria because sustainability is both site-specific and determined by macro institutional and economic settings. Therefore, in practice no farm entirely fulfills all the requirements for sustainable agriculture, even if these have been theoretically determined. The overall sustainability of a farming system can best be expressed by the index (degree) of sustainability reached. This index can be derived from farm balances such as nutrients, soil organic matter, energy, labour, economic return, resource use and biodiversity value, and from other relevant farm data (Znaor, 1996).
3. Methodology of designing sustainable farming systems
Design is not a typical research methodology. In fact it is a process very different from classical research. Classical research investigates a particular problem, phenomena or a set of problems, in order to understand the mechanisms involved. Sometimes it seeks answers to practical problems. In most cases, a research problem or object is segregated into smaller “researchable” units, and analysis and experiments are performed to prove causal relations between manipulation and phenomena (Goewie, 1997). Design, however, involves another process entirely. In design one synthesises the knowledge into the larger units through which the “whole” functions in reality. In other words, in research one “discovers something”, while in designing one “creates something” out of its vision and synthesised knowledge. However, although design takes another route than the one followed in research, it does not exclude the need for classical research, since designing is enriched by each new research discovery. Agro-designing methodology involves several steps (Vereijken, 1995). It starts with an inventory of the needs and objectives of the stakeholders concerned. Objectives are then ordered hierarchical and rated. The most important of these are then transformed into a suitable set of parameters. In other words, in order to quantify selected objectives, a set of measurable key parameters should be developed. The next step is to establish appropriate agricultural methods and techniques serving more than one objective, - for example, intensive fertilisation serves in general the objective of high yield and is detrimental to other objectives such as the environment - and capable of bridging gaps between conflicting objectives. Finally, the set of multi-objective parameters and methods is linked in a general theoretical prototype based on agronomic, agro-ecological and economic considerations. Theoretical prototypes are then tested in practice and their shortcomings are used as the learning points for the next phase (re)designing of the same or another farming system.
4. References:
Goewie, E.A., 1997. Designing methodologies for prototyping ecological production systems. Course reader MSc. Ecological Agriculture (F800-204). Department of Ecological Agriculture, Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen.
Mansvelt, van J.D. and Znaor, D., (forthcoming): Criteria for the a-biotic and biotic realm: environment and ecology. In: Mansvelt van J.D. and Lubbe M.J (eds.): Checklist for Sustainable Landscape Management: final report of the EU-concerted action (AIR3-CT93-1210), Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Vereijken, P., 1995. Designing and testing prototypes: Progress reports of the research network on integrated and ecological arable farming systems for EU and associated countries (Concerted Action AIR 3-CT920755), DLO Research Institute for Agrobiology and Soil Fertility, Wageningen.
Znaor, D., 1996. Ekološka poljoprivreda- poljoprivreda sutrašnjice, Globus, Zagreb.

EPrint Type:Conference paper, poster, etc.
Type of presentation:Paper
Keywords:Agricultural systems redesigning; Methodology of designing organic farming systems; Improvements of farming systems; Measurement of agricultural sustainability; "Ecologisation" of sustainable agriculture;
Subjects:"Organics" in general
Farming Systems
Food systems
Environmental aspects
Knowledge management
Research affiliation: Netherlands > Wageningen University & Research (WUR)
Deposited By: Znaor, Dr Darko
ID Code:26420
Deposited On:01 Jul 2014 08:27
Last Modified:01 Jul 2014 08:27
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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