Agricultural Research -- Cox, Mason and Solieng

ISSS Meeting at Asilomar, June 28-July 2, 1999 
  • Paper Session, June 28, 1999, 2:05 p.m., chaired by Arne Collen 
These participant's notes were created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. These should not be viewed as official transcripts of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. These notes have been contributed by David Ing ( at the IBM AdvancedBusiness Institute ( ).
Peter Cox (economist), Paul Mason (systems) and Mak Solieng (sociologist)

Cambodia is one of the poorest Asian countries. 

  • GDP, about $250 per capita. 
Agricultural development in Cambodia: 
  • Devastation from civil war, particularly 1975-1979, when there was an agrarian revolution. 
  • Great organization of labour, of everyone into agriculture, and all manual work. 
After liberation from the Communist regime, became a socialist country, returned from -0 GDP. 
  • Used solidarity groups, where people had each other to produce food. 
  • Many high school students were sent to East Block (e.g. Cuba, Bulgaria) countries to study. 
  • Agricultural research, but poor. 
1985, not enough food for population, due to poor development. 
  • Compared to Vietnam or Thailand, low production of rice. 
Request to International Institute in Manila 
  • Introduced to systems and agriculture in 1993. 
  • Then went to study in Australia. 
  • In 1987, AusAID project founded. 
  • Linked with IRRI (rice research). 
  • A "farming systems" approach. 
    • Integration of technological components, e.g. pest management, agricultural engineering, land preparation. 
    • Includes household activities using rice. 
  • Formal experimental design. 
Extension project: 
  • Cambodia Australia Agricultural Extension Project 
  • Agro-ecosystems analysis. 
  • Local identification of problems, with solutions at the district level. 
Not usual process of research and extension 
  • Some overlap in stakeholders, but the research and extension isn't well linked. 
  • How could the two be linked to for a feedback (learning) loop? 
  • In addition, the research group is evolving into a different organization. 
Overlap in projects: 
  • Both agricultural institutional infrastructure focus. 
  • Development of capacity and infrastructure. 
  • Projects have a limited lifetime. 
  • Both claim to use systems ideas to guide actions: although different views of systems. 
  • Farming systems research is now defunct (since 1980s) 
  • Now ideas on farming systems development (more participatory). 
  • Different content: rice crops vs. livestock. 
  • Emphasis technological vs. informational focus. 
Some issues: 
  • Generalization vs. participation (although coming into conflict with colleagues who say it's not science, and people who say it's applicable locally, but not in larger geographies. 
    • This is a scale issue. 
  • Focus on a farm household as unit of decision-making and a unit of impact. 
    • Shift towards participation doesn't emphasize farm households, as people are taking it on themselves as responsibilities. 
    • These points of view need to interact. 
  • What constitutes a problem? 
    • Problems aren't objectified well, can't analyze and take home. 
    • Problems arise only after a lot of communication. 
  • Performance is often not information-limited. 
  • Interested in building in feedback loops. 
The management of change: 
  • Constructing CIAP and CAAEP as learning organizations. 
  • Research is usually top-down models, but bottom-up models emerge from working with farmers. 
  • Level of systems thinking is pretty naive. 
  • Value in redundancy -- same thing in different ways. 
  • May lead to pragmatic pluralism. 
Suggested ways forward: 
  • Would like more overt ways of system thinking: systems analysis and systems synthesis. 
  • Dealing a lot more with organizational change. 
  • Want to build "the learning organization" as a guiding metaphor 
  • Trying to retain a creative tension, multiple ways of looking at research. 


Where did participation come in? 
  • In the extension projects, participatory methods. 
    • Mainly informational. 
Working with literate and illiterate people is different: traditions and arts become important. 
  • Don't want farmers to become scientists; want scientists to help farmers to become experimentalists. 
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This page was last modified by David Ing on October 6, 2002.