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Peasants, Farmers and Scientists: A Chronicle of Tropical Agricultural Science in the Twentieth Century

By: H.J.W. Mutsaers

607 pages, Figs, tabs


Hardback | Jul 2007 | #168400 | ISBN-13: 9781402061653
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1 week Details
NHBS Price: £115.50 $152/€129 approx

About this book

This book is a critical account of tropical agricultural science and agricultural development in the twentieth century, in particular in Africa. It describes successes as well as fads and failures, from the perspective of a practitioner of more than 40 years. The emphasis is on the second half of the century, but the story frequently reaches deep into the first half of the century as well.

The book's premise is that the story of tropical agricultural science and agricultural development can be told in a single volume at a more than trivial level, understandable for people of normal intelligence. It tries to uncover what real value there has been in the major areas of study (Farming Systems Research, Natural Resource Management, crop modelling, etc.) after peeling off the multiple protective layers applied by the profession. It also takes a critical look at agricultural and general development which has become inflated with hot air to the point of blowing itself apart in the early twenty first century.

A wide range of topics is covered, including interesting early science from the beginning of the last century (sugarcane breeding and shifting cultivation in Indonesia, anthropological studies in German West Africa), fascinating indigenous farming practices in Africa, the history of Farming Systems Research and its offshoots, sense and nonsense of computer modelling of crop growth, and the role of development projects and consultants. The treatment is closely linked with the author's professional career, but the emphasis is on the subject matter.

From the reviews: "Peasants, Farmers and Scientists is a narration of tropical agricultural case studies from the East Indies and West and Central Africa during the latter half of the 20th century. It is also a memoir and an introductory monograph for agronomy curricula ! . The book balances the potential of the African farmer and the demise of agriculture with descriptions of development, donors, station research, scientists (both foreign and local), farmers' responses, and applications of extension work. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and up." (W. K. Bauchspies, CHOICE, Vol. 45 (11), 2008) "This book is a highly readable, engaging and thorough introduction to agriculture in the tropics and to the evolution of tropical agriculture as a science in the twentieth century. It reviews agriculture's "successes as well as its fads and failures" and discusses how agricultural sciences contributed or not to the advancement of the small-holders producers, particularly in Africa. It focuses primarily on the second, post-colonial half of the century, and builds on the author's first-hand observations as a researcher in a plantation in the Dutch West Indies, Wageningen University lecturer and long-time researcher at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria. ! The book is a welcome addition to the body of reading materials for introductory, comprehensive courses in international development or international agriculture. The author systematically introduces concepts like shifting cultivation ("the mother of all farming"), semi-intensive farming, nutrient budgets and crop modeling, and provides field examples to explain how these concepts work in reality. ! The book also serves as a strong introduction to the history of Farming Systems Research (FSR), the author being one of the founding proponents of the approach. ! a book that clearly, and often humorously, takes stock of tropical agriculture in a balanced yet candid manner." (Carlos Perez, Earth Institute, Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964, USA)


1. What is tropical agronomy? 2. A tropical agronomist's education; 2.1 Wageningen and tropical agronomy around 1960; 2.2 The story of sugarcane; 2.3.1 Tropical crop husbandry; 2.3.2 Genetics; 2.3.3 Statistics; 2.3.4 Soil fertility; 2.4 Summing up. 3. Old and new: the 1960s and '70s; 3.1 New times, old reflexes: a cotton project on the island of Lombok; 3.2 Old and new in crop science: growth analysis and modelling; 3.3 Academic exercises in Africa; 3.4 Is station research in Africa useful? 3.5 And what about teaching tropical agronomy in the Netherlands? 4. Farmers are smarter than you think; 4.1 In search of a new development vision; 4.2 Three visionaries; 4.3 IITA joins the FSR movement; 4.4 Some amazing things about West African farming; 4.5 FSR catches on at national research institutes; 4.6 IITA's tenuous relationship with FSR. 5. Forests, fallows and fields; 5.1 Fallow-based cropping; 5.2 Where are fallow-based systems heading? 6. Farmer skills, an elusive property 7. Mainly technology; 7.1 What is technology? 7.2 Agronomists' technology: alley cropping, zero tillage, live mulch and more; 7.3 Plant breeders' technology: crop varieties; 7.4 Pest and disease control; 7.5 Has agronomic research been useful for the African farmer? 8. Follies and sanity of Farming Systems Research; 8.1 The pathology of diagnosis; 8.2 On-farm experiments; 8.3 Francophone approaches; 8.4 What about technology adoption? 8.5 Client orientation; 8.6 Development expertology; 8.7 Does FSR have a future? 9. The modelling sorcerers and their apprentices; 9.1 The promise; 9.2 What is a model? 9.3 Elegance and simplicity; 9.4 Enter computing power; 9.4.1 A static model for canopy assimilation; 9.5 The fabulous cotton plant; 9.6 How the plant disappeared from the models; 9.7 Has crop modelling been useful for non-modellers? 9.8 New trends are emerging; 9.9 Does tropical agronomy need modelling? 10. Donors, Experts and Consultants;10.1 Development aid; a short and mainly African history; 10.2 Agricultural development; 10.3 Three donor-assisted programmes 11. Can African farming be improved? 11.1 The African farmer and his potential for change; 11.2 Extension: organisation, methods and education; 11.3 Can agronomic research help agriculture? 11.4 Are we missing essential elements? APPENDICES: A1. C.T. de Wit's analysis of plant competition; A1.1 Two species competing for the same space; A1.2 Crowding for space in monoculture, a yield-density function; A1.3 Crowding for partly the same space; A1.4 Competition in natural plant populations; A2. Shifting cultivation and recurrent cropping; A2.1 A cautionary note; A2.2 Shifting cultivation; A2.3 Recurrent cropping A3. Factor analysis A4. Nutrient dynamics of alley cropping; A4.1 Another cautionary note; A4.2 Nutrient flows and nutrient stocks; A4.3 The nutrient budget for a 'poor soil'; A4.4 A long term alley cropping trial; A4.5 Some tinkering involved; A4.6 Maize and cassava; A4.7 Summing up A5. More farmer technologies; A5.1 Land use systems (or how to exploit a difficult environment); A5.2 Manipulating a crop; A5.3 Crop processing A6. Papers presented at the 2005 Symposium of the International Farming systems Association A7. Quantification of cotton growth and development; A7.1 Establishment of plant structure; A7.2 Growth of stem girth and weight; A7.3 Numbers of squares and bolls A8. Organ growth and assimilate partitioning; Introduction A8.1 Models of the Wageningen School; A8.2 The CROPGRO and CERES models; A8.3 The ARS Cotton Production Model; A8.4 Summing up A9. Calculation of potential assimilation, dry matter production and yield; A9.1 Potential assimilation; A9.2 Potential biomass production; A9.3 Potential crop yield; Literature cited

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The author, who graduated from Wageningen University in the Netherlands in June 1967 and obtained a PhD degree there in April 1982, has spent a lifetime working in a wide range of tropical agronomy-related fields. He started his career in a cotton development project in Indonesia, lectured and carried out research at the Universities of Wageningen, Yaounde (Cameroun) and Ibadan (Nigeria) and played a key role in the introduction of the 'Farming Systems Research' approach in West and Central Africa when working at the International Institute of Tropical agriculture in Ibadan. Since 1994 he has been attached to the Nedworc Foundation in the Netherlands and travelled to many African, Asian and Latin American countries to formulate, assist and evaluate agricultural research and development programmes. Dr. Mutsaers is the author and co-author of numerous scientific papers on crop physiology, crop modelling, farming systems and on-farm research, as well as several books, including two on on-farm research methodology.

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