An agricultural system can be defined as various components brought together. This is achieved by a form of interaction and interdependence operating within certain boundaries. The aim is to achieve designated agricultural goals and objectives to benefit the owner. The analysis of agricultural farming system has two dimensions including the production and management systems. The production system involves crops, pasture, animals, soil and the biophysical system. The management system, which is more predictable than the biophysical system, involves values, goals, people, knowledge and resources (Singha, et al, 2012).
Agricultural system research began in the late 1970s by scholars based in the developed nations. The aim was to address the challenges faced by small scale farmers who had not embraced new technology. At the time, technological innovations only suited large scale farmers. The main aims of the research were to educate small scale farmers on how they should make decisions. In the 1980s, some European scholars also found out that small scale farmers in inhabitable areas were not adopting new technology appropriately. Therefore, the agricultural system was introduced to assess the needs and potential of both commercial scale and small-scale farmers. The main purpose of farming systems approach is to address world changes and solve problems that challenge farmers (Mcgilloway, 2005).
In the early days, farming was preoccupied by crops and livestock keeping. However, todays there is no limitation to the amount of enterprises a farm system can have. Multi-scale approaches have opened up studies on landscape and market environments. Modern system recognises the role of different stakeholders and the different aspects that they bring into play. Modern systems take a territorial rather than a sectorial approach where some members of the family work outside the farm, but still enjoy the benefits of the output. System performances are not pegged on productivity alone but encompass stability and sustainability. Farms are changing continuously in the same way as the society, economy and climatic conditions. Optimum conditions require constant learning that involves an active and continuous process (Byzedi, et al, 2011).
General systems classification
The systems can be divided into three broad classifications that include natural, artificial and social systems. Natural systems are those that occur naturally; they are not a subject of mankind. They include all things that exist naturally, and include both physical and biological components of nature. It is important to gain deeper knowledge about how these systems interrelate and all processes that occur to constitute the world and support all forms of life (Ahmed, Alam&Hasan, 2010).
It is not possible to copy or duplicate the fundamental, natural systems. They exist in their own form. Those that are relevant to agriculture may include the following: the weathering or rocks to form soils; plants that grow on the soil; animals that feed on the plants; manure obtained from the animal and rechanneled to the soil to enhance its fertility among other natural systems (Araújo&Melo, 2010).
The definition of social systems can be very hard and tricky. Nonetheless, they include societies that form social groups, institutions and social mechanisms created by social groups. They also include the interrelations that exist amongst individuals, groups, societies and communities. This can be observed directly or manifested through other medium of the institutions. Social institutions are characterized by relationships among individuals, groups, and communities, as opposed to non-living things. Human, social systems have a direct impact on farming activities. The term social system is used widely to refer to institutions and relationships of an economic, social, political and religious nature (Byzedi, et al, 2011).
Artificial systems are similar to social systems in that they do not occur in nature, but are purely of human nature. They are manufactured by man to serve human needs. All artificial systems are derived from either or both kinds of elements. This includes elements obtained from natural and social systems and elements created for certain purposes by each artificial system. The general relation of this system is that natural systems are strictly independent of all other systems. Although social systems may seem to be independent, they are interdependent on natural systems for survival. In addition, artificial systems indirectly depend on natural systems and directly on social systems (Cairns & Brookfield, 2011).
In general, a farm household system is comprised of the various parameters that govern the operation and sustainability of the system. This includes the system boundaries, household, plan of operation, resource pool, the final product enterprise, resource generating activities, agro-technical processes, whole farm service matrix, structural coefficients, and the time dimension. System boundaries are the parameters used to differentiate the system from other systems, as well as from the external world at large. Such boundaries are usually obtained from the structural characteristics of farm, aims of analysis, and interrelation with the physical boundary. The boundary may also include farm income generating activities (Cernea&Kassam, 2006).
The farm household consists of the nuclear family, but at times may include the extended family. It also includes all farm workers and labourers situated or working and residing within the farm’s boundaries. The basic assumption is that all households are run or controlled by males. However, this is not always the case as research has shown that there are households that are purely managed by females. The household performs two major roles in the farm-household system. This includes assisting in resource management and as beneficiaries of the system. Household members are responsible for providing leadership, providing objectives and goal, and providing management to the farm. In small scale farms, the principal beneficiaries are usually the family members. However, some external beneficiaries may also exist. It is also common for other family members who do not live on the farm to come during harvest or ask for assistance from the resident members (Martius, 2012).
Operating plan refers to the household objectives that are identified and achieved through the preparation and implementation of a farm operating plan. This may be achieved by choosing the best possible mix of activities, agro-technical processes, enterprises and resources. Accountants classify farm resources into two components namely fixed and short term resources. Fixed resources are used for very long periods and may include land, machinery and irrigation system. They are used to maintain the farm and by individual enterprises. Short term resources are used every year and form a recurrent expenditure. They consist of items such as fertilisers and pesticides. Farm resources can also be viewed from their potential rather than from results of their use. Farm resources flow from the main pool to other sublevels of the system to generate the farm’s output (Chapagain&Gurung, 2010).
A farm enterprise consists of sublevels whose main purpose is to produce output. It may involve the use of various technology and process activities with the aim of producing end products. Resource generating activities are classified into three general categories including domestic use, general use, and those used by certain enterprises. Whole-farm service matrix refers to fixed capital resources that are critical to the routine operations on the farm. However, they are not directed to any exclusive use of any enterprise or activity such as land, barns and irrigation channels. Some capital items exist as subsystems and are interdependent from other components such as grain drying facilities, methods of soil conservation and plough. Capital is managed and used to provide services that are not specific, but facilitate the operation of the lower levels of the farm system (Chopra, 2005).
Structural coefficients are things that define and enumerate linkage relationships between various parts or elements within a subsystem. An essential quality of any system is the correlation and interrelation between all sublevels of the system. Time dimension cannot be defined but rather reflects on certain operating phases that may have the same duration as the longest enterprise of a subsystem. In this case, cotton has a gestation of seven months or one year depending on the climatic conditions. If the household objectives are achieved, it can be reactivated in continuous stages. A good system may allow further development and mechanization, while a bad system might prove unsustainable (Halberg, 2006).
A diagram of interrelationships of elements in a simple household system
Diagram of interrelationships of elements in a simple household system
Some of the key inputs of this system include the farm operating plan and the farm’s pool of resources such as land, water, seeds and cash. It also includes household components, various farm activities, external forces and farm processes. The operating plan is the policies and objectives that have been established. A poor plan leads to poor output. The resource pool is where the fixed capital services are stored. All the subsystems get allocation of these resources from this pool. This includes water for irrigation (MacRae, 2011).
Household components are the social systems within the family. Despite the family being a social system and not an agricultural system, it dominates all other subsystems that make up the farm component. The family performs two basic functions. It assists in giving direction on resource management. It also acts as a beneficiary to the output produced. The use of fertilisers is also a major input in this system. As technology changes, more and more farmers are turning to the use of fertilisers and pesticides for the control of pests. Animals are also a major component of the input. They may be of single species such as dairy cows, fish and chicken. Manure from animals is also used as organic fertiliser to subsidise the use of inorganic products as fertiliser. The crops also form an input resource as they are used as fodder for animals. Animals are fed on the leftover matter from green plants (Magbanua, et al, 2010).
The major outputs associated with this system include cash, food and seed. Cash is obtained from the sale of farm produce. This may include the sale of commodities such as agricultural products like grains, vegetables, milk, and meat. All the surplus produce that is not consumed by the family member is put on sale. The proceeds from this sale are rechanneled back into the farm system as capital for other enterprises (Sadati, et al, 2010).
Farmer’s preference means that farmers have an impact on the output and input because of their own likes and dislikes. Human beings have their own preferences that affect the choices they make. Farmers decide on estimates of fertilizers, the seed type to plant, irrigation frequencies among others basing on their previous experiences, local community practice; advice from extension workers; labels found on fertilisers and pesticides or in reference to farm records. Farmers also make decision basing on the actual financial costs of inputs and the amount of the effect it has on the output. In cases where the projected output is not known, the farmer is likely to rely on extension services. In addition, when big changes have been witnessed in previous outputs that necessitate making of changes, the farmer may be forced to adopt the new technology hence making changes to input that will impact on output (Mcgilloway, 2005).
Farming systems research will continue having a big impact in innovation and development of new agricultural methodologies. This is aimed to sustain agriculture both in the commercial and small scale farms. Farming system analysis has been pivotal in the empowerment of peasant farmers by enabling them to identify and implement strategies of improving their livelihoods. However, farming systems have a major challenge in that they are not widely adopted by the intended groups. The greatest challenges include how to engage the participation of small scale farmers in implementing these developments. It requires collaboration and exchange of information from all stakeholders and relevant institutions. This also requires liberalization of all political, social and economic barriers. It involves a move from the traditional norms of governance to friendly forms such as the use of horizontal interactive processes.