The technique of Agroecosystem Analysis (AEA) is discussed in Chapter 11 and is essentially a way of engaging farmers and utilising their knowledge to inform research agendas and development programme design. Chapter 11 outlines the development of AEA in Chiang Mai in Thailand in the 1970s, and now a recent guidance manual authored by the Cambodian Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) outlines the key principles for using AEA in Cambodia.
Commune Agroecosystem Analysis (CAEA) was officially adopted in 2004 as the national policy by MAFF as part of their extension system. CAEA has been conducted in over 500 communes and in 2008 was extended to cover fisheries, which are often closely linked to farming. The programme is funded by the public sector and range of international donors.
CAEA in Cambodia is only one of four pillars around which a national extension service is designed. The others being Technology Implementation Procedures (TIPs); Commune Agricultural Plan (CAP); and Farming Systems Management Information System (FSMIP). The first pillar, CAEA, is used “to identify and prioritize agricultural development needs at the commune level”. The technique uses “multidisciplinary investigation and participatory analysis” to get a picture of the main agroecosystems in each commune, to understand the problems and opportunities food producers face and, as a result, plan appropriate agricultural interventions.
The second pillar, TIPs, is a package of information and materials for extension workers and other agents on the ground to spread understanding, access and adoption of improved technologies. Through the results of the CAEA, the most appropriate technologies and methods of adoption are selected. CAEA also feeds into the third pillar, the development of a CAP, which is used to gain funding and to feed into wider development plans. The final pillar, FSMIS, is a national database that stores the data resulting from CAEA as well as other information, the use of which can inform the other three pillars and help identify national development and research priorities.
This manual explains the key components of AEA. As an outline, AEA is based on four assumptions:
1. It is not necessary to know everything about the agroecosystem to produce a realistic and useful analysis.
2. Understanding the behaviour and important properties of an agroecosystem requires knowledge of only a few key functional relationships.
3. Producing significant improvements in the performance of an agroecosystem requires changes in only a few key management decisions.
4. Only a limited number of appropriate key questions need to be defined and answered.
The objectives and outputs of AEA are summarised as follows:
1. Identifying, delineating and characterizing different land-use systems (agroecosystems) within a given land area.
2. Obtaining an improved understanding of agricultural systems and current land use in these agroecosystem zones and their key characteristics.
3. Identifying key issues related to the performance of the entire system and its agroecosystem zones.
4. Identifying agricultural research and extension priorities for the systems.
5. Planning programs, projects and development activities for the systems.
1. The delineation and the (biophysical and socioeconomic) description of agroecological zones (agroecosystems) in each commune.
2. An improved understanding of the major agricultural livelihood systems in each zone.
3. A prioritized list of important problems and opportunities attributable to each zone (key questions).
4. A Land Management Strategy or ‘development vision’ for each agroecosystem zone.
5. A prioritized set of research, development and extension activities to solve the problems.
CAEA is undertaken periodically with the help of the Commune Councils (CCs) by a multidisciplinary team of local agriculture staff trained by the DAE. It consists of six stages:
1) Planning and preparation
2) Secondary data collection and organisation
3) Preliminary analysis
4) Rapid Rural Appraisal, which explores the key issues identified in the preliminary analysis through participatory discussions with representative male and female participants from all villages in the commune. This can include a variety of analytical tools such as transects and flow diagrams, wealth rankings and livelihood profiles, and value chain analysis and Venn diagrams.
5) Systems Analysis, which integrates and analyses information obtained from the secondary data, the preliminary survey and the RRA, can include impact assessments and SWOT analyses.
6) Report writing and use of CAEA outputs
The manual lays out each stage of the process and describes the tools used and subsequent analysis. While comprehensive national systems of extension may be hard to implement and sustain in some developing countries, Cambodia’s system is one example of where it can work and where it serves the needs of smallholder farmers.