Skip to main content Accessibility help

An ecological basis for the development of alternative agricultural systems for small farmers in the Third World

  • Miguel A. Altieri (a1) and M. Kat Anderson (a2)


A strategy for small farm development in the Third World is suggested, emphasizing preservation of traditional farming systems while maintaining biological and genetic diversity. Basing agricultural development on indigenous knowledge, technology, and social organization can provide important guidelines for the design of cropping systems that allow low-income farmers to produce subsistence and cash crops with minimal dependence on external inputs. Suggested alternative agricultural strategies are based on diverse farming systems that achieve moderate to high levels of productivity by manipulating and exploiting resources that are internal to the farm. The resulting systems are more sustainable and economical, thus increasing the equity of the system. Several rural development programs in Third World countries, especially in Latin America, that incorporate these agroecological principles are discussed. In contrast to approaches that have been transferred from the United States without necessarily being suited to the circumstances of small farmers, and which require the purchase of expensive external inputs, these programs include sustainability, stability, and equity as goals, along with increased production. Rural development strategies based on peasant systems that are biologically and economically stable are proving to be a viable survival alternative for a great portion of the impoverished rural population in the Third World.



Hide All
1.Alcorn, J. B. 1984. Development policy, forests, and peasant farming: Reflections on huastec-managed forests' contributions to commercial production and resource conservation. Economic Botany 38:384406.
2.Altieri, M. A., van Schoonhoven, A., and Doll, J. D.. 1977. The ecological role of weeds in insect pest management systems: a review illustrated with bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) cropping systems. PANS 195205.
3.Altieri, M. A. and Letourneau, D. K.. 1982. Vegetation management and biological control in agroecosystems. Crop Protection 1:405430.
4.Altieri, M. A., Letourneau, D. K., and Davis, J. B.. 1983. Developing sustainable agroecosystems. Bio-Science 33:4549.
5.Altieri, M. A. 1983. Agroecology: The scientific basis of alternative agriculture. Divison of Biological Control, University of California, Berkeley. 162 p.
6.Altieri, M. A. 1985. Developing pest management strategies for small farmers based on traditional knowledge. Bulletin of the Institute for Development Anthropology 3:1318.
7.Alverson, H. 1984. The wisdom of tradition in the development of dry-land farming: Botswana. Human Organization 43:18.
8.Armillas, P. 1971. Gardens on swamps. Science 174:653661.
9.Augstburger, F. 1983. Agronomic and economic potential of manure in Bolivian valleys and highlands. Agrie. Ecosyst. and Environment 10:335346.
10.Bartlett, P. F. 1980. Adaptation strategies in peasant agricultural production. Ann. Rev. Anthr. 9:545573.
11.Bayliss-Smith, T. P. 1982. The ecology of agricultural systems. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.
12.Beets, W. C. 1982. Multiple cropping and tropical farming systems. Gower, Harts., England.
13.Brush, S. B. 1982. The natural and human environment of the central Andes. Mountain Research and Development 2:1438.
14.Byerlee, D., Collinson, M., Perrin, R., Winkelman, D., and Biggs, S.. 1980. Planning technologies appropriate to farmers-concepts and procedures. Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo (CIM-MYT), Mexico City. 71 p.
15.Centro de Educacion y Technologia (CET). 1983. “La huerta campesina organica”. Inst. de Estudios y Publicaciones Juan Ignacio Molina, Santiago, Chile. 45 p.
16.Chacon, J. C. and Gliessman, S. R.. 1982. Use of the “non-weed” concept in traditional tropical agroecosystems of south-eastern Mexico. Agro-Ecosystems 8:111.
17.Chang, J. H. 1977. Tropical agriculture: Crop diversity and crop yields. Econ. Geogr. 53:241254.
18.Clawson, D. L. 1985. Harvest security and intraspecific diversity in traditional tropical agriculture. Econ. Bot. 39:5667.
19.Christanty, L. O., Abdoellah, O., and Iskander, J.. 1985. Traditional agroforestry in West Java: The pekarangan (homegarden) and talun-kebun (shifting cultivation) cropping systems. In: Marten, G. (ed.) The Human Ecology of Traditional Tropical Agriculture. Westview Press, Boulder (in press).
20.Conway, G. R. 1985. Agricultural ecology and farming systems research. Paper presented at the Farming Systems Research (FSR) Workshop held at Hawkesbury Agricultural College, May 12–15, 1985 under the auspices of the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research.
21.Cox, G. W. and Atkins, M. D.. 1979. Agricultural Ecology. W. H. Freeman and Sons. San Francisco. 214 pp.
22.Datta, S. C. and Banerjee, A. K.. 1978. Useful weeds of West Bengal rice fields. Econ. Bot. 32:247310. Janvry, A. 1981. The agrarian question and reformism in Latin America. The John Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore. 311 pp. Janvry, A. 1983. Perspectives for Inter-American Foundation programs in Chilean agriculture. 94 pp. (unpublished material).
25.Denevan, W. M., Treace, J. M., Alcorn, J. B., Padoch, C., Denslow, J., and Paitan, S. F.. 1984. Indigenous agroforestry in the Peruvian Amazon: Bora indian management of swidden fallows. Interciencia 9:346357.
26.Douglass, G. K. (ed.). 1984. Agricultural sustainability in a changing world order. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
27.Egger, K. 1981. Ecofarming in the tropics-characteristics and potentialities. Plant Res. Dev. 13:96106.
28.Gliessman, S. R., Garcia, E. R., and Amador, A. M.. 1981. The ecological basis for the application of traditional agricultural technology in the management of tropical agro-ecosystems. Agroecosystems 7:173185.
29.Grossman, L. S. 1984. Peasants, subsistence ecology and development in the highlands of Papua, New Guinea. Princeton Univ. Pres, NJ. 302 pp.
30.Harlan, J. R. 1976. Genetic resources in wild relatives of crops. Crop Sci. 16:329333.
31.Harwood, R. R. 1979. Small farm development-understanding and improving farming systems in the humid tropics. Westview Press, Boulder, CO. 160 pp.
32.Heichel, G. H. 1978. Stabilizing agricultural energy needs: Role of forages, rotations and nitrogen fixation. J. Soil and Water Conserv. Nov. Dec. pp. 279282.
33.Hildebrand, P. 1979. Generating technologies for tra ditional fanners: The Guatemalan experience. Proc. IX Int. Congress of Plant Protection, pp. 3134. Washington, D.C.
34.Hirschman, A. O. 1984. Getting ahead collectively: Grassroots experiences in Latin America. Pergamon Press, NY. 101 pp.
35.ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics). 1981. Proceedings of the International Workshop on Intercropping. 10–13 Jan. 1979. Hyderabad, India.
36.King, F. H. 1927. Farmers of forty centuries. Cape, London.
37.Matteson, P. C., Altieri, M. A., and Gagne, W. C.. 1984. Modification of small farmer practices for better pest management. Ann. Rev. Entomol. 39:383402.
38.Morales, H. L. 1984. Chinampas and integrated farms. Learning from the rural traditional experience, pp. 188195. In: di Ostri, F. et al. , (eds.) Ecology in Practice. Tycooly Int. Pub. Ltd., Dublin.
39.National Academy of Sciences. 1972. Genetic vulnerability of major crops. NAS, Washington, D.C.
40.Oasa, E. K. 1984. Farming systems research: A change in form but not in content. Human Organization (in press).
41.Papendick, R. I., Sanchez, P. A., and Triplett, G. B.. 1976. Multiple Cropping. Special Publ. No. 27. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI. 378 pp.
42.Pearce, A. 1975. The Latin American Peasant. Frank Cass, London.
43.Perelman, M. 1977. Farming for Profit in a Hungry World. Allanheld, Osmun and Co., Publ. Inc., Montclair, NJ. 238 pp.
44.Pimentel, D. and Pimentel, M.. 1979. Food, Energy and Society. Edward Arnold, London.
45.Prescott-Allen, R. and Prescott-Allen, C.. 1982. The case for in situ conservation of crop genetic resources. Nature and Resources 23:1520.
46.Ruthenberg, H. 1971. Fanning Systems in the Tropics. Oxford Univ. Press, London.
47.Schatan, J. 1985. America Latina: deuda externa y desarollo. Investigacion Economica 171:305357.
48.Shaner, W. W., Phillipp, P. F., and Schmehl, W. R.. 1982. Farming systems research and development: Guidelines for developing countries. Westview Press, Boulder, CO. 414 pp.
49.Sumner, D. R. 1982. Crop rotation and plant productivity. CRC Handbook of Agricultural Productivity 1:273313.
50.Webster, C. C. and Wilson, P. N.. 1980. Agriculture in the Tropics. Tropical Agriculture Series, 2nd Ed.Longman, London.
51.Wiersum, K. F. 1981. Viewpoints on agroforestry. Agricultural University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
52.Wilson, G. F. and Kang, B. T.. 1981. Developing Stable and Productive Biological Cropping Systems for the Humid Tropics. In: Stonehouse, B. (ed.) Biological Husbandry. Butterworths, London.
53.Wilken, G. C. 1977. Integrated forest and small-scale farm systems in middle America. Agroecosystems 3:291302.
54.Wilkes, H. G. 1977. Hybridization of maize and teosinte in Mexico and Guatemala and the improvement of maize. Econ. Bot. 31:254293.
55.Zandstra, H. G., Price, E. C., Litsinger, J. A., and Morris, R. A.. 1981. A methodology of on-farm cropping systems research. IRRI, Los Banos, Philippines. 144 pp.

An ecological basis for the development of alternative agricultural systems for small farmers in the Third World

  • Miguel A. Altieri (a1) and M. Kat Anderson (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.