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Idesia (Arica)

versión On-line ISSN 0718-3429

Idesia vol.33 no.3 Arica ago. 2015 

Volumen 33, Nº 3. Páginas 3-7 IDESIA (Chile) Junio-Agosto, 2015


Small-scale agriculture, technological development and regional universities

Jorge Arenas Charlín

Agronomy Doctor
Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources
Arturo Prat University
Iquique, Chile


For many years Chilean agriculture has been an example of technological development and transformation, reaching new markets and competes efficiently with other countries producers. Small-scale agriculture is an example of a little economic sector with reduced market insertion, and that according to many "knowledgeable" economists is a very inefficient sector of national economy. Why would this happen? There is undoubtedly no single answer, but one of main reasons is the increasing breach between market's demands t and the capacity to satisfy them, that have transformed small-scale agriculture into an activity that is increasingly less responsive to market's demands. One question is if there is any option for small-scale agriculture development and sustainability in northern Chile. . In this moment it will be a scope very hard to achieve.

If at 1960's beginning those in charge of Chilean agriculture considered the possibilities that agriculture exportation would have in the country, surely many of them would answered that there was any chances to reach a positive result. However, all governments during this decade (initially Jorge Alessandri and especially Eduardo Frei) decided to bet to the future, achieving, more or less a decade, a change in national agriculture, transforming it into another axis of national development. Copiapó Valley is an emblematic case; if one reads a valley description at the 1960,s beginnings, it will sound very similar to actual situation that exist in a lot of agriculture valleys in northern Chile. The named "Copiapó Plan" varying valley's face alley; changing from one in which subsistence agriculture dominated to other where there is a dynamic agriculture mainly focused to exportation. This was not a chance occurrence; it could be explained by the existence of governments with a vision of the future, at least in agricultural development. However, almost all other kind of agricultural sectors were developed without a direct relation with the markets; there were mostly small producers with inefficient technologies and they were virtually abandoned by State.

A few decades ago this contrast situation was named as "dual agriculture", that is, faced with the same external stimulus, one group of farmers responded rapidly to market's demands and others not, defining during these years (beginning of the 1980's) diverse kinds of agriculture. One system considering exportation agriculture, or sectors than can easily integrated with the demands generated by local markets. Several kinds of subsidies were defined for this type of farmer. Research was aided by funds from FIA and FONDEF (1990's) mainly, which contributed to technological development of these famers, who could be called businessmen. In parallel institutions such as ProChile were created, which aided farmers in the process of exportation. And what happened to the small farmers? At the beginning of the 1980's programs of technological transference (PTT) were created, based on the assumption that the lower profitability of small farming systems were explained by a lack in knowledge of farmers of better production technologies that would optimize their productive systems, and therefore with an effective program of technological transfer they would increase their yields and consequently their income, which would surely get them out of poverty. However, after many years of applying these technological transfer programs a large number of these farmers are still poor, worse of all, they are submitted to a number of dynamics that only aggravate their poverty condition and contributes with emigration.

Agricultural research and technological transference are two closely related concepts. Research looks for productive problems solutions; then if technical solutions are found, they should be efficiently transferred to farmers by means of technological transference. Technological transference produces a feedback process with research with new productive problems that should be solved and transferred, and so on. Does this system work like this in our agriculture? One part of national agriculture is benefitted with this system of continuous productive improvement; however, small produces only receive the transference of knowledge generated from and for other productive realities. For example, if we consider a technical solution developed for an exporting company of Chilean central zone that optimizes irrigation, this solution will surely not be a solution for small farmer of northern Chile. Then we can ask why these technologies often transferred to small farmers even though when there are not appropriate responses for their productive systems? One of the main reasons is that small farmers do not have a system of appropriate technological development financed by the State, while medium and large producers during decades are assisted by state with subsides for technological development. This tremendous inequality has been maintained almost without alternation in spite of a number of different governments from the military dictatorship to the present. Thus it is not surprising that, over time it has been very difficult for small farmers to increase their productive potentiality, since in an important way they have been outside of technological development process that has benefitted other kinds of producers.

In our country, public universities develop most science and technology, since they have high-level researchers with good experience, laboratories and experimental units with enough equipment to sustain research process. However, it should be asked about the role of regional universities in development process of small farmer's technologies.

Does public universities contributed significantly in rural poverty decrease? As an academic of a regional university, it is sad to say that, at least in northern Chile, State universities have not been effective agents to combat rural poverty. This is due, at least, by three reasons. A first explanation is based in the fact that regional State universities are not considered by the Agriculture Ministry as associated institutions and they do not form part of regional decision processes making, even though these institutions of higher learning have highly qualified professionals expert in regional agriculture. This exclusion implies an associating with external institutions that belongs to regional and national protocol of Agriculture Ministry; universities are considered mainly to be generators and executors of projects. A second explanation is that accreditation, one of the main activities of university life, mainly values those projects designed for advanced research, such as FONDECYT or FONDEF projects that require monetary input from the beneficiary counterparts, an impossible restriction for small farmers. Finally and coincidently, public research funds give priority to farmers who already have high potential profitability productive systems, thus small farmers do not have access to these subsidies. On other side, FIC projects, which are financed by mining royalties, deserve special comment. The requirement that these projects do not last more than 2-3 years implies that the results obtained will not solve small farmers basic problems of the. When we consider that public universities only receive a small part of their financing from the State, explains that they must give priority to external funds search in order to finance their research activities, which most of them are subsidies that do not consider small farmers.

Chilean Parliament is currently discussing the future role of public universities, including 100% State financing. Will they also re-define public universities role as transversal knowledge generators? Will this imply a new role for public universities which, with all their capacities and with necessary resources, can be transformed into principal and relevant agents to contribute to problems solution of those who most need new productive technologies, the small farmers? If this should happen, our regional universities may surely be able to fulfill fully the role of being principal supports in regional development, generating a greater effectivity in subsidies that State budgets in research and productive development and the creation of appropriate productive solutions.

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