Skip to content
BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access March 8, 2019

Understanding and Changing Farming, Food & Fiber Systems. The Organic Cotton Case in Mali and West Africa

  • Gian L. Nicolay EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Agriculture


Science should be capable of covering issues as diverse as farming systems, technology, innovation, climate change adaptation, poverty alleviation, extension, policy and practice, as they all relate to sustainable agriculture and development. Some years ago, the call for a new farming systems approach was raised to accommodate the principles of interdisciplinary, systems thinking and participatory research. Society calls for systems performance that provides stability and sustainability (SDGs!), multi-scale and territorial approaches and looks for solutions for critical issues such as employment, migration and inclusion/exclusion at the global level (World Society). We propose here a way in dealing with this complexity by addressing the mentioned problem from the communication and symbolic perspective, i.e. to consider the "object" within agricultural science but mainly observe the dedicated systems of communication. By using the concept of social systems, we can accommodate under it systems as diverse as farms, extension organizations, innovation patterns, (agricultural) sciences, policy and politics, farmer and indigenous knowledge, markets and value chains, but always in the form of communication. As such, we remain within a discipline with the potential to evolve towards a promising sub-discipline of agricultural sciences (or of sociology?). The relatively new farming approach of certified organic in combination with agroecology is relevant for family farms and small-scale entities. It depends much more on societal support for extension, technology development and policy coherence than commercial farms. Organic agriculture, with its standards, technological requirements and consumer preferences is nested in socio-economic and political networks, which makes it challenging for researchers to integrate the various components. This challenge applies particularly to countries with poorly developed institutions, weak organizations and within the context of poverty and rural exodus. We therefore use a unified approach under a single scientific system. This system observes, analyses and reports on communication aspects of involved (observed!) social systems (including networks and interactions) within the society of any given nation, including the realities of globalized markets. We are developing a case study based in Mali, in which we apply this method. The case is describing a planning process involving cotton farmers from the Sikasso region, the cotton industry, public and private extension systems, farmer organizations, local governments, the NARS (IER), FiBL, donors and the national institutions involved in climate change adaptation and food security. Various technological options of production (conventional, organic) and farming systems are available. The reflexive use of science dealing with human behavior may facilitate the pragmatic participation of researchers from various disciplines in addressing the uncertainties and opportunities that lie ahead of us and achieve the required impacts together with the practitioners.


Alexander J.C., The Dark Side of Modernity, Wiley, 2013Search in Google Scholar

Alrøe H.F., and Noe E., Second-Order Science of Interdisciplinary Research: A Polyocular Framework for Wicked Problems. Constructivist Foundations, 2014, 10, 65-76Search in Google Scholar

Arnason J., Figurational Sociology as a Counter-Paradigm. Theory, Culture & Society, 1987, 4, 429-456.10.1177/026327687004002013Search in Google Scholar

Banson K.E., Nguyen N.C., Bosch O.J.H., Using System Archetypes to Identify Drivers and Barriers for Sustainable Agriculture in Africa: A Case Study in Ghana. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 2016, 33, 79-9910.1002/sres.2300Search in Google Scholar

Bergson H., Creative Evolution, H. Holt and Company, 191110.5962/bhl.title.166289Search in Google Scholar

Bourdieu P., Raisons pratiques: Sur la théorie de l’action. Editions du Seuil, 1994Search in Google Scholar

CFS, CONNECTING SMALLHOLDERS TO MARKETS, Committee on World Food Security (CFS), 2015Search in Google Scholar

CFS, Global Strategic Framework for Food Security & Nutrition (GSF). Committee on World Food Security (CFS), 2016Search in Google Scholar

Constance D.H., Choi J.Y., Lara D., Social Dimensions of Organic Production and Systems Research. Crop Management 2013, 1210.1094/CM-2012-0429-01-RVSearch in Google Scholar

Darnhofer I., Gibbon D., Dedieu B., Farming Systems Research: an approach to inquiry. In Farming Systems Research into the 21st Century: The New Dynamic, (I. Darnhofer, D. Gibbon and B. Dedieu, eds.), pp. 3-31. Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht, 2012Search in Google Scholar

Elias N., The Civilizing Process, Blackwell, 1994Search in Google Scholar

Foley J.A., Ramankutty N., Brauman K.A., Cassidy E.S., Gerber J.S., Johnston M., Mueller N.D., O’Connell C., Ray D.K., West P.C., Balzer C., Bennett E.M., Carpenter S.R., Hill J., Monfreda C., Polasky S., Rockström J., Sheehan J., Siebert S., Tilman D., Zaks D.P.M., Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature, 2011, 478, 33710.1038/nature10452Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Folke C., Biggs R., Norström A.V., Reyers B., Rockström J., Socialecological resilience and biosphere-based sustainability science. Ecology and Society, 2016, 2110.5751/ES-08748-210341Search in Google Scholar

Godelier M., The Mental and the Material: Thought Economy and Society, Verso, London, 1986Search in Google Scholar

Graeub B.E., Chappell M.J., Wittman H., Ledermann S., Kerr R.B., Gemmill-Herren B., The State of Family Farms in the World. World Development, 2016, 87, 1-1510.1016/j.worlddev.2015.05.012Search in Google Scholar

Habermas J., ed. Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a. M, 1985Search in Google Scholar

Harvey M., The Food-Energy-Climate Change Trilemma: Toward a Socio-Economic Analysis. Theory, Culture & Society, 2014, 31, 155-18210.1177/0263276414537317Search in Google Scholar

Hawking S., Mlodinow L., The Grand Design, Random House, 2011Search in Google Scholar

Latour B., Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, OUP Oxford, 2005Search in Google Scholar

Luhmann N., Social systems, Stanford University Press, 1995Search in Google Scholar

Marx K., Aveling E.B., Moore S., Engels F., Untermann E., Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Modern Library, 1906Search in Google Scholar

Nicolay G., The meaning of social and the role of social sciences in agriculture: Peasant driven research for food security in West Africa. FiBL, 2013bSearch in Google Scholar

Nicolay G., Scientific Foundation of Agriculture, Food systems and Rural development and some Practical Implications for Sociology. FiBL, ResearchGate, 2015Search in Google Scholar

Nicolay G., Theory-based Innovation Platform management. A contribution of sociology to agriculture research and development. In “12th European IFSA Symposium, 2016. Theme 2: Methodology and frameworks of farming systems transformation.”. Harper Adams University, 2016bSearch in Google Scholar

Nicolay G.L., Dabire R., Fliessbach A., Glin L., Sissoko F., SYPROBIO: Driving farmer-led innovation platforms to address food security, poverty alleviation and resilience to climate change in West African cotton communities. In “Innovation in smallholder farming in Africa: recent advances and recommendations. Proceedings of the International Workshop on Agricultural Innovation Systems in Africa (AISA)” (W.-B. A. Triomphe B, Klerkx L, Schut M, Cullen B, Kamau G & Le Borgne E, ed.), pp. 229. CIRAD, Nairobi, Kenya. Montpellier, 2014Search in Google Scholar

Ostrom E., Understanding Institutional Diversity, Princeton University Press, 200510.1515/9781400831739Search in Google Scholar

Ostrom E., A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems. Science, 2009, 325, 419-42210.1126/science.1172133Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Peirce C.S., Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1958Search in Google Scholar

Sodjinou E., Glin L., Nicolay G., Tovignan S., Hinvi J., Socioeconomic determinants of organic cotton adoption in Benin, West Africa. Agricultural and Food Economics, 2015, 310.1186/s40100-015-0030-9Search in Google Scholar

Stephens E.C., Jones A.D., Parsons D., Agricultural systems research and global food security in the 21st century: An overview and roadmap for future opportunities. Agricultural Systems, 201710.1016/j.agsy.2017.01.011Search in Google Scholar

Stichweh R., Science in the system of world society. Social Science Information, 1996, 35, 327-34010.1177/053901896035002009Search in Google Scholar

Vanlauwe B., AbdelGadir A.H., Adewopo J., Adjei-Nsiah S., Ampadu- Boakye T., Asare R., Baijukya F., Baars E., Bekunda M., Coyne D., Dianda, M., Dontsop-Nguezet P.M., Ebanyat P., Hauser S., Huising J., Jalloh A., Jassogne, L., Kamai N., Kamara A., Kanampiu F., Kehbila A., Kintche K., Kreye C., Larbi, A., Masso C., Matungulu P., Mohammed I., Nabahungu L., Nielsen F., Nziguheba G., Pypers P., Roobroeck D., Schut M., Taulya G., Thuita M., Uzokwe V.N.E., van Asten P., Wairegi L., Yemefack M., Mutsaers H.J.W. , Looking back and moving forward: 50 years of soil and soil fertility management research in sub-Saharan Africa. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 2017, 15, 613-63110.1080/14735903.2017.1393038Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Vico G., Grafton A., Marsh D., New Science, Penguin Books Limited, 1999(1744)Search in Google Scholar

Wittgenstein L., Philosophical Investigations, Wiley, 2010(1953)Search in Google Scholar

Ziegler J., ed. Destruction massive. Géopolitique de la faim (English: Massdestruction- The Geopolitics of Hunger). Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 2011Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2018-06-24
Accepted: 2018-12-26
Published Online: 2019-03-08

© by Gian L. Nicolay, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License.

Downloaded on 30.11.2023 from
Scroll to top button