The history of IFSA

The International Farming Systems Association (IFSA) has its origins in Farming Systems Research which had evolved to address smallholder development in the tropics. Between 1981 and 1986 various groups of researchers met in a series of annual conferences hosted by Kansas State University in the USA. Participation was open to all who valued systems thinking and a systems approach to agricultural development research: researchers of all disciplines, extension agents and rural development workers in general.

In 1989 relationships were formalized through the founding of the Association for Farming Systems Research and Extension (AFSRE). AFSRE was a membership-based organisation open to agricultural and rural systems researchers and developers of all disciplines. In 1992 the international character of what had by then become a world-wide movement was recognized by opening the AFSRE board to representatives from the geographical regions that were involved by then: Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe, North Americas and the Australo-Pacific region. Organisation and formalisation of the regional associations was left open for each region to choose its preferred degree of formality.

In 1998, the constitution of the AFSRE was changed, and the name of the global association was changed to International Farming Systems Association (IFSA). The new name also allowed to accommodate regional names, e.g. the Asian Farming Systems Association that was formed in 1990, the Australian Farming Systems Association was established in 2001.

The regions committed themselves to hosting the international symposium on a rotating basis. In 1994, with the support of CIRAD, INRA and other European institutes, Montpellier (France) became the first location outside the US to host a global symposium. Subsequent symposia were held in Sri Lanka (1996), South Africa (1998), Chile (2000), Florida, USA (2002) and Rome, Italy (2006).

The regional IFSA association for Europe was formed in 1992, among others to appoint a European representative to the IFSA board (at that time still called the AFSRE Board). The IFSA Europe Group is organised as a network of loosely affiliated individuals and managed by the Steering Committee appointed for a period of two years. The group and its Symposia are open to all those committed to farming systems approach. To emphasise its openness, the IFSA Europe Group does not have formal membership.

The main activity of the IFSA Europe Group is the organisation of the bi-annual European Symposium. These symposia are a platform for dialogue between scientists and practitioners from a wide range of theoretical background and methodological focus. Although predominantly focusing on European farming systems, non-European participation is encouraged as this adds contrasts and comparisons of mutual benefit and helps to ensure scientific rigour and quality. the European IFSA Symposia thus regularly welcomes e.g. US and Australian delegates, and debates many issues related to research work in coutries of the South.


Further reading:

MacArthur, H. (2000). The regional and international associations. In: M. Collinson (Ed.). A history of farming systems research. FAO: Rome and Wallingford: CABI, pp. 251-261.

Norman, D.W. (2002). The farming systems approach: A historical perspective. Intivited paper at the 17th Symposium of the Interntional Farming Systems Association, held 17-20 November 2002 in Buena Vista, Florida.