The first point to clarify is: "What is agriculture?," of course, there is general agreement about the sorts of things, people, plants, and animals that can be called agricultural, but this is not good enough if we are seriously interested in topics such as the role of science in agriculture, the role and importance of agriculture in the world, and how agricultural efficiency can be improved (Speeding 1988). Not many attempts have been made to be more precise and it is quite difficult to arrive at a definition that is both useful and specific. One of the useful definitions is phrased by Speeding (1988, 1996) as follows: "agriculture is an activity of Man, carried out primarily to produce food, fiber and fuel, as well as many other materials by the deliberate and controlled use of mainly terrestrial plants and animals."
The terms "agriculture" and " agricultural system" are used widely to encompass various aspects of the production of plant and animal material of food, fiber, and other uses. For analysts with a narrow vision, these terms are limited to the cultivation of soil and growth of plants. But for others, the terms also include financing, processing, marketing, and distribution of agricultural products; farm production supply and service industries; and related economic, sociological, political, environmental, and cultural characteristics of the food and fiber system (CAESS 1988). Since agriculture involves economics, technology, politics, sociology, international relations and trade, and environmental problems, in addition to biology it can be concluded that agriculture is social as much as agronomic and ecological. Taking a broad interpretation, agriculture is a system of processes that take place within a threefold environmental framework, biophysical environment, socio-political environment, and economic and technological environment. Together, these three sets of factors set the broad constraints within which individuals, groups, and governments engage in production, distribution, and consumption components of agriculture. These three sets of constraints for agriculture also provide a means of assessing conditions for sustainable agriculture (Yunlong and Smith 1994).
Agricultural sciences can no longer ignore the human intentionality and social dynamics that are the roots of our predicament. Although the natural sciences, and especially the earth and life sciences, remain of vital importance, not least to monitor and analyze the dynamics of "nature" so as to inform normative frameworks for sustained land use (De Groot 1992), social sciences must play their role among the agricultural sciences to analyze human activity as emergent from intentionality and greed, economic systems, human learning, and agreement (Roling 1997). We acknowledge that agricultural systems are human systems, so that "what is sustainable" will also be value laden. Agricultural systems are distinctive in those changes in values and attitudes of farmers, managers, and other stakeholders, and externally imposed risk, e.g., climate interaction (Karami and Mansoorabadi 2008).
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