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Managing Natural Resources for Sustainable Production

posted May 26, 2011, 11:01 AM by Andrea Bohn
     by Catholic Relief Services
Natural resource management and sustainable production skills are the knowledge and skills that enable farmers to sustain the soil, water, fauna, and vegetation upon which their agricultural livelihoods depend. They require the understanding that changes in the environment depend on the way natural forces and agricultural practices interact, as well as on how individuals and communities interact.

Learner Objectives

Following the course, the field agent will be able to:
  • Explain to smallholder farmers about natural systems and appropriate technical options for maintaining the health and productivity of their farms and local natural resources.
  • Assist smallholder farmers in undertaking a process to characterize the health of their natural resource base, to select and apply relevant technical options to sustain the productivity and health of both their own farms and commonly-held natural resources
  • Facilitate the development and implementation by farmers of an action plan to resolve major limitations that have been identified.

This course will combine the use of participatory discussion and inquiry, practical exercises and structured learning sessions to:
  • Engage farmer group members in identifying key issues of local concern regarding key natural resources in their area
  • Ensure farmer group members have sufficient understanding of key natural processes to be able to develop strategies for improved management of both their farms and shared natural resources in their communities, and
  • Assist farmer group members to identify/develop relevant and practical natural resource management strategies to increase the productivity of their farms and their communities in sustainable ways

Sections and Lessons

This course is made up of 7 sections of several lessons each. The first sectionoutlines the theory behind why natural resources are important for improved productivity, and basic principles of natural resources and their management. The subsequent sections outline a process of assessing natural resources at the farm and sub-watershed level and creating a natural resource management plan.

Section 1: Principles of Sustainable Production and NRM

Lesson 1. Introduction. Explains why natural resource management is important and the impact of degrading natural resources on livelihoods of farmers and the wider community.
Lesson 2. The Atmosphere. Deals with the basic composition of the atmosphere, some of its most important functions and their relationship to global climate change.
Lesson 3. The Water Cycle. Includes macro processes of the water cycle; water movement/flows on land, including hazards and opportunities; dry spells and drought; causes and mitigation options for flooding, and implications for water management (including irrigation); and upstream / down-stream issues of water access and quality.
Lesson 4. Nutrient cycles. Describes the Carbon, Phosphorous, Nitrogen, including CO2 and global climate change; the concept of carbon sequestration (as part of the Carbon Cycle discussion); essential plant nutrients (macro and micro); most common sources of macro-nutrients; and implications for nutrient management in soils.
Lesson 5. Soil basics I. Covers soil formation, composition, structure, organic processes; soil erosion (Universal Soil Loss Equation: soil cover, cultivation, soil erodibility, slope steepness, slope length, rainfall intensity/amount); soil conservation / protection options
Lesson 6. Soil basics II. Continues discussing soil basics, including soil fertility, soil health, and implications for the protection and management of soils
Lesson 7. Population dynamics, species interdependence and importance of biodiversity. Covers population dynamics in natural systems; food webs, energy flows, and the interconnectedness of species; implications for managing pests, weeds, landscapes; and potential environmental impacts from growing human populations
Lesson 8. Concepts of “Sustainable Use” (brining it all together). Includes maintaining and increasing productivity; agronomic principles that favor sustainable production; consequences of environmental degradation; environmental services; clean water, clean air, biodiversity and global climate change; basics of land use planning (lite); wise approaches to farming (crops, livestock); and protecting resources and livelihoods for future generations.

The lesson plans for sections 2 through 7 are under construction. A brief summary of each of these sections is provided below.

Section 2. Starting Up and Setting Goals.

This module introduces the process of plot-level and watershed assessment to identify critical areas of natural resource degradation as well as opportunities that can be optimized for improved production. It covers how to access resources needed to do this analysis. It also discusses how to help farmer groups determine production and income goals for their farms.
This is Module 5 of the course suite on

"Preparing Farmer Groups
to Engage Successfully with Markets"

This module is intended for face-to-face delivery
  • The course material, additional resources, and assessment tool will be attached below.
  • The video lecture will be made available at
    Simply set up a free account, place the course in your cart and get started! The courses are offered free of charge.

Expected Completion Date

End of September 2011


These courses are developed for field agents that facilitate community agricultural development processes and impart knowledge and skills to smallholder farmers and other rural actors on how to produce profitably and sustainably.

Learning Objectives of the Course Suite

After receiving this set of courses, the field agent will be able to plan and implement a series of inter-related trainings to build farmer and other rural actors’ skills in 5 critical areas for successful engagement with markets.

Key References for This Module

  • Gonsalves, J., T. Becker, A. Braun, D. Campilan, H. De Chavez, E. Fajber, M. Kapiriri, J. Rivaca-Caminade and R. Vernooy (eds). 2005. Participatory Research and Development for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management: A Sourcebook. Volumes 1, 2 and 3: International Potato Center-Users' Perspectives with Agricultural Research and Development, Laguna, Philippines and International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada.

Section 3. Situating yourself in your watershed: Creating a rapid watershed map

This module enables field agents to lead a rapid analysis of the farmer group’s sub-watershed. The analysis goes through several steps that include the following: identifying the watershed; characterizing the watershed; indentifying critical areas; identifying and engaging watershed stakeholders; creating an action plan to address critical areas and maximize resources and productivity; and evaluating progress. Participants will conduct a transect walk and create a map of their sub-watershed.

Section 4. Characterizing your plot or farm

In this module, participants will begin to conduct a plot or farm-level analysis of threats and opportunities for optimizing the potential of their natural resources. This exercise draws on concepts introduced in Module 1.

Section 5. Identifying critical areas

In this module, participants will identify threats to their natural resource base. This module identifies a number of common constraints to productivity and describes common best management practices and interventions that address these barriers, which can be used in developing a management plan.

Section 6. Developing a management plan

This module leads field agents to help farmers develop a natural resource management plan, based on the goals they hope to achieve and the constraints or critical areas. Farmer groups will be encouraged to create visual maps of their farms with anticipated NRM interventions, and written plans if they are literate. Field agents will describe basic profitability analyses of interventions.

Section 7. Evaluating and monitoring your progress

Critical to sustainable success is continually evaluating progress towards achieving production and income goals. This module leads field agents to support farmers in conducting robust monitoring and continual evaluation.

Time Required to Teach This Module

The lessons will be designed to take a maximum of 2 hours to teach. The total time required to teach the entire course if estimated at between 70 and 100 hours over a period of 4 to 8 months.