Madan Poudel

Madan Poudel

Passionate Agriculturist

System Thinking: Developing Solutions to Sustainability Challenges

Permaculture PERIOD: 1
Mr. Madan Poudel


System is a group of component interacting with each other which makes it functional. System is anything that can be separated into its functional unit and reversely different layers/strata arrangement makes it functional. System is a broader aspect of any entity/element. Clearing the concept of system with an example of car, it is made up of different sub-systems and its elements (spare parts). To be a car functional, each element function on their own and interacting with other such elements. Even, driver is one of its critical element as car without a driver is not a system. Human body is made of different organs which is in fact interaction of tissues subsystem and tissues are made up of cells. Every system has its components of what it consists.

Approach of system thinking

The approach of system thinking is to provide solutions over the complex problem which arises due to lack of understanding on system as a whole. Instead of isolating smaller and smaller parts of a system, this approach expands its view to take into account larger system to derive conclusion analyzing relationship and interaction on their functional component. The issue when solving any problem we often encounter is that we fail to picture the problem as a whole and we stress on one specific solution which in turns makes the problem more complex.  

Science today is in advanced stage and several disciplines has been discovered and people started to dig deeper into the knowledge to be specialized in such disciplines. The break up in the body of knowledge makes it difficult to communicate with other aspects knowledge. Physicist talks with physicist, economists to economists even worst electrometricans to electrometricians. The more the science breaks down, increasingly it becomes difficult to communicate to other discipline. Ultimately,  we lose the ability to generalize the framework of the system with which it functions.

System thinking approach can be used in various aspects of our  life, for business development, organization, research and many more. Life is cooperative rather than competitive and life forms of very different qualities may interact beneficially with one another and with their physical environment. Even the bacteria live in collaboration, accommodation and exchange.

System thinking in context of agriculture systems

Increasing debates have been raised on the issues of negative impacts of industrial agriculture which don’t coordinate with the natural system. We all know where the sustainability of our food system lies. It’s not out there in big farms with huge machinery practicing mono culture, heavily tilling the soil destroying its life form without any diversity; this definitely does not harmonies with our natural system!

Agriculture research system are often biased and researchers focus on their specific protocol to meet their research objectives. Specialists in various fields when gather together and observe a stalk of rice. The insect disease specialist sees only insect damage; the specialist in plant nutrition considers only the plant’s vigor. Methods of insect control, which ignore the relationships among the insects themselves, are truly useless. Suppose a scientists wants to understand the nature, he may start with studying a leaf but as his investigation processes down to the level of molecule, atoms and elementary particles, he loses the sight of the whole leaf. 

To illustrate a real example, scientists who studies nutrient to enhances the crop production, he studies the ways by which plant absorb. He control the environment and omit all the relationship plant has got with its supporting factors. He discovers that when there is too little calcium or magnesium in the soil  growth is poor and the leaves whither. When he artificially supplements the calcium or magnesium, he notes that the rate of growth increases and large grains form. Pleased with his success, the scientist calls his discovery scientific truth and treats it as an infallible cultivation technique elements as nutrients. But the real question here is is that a true deficiency? If so, what is the basis to call it a deficiency? When a field really is deficient in some component, the first thing done should be to determine the true cause of the deficiency. Yet science begins by treating the most obvious symptoms. If there is bleeding, it stops the bleeding. For a calcium deficiency, it immediately applies calcium. 

This calls for a new approach. In every cause, there is a second and a third cause. Behind every phenomenon there is a main cause, a fundamental cause, an underlying cause, and contributing factors. Numerous causes and effects intertwine in a complex pattern that leaves little clue as to the true cause. Even so, man is confident of the ability of science to find the true cause through persistent and ever deeper investigation and to set up effective ways of coping with the problem. Yet, just how far can he go in his investigation of cause and effect?

–  Last two Paragraphs adapted from  Masanobu Fukuoka “The natural way of Farming. The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy”

In the nutshell, systems thinking is critical in developing solutions to sustainability challenges
To be continued...