What's Behing Rural System
The city cannot grow its own food.
Leaders and war lords of Rome overlooking Etruscia, 44 BC.
To those interested in the future of land policy, my message is straight-forward: reframe the issue; negotiate at the beginning with principal stakeholders; defer to science as the best compass for turbulent times; focus on rewards and incentives; develop decentralized approaches to decentralized problems; and exploit new technologies.
W.K. Reilly, former Administrator, EPA, 1996
Rural System addresses the points of Prof. Reilly's summary. It develops the grounds for an anternative policy bundle, an entrepreneurial approach, to managing the terrestrial and aquatic resources of the ecosystems of regions of the US and, later, other parts of the world.
Designing and developing Rural System we try to deal with the difficulties within the gray space, the intersection of the zone between research and development, between business and ecological systems, and between government initiatives and private continuance. On one hand it seeks to test an hypothesis that a modern ecosystem management system can sustain estimated rural (agricultural and natural resource) productivity while maintaining ecosystem health and enhancing social and economic development. It presumes access to many privately-owned natural resources and seeks to simulate a dispersed working system, literally a "business ecosystem," that can restore and manage ecosystems upon which such a business can be perpetuated.
The proposal is grounded in our premise that for rural ecosystems to be sustained throughout the U.S., there must be stable, lasting financial incentives to land owners and land managers. To deliver those incentives, there must be started a diverse business conglomerate operating that uses many computer databases and optimization procedures to protect, restore, and manage the production from enhanced agro-forestry and related ecosystems of private lands. We hypothesize that there is a need for a system of managed enterprises using current knowledge about valued ecosystem structure, functions, services,and relations. Well managed with continual adjustments, such a system can continue to produce desired human benefits (SPOVIMM) as part of a high quality of life for rural area citizens.
We work to complete the design for and to create that total enterprise, and using a marriage of optimization and simulation (Van Dyne and Abramsky 1975, Swartzman and Kaluzny 1987, Urban 1994:134) use a system for aiding and improving decisions that achieve and enhance lasting ecosystems for people. On private lands and waters of the U.S. and capitalist countries, we see no way to sustain rural ecosystems other than through a managed, firmly-grounded diverse business system such as Rural System
|Figure 1. The modified general system concept (after Von Bertalanffy 1968, 1975) as used herein. The modifications are: Specifying the origin or start-up, the context (the subsystem), and current action to accommodate the future (feedforward) .|
The typical decisions within Rural System include those for agro-silvo-pastoral ecosystems, their constraints, services, and potentials. In summary review, we use general systems theory; clarify and advance new statements of objectives relating to social and economic development; link "benefits" with diverse objectives as well as present-discounted net monetary values of rural goods, services, and opportunities (SPOVIMM). We use a central decision-guidance unit that to aid start-up enterprises. We use a business conglomerate concept for managing the valued produce and potentials of unique areas (described in a geographic information system); create a set of decision tools and dynamic planning system for managing the conglomerate and the managed complex of private lands with which it works; prepare automated decision-support messages and progress reports; and prepare educational and "marketing" messages to encourage participants and gain others.
We seek an opportunity to implement our concept and design for a region-empowering system. Once developed and tested, it may be used and creatively adapted (Holling 1978, Walter 1986) thus providing continuation and "outreach" of the funds invested on behalf of taxpayers and others.
Over several decades, workers have developed applications of computer simulation and modeling in natural resources (e.g., Giles 1977, Cowles and Giles 1982, Swartzman and Kaluzny 1987). These successes along with computer optimization, creating natural resource data bases and geographic information systems (GIS), applying expert system technology, and using heuristic programming have lead to startling value-adding strategies, risk avoidance, and scale efficiencies. They have shown potential environmental impacts and ways to avoid them and their costs. They have led to dynamic planning systems that produce decision-aiding or guidance documents on the Internet. This analytical and descriptive power has been poorly exploited among small private landowners and the host of businesses that serve them.
In Rural System we bring together our best current knowledge for predicting the effects of natural and human-induced environmental change resulting from managerial decisions on agricultural and forest ecosystems. We use modern technological advances in satellite and GIS work to place on maps parts of ecosystems, describe them, and then work precisely on them. Such work can then be based on models that use our knowledge of the structure and function of these ecosystems. Beyond this modeling and descriptive work, we develop further our design of a rural resource enterprise, a means to sustain management of the ecosystems. We offer a complex of products, services, etc. through an on-line sales strategy called the General Store. We hold that private rural land and resource systems can only be sustained if they are within the context of a profit-producing enterprise or organization. We use the idiom of the land (the aggregation of ecosystems under a decision maker) as a "factory," one that must be tended very well if it will continue to produce profits. Of course land and water are much more than a "factory" but we believe that profit is or will become a profound limit to strongly-held beliefs about the needs for agriculture,rural, and ecological resources for a high quality of life for U.S. citizens and others.
Public land agencies continue to struggle with disparate and changing objectives. Private landowners have many of the same difficulties. We believe that our analytical systems for forming sets of quantified objectives are essential for designing and measuring precisely the quality of systems designed to "enhance productivity," "sustain yield," or even "manage well" rural systems. "For what?" "For whom?," "When?," and "By what criteria?" are pressing questions that must be answered for ecosystem decisions to have meaning. In a related way, the meaning of "health" (as a reasonable objective) is required for land before a decision can be reached about whether a computed optimum practice or set of them will produce a condition acceptable as healthy. We shall clarify these concepts concentrating on lasting bounded profit and the system's lasting high R* ( called "r-star") score.
While historical emphases have been on crop, lumber, and animal productivity, profits are "net" topics and costs and risks can be as profound as gains from research, water, or fertilizers. We develop in the proposed system a strategic set of activities related to preventing and treating damage, injury, or other harm to plants and animals and unify that with managerial effects on the estimated probability of failure and on the magnitude of failure in addressing expected value of production.
Our approach may be deduced from the fundamental operational units, ingredients, and dominant premises that we shall use. Here they are merely listed (and will be elaborated as needed).
Further details of the proposed project are provided below. First, we present the needs to which the system is believed to be responsive.
Expanded knowledge is needed to protect, restore, and enhance natural resources and the environment, the rural resources that are so important to the people of the US and the world. Private and public landowners are beset by many contemporary issues (globalization, energy conservation, drug use in the back-country, and viable communities and optimum public school size and placement) not only by those of classical agriculture and forestry. Policy changes, forest fire threats, anti-hunting attitudes, emerging pests and diseases, and changing markets and employment policies and needs beset workers within the classical land use categories. There are many profound linkages and challenges from changing land use.
There are profound links between poverty and rural livelihood. Oxfam claimed that of the 1.2 billion people in the world who live on less than $1 a day, more than 75% live in rural areas. Changing land use in Virginia ...edit.
There are needs to address them. Boulding (1991:30) discussed the categories of power that may change the future in desirable ways. He suggested that economic power may be effective only in the context of integrative power (implying legitimacy, respect, loyalty, truthfulness, etc.)
As Baden said, "Good intentions, scientific and business know-how, and dedicated people are necessary but not sufficient conditions for promoting the rational sustainable use of land. The critical factor often ignored by policy-makers is getting the incentives right through careful institutional design ... It is time to rediscover the virtues of the market, to decentralize political management and rule-making, and to experiment with novel institutional designs. It is these reforms, aligning action with accountability, that can lead us to a sustainable future." (Baden 1996:327). We work toward such an institution. It requires selecting the proper scale, itself, is a difficult decision. At one end of a spectrum, we are sympathetic to the issues of the world markets such as expressed by Moore and Miller (1994:15).
What is at stake is not a splinter market, but virtually all goods manufactured for almost all purposes. Producers of goods ranging from yogurt cartons to cars must increasingly respond to the new environmental imperatives. In a global economy, no nation can successfully isolate itself from the policies and demands of others. A nation that attempts to do so will find itself with a dwindling share of the international trade in manufactured goods and, as a consequence, with a shrinking standard of living ...There is no good reason that limitless profits should flow to Japanese and German investors for technologies that were developed with American sacrifice and dollars.
(Moore and Miller 1994:15)
Critics of several types often minimize or overstate the importance of rural resource and environmental laws and regulations and their impacts on national and world economies. Anderson (1994:131 quoted Dahlberg 1991)) saying "Struggles for agricultural reform with related discussions about energy, transportation and health, reflect a broader concern regarding lifestyles and consumption patterns in industrial societies."
" ...Of the world's industrial nations, only the United States has yet to fully appreciate the lasting significance of the change being wrought by burgeoning environmental concerns ... virtually all of America's primary industrial competitors have adopted a wide range of policies designed to coax or compel the development and commercialization of technologies, practices, and industries that do their jobs as well or better than in the past while producing less pollution." (Moore and Miller 1994:5)
We acknowledge the global scale of the agricultural food and fiber problems. The spectrum of scale varies from the endangered small ecosystem to international commodity markets. We have selected to work toward a meso-scale system, one that has specific inputs from the results and consequences of the workings of the macro national and world system.
We seek to address new markets that can be satisfied by dispersed producers of numbered products and notably high quality services. By attempting to develop a general system, we expect it can be modified and re-developed, franchised for other regions.
The designers of Rural System are aware of and intend to be creatively responsive to the above quotations. We are fully aware of counter opinions such as those of Beaton and Maser (1999:103) that " ... if viewed as alternative criteria for directing the philosophy of a local economy, a seriously pursued notion of sustainability is the virtual opposite of full and eager participation in the global economy." We think that sustained profits can only be achieved from a system of goods and services produced from within a very well managed agro-ecological regional resources, nested within the global economy. Such management requires sophisticated computer power united with a major dynamically improving knowledge base. Gaining these for use, then using and reforming them, and then sustaining the investment in them is one of our strategies. While there are major public lands of the state and federal forests, we address private landowners usually served by the Cooperative Extension Service and others. Reports of needs for improving land management after years of advice and recommendations persist. The Governor's Natural Resource Summit (Virginia, 2003) noted needs for regulations as well as incentives for improving water and land conservation and outdoor recreation. The economic resources of the regions for the first development of Rural System are very diverse and counties there are among those with the highest unemployment and below-poverty levels.
Rural System is designed to seek for-profit solutions to the problems of the people, communities, as well as the natural resources of the region, working within the law with willing land owners to provide new employment options, information for improved but lasting productivity, value-added strategies, economies of scale, and synergism. When successful, it will link citizens as well as visitors to the land and its long-term potentials for profits. It can provide an alternative town and regional identity, one of a place for modern regional rural resource development and management. It will link buyers and users with producers of certified forest products and wildland resource opportunities from well-managed rural land and water resources. It will provide the prognostics and analyses that press decisions to the positive side of the "margin" where so many people of the region now live. It is fundamentally dependent upon sustained ecosystems.
We concur with Forest Service chief Bosworth (2003 and 2004) that the major problems of the public forests (and many private forests) are forest health (Rogers et al., 2001), invasive animals and plants, off-road vehicle use, and fragmentation resulting from urban and residential expansion. A book was issued in October, 2003 on Human Influences on Forest Ecosystems: the Southern Wildland-Urban Interface Assessment, which examines the urban and rural fringes in the Southern US where multiple land uses meet forested lands. It is noted that urbanization will have the "most direct, immediate, and permanent effects on the extent, condition, and health of forests." In this context, Rural System provides a framework for enterprises to address issues of sustaining healthy and productive forests.
We are vitally concerned with human migration out of the region, (literally away from farms), the resulting loss of tax base, and the resulting difficulties of educational support. In areas of the region 50% of the children are living in poverty. There are fewer children now, the population ages, and the tax burden increase for those that remain. Our concern is transformed into Rural System itself as it seeks to provide significant employment opportunities in rural regions, opportunities that are dependent on maintaining ecosystems ... and probably improving them.
About 53% of the population of the region (specifically one in western Virginia) lives in area that is classified as rural. Depending on where the lines are drawn, there are over 700,000 acres of land in the region owned by private citizens that live outside of the state. The land are unmanaged, trespass is evident, ownership shanges hands rapidly, experience and knowledge about the land is lacking. The potential financial productivity, now and for the planned future, is lost. Agricultural land remains the largest contributor of sediment to streams. Poorly designed forest roads are a major problem for the stream fishery and rare mussel populations. State and federal employment for advisors is being reduced, needs seem to increase. Lands are put under easements to assure their future beauty ... but unless they are managed (e.g., modern grazing systems and Smartwood-certified forestry), the expected present pastoral and forest beauty will not persist. The expertise and workforce for such management action is not readily available (but may be met by Rural System).
The literature of conservation is replete with pictures and stories of land and resource degradation. We are aware of the many techniques and procedures for minimizing degradation of ecosystems. We know that few are used and believe that a financial incentive is needed for more of these to be used. We have a strategy, one paid for by profits from a Rural System, that go beyond stopping degradation ...one developed to re-build, restore, and enhance ecosystems. Fully aware of second-law principles, and aware of massive public investments in resource improvement (but rarely sustained and thus often failing) we propose to continue to examine the proper proportionate investment of our profits for improving ecosystems, i.e., overcoming past losses and extractions.
The Mid-Atlantic Highlands Action Program (Canaan Valley Institute, 2002) was developed to foster local decision-making in support of sustainable highland communities, to empower stakeholders and increase their ability to improve their quality of life. It saw the current situation as "forged by past decisions" with a legacy of problems (Caudill 1962; Gaventa 1980). Environmental problems noted included habitat loss, stream sedimentation, forest fragmentation, acid rain, acid mine drainage, flooding, and invasive non-native species. While that Highlands Program highlighted the skills and resources of the region "that cannot be duplicated anywhere" - its people, history and cultural heritage, institutions, climate, scenic beauty, open space, biological diversity, and globally significant forests - there is little in the list of evident financial importance. Even with resources, the people have major needs.
The challenge to designers of Rural System project has been to conceive a desired "end state," a profitable system to begin to meet the needs of the people and communities ... all the while carefully protecting the special places, protecting and restoring the ecosystems, improving the natural productive base, all for a very long planning period (we have set it at 150 years sliding forward a year annually). We can intertwine the economic concerns and values of communities of the region with classical environmental stewardship. With the proposed system we believe we can add meaning to the old synonym phrase of "conservation" , i.e., as "wise use," providing decision-making power for the analyses, valuations, tradeoffs, and predictions needed behind perceptions of "wise." Maser (1994:281) went so far as to claim that we need "a new paradigm for our trusteeship of the land based on a sense of place and permanence, a sense of creation and landscape artistry, a sense of ecological health and sustainability, and a sense of humility and humanity." We've attempted to include elements of such a paradigm in Rural System.
Toward an Alternative National Policy
Staff within Rural System have developed a concept for a novel policy that will help bring about a more sustainable and healthy future for the United States agriculture and food system. The policy is called rural system, one of promoting a special modern, diverse, regional, philanthropic, for-profit business system for rural residents and others. We seek the help in developing the project and its prototype.
In a chain of relations, we can document well the needs of people for food and food-related health. We think that food production must be integral to diverse business activities of a comprehensive rural system, one assuring a high quality-of-life. We perceive that (1) minimum personal and family income from unspecified and often-diverse sources seems essential to secure food and health; (2) health care needs to be tied to personal and family financial well-being; (3) employment seems essential for such income; (4) some of that employment needs to be within a stable modern rural system; (5) clear financial incentives with low risks must be available for rural residents and private landowners to participate in such a system; and (6) a social account index must be conspicuous to all of the people of a region.
Continuing the chain of relations, a stable, well-functioning system is essential to achieve these 6 needs. Natural resources, generally all of the ecosystems of the rural environment, can be better managed than they are now. A profitable modern rural system is dependent on rural land that can be seen as the total "productive platform"being sensitively managed (with aids of GPS, GIS, optimization, and dynamic Internet-delivered plans). It needs to be diversified, resisting risks and losses, gaining economies of scale and synergism, having backups, using feedback beyond monitoring, and bringing forecasts into current decision making. The environment must be sustained to sustain profits for the health and well-being of people. The people of rural areas and elsewhere need an option to invest reasonably in a rural system that provides lasting benefits for them. Such a system, its philosophy, and policy derivative (which we call rural system) uses research results, exploits the Internet and communications, builds a knowledge base, and thoughtfully budgets energy. A practical, functional rural system can only be sustained as a for-profit group that reinvests significant proportions of its profits in restoring and enhancing private lands to improve a regional quality of life score. Promoting and supporting a dynamic regional entrepreneurial system constitutes a strong, viable alternative policy for US food and the culture that produces and uses it. Subsystems of the designed conservation enterprise, both the enterprise and the policy that it reflects, can be distributed worldwide.
We can develop a prototype for a policy called rural system - one of people working in a region engaged in a modern, diverse, profitable rural enterprise.
Institutional support - The staff starts with collegial faculty and students in two state-supported universities (e.g., Radford University and Virginia Tech), staff of the Jefferson National Forest, the River Navigator of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and a retired professor of Virginia's Land-Grant University. It explores relations with existing enterprises. It uses the computer studies of Prof. Giles and his students over 40 years. It develops a unique philanthropic, for-profit corporation called Rural System that becomes independent and supportive of the well-being of the people of the area, the university, the citizens, private landowners, and related lands and waters (e.g., the National Historic River, the New River of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia).
Market-based change - It uses new technology and concepts to achieve economic viability of dispersed community- and region-based enterprises for food and the agro-silvo-pastoral and aquatic systems that produce and sustain it.
Public policy - The project develops the rural system policy, one of offering and encouraging rural residents (and others) to participate in a modern high-technology, incentives-driven enterprise for rural development and stability. Such a policy would link private lands of willing owners with each other and with existing public lands and their policies. It presents a demonstrable option for providing financial incentives for continually improving land and natural resource management that leads to an improved quality of life for citizens of a region (then other regions). The policy and its prototypic institution show a way to add private financial incentives for resource restoration and renewal to work that has been largely extractive.
We perceive a group of organizations and entities working together in this venture such as
Objectives and Notes:
A Financial Incentive
We seek help from various sources in forming a smart-business policy for the rural areas of the US. The policy is one for people of a region, especially private land owners, encouraged to invest themselves and their lands in a diverse modern system, a business conglomerate, working for the future, operating for profit but with major investments (the costs of sustained profitability) being made in restoring and enhancing land and water productivity. Our current design for such an enterprise is described at www.RuralSystem.com. Providing services, it also brings private land under contract and operates (150-year horizon) to restore and improve it and then to provide financial incentives for desirable use and enhancement practices previously advocated largely for altruistic and ethical reasons.
General Systems Work
The proposed system employs concepts of systems ecology and agro-silvo-pastoral systems and the fishery using simulations and optimization to improve decision making for specific land and water units. It uses the technology of combined GIS- and GPS-based maps. These precise spatial information units with their models assure net gains and stabilize or improve conditions for the future of "the company" (and for citizens, landowners, and visitors dependent upon it). The enterprise, composed of about 60 small businesses, all use a supportive computer-based "guidance nexus," a set of optimization units. A percentage of profits are reinvested in land and water improvements. The enterprise is perfected and then franchised to become responsive to the scale and economic and political conditions of the large watershed but also of other areas of the US and the world. It has a strong eco-tourism and educational component.
The enterprise actively uses results of vast public investments in studies. It develops new products as well as markets for services, opportunities, and processes of the rural areas. It makes research results practical, gives them value, and makes public-funded studies pay-off. It emphasizes the management of lands and waters, (and may include preserved tracts). Its emphasis is as strongly on reducing loss and risk (pests, etc. including topics of forest and land health) as on valued product production. It brings new and vital connections between people of urban and rural areas. Aware of expertise and funds already available for public land management, we propose work on private lands but also contracts for approved uses of public lands. Soundly ecological with practical computer models, the system incorporates the other "Es" of economics, esthetics, energetics, and the real bounds of policy, regulation, and law … their enforcement.
Cash-flow and Evaluation
Objective 1 of this proposed project is to present the hypothesized rural system policy for the economically and ecologically astute and well-advised citizen. It breaks with the past in providing broad-scale financial incentives and some employment, not just information and education for rural decision makers. The project describes the information needed and decision modes for such people. Increasingly urban, citizen-land-holders may not live in or know the need for access and opportunity to rural resources and now may not know how to invest time, money, and other resources to secure lasting benefits. We'll present through computer simulations the implications of creating a private, financially-sustained system of rural resource use and development that is planned, a structure protected from the diseconomies of being dependent on private grants, government subsidy, or temporary contract. We must sustain the management, the work, the employees, and the ecosystems upon which food and agricultural production depend. Our regional system educates for a high quality life context, increases health via disease prevention, stabilizes healthful food production, achieves economies of scale in operating lands and waters, provides incentives for healthful outdoor recreation, creates new linkages among visitors, and uses a major portion of profits (increased by incentives and memberships) to improve the lands and waters of the area of operation. "Improve" may be key, for we have means for evaluating current conditions, have a detailed process for setting citizen objectives, and can target sensitive parts of the production system. We have a means for measuring and communication to all participants the score or status of the area and its enterprise, itself called Rural System, in achieving those objectives. We measure profits and we hold that ecological systems themselves must be carefully sustained to achieve at least "break-even."
We shall describe and perform the following activities:
Outcomes and Impacts:
We see no other feasible solution for achieving stable food supplies and other important related aspects of life quality than that of forming optimum regional rural enterprise systems. To sustain food we must sustain profitable human and ecological production systems. The system proposed herein is for helping (1) the general rural community, (2) the small landowner, and (3) the urban citizen that loves the land and cannot find the safe, secure, local, reasonable-cost access to land that they can use or from which they may enjoy produce. We suspect future limits and hardships of fossil energy availability. We see unused research results, uneconomical land use, continued land and water problems, and increasing speculative hoarding of unmanaged and degraded acres by absentee owners. These can be addressed by a profit-seeking high-tech enterprise with a distant planning horizon. Agency issues often obscure public messages to landowners already confounded by problems of daily life and without access to new concepts of the financial opportunities available from their lands if given computer-aided management at the proper scale. New land stewardship options are complex and expensive; these and other lands need computer-based plans for the future. Owners need precision for work to move past the economic and ecological margins. There are major knowledge-based concepts that need to be integrated but they must be mixed well with those of local tax policy and its incentives, with state policy, and of course with federal laws (e.g., rare wild animal and plant species protection that is in conflict with objectives for increasing game populations) and policies (e.g., forest product tariffs and beef exports). The proposed system can offer a challenge to current practice, offer options along with those of the large single-product corporation, and suggest alternatives for public lands. The project can bring a new financial option to the small community and land owner allowing personal and local decisions about the importance of land, the values of life there, and an option to all citizens for the many benefits, services, and opportunities of rural lands and waters when well managed within a capitalistic society with specific thoughts for the future.
This is planned as a 5-year project. The estimated amount for the first 2 years is $400,000 and includes initiating developing the central management software (with simulation for the entire enterprise). The estimated cost of developing other key components with their computer models and databases within the next 3 years is $ 900,000. Other funds will be sought to expedite developing the full-scale system and self-sustaining profitability.
September 24, 2004