Unit 2: The Concept of a System

The Concept of a System

2.1 What is a system?

A system is a procedure, process, method, or course of action designed to achieve a specific result.


A system also deals with how parts work together.


There is much more to the explanation of a system. Remember the study of curriculum among others is to ensure that students understand the nature of agriculture as a system that is made up of various components existing in an integrated manner. Agriculture has been taught as disjointed subjects and topics for ages. The introduction of systems theory will help in this direction.


2.2 Theoretical basis to understanding a system

The understanding of the systems’ theory will help achieve the objectives of curriculum study. This is because curriculum studies are about the study of the methods and systems used by teachers to build knowledge in learners. As part of the study, students will be required to link agriculture and different sciences and applied science subjects in the JHS Integrated Science syllabus. Furthermore, they will be required to sequence and integrate the teaching of the various components of agriculture.

2.2.1 The principles of systems theory


Please note that a theory consists of principles. Principles are basic facts used to explain a phenomenon.

The systems theory consists of many principles such as holism, input-output-transformation, hierarchy, emerging properties, communication, and control. However, the principle of holism, hierarchy, and control will be explained to help students appreciate agriculture as a system made up of various components existing in an integrated manner. The holism and hierarchy principles of systems theory 

The principle of holism suggests that:

  • It is important to look at any issue or anything as composed of systems.
  • A system is made up of components called subsystems.
  • The subsystem could also be made up of other subsystems and so on.
  • The system and subsystems could also form part of other larger system or subsystems.
  • A system maintains its existence and functions as a whole through the interactions of its parts.
  • The behaviour of different systems depends on how the parts are related, rather than on the parts themselves. Therefore, in system thinking we normally say the performance of any entity is the sum of the independent performance of its parts as well as the product of their interaction.

In applying the principle of holism, it is important to synthesize the parts into whole so as to gain understanding of the system. This is unlike the logic thinking where we normally study parts and do not consider the interactions and interrelations to understanding of the whole system. In describing complex situation/problem or an issue, pay attention to the components of the system as well as interactions of components with each other and as subsystem of larger or subsystem.

For example, looking at the JHS Integrated Science syllabus as a system: The JHS Integrated Science syllabus is organized into themes. The themes become parts of the system (subsystem), other topics could be subsystem and so on. The interaction within the system can also be described. The hierarchy principle of the systems

The principle states that there is a pecking order or chain of commands in every system. This was derived from the observation of a flock of poultry where each bird pecks another lower in the scale without fear of retaliation and submits to pecking by one of higher rank broadly.

The principle also stipulates that smaller systems (subsystems) are nested in larger systems. For example, the biosphere consists of ecosystems, ecosystems consist of communities, communities consist of local species populations, populations consist of individual organisms and so on.

Higher systems may provide inputs to lower systems because they form their environment but it cannot totally control it. The principle of control


This principle states that every system exists within environment(s). The environments influence and affect the system and ability to manage and adapt its activities. However, every system has the capacity to maintain key components within an appropriate range of values in the face of external disturbance.


The goal of every system is its desired state, where the system is at rest or balanced.


Similar terms used in connection with the control principle are equilibrium maintenance, adaptation, and self- regulation.


In self-regulation, a system can be an open system or closed system. An open system depends on other systems for its inputs (money, materials, and employees) in order to survive. The inputs or resources are continuously sought from the environment. Closed system does not rely on resources from outside environment to survive. It must have internal resources to transform into goods and services that are consumed by members of the organization.


Agriculture as productive system is more of open system as opposed to closed system.


2.3 Consideration of characteristics of agriculture as a natural system

2.3.1 The nature agriculture.

Agriculture could be defined from many perspectives. The elementary definition is that agriculture is the rearing of animals and cultivation of crops to meet the needs of human beings. Agriculture in this case is about crops and animals but certain activities, methods, processes and strategies are combined to produce the animals, crops and/or their products.

Agriculture goes beyond crops and animals. It is also about protecting the natural resources, hunting, fishing, harvesting, forestry and natural pasture. Note that modern agriculture is not limited to farming. It embraces marketing, farm management, engineering, home economics etc.


Agriculture is defined as the art, science and business of rearing animals and cultivation of crops. The art aspect denotes the use of skills to produce crops or rear animals. The science aspect connotes the use of science and technology in agricultural activities. In fact, agriculture is described as an applied science. No wonder the JHS Integrated Science syllabus to be studied is termed integrated science. Agriculture as a business system and linkages with other sciences are topics to be discussed in this course. It will be considered in the next unit.

The following are branches of agriculture: Fisheries, animal science, forestry, soil science, agricultural economics and farm management, crop science, horticulture, agricultural extension, agricultural education. veterinary, and processing and post-harvesting.  Visit the internet and find the specific definitions of these branches of agriculture.

2.3.2 Why agriculture is considered as a natural system


A natural system is the one that exists in “nature” i.e. consisting of physical and biological materials independent of any human involvement.  Agricultural systems of production include the pastoral farming, shifting cultivation, crop rotation, mono-cropping, mixed cropping, mixed farming, livestock production systems such layer production, broiler production, free range and the battery cage systems. The definition of agriculture from systems perspective will help to justify activities described as agriculture without involvement of human beings.


An agricultural system is considered as a particular arrangement of agricultural enterprises (cropping and livestock) that are managed in response to physical, biological and socio-economic environment and in accordance with farmer’s goals, preferences, resources and external factors (political, institutional) to produce desired outputs. Applying the systems principle of holism, we could look at this definition in terms of the following components: The farmer, input, physical, biological and socio-economic environment of farmers, political and institutional. Let’s us break this further to look at the interactions.


The farmer is an important part of agricultural system. The basis of every system depends on the farmer’s decision. The farmer may choose and manage the system to respond to the available resources and environment. Farmers are part of the society in which they live.


Inputs describe the resources that go into the development of crop and livestock products. These include land, labour (farmer, family, hired workers and draught animals) and capital (form of cash, seed, feed for animals, fertilizers, pesticides, farm tools and implements, bullocks, tractors, crops and animals.


The environment represents things observed in the surroundings or locations around the farmer, plant or animals. The environment is manipulated to create suitable condition for growth and performance of animals and crops. There are biological, physical and institution and socio-economic environment.


The living organisms constitute the biological aspects the environment. The non-living things such as land forms (altitude and slope), rocks, soil and climate constitute the physical environment of agricultural production system.


Institutional and political factorsprovide essential support services and leadership to production systems. These include policies, strategies and information; market, transport and credit.


The socio-economic environment includes social and economic aspects. The social aspect consists of the organization of the communities and relationships between their members, family structures and lineages. The social affects the attitude, goals, cooperation and motivation of farmers in any production system. The economic environment includes decisions on availability production factors such as land, labour and farm implements, crops, livestock, and money.


Assignment: Outline the agriculture production system and isolate aspects independent of any human involvement.


2.3.3 Agriculture as a business system

Business is about making money by producing or buying and selling products (such as goods and services) to consumers. Agriculture as an activity or enterprise, is entered into to make profit and therefore could be looked as a business system.

The business system denotes the use of various economic, management and banking principles in an agricultural production.

Business is also about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the process of starting a business or other organization. Entrepreneurs are venturesome and fully responsible for success or failure of businesses. Looking agriculture as business involves the use of agrichemicals, breeding, crop production, distribution, farm machinery, processing, and seed supply, as well as marketing and retail sales of agricultural products to make profit. You will agree that farmers who do apply these in their production activities and only produce are described as substance and not businesslike.

Agriculture as business system connects all aspects of agriculture and the interrelated steps to work together for the achievement of the goals of agricultural enterprise.

NB: Clearly identify the various aspect of agriculture in the JHS Integrated Science syllabus and suggest the process that could be used or a delivery mechanism for providing specific agricultural goods or services to customers for profit. Present findings for assessment and discuss it in class.



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