Novie Andri Setianto, Donald Cameron, John B Gaughan


More than 70% of the national beef herd of Indonesia is controlled by smallholders, who therefore play a vital role in beef cattle development programs.  This paper reports on a study into disappointing results of recent government policy initiatives on practices of smallholder beef farmer groups in rural Java, Indonesia. Despite funding aimed at increasing the national beef herd and domestic beef production though enhancing smallholder productivity, perverse effects of declining reproductive rates and breeding cow numbers are being observed. Smallholder beef farming is a complex system.  It involves multiple actors including farmers, farmer groups, farmer households, researchers, government officers, and traders.  The interactions of these stakeholders are characterised by power asymmetry, whereby smallholders, whether as individuals or as members of groups possessing social entity,  experience less power and access to privileges than other actors.  For effective research aimed at system improvement, an approach capable of recognising system complexity, multiple perspectives and social power asymmetry is necessary. 

In the body of systems thinking, System Dynamics (SD) is considered to be a powerful tool, as it enables the construction of rigorous models and visualisation of the causal linkages among variables which might influence the system’s performance.  One of the fundamental essences of SD is the identification of system archetypes: generic systems structures describing the common dynamic processes which characterise the behaviour of the system.  System archetypes provide simplified insights into the system’s structures. Analysing system archetypes can assist in the identification of system leverage points, i.e. the places where an intervention should have the most influence on systems behaviour.  

However, when dealing with a social entity like a smallholder  group, SD is  considered to be  a researcher-centrist methodology, as it lacks the instruments to engage multi-stakeholders’ perspectives which are likely to be varied, and is insensitive to the issue of societal power structures.  This paper reports on research in which these deficiencies are addressed through complementary application of Soft System Methodology (SSM), which has strength in acknowledging multiple perspectives, and emancipatory Critical System Heuristics (CSH), which can explicitly address power asymmetry, in an effort to enhance SD. 

A series of interviews and workshops was undertaken to identify the problematic situation of smallholder beef farming in Java.  The main research instruments of Rich Picture development, CATWOE analysis of SSM, and the 12 boundary critique questions of CSH were applied sequentially in the problem analysis stage, resulting in a four dimensional structure incorporating motivation, power control, knowledge and legitimacy.  Applying SSM and CSH ensured that the perspectives of all stakeholders, including those of the less powerful, were acknowledged, thereby enriching and enhancing subsequent SD modelling.

The structured problematic situation was then used to guide investigation of variables which were thought to be contributory.  The results were visualized in a conceptual model which was then translated into a causal loop diagram (CLD)   consisting of 17 reinforcing and 13 balancing loops which map the feedback loops of the 4 dimensional situation of the smallholder beef system. 

The CLD was then investigated to identify the system archetypes.   Five archetypes were identified: limit to growth, shifting the burden, success to successful, tragedy of the commons fixes that fail.  The nature of each archetype is described, and the implications for identification of the possible system leverage points are discussed.


System Dynamics, Soft System Methodology, Critical System Heuristics, Smallholder, Beef Farming, System Archetypes

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