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CA is increasing yields, improving livelihoods and improving soil health for around 360
smallholder farmers in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape

One of the main aims of the Conservation Agriculture (CA) Farmer Innovation Programme (FIP), which is implemented by Grain SA and funded by The Maize Trust, is to understand, improve and facilitate the implementation of CA in smallholder farming systems in South Africa. Through this process the programme expects to achieve significant improvements in natural resource status and quality allowing sustained crop production intensification.

The farmer-centered innovation systems research process underpinning the programme is based on working intensively with farmer learning groups and local facilitators to scale out CA in and between selected villages and study areas.

Within the learning groups, farmer innovators volunteer to set up and manage farmer-managed adaptive trials in their backyards or fields. These plots become the ‘learning venues’ for the whole learning group. Farmer Field School (FFS) and action research methodologies are used within the
group to focus the learning on the actual features and changes in the field throughout the season, such as growth and development of the crops and soil health. The new CA practices are tested against the ‘normal’ practice in the area as the controls. During frequent learning events or workshops,
farmers observe, analyse and assess what is happening in the trials, and discuss appropriate decisions and management practices in view of continuous adaptation. Short information provision and training sessions (e.g. on special topics) are included in these workshops.

Building of social and financial capital are enhanced by also supporting the formation of local level micro savings and loan associations (MSLA) and by supporting the development of localised farmer centers. The latter facilitates bulk buying of inputs, setting up of localised milling and marketing operations.

The adaptive trials are also used as a focus point for the broader community to engage through local learning events and farmers’ days. Stakeholders and the broader economic, agricultural and environmental communities are drawn into these processes and events. Through this, Innovation Platforms (IPs) are developed to improve cooperation and synergy between programmes, and development of appropriate and farmer-led processes for economic inclusion. These IPs also provide
a good opportunity to focus further research on the ‘needs’ emerging through the process.

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