The Maize trust supports GrainSa in a conservation agricultural coordination function and to run a Farmer innovation programme as an ongoing programme within the GrainSA support function to the grain Industry. The primary focus is research and farmer support.


The programme is in its third year of operation. Groups of innovative farmers receive funding support for action research and awareness raising around Conservation Agriculture in their networks and beyond to promote the implementation of CA and promote best practice in the maize production agribusiness value chain.

The Smallholder farmer aspect of the programme is being implemented in KZN and EC in areas where maize is produced by smallholders and where a level of farmer organisation exists (through savings and credit groups, farmers’ associations, village level community development and or home based care workers etc.) that can support a focus on Conservation Agriculture and improvement of the maize value chain system. Partnerships with implementing organisations in the field of agricultural development are forged.


Outline of aims

Attention is given the above five processes in the design of any SFIP (Smallholder Farmer Innovation Programme). The central anchor of the process is appropriate agricultural practices for promotion of CA at scale


  • To raise awareness of CA principles and the soil, environmental, labour and economic benefits that can be derived
  • To introduce a range of CA implementation options into the existing farming systems to suite farmers working at different scales (Subsistence, early and late livelihoods)
  • To work within the frameworks of both food security and income generation


  • To provide a focus on the whole value chain;
    • inputs (options for bulk buying, savings and small loans, different inputs options and seed types),
    • mechanisation (no till planters for hand operation, animal drawn traction and tractors),
    • production support; learning and farmer experimentation around CA principles and implementation, crop diversity including legumes (for food, sale and fodder), and summer and winter cover crops (mainly food and livestock feed options including millet, sunflower, sunnhemp, outs, rye and fodder radish)
    • post harvest and marketing; explore and support local storage and milling operations for both maize meal and animal fodder as well as marketing options and scenarios
    • To explore local economic linkages such as the poultry value chain as a part of this process (including local production of poultry feed).


Summary of SFIP programme activities and outcomes

The programme works with learning groups to introduce CA into the maize production system through a farmer field School learning process and farmer level experimentation. Participant farmers volunteer to run small adaptation trial plots alongside their normal maize production system to actively compare the two systems. Careful and intensive monitoring and observation is done and experimentation is expanded and intensified year on year based on learnings and preferences of smallholders.

Introduction of the basic CA system can happen for a number of implementation options and on different scales. The interventions depend on the scale of operation of the individual smallholders involved. Attention is given to the whole value chain from input supply through improved production to storage and marketing options. Integration of livestock (cattle and poultry) and feed and fodder options are also explored.

CATEGORY Non commercial smallholders Semi commercial smallholders Commercial smallholders in loose value chains
% of people 72 23 5
Farmer priorities For household

Minimal inputs bought

For household and some selling which supplements household income.

Minimal inputs bought

Consumption and sale in various percentage mixes but moving to more sales. More inputs bought
Traction Hand cultivation Hand cultivation, animal traction Animal traction, tractors
Land size > 0.1ha 0.1-1ha. 1-2.5ha
Farm productivity, labour access Inter cropping, micro-dosing with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, cover crop rotations Inter cropping, micro-dosing with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, cover crop rotations Inter cropping, micro-dosing with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, cover crop rotations
Access to improved agricultural tech and information Hand planters,

Learning groups, working groups

Hand planters animal drawn planters

Learning groups, working groups

Animal drawn planters, two row planters

Learning groups, working groups

Access to financial services and local organisation VLS (Village level savings groups), CIGs (Commodity interest groups), cooperatives VLSs, CIGs, Cooperatives

Bulk buying

VLSs, CIGs, cooperatives formal loans and bank accounts (group and individual

Bulk buying

Post harvest and processing Improved storage technology at household level, joint storage options Improved storage technology at household level, joint storage options, local mills also, Agri hubs for processing, production of animal feed Joint storage options, local mills also for animal feed, transport and marketing arrangements with larger mills, Agri hubs for processing, production of animal feed

Some Pictures of farmer experimentation

Preparation of a plot as a group using Mealiebrand hand planters:

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A mid-season inter-cropped plot of OPV maize and dolichos. The soil is completely covered serving as a weed deterrent and not weeding is now required:

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A further view of a CA inter-cropped plot at tasseling and Mrs Khumalo in her growing experiment of around 1000m²:

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Potential collaboration process

There are a number of scenarios and options. The process below is a bit slower in terms of having to initially demonstrate the technique before launching into a farmer experimentation process, but gives more time to introduce the idea and create awareness in the community.

  • Year 1: together with farmer learning groups who have an expressed and demonstrated interest in improving maize production run a season long learning process using an adaptation trial site prepared and managed by farmers to lead into
  • Year 2: A farmer experimentation process where individual farmers run CA farmer managed trails and experiment with a number of different options including inter cropping, cover crops, mulching, spacing, different varieties, combinations of organic and inorganic inputs, use of herbicides IPM etc.
  • Learning includes a full value chain approach including access to inputs, production support, storage and milling options and marketing options.
  • Year 2-3: Local farmer facilitators volunteer to take on5 farmers to assist in the process of experimentation and using of CA and new learning groups are set up. Initially 8-10 participants experiment, then each year this increases 4 fold as hte programme expands.

Requirements are communities with an active interest in maize production that have a potential for scaling out and up

To strengthen the programme and provide synergies in the smallholder landscape the following activities and or projects/programmes are considered important:

  • Saving and credit options: Village level savings and credit groups (facilitated and supported intensively at first), revolving loan funds, cooperative banking, cell phone and e-banking options etc
  • Systems for provision of implements; on all scales, hand operated, animal drawn and mechanised. Provide options for sharing and rentals, access to buying reasonably prices equipment with post sales support and maintenance, joint ownership and operational options.
  • Secondary agriculture options; improved storage options, local milling, fodder production for livestock and poultry, making and sale of hay, milling of crush, making up winter feed options and consolidation of service centres to provide focal points for such activities.
  • Market linkages; where appropriate to broker and negotiate marketing options for groans, legumes and fodder.


An animal-drawn no-till planter is used by Khulekani Dlalda in Stulwane to plant his fields, now averaging around 1ha in size:

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Late-season cover crops are sown in-between the maize rows. (Fodder rye, Saia oats and fodder radish mix).

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‘A local mill operated as an SMME:

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Local storage options for maize are open and aerated:

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