CA Farmer Innovation Programme for smallholders in Bergville: Farmer Centred Innovation in Conservation Agriculture in upper catchment areas of the Drakensberg in the Bergville region of KwaZulu-Natal

Period: October 2016 – September 2017

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Identification of the project

Description and selection of study areas

Work in the Bergville (KwaZulu-Natal) site continued with the scaling out (horizontal expansion) process that has been put in place, to include more villages around central nodes and more farmers within each village. In this way villages included expanded from 11 to 17 and the numbers of farmer participants in farmer level trials have increased from 163 in the 2014-2015 season to 263 this season. The overall area for trials has increased from 5,9ha to 13ha.

Approach and Methodology

The farmer centred innovation systems research process underpinning the programme, which is based on working intensively with farmer learning groups and local facilitators in each of the villages, has been continued and strengthened.

Within the learning groups farmer innovators volunteer to set up and manage farmer-managed adaptive trials as the ‘learning venues’ for the whole learning group. Farmer Field School methodologies are used within the group to focus the learning on the actual growth and development of the crops throughout the season. New ideas are tested against the ‘normal’ practise in the area as the controls. Farmers observe, analyse and assess what is happening in the trials and discuss appropriate decisions and management practices.  Small information provision and discovery-learning (training) sessions are included in these workshops/ processes. These are based also on the seasonality of the crop and the specific requests and questions from farmer learning group participants.

Local facilitators are chosen from within and by members of the learning group to be a person who has the required experience, knowledge and a willingness to support the other farmer innovators in their implementation. Facilitators are only chosen and appointed where people with the appropriate skill and personality exists. Local facilitators receive a stipend for a maximum of 10 working days per month, for their support to the farmer innovators. They fill in detailed timesheets outlining their activities against which they claim a monthly stipend.

Learning group members agree to a season long learning process and put forward the farmer innovators to run the trials. Each prospective innovator is interviewed and visited and signs an agreement with the Grain SA team regarding their contribution to the process. They undertake to plant and manage the CA trials according to the processes and protocols introduced as well as a control plot of the same size. For the latter, farmers provide their own inputs.

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 these events, Innovation Platforms (IPs) are developed for cooperation, synergy between programmes and development of appropriate and farmer-led processes for economic inclusion. These IPs also provide a good opportunity to focus scientific and academic research on the ‘needs’ of the process.

As learning groups mature they engage in a number of additional processes within the value chain that build social capital and cohesion. VSLAs (Village savings and loan associations) are set up to provide a mechanism for payment for inputs and for setting up bulk buying groups for production inputs. Farmer centres are set up and managed locally (at village and nodal level) to provide for local access to inputs through negotiated agreements with local suppliers and agribusiness, management of shared tools and advice and mentoring in CA.  Learning group members also negotiate joint decisions around their crop production planning and marketing and engage with stakeholders and support organisations. To support this process a social compact agreement has been designed to outline roles and responsibilities of the various role players in these forums.

In this season (2016-2017) we have continued to focus on the following elements of the model, namely:

a) Support farmers who are in their 1st, 2nd , 3rd and 4th seasons,
b) Conscious inclusion of crop rotation to compare with inter cropping trials
c) Inclusion of summer cover crops in the crop rotation trials
d) Continuation with experimentation with winter cover crops, but planted in separate plots rather than in-between maize
e) Planting of late season beans
f) More focussed introduction of lab-lab beans and
g) Initiation of nodes for farmer centres that can offer tools, input packs and advice.

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