CA Farmer Innovation Programme (CA-FIP) for smallholders in KZN Midlands: Farmer Centred Innovation in Conservation Agriculture in upper catchment areas of the Drakensberg in Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal

Period: October 2016 – September 2017

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Identification of the project

Description and selection of study areas

This programme was to expand the CA Smallholder Farmer Innovation Programme (SFIP) activities piloted in Bergville to other maize growing areas in the Midlands, i.e. Estcourt, Ladysmith, Greytown and New Hanover.

For this the Cornfields Land Reform community outside Estcourt was targeted as was Mpholweni- a communal tenure area, originally on church land close to Greytown.

In addition, an expansion was planned in Nkandla in partnership with the Siyazisiza Trust working with community groups in their agroecology projects.

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 (FFS) methodologies are used within the group to focus the learning on the actual growth and development of the crops throughout the season. New ideas (CA practices) 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 or 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.

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