Work in the Bergville (KwaZulu-Natal) site continued with the 17 village learning groups brought on board in the 2016-2017 season. Attention has been given to consolidating and expanding the learning groups within each village. In this way the numbers of farmer participants in farmer level trials have increased from 263 in the 2016-2017 season to 322 this season. The overall area for trials has increased from 13ha to 17 ha.
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.
In this season (2017-2018) the project has continued to focus on the following elements of the model, namely:
- Support farmers who are in their 1st, 2nd , 3rd , 4th and 5th seasons,
- Conscious inclusion of crop rotation to compare with inter cropping trials,
- Inclusion of summer cover crops in the crop rotation trials,
- Continuation with experimentation with winter cover crops, but planted in separate plots rather than in-between maize,
- Planting of late season beans,
- More focussed introduction of lab-lab beans and,
- Initiation of nodes for farmer centres that can offer tools, input packs and advice,
- Support for existing VSLAs and initiation of new savings groups where requested,
- Conscious inclusion of the local facilitators in the crop and progress monitoring processes,
- Further supply of tools (MBLI planters, animal drawn planters and knapsack sprayers) to learning groups.