Conservation Agriculture Farmer Innovation Programme for smallholders in upper catchment areas of the Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal
The CA Farmer Innovation Programme for smallholders has been implemented in the Okahlamba District Municipality (Bergville) area of KwaZulu-Natal since September 2013 as a joint initiative between Grain SA and Mahlathini Development Foundation.
This site continues to be important as a major maize production region in KwaZulu-Natal with a long history of no-till production and best practice in the commercial sector. In the last four years CA has been successfully re-introduced into the smallholder sector in the Bergville area.
Horizontal expansion (scaling out) from village nodes to surrounding farmers and villages in the area, working with organised farmer groups (specifically village level savings and credit groups) in collaboration with stakeholders in the region has shown great promise for expansion of interest in and longer term sustainability of the implementation of CA practices among smallholders.
Local smallholder production practices have expanded, mostly through active farmer-led experimentation, and has included many different aspects of the CA system, including crop density (i.e. row-width and plant population), different input regimes, minimal use of agrochemicals, intercropping and crop rotation, summer and winter cover crop mixes, inclusion of legumes (e.g. sugar beans, cowpeas and lablab), OPV and hybrid maize varieties (both yellow and white maize) and implementation at various scales using hand planters, animal drawn planters and mechanised traction.
Impacts on soil nutrients and soil health has also been researched and monitored and a monitoring and evaluation framework has been developed and tested using a range of soil, plant and economic indicators. This participatory monitoring and evaluation framework will inter alia be used for the assessment of food security and livelihoods impacts, as well as the development of an incentive scheme. A CA learning manual has been produced in English and translated into isiZulu.
The following practices and processes have also been introduced and are seen as important aspects in sustaining smallholder CA interventions over the long term:
- Innovation platforms,
- Local farmer centres,
- Local monitoring of indicators for a peer review system,
- Production aspects linked to the use of agro-chemicals and crop diversification,
- Weed management,
- Harvesting and storage practices, and
- Linkages of the grain production system into other commodity value chains such as poultry and livestock feed.