Conservation Agriculture Farmer Innovation Programme for smallholders in the upper catchment areas of the Drakensberg, North Eastern Cape and Southern KwaZulu-Natal
The CA FIP for smallholders has been implemented in the Matatiele area of the Eastern Cape since September 2013 and then expanded in 2015 to include areas in Southern KZN as a joint initiative between Grain SA and Mahlathini Development Foundation (MDF). The main goal is to:
- promote the use of CA to increase farming production and profitability, to improve the natural resource status and quality allowing sustained crop production / intensification and to promote systems for providing appropriate infrastructure.
These study areas continue to be important as major maize production regions, which are characterised by marginal soils, erratic rainfall, high levels of unemployment and few economic options. Small-scale agricultural and trade activities are the main local economic development thrusts in the areas, leaving people’s livelihoods dependent on the weather conditions. In addition, they are unable to reach bigger markets, which are dominated by a few large wholesalers. This leaves the rural population of the areas vulnerable to shocks which may be aggravated by the unavailability of financial services to help them manage their scarce resources.
The current Grain SA project in the region (i.e. the first phase), which uses a farmer-centred Innovation Systems (IS) approach entailing a horizontal expansion (scaling out) from village nodes to surrounding farmers and villages in the area, working with organised farmer groups (i.e. credit and savings groups) in collaboration with stakeholders in the region, has shown some promise for expansion of interest in (or scaling out) and longer term sustainability of the implementation of CA practices among smallholders. Larger scale smallholders working in mechanised systems have also been included in the programme to investigate and strengthen real possibilities for commercial grain production in the farming community.
The programme expansion into the upper catchment regions of southern KwaZulu-Natal has shown an immense amount of potential. Early gains in collaboration with Local Municipalities, the KZN-DARD and KwaNalu are being strengthened. Learning groups have been established in Umzikhulu, Ixopo (Springvalley, Ofafa, kwaThathani and Nokweja) and Creighton (Madzikane). There is substantial interest and potential for expansion of this process.
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.