Key Results of the Research Study
Changes in Crop Area are happening in Kabudula
The study found that between 2006 and 2016, the farmers had either been increasing or decreasing the crop areas under: maize, groundnut, common beans and soybean. Other farmers had stopped growing some of the crops. The data within the sample indicate that maize and groundnut were the crops that this group of farmers had reported most increases in crop area. Whether this had anything to do with climate change resilience remains to be determined as many factors are likely to drive the increased crop area. However, quantitative data on Agriculture Production Estimates (APES) from within and around the area of study indicate that for the 2015/2016 agriculture season, there was an 8% increase in land area for hybrid maize, while there was 19% and 6% decrease in the crop area under local and Open Pollinated Maize Varieties (OPV), respectively. The crop area for soybean and common beans increased by 9% and 15%, respectively, while that for groundnuts remained the same.
Going by the findings of APES on crop area increases, it would seem that farmers are expanding their agricultural land under some crops, particularly, maize. In another study that was conducted in Malawi, it was observed that with the existing and emerging trends of staple food production under climate change and population growth, there is a danger of reaching a point where there will be no more land for agriculture expansion (Denning et al., 2009).
There is need to promote agriculture intensification so that farmers are able the get more output out of a unit input.
Result Number Two
Incremental Adaptive Capacity of Farmers is happening in Kabudula
The changing weather patterns, leading to frequent droughts and floods, are affecting the production of crops by the smallholder farmers. Due to such occurrences, farmers try to change from their usual varieties to those that exhibit traits which have the ability to counter the effects of changing weather patterns. Droughts, dry spells, floods, occurrence of crop pests and diseases, can drive farmers to search for crop varieties that would respond better to abiotic and biotic stresses. This study sought to investigate the crop variety traits that influenced the farmers to select the varieties they had been growing between 2006 and 2016.
The results also provide evidence that the farmers had been doing incremental adaptation in their farming system through use of new crop varieties that had traits of: high yielding, short cycle, drought tolerance and disease tolerance. Among all the four crops, maize had the highest number of respondents who had been making such varietal changes in their farming system. This, among other factors, could be attributed to the highest number of maize varieties that were released by the Agricultural Technology Clearing Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Water Development (ATCC), as compared to only very few varieties of the other three crops which were released during the same period.
In conclusion, the farmers had been growing (either consciously or unconsciously) crop varieties that were contributing to their incremental adaptive capacities, while also enhancing their resilience to extreme weather events.
There is limited capacity for farmer innovation in CSA practices
In general, there were only very few respondents that had been testing the new CSA technologies. Almost all of the CSA technologies were crop varieties, save for one technology on improved manure. For maize, at least 27 respondents had reported to have been testing the new maize varieties during the decade, while on the other hand, absolutely very low numbers of respondents had been trying new crop varieties of the three legumes.
However, considering the fact that the sample of farmers we were dealing with in this study, large, belonged to the 3D4AgDev group of innovative farmers, the expectation was that the study would show that many of them were indeed involved in testing of some new ideas, particularly new crops or new crop varieties or new CSA practices of farming. The expectation of the study was that, at the minimum, each of the members of 3D4AgDev would be involved in at least one innovation. The study found that even those who were testing new ideas, almost all of them were just testing new varieties of crops instead of participating in a wide range of activities that affect their livelihoods, including CSA innovations. But the study evidence revealed that only two out of the whole group thought they had new ideas about CSA.
The good side of the women group members under the 3D4AgDev program in Kabudula was that about 98% of them had an educational level which would enable them to be trained to become innovators. And that the women showed a lot of enthusiasm and motivation.
With the low numbers of women meaningfully participating in testing of CSA technologies, it is felt that probably the farmer innovation agenda may in a way being overstated. This puts to test the meaning of innovation. Ideally, innovation should go beyond just testing of the new ideas. Innovation should realistically involve playing an active role in creating a new idea or adapting an existing idea. Testing of a new technology, ideally means innovating on an already existing innovation. May be in future, the term innovation should be further re-defined to reflect the active creation of the new ideas (innovation), while early use of an idea should be referred to as (early adoption).
The farmer innovation agenda should aim at getting a cadre of farmers who don’t only get the new ideas from external sources, but those who have the motivation to actively participate in the creation of new ways and ideas. The farmer innovation agenda should also aim at developing those early adopters into important sources of information for their peers. At the same time, they must be linked to the existing extension systems so that they play more of a complementary than a competing role to the extension services. Otherwise, the farmer innovation agenda would run a risk of leaving farmers to their own devices, and making the extension services redundant.
The findings in this study do not support what the farmer participatory literature (Kummer et al., 2012) highlights, that farmers have a vast range of innovative practices from which they conduct experimentation. This study suggests that there is limited capacity for farmer innovation at least in relation to CSA practices.
Result Number Four
The Government Extension Service – A key Source of CSA Practices for Women in Kabudula
The extension system in Malawi used to be the Training and Visit up to the year 2000. Then the system changed to pluralistic extension model, which accommodates many extension service providers and approaches. The model allows farmers to access information from multiple extension service providers. This study identified three sources information on CSA for the farmers in Kabudula, which include: the government extension workers, NGO/FBO/CSO extension workers, and the fellow farmers. In terms of NGO/FBO/CSO presence in the area, only Concern Worldwide, was mentioned by the farmers. The farmers had hinted that they had only heard about organizations like: Total Land Care, NASFAM, Farmers’ Union of Malawi and ICRISAT, operating in other places outside their locality.
The study revealed that the government field extension officers were the most important source of information on CSA practices for 3D4AgDev women farmers in Kabudula. And the farmer -to-farmer learning should also be given attention because it was the second most important source of information on CSA practices for the farmers. The farmer-to-farmer can complement the other sources of information for the farmers. For more efficiency in extension service delivery, there is need for greater collaboration between government extension service, the NGO/FBO/CSO extension providers and the farmer-to-farmer learning.
Result Number 5
Divergence between Farmers and Extension Workers Preferences for CSA practices
Participation of farmers is key in development of programs and interventions that can directly affect their needs. This study showed the ability of the 3D4AgDev women farmers to: debate, analyse and prioritize the CSA practices that were common in their community. Using participatory methodology, the farmers produced a priority list of the CSA practices based on their own preferences. The extension workers also produced their priority list of what they thought would be the key CSA practices in Kabudula.
The A key finding was that there was great divergence between the preferences of the women farmers and that of the extension workers, regarding CSA practices. The first divergence was in the way the extension workers packaged some of the CSA practices like; Conservation Agriculture (CA) and Irrigation. For instance, the extension workers had considered CA as one CSA package comprising: minimum soil disturbance, maximum soil cover, and crop rotation, while on the other hand the farmers in their deliberation isolated only continuous soil cover (maximum soil cover) as practice in its own right. Below are the preferences for farmers and extension workers.
|Preferences for CSA practices by the Farmers||Preference Rank for the Farmers||Preferences for CSA practices by the Extension Workers||Preference Ranks – Extension Agents|
|Manure Application||1||Conservation Agriculture||1|
|Continuous Soil Cover||2||One stem technology||2|
|Basin Planting||3||Compost Manure||3|
|Early Planting||4||Rearing of small stock||4|
|Fast Maturing Crops||5||Irrigation||5|
|Inorganic Fertilizer||6||Basin Planting||6|