Various organizations have developed and promoted many practices aimed at improving yields, and managing water and soil at the farm level. Which of these have farmers really adopted and what factors have led to the adoption or non- adoption? Which of these are really effective and can be scaled up in the Africa RISING project?
The early win project on ‘Cataloguing tested crop, soil and water management practices in Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia,’ led by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), took stock of all technologies introduced to small-holder farmers in Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi to improve production of important staple crops and assessed, through existing literature and documents, their accessibility and adoption and the factors that drove the adoption.
The technologies included cereal legume rotation and intercropping, conservation agriculture, fertilizer recommendations, agroforestry, and combining organic and inorganic fertilizers, among others. Cereal and legume rotation and intercropping, and combining inorganic fertilizers with organic inputs were identified among the promising technologies to increase productivity in the target areas and conservation agriculture showed promise in conserving soil water. The study recommends these technologies for further validation before scaling up to attain sustainable intensification under Africa RISING.
Patrick Mutuo from CIAT, one of the researchers, says the study found that most of the technologies introduced to the farmers were not well adopted due to the unavailability/affordability of required inputs such as seeds, manures and fertilizers; their benefits were not so obvious to farmers such as in the case of non-food/cash grain legumes; and some of the technologies had delayed benefits.
The study identified the insufficient/inadequate number of agro-dealers, especially in Zambia and Tanzania, as one of the potential barriers to the adoption of the technologies. “In Malawi, we found there was one agro-dealer per 1,550 households, in Tanzania it was one per 2,200 households while in Zambia it was one for 3,080 farming households. With the recommended ratio being between 500-1000 farmers per agro-dealer there is therefore a strong need to support and enhance agro-dealers’ networks if we want to facilitate farmers to adopt new and improved technologies” Mutuo said.
Looking at the policy environment, Mutuo says the policies in the three countries were fairly good and supported sustainable intensification.
The main challenge, however, was their implementation. He further said that there are sufficient dissemination approaches and training materials developed by different organizations and government departments on these technologies. However, they were mostly in libraries and not with the farmers. Extension services were also found to be poor.
The study used the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) approach to characterize and identify degradation hot spots within the target areas.
From the few sentinel sites mapped, most of the soils have low carbon content and there was a high risk of soil erosion in cultivated and non-cultivated areas.
Mutuo says areas for further research include evaluating and validating the agronomic, economic, and environmental performance of entry points such as right crop density, right spatial arrangement, time planting, weed management, appropriate varieties. These should be combined with the use of models and decision-support tools for technology identification (for site-specific recommendations) and trade-off analysis.
(Article by Catherine Njuguna)
The Africa RISING program comprises three linked research-for-development projects, funded by the USAID Feed the Future Initiative, and aiming to sustainably intensify mixed farming systems in West Africa (Southern Mali and Northern Ghana), the Ethiopian Highlands and East and Southern Africa (Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi).
To produce some short-term outputs and to support the longer term objectives of the projects, in 2012 Africa RISING funded several small, short-term projects in each of the regions. More information.