Enhancing farmers’ organizational and experimentation capacities for soil fertility management in smallholder cropping systems in Vhembe district of Limpopo province in South Africa.
The JOLISAA project analysed a number of multi-stakeholder innovation cases in smallholder agriculture in Benin, Kenya and South Africa through a Collaborative Case Assessment process. The overriding assumption was that a comparative analysis of wide ranging innovation experiences may provide useful insights into the way that innovation processes are triggered and unfold in smallholder agricultural systems. One of the cases investigated in South Africa was from Limpopo Province. This was a project-based innovation processes, initiated to redress how agricultural and social development in rural communities should be addressed through the adoption of the Participatory Extension Approach (PEA). The approach focused on the reorientation of mindsets in Limpopo Department of Agricultural, which were still founded on the teaching of linear transfer of technology models, and where farmers were approached with a believe that extension have all the answers to farmer problems. Participatory Rural Appraisal methodologies were used to interview smallholder farmers and key informants.
It was revealed that this was a case of an innovation bundle where the main innovation was an institutional innovation, with the introduction of PEA through the GTZ/BASED program. The aim was to broaden agricultural service and extension delivery to smallholder farmers in the Vhembe district. In the unpacking of the soil fertility management innovation it was revealed that the innovation consists of a number of innovations, which include technical and organisation innovations. The GTZ/BASED program trained some 700 extensionists in the PEA methodology, capacitating them to facilitate technical innovations amongst smallholders in one of four technical areas. A total of 397 villages were eventually served. The extensionists specialising in soil fertility management teamed up with a local university to redress a severe decline in soil fertility in two smallholder irrigation schemes, Rammbuda and Mphaila. Together with farmers they experimented with innovative ways like green manuring with forage legumes. These technical innovation processes created capacity amongst smallholders that triggered spontaneous farmer-initiated experimentation and innovation processes to improve smallholder farming systems and livelihoods. The key challenge identified was that decisive institutional ownership is required to sustain an enabling environment allowing innovation processes to continue beyond the project phase. The key lesson was that project initiated innovations could trigger farmer innovations and that developmental change strategies should explore such opportunities.
Key words: Innovation, Soil Fertility, Smallholder Cropping, Participatory Extension