Bridging and Enriching Top-down and Participatory Learning: The Case of Smallholder, Organic Conservation Agriculture Farmers in Zimbabwe
AbstractThis article discusses the combined use of top-down and participatory learning approaches during the course of a 42-month organic conservation agriculture project that is being implemented in eight districts of Mashonaland East Province in Zimbabwe. The initial 18-month project was extended by a further 24 months in order to build on what had been achieved by deepening organic conservation agriculture practices, by increasing the understanding of, and access to, markets, and by expanding farmer agency. The top-down approach involves farmer representatives, known as ‘access farmers’ in the project, undergoing training at training centres and then returning to their respective farmer associations to train other farmers in what they have learnt. Participatory learning includes farmer-to-farmer learning within and among associations, and trainers learning from, and acting on, farmer experiences. Expansive learning, which combines, and goes beyond, both approaches and allows for joint learning, innovation and agency, has been used to support the associations to learn about, practise and benefit from organic conservation agriculture. This was stimulated by change laboratory workshops being conducted with each of the 32 farmer associations formed during the first 18 months of the project. The main argument in the present article is that combining these seemingly opposite approaches to learning is feasible and is essential for accelerating practice-oriented changes in agriculture. The concept that appears to enable this linkage is dialectics.
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