A strategy to improve agricultural production in a rural community through on-farm research and technology transfer.
De Villiers, Johannes Frederick.
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Agriculture is a potentially important activity to address poverty, hunger and unemployment in rural communal areas. To cater for the needs of the many small-scale farmers in KwaZuluNatal, the Farming Systems Research Section (FSRS) was mandated in the mid-1990s to conduct on-farm, client-orientated research in rural communal areas. The identification of the Obonjaneni community as target area by the Extension staff was based on the fact that agriculture was in a poor state and that very few agricultural activities were taking place in Obonjaneni. Members of the community endorsed this by describing agriculture as "dead and not sick" when the FSRS arrived in the community during late 1997. Secondary information gleaned from the Bioresource Programme indicated that there was considerable potential for improved crop and vegetable production in Obonjaneni. Livestock in the community was destructive and prevented crop production activities in the communal cropping fields. A diagnostic study took place during March 1998, when 17 people engaged in agriculture were individually interviewed at their homesteads. Of the 17 respondents interviewed, 10 (59%) were involved with both crops and livestock, six (35%) planted crops only and one (6%) had only livestock. Most of the agricultural products were retained to satisfy household food requirements, with a very small proportion of products (29% of respondents indicated a once-off income through selling of potatoes, maize or livestock) being marketed in the community. The diagnostic survey, and further discussions with members of the community, revealed that agriculture was in a poor state, in terms, for example, of productivity, community interest in agriculture and livestock control. The two main issues which had a negative impact on the agricultural activities in Obonjaneni were identified as stray animals and a lack of agricultural expertise. Indications were that no-one in the community was permanently involved in agriculture and no-one seemed to rely on agriculture as a source of income. Obonjaneni is, however, an area with high agricultural potential and reports were that, in the past, the community was actively involved in agriculture. At the time of the interviews, no activity was taking place in the 40 ha of communal cropping fields, which had been unplanted for five to seven years at the time of the interviews, due largely to the major problem of stray animals. Maize was the main crop produced in Obonjaneni in areas around the homesteads, with 16 (94%) of the respondents interviewed planting it. People interviewed harvested between 100 kg and 1000 kg of shelled maize, while the yield averaged VI approximately 300 kg per household. The maize yields obtained from the small areas at the homesteads in general did not meet the requirements of households. People in the community did not use lime when growing crops and vegetables. Soil analyses indicated that soil fertility, and particularly the high soil acidity levels, were negatively affecting the production of crops and vegetables. Another important finding was that all the people interviewed spent money on some fertilizer, but 94% of the farmers interviewed had never had their soils tested. The community garden was in a poor state, with low vegetable yields and despondent garden members. Poverty, the agricultural constraints identified and the low agricultural production justified the focus of an on-farm research and technology dissemination programme. The objective of the intervention was to revive agriculture in Obonjaneni. The constraints were used as the basis for planning the research programme. The on-farm trials confirmed that the Obonjaneni area has considerable agricultural potential. It was found to be extremely difficult to initiate a livestock programme to address the constraints. The main reason for this was the absence of an organised community livestock association in Obonjaneni to provide support and to guide a research programme. The main technology dissemination events were (i) activities such as planting, management (e.g. weeding and pest and disease control) and harvesting of trials (ii) farmers' field days and (iii) feedback meetings on trial results. The farmers ' field days drew participation from across all sectors of the community, including community leaders, participating and nonparticipating farmers (including some farmers from neighbouring communities) and pupils, who had agriculture as a subject, from the local secondary school. An important input was obtained from members of the community's Amazizi Maize Association, who shared their knowledge and experiences at the farmers ' field days and at meetings. Feedback from farmers and the questions asked by them were encouraging and showed that some farmers were benefiting from the on-farm trials. A very strong indicator of the growing interest in agriculture between 1997 and 2002, when a comprehensive impact evaluation study was conducted as part of the study, was the increase in the number of fields being cultivated and planted in the communal cropping area. In 1997 not one field was planted; during the cropping season of 1998/1999 eight fields were planted with maize, 16 fields during 200112002 and 44 fields in January 2003 (41 fields with maize vu and 3 with potatoes). Records kept by two farmers showed net profits during the 200112002 season ofR3 572 and R2 443 from the maize they produced. During the impact evaluation study conducted in September and October 2002, individual interviews were held and 113 questionnaires were completed from a selected sample of 223 out of a possible 937 homesteads in Obonjaneni. Women in 68% of these households were found to be responsible for agricultural activities. The feedback from 65% of the respondents was that the state of agriculture in Obonjaneni has improved at the time of the interviews, compared to the situation prior to the on-farm research and technology dissemination programme, when the people had described agriculture as "dead and not sick". The improved production of crops contributed largely to the view that agriculture in Obonjaneni had improved. Bearing in mind the poor state of agriculture, and the total absence of any cropping activity in the communal fields when the FSRS arrived in Obonjaneni. Five years later approximately 90% of the respondents in October 2002 were of the view that agriculture had a good and bright future for agriculture in the community. An important aspect was that approximately 23% of the respondents had the vision of being upgraded from "a small- to a large-scale farmer" category. The on-farm research and technology dissemination programme conducted in Obonjaneni between 1998 and 2002 contributed to the revival of agriculture and benefited people in terms of improved crops and vegetable production, especially in the communal cropping fields and community garden. It was responsible for some employment opportunities (e.g. weeding and harvesting of maize) and for the production of produce to sell and buy in their own community. The intervention of the FSRS engendered new enthusiasm for agricultural production in the Obonjaneni community and contributed to the appreciation by farmers of the enormous potential that agriculture holds for food security and the upliftment of people living in the community. This thesis includes chapters dealing with target area selection, secondary information, diagnostic studies, on-farm research and technology dissemination, the selection of a sample and the results of an impact evaluation study. The many lessons learned during this intervention are translated into recommendations for use in future initiatives of a similar kind.