Translating integrated soil fertility management information and knowledge into crop productivity benefits through farmer learning and participatory action in Eastern Zimbabwe
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Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa are faced with challenges of low crop yields linked to inherently poor soils. Integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) is one of the many technologies that have been developed in response to the challenges of continued decline in soil productivity. However, the knowledge has not been effectively transferred to smallholders who are the end-users of the technology resulting in poor adoption. This study was therefore, carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of participatory knowledge and information management and smallholder farmer learning alliances in ISFM technology dissemination and uptake. The study was conducted under the auspices of the Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA) which provided a framework for developing agricultural knowledge and information systems in Dendenyore and Goto smallholder farming communities. Mhondoro was co-opted as a control site. Data was obtained through participatory approaches that included formal and informal questionnaire surveys, focus group discussions, farmer meetings, personal observations, field-based farmer experiments and laboratory analyses. Results from detailed exploration of relationships among farmer acquisition, sharing and use patterns of ISFM information and knowledge indicates that > 90% of the farmers relied on national extension as a major source of ISFM information. Field based learning centres (LCs) were the major platform of information and knowledge sharing, accounting for ~50% of all the identified platforms. Uptake of ISFM was influenced by farmer resource group and farmers’ visits to LCs. Farmer experience and access to extension services in turn influenced farmer use of ISFM information. Results suggest the need to continuously capacitate extension in participatory approaches that embrace farmer interactive participation and joint exploration with clients for improved adoption of ISFM technologies. Results further indicated that farmers were able to consistently follow their own locally-derived indicators in the monitoring and evaluation processes for agricultural activities. Farmer criteria for preference of ISFM technologies was underpinned by prospects for multiple benefits, low costs of accessing the technology, gender, resource endowment and knowledge of its use. Those participating in learning alliances, which were further subdivided into (i) lead farmer-led group, (ii) extension worker-led group, and (iii) an independent group without a defined leader, had significantly higher maize grain yields (P<0.05), compared to the control group. For example, yields of at least 2.5t ha-1 were attained by farmers participating in learning alliances compared to < 1 tha-1 for non-participants. Application of different organic resources in combination with mineral fertilizer under the different ISFM options led to increased pH, exchangeable calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and potassium (K) across all the field sites but no notable changes in soil organic carbon and total available nitrogen (N) could be attested. Soil analysis results also indicated superior available phosphorous (P) values and a depressed pH in fields under sole mineral fertilizer application. Notable changes in soil chemical properties were observed in fields under a farmer-led group > extension-led farmer group > independent group > control. In this study, Learning centres were useful as platforms for sharing knowledge and exchange of information, and supported participation of farmers in the evaluation of ISFM technologies providing scope for their adoption. It was concluded that farmers with access to technical information on ISFM and related agricultural technologies stand to benefit more through improvement of soil fertility status of their soils and subsequent crop yield increases. Findings from this study contribute to the knowledge base on opportunities available for improved flow of information on mechanisms that enhance user control in the technology development processes to better sustain household food security and environmental integrity within this millennia.
SponsorRegional University Forum (RUFORUM)
SubjectIntegrated soil fertility management
Agricultural knowlegde transfer