|GATE - 1/97 - Eco-label: Organic Cotton (GTZ GATE, 1997, 52 p.)|
by Yvonne Mabille
"Kuturaya!" - "Let's try!" has become the war cry of the farmers in Zimbabwe's Masvingo Province. The following example demonstrates how creative potential can be released when the people, extension officers and project workers co-operate with one another.
"Mr. Gumbo's three fields" three small boxes filled with soil each not much bigger than a paper tray - are really nothing more than small, very simple rain simulators: One "field" is ploughed flat, one is mulched, the third has furrows. Heavy rain is simulated by pouring water from the watering can. The water falling on to the normally ploughed area flows unhindered into a measuring beaker from a hole in the upper edge of the tray. On the other two soils however the rain water is retained, it filters into the soil and slowly seeps through to the groundwater.
This simple but very effective model demonstrates the causes and impacts of surface run off. "A model like this make people become aware of processes like soil erosion, run-off and degradation," says JHagmann.
The geographer and hydrologist has been an adviser in the "Conservation Tillage Project" in the Masvingo province of Simbabwe for five years now. "The farmers don't start looking for their own so lutions until they have understood what is happening, and only then can their enormous innovative potential be accessed."
Numerous soil conservation techniques which the farmers used in earlier days have now been forgotten or even decisively rejected by the governmental extension service.
"It is just this knowledge which we want to activate," said JHagmann, "and synthesise it with new findings from research." Participative technology development has been successful in Masvingo. But it was a long path1. The "Con Till" began in 1988 as a classical, technical, research-oriented development project in the governmental agricultural extension service in Zimbabwe. The aim was to improve research management by developing erosion prevention techniques for small farmers at research stations located on two ecologically different sites.
Two years after German-Zimbabwean cooperation commenced it was decided to extend purely scientific work in the research stations and include trials on farmers field. This is when the concepts' deficits really became apparent. "When we began doing trials on farmers" fields in 1991," recalls Hagmann, "it became clear, when working closely with the farmers, that the conventional model of technology transfer - where research developed the methods, for example, to conserve soil and these are subsequently transferred by the extension service to the farmers, who adopt them - would not work in this case."
Not only was there a ration of just one extension officer to 1000 farmers. The communication between a farming and extension levels simply did not work. The extension workers learn scientific knowledge during their training which does not immediately relate to the life situation of farmers whose knowledge is based on experience.
The extension service had spent its time teaching to three generations of farmers that their traditional knowledge, their entire farming experience was outdated and valueless, with the consequence that most farmers could not be motivated to carry out trials themselves.
This situation changed when "learning tools" were introduced. They played a central role throughout the project because they focussed on learning and not on teaching2. Hagmann: "Teaching soil and water conservation technologies without understanding the underlying processes does not encourage flexible adaptation of technologies by the users."
Learning means learning through action, by doing, seeing and experimenting. The "teachers" become "facilitators" for sharing knowledge. Instead of recommending that farmers just copy a technology developed somewhere else by someone else they now brought in their own ideas, became co-deciders as to what should be tested and further developed.
Another impulse for farmer experiments came from a workshop of farmers, field extension officers and scientists in the project's fifth implementation year which utilised elements of Freire's liberation pedagogics. The farmers really locked into the matter.
But to avoid the danger that very innovative farmers could become isolated, activities were transferred to the community level. The idea was that new technologies could only impact on a broad scale if technical innovations were joined by social ones.
"Kuturaya!" - "Let's try!" became the project's battle cry. One half of a field was cropped using conventional techniques while new ideas were given priority on the other half. The conclusions drawn by farmers are often quiet different to those drawn by scientists and the extension service.
An example: contour ridges
Propagated as an erosion protection measure in the 60ies they were originally designed to allow water to run off the field. In view of the experiences made in the project, however, farmers wanted to try to retain the water.
Finally it was used in the field. "They just turned the ridge upside down so that the water was kept behind it. Any overflow runs into the ditches where it can still seep into the soil or slowly run off."
The first time project staff saw the upside down contour ridge they brought it to the attention of the government extension service, but they for their part saw little chance of it being copied: It entails far to much work. But the extension service was wrong! Within one year farmers had dug more than 200 kilometres of the new type of ridge without any outside help.
And what's more: "To our astonishment more than 200 people appeared on the field one day without the project or the government extension service knowing anything about it." The farmers had started organising their own field days and had invited neighbouring communities.
Over the next two years farmers became increasingly confident of their own powers. They regularly exchange experiments and experiences in workshops. This also has its problematic side for staff of the Zimbabwean government extension service.
The great importance given to experience-based knowledge in project work meant a loss of authority for the extension officers. Their advantage of having schoolbased, formal knowledge is increasingly dwindling. The aim now is not to teach soil and water conservation but to create a forum where people can learn for themselves.
Thanks to a large portion of diplomacy and sensitivity the project has in the final instance been able to bring extension officers, farmers and scientists to cooperate with each other. Several new tilling methods are being worked out and tested, new implements are being developed.
When numerous oxen died during the 1992 drought, for example, donkeys took over as the main draught animal. Together with the project the farmers developed a traction implement for them.
"We were the mediators between the farmers and the workshop floor," said Hagmann. "There was a permanent coming and going between field tests and modifications in the workshop, until the farmers finally said - the tool now does exactly what we want." It could be produced at low cost, and within two years more than 500 of the light traction implements had been purchased at non-subsidised prices.
Several steps forward
Within two years, some 80 percent of the households had participated in soil or water conservation practices of some type. From "cropping to organisational consultancy" was how staff describe the path taken by the development concept.
Process consultancy has replaced sector advisory services. To do this, people at all levels - the farmers, the field extension officers, the senior officials in the extension services and also the project consultants - have to make several steps forward.
The success of the concept confirms its relevance: selfconfident farmers are analysing their own environment and looking after their own land. They are beginning to experiment. "Numerous technologies have been created which were developed jointly with ideas from farmers, from research and the extension service. They have been synthesised and the result is that now several options are open."
For information contact:
Talstr. 129 79194
Tel: +49 761-54 762
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1A detailed description of this exciting process is to be published early 1997: Hagmann, J./Chuma, E./Murwira, K: "Kuturaya: A new Approach to Participatory Research, Innovation and Extension", in: Van Veldhuizen, L./Waters-Bayer, A./Ramirez, R./Johnson, D./ Thompson, J. (Ed.): Farmer's Research in Practice: Lessons from the Field, London: I TPublications.
2The"Con Till Project" was awarded a prize for its effective learning materials at a Dare-to-Share Fair last year. GTZ organised the Dare-to-Share Fair parallel to the 9th Conference of the International Soil Conservation Organisation (ISCO) where development projects from all continents demonstrated a wide spectrum of participative working methods. GTZ is preparing a documentation on this event.
Yvonne Mabille is a freelance journalist specialising in development policy.