Scaling IPs or scaling the innovations? Experiences from ZimCLIFS, Semi-Arid Region in Zimbabwe from ICRISAT
Goats and cattle are crucial for the livelihoods of dryland smallholder farmers of Zimbabwe, in particular during hard times. Yet, livestock is not well kept. Goats are left to browse deteriorated rangelands, while cattle are traditionally fed on nutritionally deficient cereal residues. Recurrent crop shortages affect feed quantity and quality, especially during the dry season. This is insufficient to maintain animal health or to sell the livestock at the market for a good price.
ICRISAT, ILRI, CIMMYT and Matopos Research Institute worked for 5 years with farming communities of Gwanda and Nkayi districts in Zimbabwe, under the ZimCLIFS project, funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research, to introduce legume fodder crops like Mucuna as a solution for better livestock feed, and to improve market linkages for farmers to benefit from better livestock productivity. The approach used to identify pathways to improve smallholder food production and incomes, and facilitate farmers’ uptake of innovations was to set up agricultural innovation platforms (IPs).
During the ZIMCLIFS closing workshop that took place on 18 and 19 September in Harare, researchers, government representatives, farmers and other major project stakeholders looked back at the lessons learned on how farmers take ownership of the innovation processes within IPs, and how initial successes of pilot innovation platforms could be scaled up and out.
Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, senior scientist at ICRISAT Bulawayo, explained the rationale of using IPs to improve small farmers’ livelihoods. “The innovation platform provided a space for experimental co-learning which helped farmers to self-organize their farming system to increase their production and incomes. It initiated a dialogue between farmers and goat traders and farmers understood the link between good feeding and animal health and the impact on goat prices.”
Through IPs, lead farmers were identified and trained on-farm on integration of crops and livestock, marketing and self-organization. Mucuna, a legume fodder, was chosen across the sites because it fitted seamlessly in their farming systems. Farmers’ own field trials demonstrated that mucuna improves soil fertility when planted in rotation with cereals, and also reduces Striga infestation. As meat quality increased, goats fetched farmers better prices; goat value rose by about tenfold, from US$ 8 in 2006 to US$60-80 in 2015.
Investing in IPs and combining a participatory farming system analysis with better market linkages can lead to positive change in the drylands and aid in future climate adaptation, and is definitely worth scaling up and out.