Innovation platforms help dryland communities shift to climate-smart thinking

Tuesday, 7 November 2017 15:28 GMT

Communal farmers cultivate maize crops in Mvuma district, Masvingo, Zimbabwe, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

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Small farmers will have to innovate fast to adapt to more extreme and recurrent climate stresses

From 6-17 November, the world’s governments are meeting for the 23rd annual conference of the parties (COP) to tackle global warming. A perfect occasion to show how Zimbabwean smallholder farmers have adopted sustainable, climate-smart innovations and set their paths to prosperous development.

Recently, four million people were estimated to be food-insecure because of the El Niño-induced drought in Zimbabwe.

In the coming decades, small farmers will have to innovate fast to adapt to more extreme and recurrent climate stresses.

 A recent study from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) suggests scaling up agricultural innovation platforms could be an efficient way to make smallholder farming more productive and climate resilient in the years to come.

“I fattened my steer to market standards using self-made livestock feed with mucuna hay and sorghum stover and I sold it directly at the abattoir in Gokwe for $1,000,” says farmer Mpofu from Nkayi, Zimbabwe.

Mpofu is one of the 60,000 farmers who have benefited from a unique ‘innovation platform’ (IP) approach implemented by the ZimCLIFS project in Zimbabwe.  

Livestock is important in Zimbabwe as more than 75 percent of smallholder farmers depend on crop-livestock farming.

Yet, several small farmers do not feed their animals well as they traditionally use cereal crop residues during the long dry season. The residues are low in nutrition and inadequate to maintain animal health during dry periods, affecting household nutrition and bringing down the market value of livestock.

Recurrent droughts, poor soils and low yields make dryland communities more vulnerable.

How do we trigger large-scale adoption of climate-smart innovations to enable rural communities to improve their productivity and cope with future extreme situations?

Investing in social networks and grassroots capacity-building through innovation platforms has proven to have great impact on farmers’ livelihoods in many different farming contexts. In Zimbabwe, farmers like Mpofu have experimented and taken on sustainable market-oriented climate smart innovations to tap into opportunities stimulated by crop-livestock innovation platforms.

Innovation platforms stimulates sustainable changes in dryland farms

Innovation platforms not only foster innovative ideas to break socio-economic barriers but also build confidence and initiate agreements among stakeholders.

Women frequently share their knowledge on farm management in IP meetings. They are consulted more and involved in land allocation, input use, sale of commodities and income expenditure decisions.

Successful farmers demonstrate their technologies and extension officers take it upon themselves to facilitate farmer-to-farmer visits from within and outside the district. In Nkayi, extension officers mediated the sales of mucuna seed and extension services have become more relevant as farmers appreciate the value of technologies better.

Since the start of ZimCLIFS, collaborations between ICRISAT, Matopos Research Institute, Amalima program, Help Germany, and government extension services, have scaled innovations from two to 14 districts in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi - benefiting 60,000 farmers.

Proof of concept for policy uptake

Looking at the rich evidence with positive impact on farmers, policy makers decided to support the scaling up of innovation platforms. The Zimbabwe Government is now promoting market-oriented crop-livestock production as a lucrative farming activity for smallholder farmers. Special emphasis is on livestock feeding to increase and sustain quality and quantity. 

As millions of dryland communities worldwide suffer from lack of market access, prolonged dry season, and poor income, innovation platform proves to be a viable stimulus to overcome those challenges.

Setting the global agenda to sustainably transform agriculture and invest in climate actions in the face of climate change, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is hosting a series of side events at the ongoing COP23 meetings.

Along with water, land and gender aspects of small-scale agriculture, enhancing farmers’ institutional capacity to gain effectiveness will be a topic of discussion. 

Sangeetha Parthasarathi is a senior communications officer at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).