How farmers learn from emergent practices than best practices

While many organisations design top-down training and ‘capacity building’ programmes for farmers and rural communities, a recent eMKambo survey has shown that farmers and traders learn more from emergent practices than ‘best’ practices. In some areas, social media is exacerbating this trend. Using their own intelligence, farmers observe and organize what is going on around them. They don’t just apply what they hear from advertisements or any kind of self-promotion. They learn by reflecting on what they observe, calling up memories and creating new narratives from new patterns.

eMKambo recently gathered views from a cross section of farmers around Zimbabwe in relation to maize seed varieties under a changing climate. Although very few farmers are aware of the history of maize in Zimbabwe, they can tell the difference between a good and mediocre seed variety. In this particular survey, farmers were asked to rank seed varieties and produce a list of 11 players that could form a national seed variety team. Below is how and partly why maize varieties were ranked in the 2014/15 farming season by farmers who shared their experiences and insights:



The above class of varieties is mainly for good rainfall areas (mainly natural regions 2 A and B) which include: Mazowe, Bindura, Mvurwi, Shamva, Marondera, Macheke, Norton, Karoi, Mhangura, Raffingora, Chinhoyi, Banket, Glendale, Concession, Beatrice, Nyanga, Murewa, Goromonzi and some parts of Chegutu, Umguza and Esigodini. Since some of these areas now receive erratic rainfall due to climate change, the farmers were concerned with Zimbabwe may soon be without a team of first 11 commercial maize varieties.

The farmers also went on to rank varieties for middle rainfall areas such as Rusape, Mt Darwin, Muzarabani, Guruve, Kadoma, Headlands as well as parts of Gokwe and Mutoko. Below is the classification of four varieties suitable for these areas:


Varieties for dry areas

The farmers also came up with varieties for dry areas such as Masvingo, Muzarabani, Mvuma, Chivi, Buhera, Dorowa, Chipinge, Nyanyadzi, Gokwe South as well as parts of Matebeleland South and North provinces. Below is the ranking:


Responding to Climate Change

According to farmers, with increasing climate change, varieties which require a long season will be phased out or they will be produced under irrigation. This range of varieties may be replaced by those currently suitable for medium rainfall areas because these varieties have proven to be resilient to moisture stress and mid-season dry spells. Although short season varieties are going to support maize production in dry areas, such production will only be for food security not commercial maize production because they don’t yield beyond four tons per hectare even if you pour a lot of inputs.

The majority of farmers concurred that companies and government research stations should go back to the laboratory and re-design their seed genetics for resilience to moisture stress and problems such as flooding which require a crop that can stand firm. Ability to withstand flooding will be a key production parameter in low lying areas like Muzarabani and the Zambezi Valley. Quick germination under low moisture levels is also going to be a very important characteristic. Ideal seed will have to force itself to germinate with little moisture. Germination determines plant population and yield.

From the above survey, eMKambo, it has become clear that farmers do their own experiments and make decisions on what seed to plant based on strong observations and reflections. They know that learning doesn’t happen in a straight line or top down manner as prescribed by some organisations. Social media is accelerating farmers’ confidence in the current age of experimentation where individuals will have to take control of their learning and work in order to be creative. Some of the farmers keep this information to themselves and use it privately to make decisions. Seed companies, farmer organisations and policy makers should invest in accessing such feedback if they are to remain relevant. This will feed into collective learning.

All farmers expressed the view that solutions to Zimbabwean agriculture will not come from industrial agriculture alone but a combination of approaches. Most farmers have seen the limitations of industrial agriculture and the limitations of their own age-old practice. In the same vein, they have seen the best of the two with which they are dancing. Perhaps a winning formula will come farmers’ ability to adapt knowledge as opposed to completely absorbing what is coming from one direction.

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I am very thankful for the post. I agree 100% with the concerpt of emergent practices as opposed to best practices especially in a dynamic world we live in, that farmers are exposed to on daily basis. Thank you so very much Charles and keep the good work of digging out what it contextually relevant for our African farmers. Thumbs up for you indeed and the honourable farmers.

Social learning – is there any other kind? | Maarifa - Communications and Knowledge Management

Social learning – is there any other kind? | Maarifa - Communications and Knowledge Management

[…] eMkambo about their fascinating work on learning in agricultural markets in Zimbabwe, it’s about listening, learning and encouraging activity that increases equitable collaboration between farmers, researchers, and policy makers in co-creating knowledge on climate smart […]

Charles Dhewa

Charles Dhewa

Thanks for the feedback. Equitable collaboration between actors is very important.