Lessons for Rural Innovation in Africa

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa commit resources to promote agricultural innovations. This is based on the assumption that rural livelihoods are mainly agricultural and that the innovations will increase agricultural production and household income. As resources come under pressure from growing populations and natural resource degradation, governments and donors want to see that agricultural research and innovation has an impact. They want to see “success” and “value for money”. Conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe provides a good example of an innovation like this. This approach to farming has been widely promoted by non-governmental organisations, research institutes and the state. It’s also promoted in other countries of eastern and southern Africa. The method is based on minimal soil disturbance, mulching soil with crop residues, and crop rotation. These are meant to conserve moisture, reduce soil erosion and build up soil organic matter to improve crop yields and rural livelihoods. We wanted to know how this innovation was promoted and implemented in Zimbabwe and how its “success” was framed and assessed. Our study found that there were differences in how farmers and promoters of conservation agriculture defined its success.

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