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You are here: Home Magazines Global edition Grassroots innovation

Grassroots innovation

Farmers adapt their farming systems as conditions and needs change. They try out new ideas they have seen or heard about from other farmers, visitors or extension agents, put their own ideas into practice and sometimes work on innovations that have arisen “by accident”.

Innovations often arise out of necessity, others are born of curiosity. An innovation can be a practical technique or a different way of organising things, like when a farmer makes new arrangements about how land should be used with a neighbouring farmer.

ILEIA Newsletter | 16.2 | July 2000

Table of contents:

  • 2 - 3
  • 4 - 4
    Farmers adapt their farming systems as conditions and needs change. They try out new ideas they have seen or heard about from other farmers, visitors or extension agents, put their own ideas into practice and sometimes work on innovations that have arisen \"by accident\". As many articles in this issue show, farmer experimentation and innovation is deeply rooted in the daily struggles of the small scale farmers. The problem is that many innovation, in particular those made by women, are hidden or isolated.
  • 5 - 6
    The Honey Bee network has collected over 10,000 examples of innovations and examples of traditional local knowledge in the sustainable management of natural resources. These are shared with farmers and scientists through the Honey Bee newsletter. The author presents some of these innovations. Given the unjust practice of extracting local knowledge from people for corporate benefits the author stresses the need for an international registry of farmer innovations and the restructuring of international and national public research.
  • 7 - 8
    Pacific Islander agriculture is dominated by root crops such as taro and yams and islanders face many problems with their cultivation. In Samoa, the introduction of leaf blight disease in 1993 devastated taro production and caused a dramatic decline in supplies of this staple food and export commodity. In Tonga, yam anthracnose continues to be a major problem. Island farmers, however, are important innovators and experimenters when it comes to solving the production problems associated with these crops. In Samoa, farmers have used their own innovations to ensure the rapid multiplication and availability of disease tolerant taro varieties, while in Tonga farmers have devised ways of minimising anthracnose disease and ensuring the vigorous growth of yams.
  • 9 - 11
    The Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation Programme (ISWCP) focuses on discovering and promoting farmer innovation in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Kibwana discusses the different steps involved in ISWCP in Tanzania in which governmental and non-governmental research and extension organisations participate. Awareness among participants was raised, innovations were identified, analysed and documented and a start was made with Farmer-to-Farmer exchange and Participatory Technology Development.
  • 12 - 13
    The village of Itulike, in Njombe district in the southern highlands of Tanzania, is an area of sloping and undulating land. In this and similar areas of Tanzania, the Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation Programme (ISWCP) set out to identify farmer innovators. This was the first step in establishing a process of Participatory Technology Development. Researchers and extensionists were trained in tools for farmer-led analysis and experimentation, an approach very different from the scientist-led research that dominates at official levels.
  • 14 - 15
    This article shows the example of Samuel Toh and other farmers in Babanki, who developed a chain of innovations: night paddock systems, contrcats between farmers and gerders, new harvesting tools, an irrigation system, live fences for paddocks and the use of fodder grasses. As shown, the development and mastery of one innovation stimulates others.
  • 16 - 16
    A mountainous area of northern Tigray, occupied two years ago by Eritrea and recently regained by Ethiopia, has been called a 'worthless piece of land' by war reporters, but it is worth a lot to the Irob who call it home. Here, the Irob laboured for years to add value to their land through their own initiative. One of these people is Yohannes Tesfay, a farmer who was so innovative in using stone to conserve land that his neighbours called him 'The Engineer'.
  • 17 - 17
    A study of indigenous soil and water conservation (SWC) practices in northern Ethiopia revealed much local innovation. When community members were asked to identify farmer innovators, they looked at not only the results in terms of productivity but also the impact of the innovations on the community.
  • 18 - 19
    By early 1999, a growing number of innovators in dryland farming had been identified by ISWCP in Tunisia. Visits of farmers to innovators were organised, and some of these were broadcast on national TV. However, the major strategic activity was a weekly regional radio programme on 'Agricultural and Innovation'. This radio programme not only invites farmers to present their innovations for farmer-to-farmer exchange. It also involves researchers, training specialists and development agents in debates about the innovations to create links between farmer innovators and formal research and extension.
  • 20 - 20
    In central and southern Tunisia, women are active in both rainfed and irrigated farming and are responsible for particular tasks. Some women have improved production by developing innovations based on their experience, but it was not easy for the Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation (ISWC) project at the Arid Zones Institute to identify these women.
  • 21 - 22
    Farmers in the Sahel zone of Burkina Faso have developed a method for rehabilitating degraded land. It is an improvement of the traditional planting pits known as "zai", which has many different alternatives. A few farmers have taken the initiative to promote the spread of zai and its various improvements. Here, three "extension models" developed by farmers innovators are described. These models are, in themselves, local innovations.
  • 23 - 24
    The Sasakawa Global 2000 campaign was launched in Tigray in 1996. This offered farmers a package of external inputs on credit and has focused on the better-watered areas. Many farmers, however, are withdrawing from the scheme. They found the inputs too expensive given uncertain rainfall and yields, and tha lack of transport and marketing facilities. ISWC-Ethiopia dcided to pursue Participatory Technology Development by introducing the concepts and spirit gradually on a wide front. But instead of imposing PTD, they sought an open dialogue at every possible opportunity.
  • 25 - 25
    The objective of the \"Promoting Farmer Innovation\" (PFI) programme is to help formulate a radically new research methodology, while demonstrating the developmental benefits of improved land husbandry in dry areas. The programme began in 1997 in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and since hasbeen working to establish partnerships of governmental and non-governmental agencies that focus on farmer innovation.
  • 26 - 27
    The Campesino a Campesino (or Farmer to farmer) programme was founded in Nicaragua in 1987 by the National Farmers and Cattle Ranchers Union (UNAG). It started with exchange visits between farmers from Nicaragua and mexico in order to promote and diffuse appropriate technologies amoong poor farmers. The key element in this approach are the "farmer promoters" and the mechanisms of communication used.
  • 28 - 30
    Since 1994, PRIAG in Central America has facilitated and strengthened farmer innovation through documentation, participatory experimentation, communication and organisation. By describing some of the practical approaches of the programme the authors show how farmers are being empowered and take the lead to develop topical and regional networks for farmer-to-farmer exchange, farmer experimentation, communication and planning. This approach is a real challenge for all as it requires new working methods for a `learning dialogue\' between farmers, scientists and the other stakeholders involved.
  • 31 - 32
    Livestock keeping is important in the Huetar Atlantica region in Costa Rica. In this region, Mr. Nardo Herrera planted a new grass he got from a technical advisor from the Ministry of Agriculture, and saw how good it developed. Information gradually reached William Ratana, who now grows now 7 heacteras of this grass, and has presented it as his own innovation. He has shown the benefits in several workshops, tried different trials, and now Limpo grass is spreading fast.
  • 33 - 34
    This article focuses on the Farmer Field Schools and on the Local Agricultural research Committees, or CIALs. Both are platforms that have began to operate within the same geographic areas, often facilitated by the same organisation. farmers, researchers and extensionists are asking how they relate to each other and are the comparative advantages. This article compares their essential characteristics and explores how these can best be articulated.
  • 35 - 35
    The main objective of this network is to strengthen research and development partnerships and methods to promote local innovation in ecological agriculture and natural resource management. A long term is to institutionalise PROLINNOVA approaches into national programmes of research, development and education. Most activities are implemented through national and regional sub-programmes, defined semi autonomously and directly funded by different donors.
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    Tensue Gebre-Mehdin is a 30-year old woman who farms in central Tigray, Ethiopia. After her husband died, she decided to plough herself, against the local traditions, and in spite of the criticisms of her neighbours. But now some women have asked her to teach them to plough, or she has ploughed land of families whose men have gone to war. She is now recognised as an innovator in her own right.
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