This article is based on a case study that investigated a pilot project implementing conservation agriculture (CA), an agricultural method generally referred to as climate-smart in the agricultural community of Gimbi, Ethiopia. Climate-smart agriculture has been put forward as a solution that might increase farmer resilience, and it has become a popular buzz-word within the global development and environment community.
Even though CA is a well-known method in many countries around the globe, it can be regarded as an innovation in Ethiopia where there has not been much experience on conservation agriculture. The pilot project where the study was conducted is implemented by the Oromia Bureau of Agriculture, with coordination from the Norwegian development organisation the Development Fund, and in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat improvement Centre (CIMMYT). In previous studies on adoption of CA, many researchers have under communicated the importance of understanding the socio-economic and cultural context that the smallholders find themselves within, from their own perspective. The entry point for the study was to examine the benefits and barriers to CA adoption from the farmer's point of view.
The research question was
“What have been the barriers and benefits of CA for the farmers that have participated in the Gimbi project, and how do these affect the likelihood of adoption?”
According to Ajayi et al. (2007), the adoption of new technologies by farmers is a process that begins with acquisition of information, testing and eventual adoption (or continuous use). The factors that initially influence farmers to start testing a technology may be different from, or exert a different level of influence compared with, the factors that affect the decision to continue using the technology on a long term basis. Farmers interviewed at the time when CA was still very new for them were very enthusiastic to discuss their experiences. The farmers had been receiving ongoing training and supervision during the previous months, and were just about to reap their first harvest, which showed great promise. In a case such as this, where farmers have been receiving a lot of help from external agents, it is especially important to investigate the likelihood for sustained adoption on a long term basis, when the aid that the farmers have been given during the implementation phase might decreasing or be phased. There are for instance several accounts of high dis-adoption rates among farmers despite CA having been promoted for a long time (Haggblade and Tembo 2003; Arslan et al. 2014). It is also fairly common for farmers that have adopted CA to practise conventional agriculture as well (Umar et al. 2011; Grabowski and Kerr 2014).
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) has for this reason attained popularity within the global development community. Conservation agriculture (CA) is being promoted as a key method within CSA. Previous research indicates that Southern and Eastern Africa are especially difficult areas in which to implement CA (Giller et al. 2009; Grabowski and Kerr 2014; Baudron et al. 2015b), which could be an implication that the economic benefits for the farmers does not weigh up for the costs and to adoption (Pannell et al. (2014). Most of the literature assumes that the positive effects of CA will not show themselves until several years after implementation. Therefore, one is dependent on the farmers' willingness to invest in changes that they often will have to wait long to see a return on. In many cases, the farmer does not have an opportunity to make such an investment because the risk is too high and/or because the present needs are more immediate and important than the possible future gains. Since CA is believed to be especially appropriate for smallholder in these areas, it is important to figure out ways of reducing the barriers and maximising the benefits in order for long term adoption to be as manageable as possible.
Among the benefits the study identified were a decrease in labour needs, and features related to soil fertility and prevention of soil erosion. However, not everything in the garden was rosy. Among the important barriers were high input costs, low input availability, and possibly low biomass access and associated high opportunity costs for crop residue. The successfulness of the project was in large part due to efficient knowledge-dissemination and relatively high awareness among farmers about the various elements and effects of CA. A central finding of this study were the properties relating to soil quality as being more important to the farmers than was anticipated
Overall, the farmers reported positive changes on several factors, and both yield increase and higher plant density were confirmed in the project's technical report (CIMMYT 2016). However, since it is generally acknowledged that CA takes time to show its positive effects, there is reason to believe that some of the observed positive changes did not in fact stem from the CA method itself. Rather, it is likely a result of the use of fertilizer, herbicides and improved seeds, as well as a general attention to good agronomy, such as timeliness of sowing. Still, the faith the farmers had in CA seemed very solid.
The sustainability of the Gimbi case was because the farmers to a high degree, were dependent on external supplies of inputs in order to get the desired results. In the interviews with the farmers, it was uncovered that affording and accessing these inputs normally posed a major challenge for them.
This article has been extracted from a Research study for a Master program by Mari Gjengedel who carried out his research on Conservation agriculture in Gimbi _ Ethiopia
The complete research report can be accessed from: https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/51900/Endelig-oppgave--digital.pdf?sequence=1