In the past scaling-up in agriculture was all about the ways extension could help informing farmers more effectively and about application of the good agricultural practice research. Later, however, analysis of failures revealed that, when it comes to how farmers adapt to new techniques, the reality of the projects placed in particular social environment is far more complex. In their Phd projects from SLU Kristina Marquart and Klara Jakobsson provide an insight into the complexity of farming practices and their socio-economic contexts and dynamics.
Swidden farming in the Upper Amazon
The innovative farmers in this project are an example of the power of local people’s knowledge, creativity and initiative. Dr. Kristina Marquardt is interested in action research, her project involved farmers who practice swidden farming in the Upper Amazon in Peru. She observed that some of the farmers experimented with the traditional swidden farming system. Typically, because the soil fertility is created through long periods of forest fallow, this farming system demands rather large areas of forest. Each generation inherits less and less land. Consequently, this traditional system starts to have troubles because the forest does not regenerate as it used to. Instead the fast-growing weeds and bushes become the dominant vegetation.
In this situation some farmers have started to add innovative components to the swidden farming system. During the food cropping phase, the farmers deliberately plant tree seeds or let them to re-sprout, but so that they would grow together with the crops. This way the farmers plant a forest fallow that can grow fast and outcompete the weeds and bushes as part of a soil fertility strategy.
Download full text: Burning changes: action research with farmers and swidden agriculture in the Upper Amazon
Agricultural development project in the former Transkei region
Another project by Dr Klara Jacobson demonstrates the way socio-economic context interacts with how people organize their agricultural systems, it also stresses the importance of participatory process for sucess of agricultural development.
The project implemented in Transkei region in South Africa was based on the idea that raising smallholders’ maize yields through the introduction of GM Bt maize and fertilizer, can facilitate growth of local economy and reduce poverty. However, the problem was that the inputs and practices introduced were not based on smallholders’ knowledge, practices and financial capacity. For example, hybrid and GM maize varieties, meant for capital-intensive farming practices, were picked for the project. As a result, the strategies for dealing with resource shortages traditionally practiced in the area were disrupted and marginalized extremely poor and comparatively better of population even more.
Download full text: From Betterment to Bt maize agricultural development and the introduction of genetically modified maize to South African smallholders