Why a Zimbabwean farming project failed: lessons for rural innovation.

Many governments in Sub-Saharan Africa invest heavily in agricultural innovation. This is based on the idea that agricultural productivity and household income are the primary sources of income in rural areas, and that the innovations will enhance agricultural production and household income.

Governments and donors want to see agricultural research and innovation have an impact as resources are squeezed by rising populations and natural resource deterioration. They want to see "success" and "return on investment."

However, success is defined in a variety of ways. It depends on how and by whom it is framed.


A deeper knowledge of the appropriateness of specific technologies in terms of how they're conceived, promoted, and linked to rural livelihoods can be gained through studying conflict in agricultural advances.

Conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe is an excellent example of such an innovation. Non-governmental organizations, research institutes, and the government have all advocated this farming practice. It is also marketed in various Eastern and Southern African countries.

The strategy relies on little soil disturbance, crop residue mulching, and crop rotation. These are intended to increase crop yields and rural lives by conserving moisture, reducing soil erosion, and increasing soil organic matter.

It's important to understand how this invention was marketed and executed in Zimbabwe, as well as how its "success" was defined and measured. Farmers and proponents of conservation agriculture defined success differently, according to this study.

When it comes to investing in agricultural innovation, these distinctions matter. Understanding the variability of rural livelihoods is particularly essential.

When it comes to investing in agricultural innovation, these distinctions matter. Understanding the variability of rural livelihoods is particularly essential.

The research

The research was carried out in the Gwanda and Insiza areas of Zimbabwe's southwestern region. Droughts are prevalent in the area, happening every two or three years on average. A household questionnaire survey, interviews, and focus group discussions were used to gather data. Farmers, NGO representatives, and government extension agents were among those who attended.

The majority of respondents perceived innovation to have three key characteristics, namely "novelty," "adaptability," and "utility," according to the findings. Despite the fact that novelty was mentioned more frequently than other types of innovation, some people believed it only existed in theory and not in practice.

A farmer, for example, said that the solutions advertised in his community were not new, but rather repackaged previous technologies with new labels. Some weren't appropriate for the environment.

Conservation agriculture was identified as the most often promoted innovation in the area by non-governmental organizations and government extension officers. Huge sums of money were set aside to promote it in Zimbabwe by the Department for International Development, which set out roughly US$23 million. Farmers, however, mainly abandoned the technique after the project's three-year run.

Because it took so much physical labor, the people dubbed it "diga ufe," which means "dig and die." It took a lot of time and effort to dig conservation basins by hand during site preparation and to weed many times.

However, farmers discovered that utilizing conservation agriculture techniques in their vegetable gardens produced greater results than using larger plots. Farmers preferred irrigated agriculture to rain-fed agriculture when it came to crop yield. As a result, behind animal production, gardening was identified as the second most important source of income.

In the face of climate change, respondents felt that innovation was critical to maintaining food security and nutrition. According to one farmer, innovation is experimenting with resources available to come up with something fresh and appropriate for the area. He also stressed that innovation is a collaborative effort involving farmers, researchers, extension workers, and businesses. He stated that positive outcomes would be achieved not only through new technology (hardware) but also through procedures such as governance.

Locals selected climate-smart crops like sorghum, millet, and cowpeas, as well as climate-smart animals like goats and indigenous poultry, as potentially ideal for addressing drought spells in the area. However, inadequate informal markets, a lack of bargaining power, a scarcity of grazing pasture, pests, and disease.

Diversification away from agriculture has been identified as an alternative to agriculture as a reaction to climate change. It has the potential to increase household income while also ensuring food and nutrition security.

Government extension officers believed that livestock production should be the focus of innovation in the area. The semi-arid climate of the region makes rain-fed agriculture impossible.

Dryland cropping was listed as the lowest source of livelihood for rural people, despite attempts to encourage conservation agriculture. Livestock production was a top priority for the locals. It would have been excellent for the area to promote additional livestock-related innovations.

What does this mean for policy and innovations?

Rural places can be fertile ground for innovation. To recognize the priorities of the communities, however, it is necessary to first grasp their perceptions and livelihood circumstances.

Rural communities are complicated and dynamic. Rural development will not be achieved by imposing technologies that do not address the requirements of these people. Our research demonstrated the value of generating innovations with communities rather than for communities.

People in rural areas have plenty of resources. They require assistance in utilizing available resources and innovating in a context-specific, adaptable manner. Because they have a greater awareness of the difficulties and opportunities in their communities, they should be essential partners in developing solutions.

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