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”.
But success is understood in different ways. It depends on how it’s framed and by whom.
Studying conflict in agricultural innovations can lead to a better understanding of the appropriateness of certain technologies in terms of how they’re designed, promoted and how they’re linked to rural livelihoods.
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.
These differences matter when investments are made in promoting agricultural innovations. It’s particularly important to understand the diversity of rural livelihoods.
Our study was conducted in Gwanda and Insiza districts in south western Zimbabwe. Droughts are a common feature in the area, occurring on average every two or three years. We collected data via a household questionnaire survey, interviews and focus group discussions. Participants included farmers, NGO and government extension officers.
We found that innovation was understood by the majority of respondents as having three main attributes, namely, “novelty”, “adaptability” and “utility”. Despite novelty being mentioned more often than other understandings of innovation, some felt that it existed in theory and not practically.
For example, a farmer said interventions promoted in their communities weren’t new but rather repackaged existing technologies with different names. Some weren’t suitable for the area.
Conservation agriculture was identified as the innovation most often promoted by non-governmental organisations and government extension officers in the area. Huge investments were committed to promoting it – the Department for International Development set aside about US$23 million to promote it in Zimbabwe. Yet after the project’s three year lifespan, farmers mostly abandoned the practice.
The locals gave it the name “diga ufe”, which means “dig and die”, because it required so much physical labour. The manual digging of conservation basins during land preparation and the multiple weeding was labour intensive.
Farmers did find, though, that using the conservation agriculture techniques in their vegetable gardens yielded better results compared to bigger plots. Under crop production, farmers prioritised irrigated agriculture compared to rain-fed agriculture. Gardening was therefore identified as the second ranked important livelihood source after livestock production.
Respondents agreed that innovation was vital for sustaining food security and nutrition in the context of climate change. One farmer said innovation was about experimenting with resources at one’s disposal to come up with something new and suitable for the area. He also emphasised that innovation was a collective action that includes farmers, researchers, extension agents and the private sector. He said it was not only confined to new technology (hardware), but processes such as governance, that would yield positive results.
Climate smart crops such as sorghum, millet and cowpeas and climate smart livestock (goats and indigenous poultry) were identified by locals as potentially suitable in addressing dry spells in the area. But poor informal markets, limited bargaining power, shortage of grazing land, pests and diseases constrained productivity.
Diversifying out of agriculture was identified as an alternative response to climate change. It could boost the income of the household and help sustain food and nutrition security.
Government extension officers felt that innovations in the area should be targeted towards livestock production. The area’s semi-arid climate means it’s not conducive for rain-fed agriculture.
So, despite the efforts to promote conservation agriculture, dry land cropping was ranked as the lowest source of livelihood for rural people. People in the area prioritised livestock production. Promoting more livestock production related innovations would have been ideal for the area.
What does this mean for policy and innovations?
Innovation can thrive in rural areas. But this depends on understanding the communities’ perceptions and livelihood context to appreciate their priorities.
Rural communities are dynamic and complex. Imposing innovations that don’t speak to the needs of these communities won’t achieve rural development. Our study showed the importance of developing innovations with communities as opposed to innovations for communities.
People in rural areas don’t lack capacity. They need support to utilise available resources and innovate in a flexible manner that’s context specific. They should be key players in coming up with solutions, since they have a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within their communities.
Voters in Guinea have cast their ballots in a high-stakes presidential poll taking place after months of bloody unrest.
Almost 5.5 million people were eligible to vote on Sunday at roughly 15,000 polling stations. The results are not expected for several days.
Twelve candidates are vying for the highest office, but only the incumbent, Alpha Conde, and Cellou Dalein Diallo, the leader of main opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), are said to be in with a chance of victory.
Conde, 82, is seeking a controversial third term after pushing through a revamped constitution earlier this year that critics denounced as a plot to sidestep a two-term limit on presidential mandates.
The new constitution was overwhelmingly supported by voters in a March 22 referendum that was boycotted by the opposition. The result means Conde could potentially now remain the country’s president for 12 more years. Mass demonstrations against the proposed changes were met with a harsh crackdown by security forces, leaving dozens of people dead.
There have been fears that recent tensions have taken on an ethnic dimension, with Conde accused of exploiting divisions during the campaign – a charge he denies. Guinea’s politics are mainly drawn along ethnic lines: the president’s base is mostly from the ethnic Malinke community and Diallo’s from the Fulani people.
Last week, the United Nations urged candidates to curb ethnically charged hate speech, warning the situation is “extremely dangerous” and may lead to violence.
Police on Sunday were out in force in the capital, Conakry, following clashes between rival supporters in recent days, but voting appeared calm.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Conakry, Patrice Vahard, spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited inclusiveness, hate speech and electoral violence as the main concerns in the lead-up to the vote
“Today was relatively calm,” Vahard said, adding, however, that “the period from the moment the polling stations close to the announcement of the final result by the constitutional court is going to be extremely critical”.
“It will be critical to keep an close eye on what happens in the coming 72 hours or so,” he said.
Mohamed Fode Camara, a social affairs ministry employee, said he “feared the day when results are announced”.
“God will save us, inshallah,” he told AFP news agency, adding that Guineans “want peace, not a fight”.
Voting under way
Earlier, Security Minister Albert Damantang Camara told AFP there had been “no major incidents”, although his ministry said “hooligans” had attacked security forces in the capital.
At a news conference, Diallo, 68, urged his supporters to “show restraint”.
“I have no doubts about the outcome of the election, which is why I do not want violence to disrupt the ballot and jeopardise my victory,” he said, adding that he thought Conde may nonetheless “cheat”.
For his part, Conde, who has been in power since 2010, said after voting at a primary school in Conakry: “Guinea cannot develop if there is no peace, security and unity. We do not want violence.
“Those who want to challenge the results must do so within a legal framework, with recourse to the Constitutional Court,” he added, dressed in white and flanked by bodyguards.
Meanwhile, a number of people including one of the candidates said they had been turned away at polling stations because of problems with their voter cards.
Presidential hopeful Makale Camara, a former foreign ministerm said she herself had not received a voter card at all, and so had been unable to vote.
“That’s totally unacceptable because there are people who ended up with three or four cards,” she told Reuters news agency. “It’s a holy mess they’ve organised there. If there can be ‘fictitious’ citizens, a candidate cannot be fictitious.”
In response to Reuters’ question about potential voting irregularities, an election commission spokesman said: “Only cards distributed over the last 30 days are valid.”
Conde has already won against Diallo twice before, in 2010 and 2015, and political analysts predict he will win another five-year term.
During a heated campaign, Conde, who has described the constitutional reform that allowed him to run again as fair and democratic, said he needed more time to finish major mining and infrastructure projects.
Diallo, who was at the forefront of protests against Conde’s third term, told supporters he wanted to turn the page on “10 years of lies” and criticised police repression, corruption, youth unemployment and poverty.