Small farmer innovations: the drive for efficiency
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CTA. 1996. Small farmer innovations: the drive for efficiency. Spore 63. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Small-scale farmers have always needed to carry out experiments on their farms. This has contributed to, and is the basis of, their indigenous knowledge. They have invariably had a pragmatic approach to development interventions and have often...
Small-scale farmers have always needed to carry out experiments on their farms. This has contributed to, and is the basis of, their indigenous knowledge. They have invariably had a pragmatic approach to development interventions and have often adapted them to their own needs. But, in relation to these needs, the results have often been far from what was originally intended. Hedges are used for erosion control, water conservation, manipulation of the microclimate and overall improvement of the immediate environment. Many agronomists now include them in development plans as a regular operation. Even so, and far from being ignorant of these advantages, small-scale farmers have a different priority for planting hedges: it is to demarcate their plots of land and for management of their livestock. Hedges are not only effective deterrents to straying animals but often provide an appreciable amount of livestock feed. There are two interesting examples of hedge planting initiated by farmers in Cameroon and the Comoros Islands. The Niumakele isthmus at the southern edge of Anjouan in the Comoros Islands is beset by many problems. These include steep slopes and the associated risk of erosion because of heavy rainfall, few market opportunities, difficulty in obtaining inputs because of its isolated position, and a high density of population - 600 people/km. For more than 30 years development workers have looked on this area of 10,000ha as 'the archetypal problem of island fertility.' Nicole Sibelet of CIRAD, who has studied the complex system of innovations used by local farmers since their land rights were reinstated after the departure of the colonial regime at the beginning of the 1970s, notes that the Niumakele plateau 'is now much greener than it was 30 years ago.' Under increasing population pressure, these innovations have led to new ways of soil fertilization and land management. The earlier production system based on the intercropping of rice or cassava with maize and pigeon pea with a fallow in every alternate year has developed towards a system that is entirely manual but associated with livestock production in which cattle are attached to a rotating picket on small individual plots surrounded by hedges. In addition to the feed they obtain from the hedges, the animals are fed twice a day with forage gathered from nearby. The availability of manure has allowed continuous and intensified cropping to be introduced based on roots and tubers for food, and on cloves, ylang-ylang and vanilla as cash crops. In the space of a few years integration of livestock with these agroforestry systems has resulted in the conversion of a previously open and heavily degraded area to one surrounded by green hedges. The new environment is much more productive and is gradually spreading around the villages. Livestock production and diversification Development has taken a different course in the Bamileke country of Cameroon. On the fertile soils of the basalt plateau hedges were used well before the colonial period. Jean-Marie Fotsing, a geography lecturer at the University of Yaounde says that 'in the beginning hedges had a legal basis in marking individual holdings and this is confirmed by the fact that the word n'ka signifies not only the barrier itself but also the actual holding.' Within the holding, however, the hedges reinforced with raffia palm fronds were also used as a restraint for animals and as a means of controlling the movement of small ruminants. Changes in land use began with the introduction of coffee just before the start of the Second World War. Because of the revenue it generated coffee, intercropped with maize, quickly came to occupy the best land close to the houses. Fertilizer was also introduced with coffee and its use spread quickly. The system became more intensive and food crops were pushed on to the higher land between the valleys. This land had formerly been used by small ruminants which, as a consequence, assumed lesser importance. The decline in small ruminant numbers accelerated between 1958 and 1962 as a result of the disturbance before and after Cameroon's independence. 'Flocks were scattered, the guerrillas pillaged them and people were unable to build up their flocks again when peace returned, says Jean-Marie Fotsing. The network of hedges lost its main reason within the farm holding and started to deteriorate. The introduction of horticulture by development projects added momentum to these changes at the end of the 1970s. Plots developed at great expense in the valley bottoms were very suitable for vegetable growing but these crops occupied the land for only a very short period whereas the small scale farmers were interested in having long term tenure. In order to avoid being evicted once the projects closed down they started to plant perennial crops, especially bananas. Having been trained in horticulture, however, the farmers also began vegetable production on new areas, surrounded by live hedges, and on higher land previously used by M'bororo pastoralists. This upland horticulture based on large intensively cultivated plots with the use of fertilizer and pesticides is very successful. Vehicles come to collect the produce at the field for the Douala and Yaounde markets. But, while enclosures have spread on the higher ground, they have continued to fall apart on the old fields of the basalt plateau. Whether these two examples are simply adaptations or real innovations, the use of external inputs by small-scale farmers in both Anjouan and in the Bamileke country, according to Nicole Sibelet, 'is effective because neither the social nor the economic benefits can be contested.' This proves the need for a continuous exchange of views between scientists and farmers. FURTHER READING Nouvelles pratiques de fertilisation au service des strategies paysannes dons le Niumakele. (New fertility techniques in smallholder farmer strategies in Niumakele ) Gestion de la fertilite en pays Bamileke: techniques traditionnelles et evolution recenses ( Traditional and new systems of managing soil fertility in the Bamileke country byJeanMarie fotsing Both presented at a seminar in Montpellier in November 1995 on Fertilite du milieu et strategies paysannes sous les tropiques humides ( Small farmer strategies for improving soil fertility in the humid tropics ) CIRAD Montpellier France
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