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106 Farmers’ ChoiCe Bananas are also valued because, once established, they do not require as much labour as annual crops, and because they are less vulnerable to drought: although bananas require regular watering for optimal yields, the plants are able to produce some yield even in years with low rainfall, when maize, the main staple crop, may fail. Moreover, they have spread easily because of the simplicity of the new technology. Holes of 90 cm diameter and 90 cm deep are dug with 3 metres between each hole, and these are filled with a mixture of topsoil and animal manure before planting banana suckers.
Successful establishment of banana plantations requires either good and regular rainfall conditions or possibilities for irrigation. There is, of course, more to the process of banana cultivation than is described here – disease control, processing, marketing, cover crops, water harvesting, wind shielding, etc. are also important – but the basic principles of the new banana cultivation technique require only locally available resources: manual labour, hand tools, manure, water, and suckers. The new cultivation technique does not take long to learn and is frequently passed from farmer to farmer (this is also the most widely used mechanism for dissemination of banana cultivation techniques in other parts of Tanzania; see Kikulwe et al., 2007: 46).
People in the area have been longing to grow bananas, and now that the RIPAT technology makes it possible, they are eager to adopt banana cultivation if there is enough water to allow the stools to grow. However, the knowledge associated with banana cultivation – the technological expertise taught through the project – is not always adopted along with the bananas. In this geographical area, for example, one can find greater or smaller distances between the holes, more or less manure in each hole, different numbers of banana plants in each hole, greater or less knowledge about disease control, greater or less use of cover crops or trees planted as windbreaks, and varying techniques used to maintain production. The farmers who are adopting banana cultivation are experimenting with new ideas, for better or for worse.
Improved strains of multipurpose trees have also been adopted along with banana cultivation. The RIPAT project trained some farmers in the use of tree nurseries, teaching them how to plant seeds, graft trees, prune them, and so on. Some of the trees introduced were fast-growing species promoted for use as windbreaks around banana plantations, to prevent the collapse of top-heavy plants in strong winds. Improved varieties of fruit trees such as avocado, citrus, and mango have been introduced. As fruit trees also require good water availability during the establishment phase, the RIPAT farmers who try them usually plant a few fruit trees in between the bananas to benefit from the irrigation system used on the banana plantation. So far, this has been done on only a limited scale, but it might be extended in a few years if the current trials satisfy the farmers. Of course, fruit trees were known before the RIPAT project, but RIPAT made a difference by introducing improved and faster-growing trees, and made the planting of fruit trees easier by promoting banana cultivation that called for improved water management practices.
Bananas require good water conditions – either from rainfall or from irrigation. Simple water-harvesting techniques on the ground – digging channels in the rainy season to bring rainwater into plantations – tend to be adopted together with banana cultivation.
People in this study were generally well acquainted with irrigation using channels, as this system has been practised on Mount Meru since the 19th century, to the astonishment and admiration of the first European colonizers, and it has subsequently been extended into the Maasai plain. In most of the villages of our study, we found irrigation ditches that run between 5 km and 10 km and are managed by water committees (see LoCaL adoption oF soCiaL and agriCuLturaL teChnoLogies 107 Carlsson, 2003). Although the available water is often not sufficient to cover all irrigation needs, the fact that it is transported over very long distances in traditional channels dug by hand hoes shows that the local population is very experienced in irrigation. While it is relatively easy for people to harvest water in fields in the rainy seasons, it is normally much more difficult and costly to collect water in cement tanks above ground level.
However, we met two farmers who had dug low-cost basins (of 10–15 cubic metres) in the ground to harvest rainwater from roofs, which enabled them to water their bananas at the beginning of the dry season. This innovative solution is affordable and relies on simple technology accessible to all. Although this was not taught by RIPAT, it might well end up being adopted by other farmers.
To sum up, the adoption of bananas has both endured among RIPAT group members and spread to non-RIPAT participants; bananas have been a genuine success at all levels.
The adoption of trees has been more modest, even though improved tree varieties have also been adopted by some non-RIPAT participants. This limited adoption is partly due to the fact that the trees are still being trialled, and that the trial period for fruit trees is much longer than for bananas; and partly due to the fact that tree grafting is a technology that requires specialized training. Improved tree seedlings can be acquired only from the few RIPAT farmers who have mastered this technology, and this slows the adoption of such cultivation. Finally, banana and tree plantations have triggered the adoption of better water-harvesting practices.
9.4 The adoption of conservation agriculture and annual crops Conservation agriculture was an important component of the basket of options proposed to RIPAT farmers. Its practice is based on a set of three basic principles: minimize soil disturbance, maximize soil coverage, and use intercropping and crop rotation (Maguzu et al., 2007; Giller et al., 2009). Conservation agriculture is not necessarily an all-ornothing technique, but can be implemented to varying degrees. The farmers in our study area have practised some elements of conservation agriculture in a traditional form for a long time. For example, they have long used cover crops such as lablab or pigeon peas, and intercropped with maize. But the RIPAT project tried to improve traditional conservation agriculture by introducing rippers and planters as replacements for ploughs, as these disturb the soil less, break hardpans, and promote better water infiltration and better root development of the crops. Farmers were encouraged to grow more cover crops and to adopt new forms of weed management. RIPAT also introduced fast-growing varieties of maize, lablab, and pigeon peas that can succeed with shorter periods of rain or irrigation. The improved lablab and pigeon peas can also be used to target export markets, and can thus fetch a higher price.
Conservation agriculture is geared towards improving soil fertility by improving water retention, increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil, and reducing soil degradation. But such benefits, if they happen at all, come only in the longer term, after several years of implementation (Giller et al., 2009). Converting from traditional agriculture to ideal conservation agriculture may take several years and much effort (for example in controlling weeds during the first years), which is a disincentive for those farmers who tend to prioritize an immediate return on their investment. Conservation agriculture is usually considered as a holistic management package, and the RIPAT project introduced it as a complex set of practices involving the careful balancing of many 108 Farmers’ ChoiCe elements – weeds, pests, water, nutrients, time of planting, animal feed, etc. However, farmers face many constraints, and often select specific elements from the package and drop others (Giller et al., 2009). Some farmers revert to traditional agriculture if their field is too small or if they do not have enough cattle (ripping requires a lot of draught power).
Farmers also face a problem if the rains are delayed, as fields must then be prepared a second time with conventional methods. Moreover, the planters are so expensive that few farmers are willing to buy one. It is also difficult to hold onto crop residues when cattle graze in fields after harvest.
Farmers did adopt some improved seeds – mainly maize, pigeon peas, and lablab.
Farmers are constantly comparing their agricultural results with those of their neighbours. If a new seed proves successful for someone, it is quickly tried by others.
Moreover, all the annual crops promoted by RIPAT are well known in the area, and farmers are already familiar with them. To adopt them does not require much effort or any major change in agricultural practices. What is ‘new’ about the newly introduced and improved seed varieties is that they focus on shortening the growing period and on targeting high-value niche markets. However, what a farmer chooses to grow depends on many factors in addition to the speed of growth or the price fetched at market, and many farmers still prefer traditional varieties for one reason or another. For example, the traditional lablab is considered to be more resistant to drought than the improved lablab.
Moreover, pigeon pea branches are the most important source of firewood in some villages, and the traditional pigeon peas grow taller and therefore give more firewood for the household. Finally, traditional pigeon peas are easier to sell in local markets because they are consumed locally. Improved maize (e.g. stuka) is more drought-resistant and grows faster, but gives only one cone of maize, while some traditional types of maize can give two. Stuka maize might be preferred by people who cannot irrigate their fields, but those who have irrigation channels are likely to choose another type of maize.
Some aspects of conservation agriculture are practised to some extent by many RIPAT participants, and are continued even after the end of the project. However, the new techniques have not spread to non-participants, mainly due to the complexity and the cost of changing. The introduction of improved seeds has been a success at all three levels (i.e. during and after the project period as well as outside RIPAT participants), but only insofar as the seeds have proved well adapted to a variety of local constraints. The improved varieties have not entirely replaced the traditional ones, but the new types have found a niche and are complementing the old types.
9.5 The adoption of farmer groups and savings groups RIPAT chose to introduce the new crops and technologies through groups. The use of groups can be advantageous for project implementation for a number of reasons. For project managers, groups are very practical, because it is cheaper and more efficient to teach 30 farmers together and have only one group field than to deal with 30 individual farmers scattered across 30 fields. For farmers, groups and collective group fields are practical because of the possibility of sharing start-up costs and spreading risks, and of realizing economies of scale in marketing or when acquiring inputs.
Groups level out social differences, as even the poorest farmers can try out things that they would not be able to afford alone. Moreover, groups tend to encourage individuals to perform better. The RIPAT groups visited individual farmers on a rotational basis.
LoCaL adoption oF soCiaL and agriCuLturaL teChnoLogies 109 Team spirit and peer pressure to work harder and better engender better results than would have been the case if each farmer had been on his or her own. Finally, as described in Chapter 7, Section 7.6, groups also provide support and protection for their members.
Female members may feel bolder and stronger when negotiating farming strategies with their husbands, since a husband might think twice before saying no to his wife when his reaction might be met with disapproval from 30 other group members. Group members are generally stronger in defending their agricultural endeavours: if a cow destroys the crops of a group member, the owner of the cow does not face the wrath of just one angry farmer, but of the whole group. Generally speaking, a group has a stronger voice than an individual farmer in influencing local policy-making, enforcing by-laws, negotiating a better price for agricultural inputs or outputs, and solving conflicts.
RIPAT groups have developed group by-laws to ensure that all members contribute equally to collective efforts. For example, members are fined if they do not show up to meetings and are upbraided if they do not work properly. Some participants have had difficulty in living up to such rules and requirements, and about a third of the original RIPAT 1 participants dropped out of their groups before the end of the project (see Chapter 8, Section 8.3).
At the end of the project period, each group in RIPAT 1 had to decide whether it wanted to continue as a group or dissolve, and 13 groups chose to continue. Some groups have rented (or even bought) a new piece of land that they now cultivate together. In addition, many groups have evolved into savings or investment groups (pooling resources and investing them in a banana plantation or transport business).
Savings groups have been introduced or promoted by several different projects in the area, including RIPAT 1, and these groups are now a great success in some villages.
Savings groups are based on calculations of interest rates and benefit redistribution that can be complicated for the uneducated farmer, but the system is usually very well organized, with printed savings booklets that can be bought at any stationery shop, sets of fixed constitutions, and ways of calculating interest rates for both savings and loans.
The complexity of the groups, as well as the memory of past failures of official savings institutions, might explain why they are still only in their infancy in some villages. In such villages, we found only a small number of savings groups, with cautious members saving on a small scale, as people want to see how well the savings group works without taking too much risk. In other villages, however, people have already tried the system for a few years and have experienced its benefits. In these villages, savings groups are developing very fast, with most farmers being members of a group, or even of several groups.