Does closing knowledge gaps close yield gaps? On-farm conservation agriculture trials and adoption dynamics in three smallholder farming areas in Zimbabwe
Published in: Journal of Agricultural Science, In press.
On-farm demonstration-trials are a common strategy to introduce new technologies to farmers, while simultaneously evaluating these technologies’ performance under farmer conditions. The current study focuses on conservation agriculture (CA) technology adoption dynamics among a small group of farmers who can be considered increasingly knowledgeable, as they have hosted CA demonstration-trials for at least 7 years. Management and performance of farmers’ fields were compared with the CA demonstration-trials implemented on the same farm, focusing on yield gaps (YGs) between the two and the uptake of CA or some of its principles. Comparisons were made between demonstration-trials and farmers’ fields in three distinct land classification areas: Madziwa Communal Area (est. 1910s), Chavakadzi (est. 1980s) and Hereford (est. 2000s) Resettlement Areas. It was found that closing knowledge gaps on CA did not close YGs and that CA adoption was partial. In the Communal Area, CA principles have barely been taken up, but farmer yields were often as good as on the demonstration-trials. In the Resettlement Areas, farmers did take up reduced tillage (CA principle 1) and practised rotations (CA principle 3), but not residue retention (CA principle 2). Rather than partial CA adoption, lower fertilization rates explained the recorded YGs in the Resettlement Areas. In the three areas, farmers’ interest in CA-based increasing of yields was limited, as circumstances drove them to embark on extensification rather than a land use intensification pathway.