Impact of participatory research on assessment of farming systems on overall adoption of new cropping technology by smallholder farmers in semi-arid area of Zimbabwe
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Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) techniques were used in Matibi II Communal Area in Natural Region V of Zimbabwe in December 1994 to obtain a sound knowledge of the existing cropping systems and crop production constraints. In these PRA farmers were also asked to rank the value of the crops they grow based on researcher defined, but mutually agreed, criteria relating to agronomy, socio-economic, use and production reliability. Major crops in the area were sorghum, maize and sunflower, grown by 83,92 and 76 percent of the farmers, respectively, and occupied 39, 25 and 20 percent of the land, respectively. Farmers in the area preferred maize for making theirtraditional dish (sadza) and yet realised that sorghum was the most suitable crop for their environment. Farmers realised that sunflower can be grown to generate household income yet its production lagged behind. Major production constraints identified were poor stand establishment, low yields, shortage of household income, seed, draught power, labour, poor and unreliable rainfall, poor infrastructure and market facilities in maize, sorghum and sunlfower. Farmer managed and farmer implemented participatory on-farm trials were conducted in Matibi II communal area of Zimbabwe during 1994/95 season to compare economic performance of sunflower, sorghum and maize; and to compare local and improved sorghum varieties. Farmers’ participation was not easily available until farmers’ initial suspicion was overcame. Involvement of extension agents in all aspects improved rapport and farmer participation in technology testing, adapting and adoption. Evaluation of the technologies by farmers involved focus group discussions (FGD), interviews, farm walks, matrix ranking exercises and field days. Farmers used high seed rates than recommended for sorghum and sunflower - perhaps a reflection of their experiences in obtaining poor crop stands. This impacted negatively on the adoption of improved varieties as adoption implied a high cash outlay in the purchase of seed. Improved sorghum varieties showed yield superiority over traditional landraces. Although maize had the highest variation in grain yield of all the three species it gave farmers the best return per labour hour- reflecting that maize may be agroecoiogically unfit but returns to scarce resources may be attractive. If net income is based on official prices, sunflower seemed to perform betterthan maize and sorghum. During FGD and fields days farmers who participated in this study indicated that they were willing to adopt improved sorghum varieties and were eager to increase area under sunflower in the following seasons. A study conducted after 1995 96 season in Matibi II showed that 40 percent of the sorghum varieties grown by farmers were improved varieties suggesting that farmer participatory approach used in this study was highly effective in allowing farmers to test adapt and adopt new cropping technologies.