Conservation Agriculture Innovation Systems
Build Climate Resilience for Smallholder Farmers
in South Africa
1Mahlathini Development Foundation, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal,
South Africa; 2Grain SA, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa
Introduction of Conservation Agriculture (CA) and associated climate-resilient agriculture
practices within an innovation system approach, and using farmer-level experimentation
and learning groups as theprimary learning and socialempowerment processes, has created
a sustainable and expanding farming alternative forsmallholders that is improving their
resilience to climate change substantially.
Through a knowledgeco-creation process, smallholder farmers in the programme have
adapted and incorporated a wide range of practices into their farming system, including
minimum soil disturbance, close spacing, improved varieties, judicious use of fertilizer,
pesticides and herbicides, crop diversification, intercropping and crop rotation as well as
fodder production and livestock integration. They have organized themselves into learning
groups, local savings and loan associations, water committees, farmer centres and
cooperatives and in so doing have created innovation platforms for local value chain
development. They have built ongoing relationships with other smallholders, NGOs,
academic institutions, government extension services and agribusiness suppliers, and have
promoted CA tirelessly within their local communities and social networks.
To date, this isthemost successful model for implementation of CA in smallholder
farming in South Africa and, throughnetworking and upscaling activities, is being
promoted nationally as a strategic approach to smallholder adaptation and mitigation
programming, in line with the Africa climate smart agriculture (CSA) Vision 25×25
(NEPAD, Malabo, June 2014).
Keywords: participatory impact assessment, climate change adaptation, scaling, KwaZulu-
Natal, Southern Africa
21.1 Introduction
Sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices such as Conservation Agriculture(CA),
thatconserve and increase soil organic carbon(SOC) and improve soil health, are
increasingly promoted in southern Africa as an alternative to conventional farming systems
(Smith et al., 2017). CA dependson thesimultaneous implementation of three linked
Email: info@mahlathini.org
principles: (i) continuous zero or minimal soil disturbance; (ii) permanent organic soil
cover; and (iii) crop diversification (FAO, 2013). The latter usually entails croprotation
and the inclusion of legumes and/or cover crops.
Complementary practices supporting CA implementation in smallholder farming
systems include appropriate nutrient management and stress-tolerant crop varieties,
increased efficiency of planting and mechanization, integrated pest and disease and weed
management, livestock integration and enabling politicaland social environments
(Thierfelder et al., 2018).
The Maize Trust-fundedCA Smallholder Farmer Innovation Programme (SFIP) in
South Africa, as conceptualized and implemented through Mahlathini Development
Foundation (MDF), has pioneered the use of agricultural innovation systems as a
methodological approach for the promotion of an appropriate smallholder CA farming
system, as well as awareness-raising and adaptive research into specific elements of this
system (Kruger and Smith, 2019). This approach takes cognizance of the complexity of
introducing CA into a farming system, including working with smallholder farmers as
partners in the knowledge co-creation process through on-farm research and experiential
learning, as well as embedding the process into the existing socio-political environments
and economic value chains. The overall goal of the CA-SFIP is the mainstreaming of CA
by grain farmers to ensuresustainable useand management of natural resources while
enhancing national and household food security and income.
Specific objectives of the programmeinclude also increasing the sustainability and
efficiency of CA systems in the study areas giving specific attention to the value chain and
incorporation into the broader agribusiness environment, and strengthening and using
differentinnovation platforms such as social institutions as avenues to scale out sustained
collective action and CApractices. Figure 21.1 outlines the elements of the CA-SFIP in
South Africa (20132019) (Smith and Visser, 2014).
<Please insert Fig. 21.1 near here>
This chapter considers the building blocks of an innovation systems approach, issues
of horizontal or out-scaling and three different sets of indicators (innovation system
indicators, soil health indicators and resilience indicators) that have been developed to
monitor and track progress within the system.
In the smallholder context, introduction of CAintothe farming system requires the
design, introduction and facilitation of a reasonably complex innovation system (IS)
approach by the implementers, as well as practice, labour and resources (including natural
and financial resources) by the farmers that have system-wide implications. In the SFIP,
on-farm, farmer-led research is the mostcentral component of theIS,supported by
learning, awareness-raising andeconomic elements (Smith et al., 2017; Swanepoel et al.,
2017). Different activities are undertaken within each of theseelements. A strongly
participatory facilitation process is required to ensure synergies across the activities and
the knowledge co-creation that is crucial tothe success of the process. To date the
introduction of CA into smallholder farming systems has mainly consisted of researcher-
or extension-led CA trials and demonstrations, and uptake has been extremely limited
(Swanepoel et al., 2017).
Interested individuals in a local area or village come together to form a learning group.
Several farmers in that group then volunteer to undertake on-farm experimentation, which
creates an environment where the whole group learns throughout the season through
observations andreflections on the trials’ implementation and results. They compare
various CA treatmentswith their standard practices, which are planted as control plots.
This provides an opportunity to explore all aspects of the cropping system, its socio-
economic context andfeasibility, as well as the grain and legume value chain inthe area.
Over a period of 46 years, farmers develop their abilityto define their own farm-level
experimental processes, which increasein complexity and design to incorporate different
aspects of the cropping system. They work together to share labour and equipment, set up
village savings and loan associations (VSLAs), do bulk buying, set up farmer centresand
arrange for local processing and marketing options. They bring new farmers interested in
CA on board throughout the process.
This process also allows for longer-term monitoring and research into biophysical and
socio-economic changes in the areas of operation, allowing the smallholder farming sector
in South Africa to benefit from CSA as envisaged by the Malabo Declaration and the
implementation of Agenda 2063.
21.2 Smallholder Farming System and Participants
The majority of smallholder farmers in South Africa live in scattered communal tenure
communities, more often than not in agriculturally marginal production areas. They suffer
under the yoke of extreme poverty and highly degraded natural environments, and are very
vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Agricultural production is central torural livelihoods and food production andis
undertaken as a mixed farming system approach that typically includes vegetable
production in small household gardens, field cropping in dryland fields of between 0.1 and
2 ha and livestock rearing mostly cattle, goats andsheep in village-based commonages
(De Wit et al., 2015).
There are an estimated 3 million smallholder farmers in South Africa, of whom around
72% fall within anon-commercial category consisting primarily of unemployed women
who rely on social grants (89%), who farm for household food purposes on small plots
(0.11ha), with very low household incomes (~R2,000/month), with low productivity
(maize yields of between 0.12t/ha) and with negligible external support. Afurther 23%
are considered semi-commercial, as they produce for both household consumption and sale
and are slightly better resourced. Commercial smallholders make up the remaining 5% and
are often supported through employment in the family (Cousins, 2015).
Though a focus on the rural poor, this programmehas worked primarily with the non-
commercial and semi-commercial smallholders inthe Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal
(KZN) provinces of South Africa. The focus has been on three distinct agroecological
zones within KZN: Bergville, in the Drakensberg mountain foothills, with an average
annualrainfall of between 650and 750 mm per annum, with high percentage clay soils;
southern KZN and the northern reaches of the Eastern Cape (EC & SKZN), also in the
Drakensberg foothills, but with more variable rainfall (450750 mm/annum) and much
sandier soils; and the Midlands, in the more coastal region of southern KZN, with a higher
averageannual rainfall of between 750 and 850 mm and a wide range of soil types.
21.3 Aspects of the CA-SFIP Innovation System
In broadening the introduction of CA beyond the scope of researcher-managed trial plots
and commercial cropping advice, the following aspects have been included in the
agricultural innovation process:
Collaborative and participatory research for knowledge co-creation in terms of
applying CA principles to smallholder farming systems.
Farmer-level experimentation.
Introduction of crop rotation, intercropping, covercrops and foddercrops into the
smallholder farming system.
A focus on livestock integration.
A focus on new cover crops and planting options such as strip cropping.
Inclusion of quantitative research elements into the experimentation process: soil
fertility, soil health (including carbon sequestration), run-off, infiltration and water
Adaptiveand localized research into aspects such as soil and water conservation,
spacing, varieties, herbicide andweeding regimes, pest control and local breeding
A maize commodity value chain focusincluding relationships with agribusiness,
bulk buying, farmer centres and local marketing initiatives.
Support for microfinance and small business development in the CA system.
Learning and mentorship for community-level facilitators and lead farmers;
internships for agriculture and rural development studies graduates; postgraduate
(MSc and PhD) opportunities in CA; and short learning programmes for
stakeholders, including other NGOs, research organizations and government.
Development of visual and proxy indicators suitableforlocal-level
Costbenefit and livelihoods improvement analysisfor theCA systems atlocal
A focus on the post-harvest aspects of storage, threshing and milling.
Brokering of partnerships in agribusiness, research and implementation.
Exploration of alternative financing models, including payment for ecosystem
services and climate change adaptation incentives.
Production of a CA manual for smallholder farmers (in English and isiZulu).
Production of articles, conference papers and presentations by all members of the
implementation team.
Setting up of innovation platforms and forums that include all role players.
The combination of all these aspects has provided a coherent CA implementation
process for smallholder farmers. The primary organizational structures through which all
the aspects of learning, experimentation, implementation and value chain development are
negotiated are village-based farmer learning groups. Individualfarmers undertake
experimentation suited totheir own needs andfarming process. Sub-groups of farmers
undertake different experiments, for example new crop varieties and cover crop
combinations, and the results are fed back into the learning groups and innovation
platforms, allowing for a cyclical increase in complexity of the system.
21.4 Horizontal Scaling
This aspect of the process relies on verbal communication between smallholder farmers as
the basis for awareness-raising and spread of CA in and between thesecommunal tenure
villages. It is based on communication in learning groups and also on open days and
stakeholder forums, given that smallholders rarely rely on printed information for their
farming decisions (Smith et al., 2017) .
This section outlines the uptake of the CA process across the three areas for the 6 years
of implementation. The numbers indicated (Table 21.1)are those participants within the
learning groups who undertake the farmer-level experimentation. For the CAtrial, each
farmer signs a contract indicating their willingness and ability to undertake the trial as well
as the control. Participant farmers plant a CA trial (100m2, 400m2or1000m2) alongside
their normal maize plantings (controls). Their control plothas tobe at least the same size
as their trial.
Table 21.1. Participants in the CA farmer-level trials for the CA-SFIP (20132018). Authors’ own table.
Area under
trials (2018)
Total area
Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5
19 (12)
59 (27)
81 (55)
270 (252)
17.4 ha
49.4 ha
EC +
23 (22)
48 (16)
43 (29)
68 (54)
120 (84)
3.6 ha
8 ha
30 (18)
75 (47)
2.2 ha
4.6 ha
23.2 ha
62 ha
aControl plot sizes have been measured accurately only for a proportion of the participants. This value is thus an
estimate.The numbers in each column are the number of smallholders registered each year (at the beginning of the
season) to do their farmer-leveltrials. The numbers in brackets are the farmers who managed to plant and harvest their
Reasons provided by farmers for not planting have included:
Season too dry and opted not to plant.
Waited too long and then could not plant.
Lack of labour.
Cattle not sent into the mountains for summer grazing in time to plant.
Non-payment of subsidy amount.
Ill-health, migration of family members.
Inability to plant the control plots as per the agreement.
Table 21.1 indicates that thereis a gradual yearly increase inthe number of participants
practising CA, despite adverse weather conditions and the many constraints smallholder
farmers face.
Monitoring of the number of participants who continue with CAimplementation after
their first year indicates different trends for the three different regionsin the province
(Bergville, EC andSKZN, and Midlands)(Table 21.2). Continuationdependedtoalarge
extent on apositive outcome for their first season of experimentation, whichin turn is
related both to the local climatic and soil conditions and the farmer’s own practice.
Table 21.2.Horizontal scaling for the CA-SFIP programme between 2013and 2018/19. Authors own table.
Number of
years CA
Number of
% Who
Number of
% Who
Number of
% Who
For Bergville, 31% of participants who started CA experimentation have continued for
five consecutive years, 58% have continued for 5 years, 41% for 4 years, 85% for 3 years
and 100% for 2 years. This is not a linear process of uptake, which again is influenced by
climatic conditions, as some farmers opt notto plant if seasonal rainfall isvery late, but
will take up the practice again in more conducive seasons. In all three areas the numbers
also indicate that there is increased uptake in an area after 23 years of farmers being active
in CA, jumping from 24 to 180 participants in the EC&SKZN and from 18 to 102
participants in the Midlands, for example.
Soil type and adverse weather conditions play a large part in longer-term adoption of
CA and uptake is predictably lower in areas with very sandy soils, low soil organic matter
(SOM) and high weather variability (hot, dryconditions interspersed with high-intensity
storms). Favourable institutional arrangements andsocialorganization have also been
important contributing factors. Similar trends have been noted in recent reviews(Giller et
al., 2009; Swanepoel et al., 2017; Thierfelder et al., 2018).
Whatis significant is that every year new participants are brought on board and that,
overall, the number of farmer participants undertaking trials and continuing with the CA is
growing steadily.
21.5 System Indicators
On a project level, an intensive monitoring process is undertaken by the MDF teams in the
three different areas, using a participatory monitoring and evaluation (PM&E) framework
thatincludes socialagency (social and organizational), valuechain (socio-economic) and
productivity (agricultural andenvironmental) indicators. Table 21.3indicates the values
for some of these indicators between 2013 and 2018.
The information for this dashboard is gleaned from several sources. There are planting
and growth monitoring forms that are filled in foraselection of individuals undertaking
the CA farmer experimentation process (30% of total participants), mostly for the
production indicators such as size of field, inputs used, crops planted, weeding, growth,
soil cover, soil fertility, soilhealth and yields. Themore social indicators are gathered
through focus group discussions (yearly review sessions with each learning group) as well
as individual questionnaires.
Table 21.3.Innovation system indicators for the CA-SFIP (20132018). Authors’ own table.
CA innovation system indicators for smallholder farmers in KZN; 2013 and 2018
Social agency indicators
No. of CA experimentation participants, from farmer
registration lists across all three areas
Learning groups
Count of no. of village-based learning groups
Percentage of women undertaking CA experimentation.
Obtained from farmer participation lists across all three areas
Local savings and loan
Percentage of all learning group members involved in VSLAs;
from savings groups registers and learning group membership
Innovation platforms
No. of platforms set up that include farmers and external
Value chain indicators
Months of food
No. of participants, shown as a percentage who can provide
enough maize meal for their family for different month-based
categories; from annual review interviews for an average of 50
participants annually
1 to 3
4 to 6
7 to 9
10 to 12
Local sale of crops
No. of participants, shown as a percentage who sell maize,
beans, cowpeas and sunflower produced locally; from annual
review interviews for an average of 50 participants
Saving for inputs
No. of VSLA members who used their savings and small loans
for agricultural inputs, shown as a percentage; from savings
group records for 150 participants, averaged for a 3-year
Farmer centres
No. of farmer centres set up for sharing CA equipment,
providing advice and sale of agricultural inputs and produce
between 2013 and 2018
No. of cooperatives registered for CA smallholders between
2013 and 2018
Co-financing of local
No. of learning groups who took advantage of the matching
grant funding to finance local mills, threshers and water
infrastructure or supplementary irrigation
Productivity indicators
Reduced labour in CA
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who indicated a
reduction of labour throughout the cropping season; from
annual review interviews for an average of 50 participants
annually, across all three areas
Reduced weeding in
CA plots
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who indicated
reduced weeding in CA plots compared to conventionally
cropped plots; from annual review interviews for an average of
50 participants annually, across all three areas
Use of CA planters
Hand hoes
No. of participants, shown as a percentage using different CA
planters introduced through the programme; from planting and
crop monitoring forms, completed for between 50and 200
participants annually, across all three areas
Hand planters
Animal-drawn planters
Tractor-drawn planters
Maize yield for CA
plots (t/ha)
Yield data measured and averaged for between 50 and 200
participants annually across all three areas
Crop rotation
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who practised
intercropping of maize and beans; from planting and crop
monitoring forms, completed for between 50and 200
participants annually, across all three areas
Intercropping - maize
and beans
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who practised
intercropping of maize and beans; from planting and crop
monitoring forms, completed for between 50and 200
participants annually, across all three areas
Intercropping maize
and other legumes
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who practised
intercropping of maize and other legumes such as cowpeas and
Dolichos beans; from planting and crop monitoring forms,
completed for between 50and 200 participants annually,
across all three areas
Winter cover crops
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who undertook
planting of a winter cover crop mixes (Saia oats, fodder rye,
fodder radish, vetch, fodder peas) from planting and crop
monitoring forms, completed for between 50and 200
participants annually, across all three areas
Cover crops: summer
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who undertook
planting of a summer cover crop mixes ((sunflower, millet, sun
hemp, sorghum) from planting and crop monitoring forms,
completed for between 50and 200 participants annually,
across all three areas
Seed saving
No. of participants, shown as a percentage who undertook seed
saving of OPV maize, legumes and cover crops; from planting
and crop monitoring forms, completed for between 50and 200
participants annually, across all three areas
Fodder: provisioning
for livestock: through
cut and carry, hay
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who cut and baled
hay from their CA plots and veld grass for winter feeding of
livestock; from planting and crop monitoring forms, completed
for between 50and 200 participants annually, across all three
Reduced run-off in CA
No. of participants, shown as a percentage, who saw less run-
off in their CA plots when compared to their control plots;
from planting and crop monitoring forms, completed for
between 50 and 200 participants annually, across all three
Increase in percentage
organic carbon
Percentage organic carbon measured and calculated for five
participants from each area, annually, after being averaged
across all CA plots for each participant
Midlands (2017 to
SKZN (20162018)
Bergville (20152018)
CA, Conservation Agriculture; VSLA, village savings and loan associations
In this way, the programme is able to track and analyse the impact of the CA farmer-
level experimentation process on the whole livelihood system of these smallholder farmers.
Trends in the last few years are discussed below.
21.5.1 Social Agency Indicators
1. The total number of participants in the CAexperimentation process has increased from
51 between 2013/14 to 487 between 2018/19. Thisindicates that the horizontal scaling
process of bringing in new participants fromexisting and neighbouring villages ineach
successive season has worked extremely well as a process for introducing CAinto the
smallholder sector, as does the increase from 5 to 31 villages in this 5-year period. The ISs
modelprovides asolid foundation for thelearning and co-creation function in an out-
scaling process and also provides a foundation for upscaling through the multi-stakeholder
innovation platforms (Herman et al., 2013). This model hasthe potential to double the
number of smallholders implementing CA on a yearly basis.
2. The number of female farmers has declined from 89% of the total number ofparticipants
to 75%. This indicates that the number of male farmers has increased from around 12 to 58
in total. Within the socio-cultural context of the rural Zulu population in KZN, this means
thatthe community is taking the CA process specifically its potential to provide an
income over and above food provisionmore seriously. The pattern is for men to only
become involved in agriculturalactivities thatprovide an income, as the women’s role in
household food production activities is still very dominant.
3. VSLAs have been introduced for learning groupsthathave shown an interest, to assist
participants in consumption smoothing, cash flow management and procurement of inputs
for productive activities. In the 5-year period of implementation, 58% of participants have
joined VSLAs. And 28% of all participants are now saving and taking out small loans for
agricultural inputs. VSLAs are central to ensuringcontinuity and sustainability of CA
implementation and are crucial for improving resilience of smallholder households.
4. The learning groupsare considered to be local innovation platforms, whereinnovation
is the result of a process of networking, interactive learningand negotiation among a
heterogeneous set of actors (Hellin et al., 2014). Learning group members plan, implement
and review their progress together. These learning groups also host farmers’ days and bring
together community members from their own and neighbouring villages forthese events.
They invite local stakeholders such as the traditional authorities, local municipal officials
and extension officers to these events and, with support from MDF, a wide range of other
external stakeholders also participate including, for example, CBOs, NGOs, farmers’
unions, universities (lecturers and students), input and mechanization suppliers, national
and provincial government officials and research organizations. In this way six innovation
platforms have been built across KZN. Around 3000 people have been involved in these
awareness-raising and information-provision eventsto date. These platforms have also
provided for negotiation offunding opportunitiesand support for the farmers and
introduction of new ideas into the CA farming systems in these areas and have provided
the learning groups with enough exposure to allowthem to be included in the local
economic development agendasfor their regions.Innovation platforms are crucial for
awareness-raising, development of social agency, and inclusion inlocal and regional
development initiatives.
21.5.2 Value Chain Indicators
1. Food production for household consumption is the primary aim of these smallholder
farmers. At the start of the programme, 100% of participants were able to produce only
enough of their staple maize to feed their families for 13 months of the year. After 5 years,
38% of participants have produced enough maize to last their families for 46 months and
53% have produced enough to last their familiesfor 612 months. Ten percentof
participants have produced enough to feed their families and sell surplus produce. They
have done thisby improving the productivity in their existing fields, as very few have
increased the size of their fields.CA can improve food production by between 200% and
400% over a period of 45 years.
2. Local farmer centres have been introduced to provide the functions of coordination of
shared equipment, an advice centre for CA implementers, and a local input-supply option
for ease of access to inputs in small quantities. Decisions about the ownership and
management processes of these centres were left to the learning groups. All four centres
presently in operation are being managed by one or two individuals and all have managed
to make a small profit of around R400/month. In all four centres the owners have opted to
include a range ofproducts to accommodate for thelack ofinput sales in the off-season.
Secondary cooperatives linked to these farmer centreshave been registered. Farmer
centres play an important role in building social agency and local economic development
options in the villages and are crucial to supporting the CA implementation process.
3. Amatching grant system has been put in place for development of infrastructure and
processing (threshers, local grain mills, agricultural water supply forsupplementary
irrigation). To date three learning groups have taken advantage of these grants. Matching
grant funding provides some opportunities for development of agricultural infrastructure.
Most smallholders still find the outlay of 50% too onerous.
21.5.3 Productivity Indicators
1. Reduction in the labour requirements of smallholder farming systems is an important
aspectand proxy indicator of the sustainability of the system. Increasingly, smallholders
are limited by labour constraints as family labour is systematically decreasing and farmers
have to pay for extra labour. Seventy-eight percent of the CA participants have indicated a
reduction in the need for labour throughout the season in their CA plots, compared to their
normal farming system plots, and this is an important reason for continuation with the CA
approach. Weeding falls into a similar category as a large proportion of their labour
requirement is for weeding. In cases where herbicides or mechanical weeding are
employed, extra costs are incurred. Thirty-nine percent of the CA participantshave
indicated a reduction in weeding requirements in their CAplots. CA linked to close spacing
and intercropping reduces labour and weeding requirements for smallholder farmers.
2. Introduction andpromotion of a range of CAplanters (hand planters, animal-drawn
planters and tractor-drawn planters) have been central to this innovation system. At the
start of the process most of thesmallholders involved (97%) were using hand hoes for
planting. Around 3% of the farmers used animal traction. Use of CA hand planters has
increased to 69% of participants, animal-drawn CA planters to 5%, and tractor-drawn CA
planters to 0.5% for those few farmers with plot sizes that justify this form of traction.
Around 26% of participantsstill use hand hoes for their CA planting. The latter has to do
both with the reluctance of older participants to embrace new ideas and work with fancy
equipment, and with soil conditions in some areas, where very high clay percentages make
using the planters difficult.
3. Maize yields for both CAexperimentation and controlplots have been measured
annually for around 70% of the participants. Average maize yields for the CA plots have
increased from 2.3 t/ha in 2013 to 3.3 t/ha in 2018. These averages include all the
participants, whether they are only starting to implement CA or have been implementing
for several years. Maximum yields increased from 4.4 t/ha to 8.5 t/haduring this time.
Maizeyield averages for the control plots averaged 1.8 t/ha for the entire period and did
not increase, although there were annual fluctuations. The 2018 season saw a 30% drop in
yield averages when compared to the 2017 season. This was due to the third consecutive
year of extremely difficult weather conditions late onset of rains, mid-season drought,
extreme temperatures and then above-average rainfall late in the season.CA
implementation assists in maintaining or stabilizing crop yields for 23 seasonsunder
extremely variable climatic conditions.
4. Several indicatorslook attheimplementation ofthe diversified cropping principle in
CA. We thus track the number of participants using intercropping (92%), croprotation
(20%), planting cover crops (31%),fodder provisioning for livestock (5%)and saving seed
locally for replanting (11%). This indicates a strong uptake of the diversification principle,
given that prior to this programme, 95% of participants were producing maize only in their
field plots. Crop diversification in CA implementation improves food security by providing
access to a wider range of food crops as well as feed and fodder for poultry and livestock.
5.Ninety-twopercent ofparticipants have reported reduced run-off in theirCAplots
compared to their controlplots. They have also reported improved moisture in their soils
under CA, as well as improved friability and a reduction in compaction.
6. Increase in percentage SOChas been measured for around 10% of the participants;
comparing these values when they started CAimplementation with values25 years into
the implementation process. For the Bergville area (20152018) there has been no
significant increase in the percentage SOC in the soil (1%). Likely causes were
significantly more extreme climaticconditions over the last 34seasons (compared to
southern KZN) and heavy grazing of the CA plots in the dry winter seasons, which left
little orno soil cover.The average percentage SOC for the control plots in Bergvilleduring
this time was 30% lower than the CA plot values. For southern KZN (20162018), the
increase has beensignificant at 24%, and for Midlands(20172018) no increases have been
noted yet. Increases in SOC are only possible in smallholder CA systems where the
variability in climatic conditions is not extreme. It is possibleto maintain reasonable levels
of SOC in the more extreme situations.
21.6 Soil Health Indicators
Biological changes in soil properties, such as population and diversity of soil organisms,
soil aggregation, and the interplay between the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphate cycles are
strongly linked to SOM (Swanepoelet al., 2017).
Just considering average increases in SOC over time within a CAsystem can,however,
obscure some interesting and significant trends in soil health at a local level.
In Bergville, over a period of four cropping seasons, soil health indicators have been
monitored for different cropping options within the CA system. These were compared to
undisturbed veld samples in the vicinity as a benchmark. Below the combined results for
three participants from Ezibomvini village, who have all been implementing CA for a 5-
year period is presented as an example.
<Please insert Fig. 21.2 near here>
The results indicate:
Percentage SOM is highest for SCC plots, followed by M+CP, M+B, single-
cropped maize and Dolichos.
Carbon sequestration in the CA mixed crop plots is between 0.75 and 1.5 t/ha more
than the single crop plots .
Overallcarbon sequestration is on averagearound 23 t/ha for CA plots and 1.8
t/ha for the conventionally tilled plot.
This provides an indication of the advantages of multiple cropping options within the
CA system in the build-up of SOM and SOC over time, despite the fact that the average
%SOM for the area has not increased across seasons. It indicates the advantages of using
multi-crop cover crop options and intercrops with cowpea in building carbon in the soil.
21.7 Climate Resilience Indicators
Resilience is the ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while
retaining the same basic structure andways of functioning, the capacity for self-
organization, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change (IPCC definition in Bizikova
et al., 2019).
Various frameworks have been suggested for developing indicators to assess
agricultural system resilience to climate change (Bizikova et al., 2019). Indicator sets are
divided into five broad thematic areas: social, environmental services, economic, physical
and institutional. Specific indicators within these categories are flexible and dependent on
the local and policy context, as wellas measurability(Ellis, 2014; Engle et al., 2014;
Bizikova et al., 2019). Frameworks used to develop the set of indicators used in this process
are based onvulnerability and adaptive capacity(OXFAM, 2012; Ziervogel et al., 2014),
typically used to assess the impacts of projects and processes (FAO, 2013; Bizikova et al.,
2019). Individual questionnaires have been developed that incorporate scales to provide
weighted answers for some of the indicators(Kruger et al., 2019). Participatory impact
assessments (Catley et al.,2014) have been designed for focus groupdiscussions to
augment the information from interviews (Kruger et al., 2019).
A combination of resilience snapshots and participatory impact assessments (PIAs)
have been used to build a picture in these villages of factors to assess forresilienceand
assessment of improved resilience status forthe programme participants, comparing their
situations at the start of their involvement with their situations 13 years later.
21.7.1 Resilience Snapshots
Resilience indicators appropriate to smallholder farmers have been developed in dialogue
with farmers over a period of 23 years. These are used to create snapshots of resilience,
understanding that building resilience is an ongoing process of adaptation and
Individual interviews with smallholders are conducted seasonally and then compiled in
a dashboard format of averaged and aggregated indicators. All aspects of theirfarming
systems are considered. An example for Bergville participantsfor April 2019 is shown in
Table 21.4.
Table 21.4.Resilience snapshots for sevenindividuals in Bergville who are actively implementing climate-resilient
agriculture strategies (April 2019). Authors’ own table.
Resilience indicators
Rating for increase
Increase in size of farming
activities (% increase in land
area and number of livestock)
Gardening 18%
Field cropping 63%
Livestock 31%
Cropping areas measured, no. of livestock
Increased farming activities
(number of activity types)
Most participants involved in gardening, field
croppingand livestock management
Increased season
(Increased number of months in
the year where cropping is
For field cropping and gardening autumn and
winter options
Increased crop diversity
(Number of new crops and
agricultural practices)
Crops 12 new crops
Practices 8 new practices
Management options include drip irrigation,
tunnels, no-till planters, water storage tanks,
rainwater harvesting drums
Increased productivity
(% increase in yield)
Gardening 72%
Field cropping 79%
Livestock 25%
Based on increase in yields
Increased water use efficiency
Water access
Rainwater harvesting
Water holding capacity
Irrigation efficiency
0 = same or worse than before; 1 = somewhat
better than before, 2 = much better than before
Increased income
Based on average monthly incomes
Increased household food
(Weight of all crops produced,
averaged across the no. of
Maize 15 kg/week
Vegetables 7 kg/week
Food produced and consumed in the household
NOTE: This indicator was not related to a
baseline amount. Vegetable production was not
undertaken prior to programme initiation. Maize
production was only enough to feed households
for 1-3 months of the year
Increased savings
Average of savings now undertaken
Increased social agency
(Number of new group
Villagesavings and loan associations and
learning groups. No. of group activities before
programme initiation average 1
Increased informed decision
making (number of sources of
information used to make
Own experience, local facilitators, other
farmers, facilitators, extension officers. No. of
sources of information used before programme
initiation were 2
Positive mindsets
More to much more positive about the future;
much improved household food security and
food availability. SCALE:0 = less positive about
the future; 1 = the same; 2 = more positive
about the future; 3 = much more positive
2.7.2 Participatory Impact Assessments (PIAs)
Through a PIAprocess, farmers developed their own setof resilience indicators which
were used to assess the impact of their climate-resilient agriculture (CRA) activities,
comparing their situation before their involvement with their situation during the process
(after between 1 and 3 years of implementation).
One of the exercises in this process consisted of doing a matrix ranking of practices
farmers had used in the past year, incorporating gardening, field cropping, livestock
management, soil and water conservation and water issues (access, availability). Impact
indicators for this exercise were developed by asking participants to outline howthey made
decisions about which practices to use and what changes they would observe. A process of
proportional piling was used for the scoring ofeach practice and indicator, where100
counters were provided for each indicator and the group decided how these would be placed
proportionally for each practice.
Participants conflated practices in the following way:
CAincludes minimal soil disturbance (0%15% soil disturbance), soil cover and
crop diversification.
Savings includes VSLAs, rotational saving in small groups towards specific
infrastructural needs and personal savings.
Livestockincludes fodder production, vaccinations, dipping and supplementation.
Gardening includesbed design (trench beds, eco-circles, raised beds), tower
gardens, tunnels, mulching, mixed cropping, cropdiversification, inclusion of
herbs, infiltration pits and water conservation furrows.
Crop rotation includes rotations with three to four crops, in field cropping.
Intercropping includes grainlegume and graincover crop intercropping options
in field cropping.
Small businessesinclude agricultural and non-agricultural businesses, sale of
snacks in schools, sewing, baking, poultry production and maize milling.
The impact indicators developed by this group (Table 21.5) are of particular interest as
they are multi-dimensional, talking to at least two different aspects for each indicator.
Table 21.5. Participatory Impact Assessmentmatrix for climate change resilience related to different interventions and
activities for Bergville participants. N = 35 (July 2019). Authors’ own table.
Soil: health and fertility
Money: income and savings
Productivity: acceptance of
practice, saving in farming
equipment, labour
Knowledge: increased
knowledge and ability to use
Food: how much produced and
how healthy
Water: use and access
Social agency:
Support, empowerment
Crop rotation
Small businesses
Table 21.5 shows that:
The participants clearly consider the use of CA in field cropping as the most
significant practice, followed by gardening, smallbusinesses, savingsand
livestock, in decreasing order.
Participants consider CA, compared to the other activities and processes, to have
the greatest potential for improving soil condition, incomes, productivity and social
Crop rotation is considered to be better at increasing soil health and soil fertility
than intercropping, showing an internalization by the group of the positive effects
of rotation of the main grain crops with legumes and covercropcombinations
(winter and summer cover crop mixes), as well as an observation that this works
better than intercropping by itself.
Income, savings and productivity are consideredto be somewhat higher for
intercropping compared to crop rotation; again, a very astute observation from the
group. Generally, participants prefer crop rotation tointercropping, but are able to
appreciatethe increases in productivity and potential income due to intercropping
Water use and access is considered by this group to be significantly better for crop
rotation than intercropping. Theyhave noticed the potential ofintercropped grain
and legume plots as well as grain and cover crop plots to show signs of water stress
and competition forwater (and potentially nutrients)between the crops. Although
in principle this is not the case in well-managed fields, it is quite likely in more
infertile plots and in adverse weather conditions.
21.8 In Conclusion
Introduction of CA and associated CRA practices within an IS approach and using farmer-
level experimentation and learning groups as the primary learning and social empowerment
processes, has created a sustainable and expanding farming alternative for smallholders
that is improving their resilience to climate change substantially.
Through a knowledge co-creation process, smallholder farmers in the programme have
adapted and incorporated a wide range of practices into their farming system, including
minimum soil disturbance, close spacing, improved varieties, judicious use of fertilizer,
pesticides and herbicides, crop diversification, intercropping and crop rotation as well as
fodder production and livestock integration. They have organized themselves into learning
groups, local savings and loan associations, water committees,farmer centres and
cooperatives and in so doing have created innovation platforms for local value chain
development. They have built ongoing relationships with other smallholders, NGOs,
academic institutions, government extension services and agribusiness suppliers and have
promoted CA tirelessly within their local communities and social networks.
To date, this isthemost successful model for implementation of CA in smallholder
farming in South Africa and, throughnetworking and upscaling activities, is being
promoted nationally as a strategic approach to smallholder adaptation and mitigation
programming.Malabo Declaration and Agenda 2063 have a particular focus onthe need
to help smallholders and their children to benefit fromsuch transformationalactivities
related to CSA.
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Fig. 21.1. Elements of the CA-SFIP innovation system. Authors’ own figure.
Fig. 21.2.%SOMfor different CA cropping options in Bergville (2018) for three
participants from Ezibomvini in their 5th year of implementation. Authors’ own figure..