After a busy weekend debriefing, exploring the city of Durban and visiting the Nelson Mandela Capture Site with our wonderful hosts, we piled back in the vans to facilitate our second workshop with farmers in Swayimane. We started the workshop with presentations on three water conservation methods. Swales, irrigation and cover crops were selected because farmers had expressed the most interest in learning about them in our surveys.
Presentation 1: Swales (led by UKZN+Cornell students)
Swales are simply ditches in the ground that are strategically dug along contour lines. They help retain water, especially on steep slopes, and they also reduce erosion. Our combined Cornell/UKZN team explained the theory and practice of creating and maintaining swales on multiple scales. Later in the day, farmers were able to practice marking contour lines with a tool called the A-frame. This hands-on element was definitely the most helpful activity!
Presentation 2: Irrigation (led by local farmers)
The second presentation was on irrigation strategies for smallholder farmers. We identified two local farmers who had innovative irrigation systems on their farms and invited them to speak about their experiences and process. This part of the workshop was an absolute success. The audience of farmers was engaged and able to ask more questions without having to wait for translations. They also benefited from being able to better relate with farmers who installed these irrigation systems under similar conditions and resource constraints. We were excited at the success of this farmer-to-farmer training model and hope it will be continued!
Presentation 3: Cover Crops (led by UKZN+Cornell students)
Cover crops are crops that are generally planted in the off-season and help improve soil quality through better retention of soil nutrients and moisture. We presented on this method of conservation farming and then handed out samples of a potential cover crop, Vetiver grass, that grows well in the area.
We shortened the presentations so that farmers could return home early to continue planting. This flexibility helped with the overall reception of the presentations. Another successful tool was the 18-page Zulu manual that our team created for the farmers. We used it during the presentations to engage farmers in reading and understanding step-by-step processes.
Focus Group Discussions
The second half of the workshop was spent in smaller focus groups facilitated by UKZN/Cornell student teams. The topic of the focus groups was gender and social capital. We wanted to understand how households use water, how households make decisions regarding adaptations to water shortages (such as implementing new technologies) and how cooperatives share information and influence household decision-making. We also wanted to better understand the role of gender on topics of social capital and leadership.
Unfortunately there were not enough men in attendance to divide the groups into men and women to understand how these perceptions may differ, as we had hoped. Despite this, the focus groups elicited much discussion, especially about the importance of cooperatives in decision-making and information sharing. Observing the dynamic of each group was also insightful, as one group’s discussion was largely led by a single woman farmer who expressed frustration in our questions. In her experience, all of these questions don’t lead to results that benefit her farming. This was helpful for us to hear, and it exposed a gap between research and extension in Swayimane. As a result, we arranged for some of the farmers to attend our presentation for the Department of Agriculture a few days later.
After the workshop, Harry of the Department of Agriculture organized a delicious braai (barbecue) for everyone!
After the workshop we did one last site visit to see the irrigation system of one of the presenters. Overall, the day was both exhausting and inspiring. We felt that the workshop was successful in many ways, but will ultimately need follow-up by other extension officers to have a sustained impact in Swayimane.