Through partnership and collaborative research in the target countries, in line with the program design, the SIMLESA program has consistently maintained its focus on generating scientific impacts. Trials were designed to use evidence-based data that is collected using scientifically proven methods, analyzed, reported and published for wider use. The exploratory trials, although traditionally designed for simple demonstrations proved very easily understandable by small-scale farmers while at the same time providing data that have been statistically analyzed and producing very credible results which could be replicated for wider use to achieve more benefits. Partners’ capacity has been strengthened through the collaborative research partnership with CIMMYT, QAAFI, CIAT and ILRI (particularly with the new focus on crop-livestock integration) enabling them to share research methods, tools and their applications.
The program has continued to keep track of adoption pathways as a way of monitoring the efficiency of its scaling out strategies and impact pathways as a vehicle for assessing viable options for transforming the lives of the smallholder farmers through the 2015/16 Adoption Monitoring Survey.
In line with the program design, SIMLESA continued to embark on an extensive experimentation program to assess the longer-term benefits of conservation agriculture compared to conventional farming systems. It has been concluded that CA-based SI is the way to go to improve food security across SIMLESA sites, and beyond. It is against this background that the general recommendation was made to scale up and out conservation agriculture techniques as one of the strategic options for ensuring that SIMLESA is able to achieve its overall goal of increasing productivity in Eastern and Southern Africa by 30% from 2009 average by year 2023 and also reaching 650,000 farmers. The launch and roll on of the Competitive Grant Scheme in 2016 is one of such deliberate efforts of reaching out to more farmers. Support visits to some of partners particularly AGRIMERC in Mozambique, have shown evidence of not only scaling out SI technologies but also embedding linkages.
SIMLESA’s science outputs include- 122 publications, 52 posters 15 policy briefs and various communication products including national level media coverage, national, regional and international conferences, participation by partners. An improved SIMLESA Website is serving as a source of materials and documents generated by the program.
SIMLESA has continued to deliberately direct its efforts on trainings in conservation agriculture principles and technologies; sustainable and climate responsive agriculture production systems; agricultural production systems simulations; risk management and systems modelling acknowledging the socioeconomic dynamics of households in different sites.
The program continued to give priority to capacity building trainings at different levels of implementation, more specifically to both NARS and farmers at country level as well as through long-term graduate level studies. This is in line with the concept of sustainability which is embedded in the program design. SIMLESA program managed to strengthen the capacity of smallholder famers in good agricultural practices through an array of initiatives such as farmer- to – farmer exchange visits, specific trainings on improved agricultural practices, information exchange and participation in IP meetings.
The program prioritized capacity building of researchers and extension practitioners as shown by the number of people who got enrolled at different levels to improve their academic and professional qualifications so as to enhance implementation effectiveness and efficiency. This was also done with an ultimate aim to improve the capacity of young researchers in the areas of agricultural economics and plant science in an effort to build Eastern and Southern African national agriculture research and development capacity. A cumulative total of 65 students (42 students pursuing Master of Science degrees and 23 PhD students at national universities in SIMLESA partner countries) were being supported.
Field days and exchange visits have continued to improve knowledge transfer which has led to increase in yield of both maize and legumes thereby resulting in improved food security in SIMLESA operational sites.
Through the 58 innovations platforms across SIMLESA countries including spillover countries, links were formed with agro dealers facilitating improvement of market systems for farmers thereby boosting their incomes and widening market opportunity options. Efforts were being made for the innovation platforms to give more benefits to the program acknowledging that the IPs have great potential to address the issue of sustainability.
Linkages with the private sector and some seed companies across the SIMLESA countries continue to bring huge benefits in terms of expertise for NARS as implementers and program participants (farmers) in good agricultural practices.
During the design phase, the program set targets and adoption pathways to achieve scaling out processes in terms of the number of research communities covered, number of farmers reached out and the number of adopters (these being the farmers who have learned, embraced and started practising sustainable intensification technologies).
The program managed to achieve cumulative of 235,422 farmers. As a result, SIMLESA has led to increased uptake of CA technologies both at community and household level though acknowledging that in some cases farmers were not taking the whole CA package. Participating farmers have given testimonies of better nutrition from legumes, improved soil fertility from residue utilization. For example, the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM), is using SIMLESA scaling-out approaches to reach out farmers beyond SIMLESA operational areas and spreading out the community benefits. The SIMLESA Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning system has devised mechanisms of investigating and documenting this multiplier effect and report the actual figures brought about by this NGO innovation.
SIMLESA has brought increased use of CA-based sustainable intensification options technology in communities which have also led to evident reduction of production costs and increased crop productivity per unit area especially and dietary diversification in farm households where maize and legumes are intercropped. For example, there was an increase in maize and legume production in Tanzania and reduction in labor by 50%. Maize and legume intercropping has also led to reduced risk in the event of moisture stress, provision of both carbohydrates and proteins to households as well as improved soil fertility in the long run through crop residue retention. The use of crop residues to improve soil fertility has led to the reduction in expensive fertilizer use. The program has also led to the breeding of area specific maize and legume seeds thereby leading to less drought risk and pests and reduced yields. If this momentum could be maintained, the program will enhance income, food and nutritional security through science and partnerships.
SIMLESA, on the social dimension side, continues to improve family fabric through the hosting of exploratory trials which promote the participation of men, women and youths thereby making everyone strategic and important participant in household farming activities. This is in line with the program design requirements where gender mainstreaming is at the core.
The approach has also led to improved family cohesion giving women opportunities to contribute to household decision- making. The establishment of innovation platforms in the communities has created a sense of ownership of SIMLESA and assisted in demand driven research and development approach. Innovation platforms continue to be enablers for the sustainability of intensifications options beyond SIMLESA hence building their capacity remains crucial.
In terms of partnerships, SIMLESA Phase II has been well aligned and has benefited immensely from a number of past and current ACIAR-funded programs and initiatives.
Climate change is expected to negatively impact agricultural production in SIMLESA countries. Low-nitrogen stress combined with drought and heat stress will become increasing constraints on maize production, and on growing improved varieties. Improved agricultural technologies, agronomic practices and climate-smart national policies are essential to offset programed yield declines.
SIMLESA places environmental concerns as key to its agricultural development interventions because sustainable farming practices are critical to long-term profitability.
Through its programs, SIMLESA continues to promote conservation agriculture and maize-legume intensification to respond to declining soil fertility and sustainably increase the productivity and profitability of current farming systems. Increasingly, SIMLESA adapts its products to more erratic rainfall, increased heat stress and seasonal dry spells in Eastern and Southern Africa. The cropping systems it promotes can be labelled as climate-resilient, according to IPCC(2014), SIMLESA uses different strategies to improve farming system productivity depending on the agroecology, the socioeconomic environment and farmers’ resource endowment, and its interventions are based on good agricultural practices, minimum soil disturbance, residue retention and diversification through rotation with legumes and green manures.
Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning
The Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Unit is one of the critical components of the SIMLESA Program Management team. Before June 2015, when SIMLESA internalized the administration of MEL issues through the recruitment of a Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning Specialist, ASARECA was responsible for SIMLESA monitoring and evaluation activities. The recruitment of the MEL Specialist saw the generation of a comprehensive MEL Framework and the creation of an Indicator Tracking System feeding into a database. The MEL Unit has continued to keep track of program performance across the SIMLESA countries, updating indicators in the Indicator Tracking System as well as updating figures in the database. There has been more participation in MEL activities at country level since the internalization of SIMLESA MEL which has witnessed capacity building at that level.
SIMLESA continued to perform a number of activities in CA-based sustainable intensification which the MEL desk has kept tracking overtime. Acknowledging that the program is less than two years before its conclusion, the MEL desk has now focused more to check the effects of these activities on the communities. The following are some of the outcomes which have been witnessed at country level:
In Ethiopia – Bako area (Western Ethiopia) maize CA in December 2016, was on average 10.1 tons per hectare while hybrids soybean under CA was 2.4 tons per hectare. In southern region: Maize was 5.24 tons per hectare and beans 2.72 tons per hectare while in Central Rift Valley maize yield on farm: 3.69 tons per hectare both hybrid and open pollinated; common beans was 2.08 tons per hectare. This shows some significant improvement in maize productivity in SIMLESA sites compared to the average baseline productivity of around 2 tons per hectare.
Selection of best bet options through exploratory trials has led to increase in crop yield. For example, in Kenya maize grain yield increased from 0.4 tons per hectare in 2010 to about 4.0 tons per hectare at the end of 2015. At the same time, the sole bean yield increased from 0.2 tons per hectare in 2010 to over 2.0 tons per hectare. The yield increase was attributed to improved field management after being exposed to SIMLESA sustainable intensification technologies.
In Tanzania, the results of exploratory trials showed an improvement of maize grain yield from 0.5 tons per hectare to about 2.5 to 4 tons per hectare and 1.5-3 tons per hectare legumes yields through drought-tolerant crops from practicing conservation agriculture to other farming practices. By adopting conservation agriculture, smallholder farmers benefited from reduced cost of production while saving on labor. Farmers have saved on time by 50% for other economic activities through adopting zero tillage.