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Adaptive Agronomy Research

Enhance the understanding of Conservation Agriculture-based sustainable intensification for maize-legume production systems, value chains and impact pathways.

The second objective was adaptive agronomy research to test and refine CA based farming practices and methods that are suitable and adoptable in smallholder farming systems of eastern and southern Africa. The aim was to test and adapt productive, resilient and scalable CA-based intensification options for sustainable smallholder maize-legume production systems.

  • Identified and tested options for systems intensification and diversification that increase productivity and reduce risk in the target farming systems within the whole-farm context (e.g. static or dynamic bio-economic/household modeling). Building on the work done in Phase 1 (bio-economic model to evaluate ex-ante benefits of Conservation Agriculture(CA)), in phase 2, where and how and for whom CA-based SI technologies work were carried out in collaboration with the Adoption pathways project.
  • Functioning local innovation platforms developed in each targeted maize-legume systems to help overcome system limitations and enhance scaling out of technologies. (completed in SIMLESA-1; Innovation Platform related activities were moved to work under -identifying Effective Scaling Modalities)
  • Evaluated on-farm trials of sequenced CA-based intensification options for different types of farm maize-legume-forage/fodder production systems. Conservation agriculture-oriented management systems and other production technologies were adapted to the biophysical and socio-economic conditions of innovative farmers in each of the targeted communities.
    The first step in this adaptation was the establishment of a series of exploratory trials, one in each target community. “Best bet” CA related options based on past local and regional results were tested on 5-6 farms in each community and compared with the farmers current management practices, but with the same variety and fertilizer level as the CA option(s) to reduce the confounding effects of using different varieties and crop nutrient levels. Trials included more than one option of both CA and conventional systems based on the results of the ex-ante analysis.
On each farm, one replication of the trial was installed with plots large enough for effective farmer evaluation. These trials were combined, as needed, with other outreach and experimental methods (such as mother-baby trials) to gain the fullest participation of target groups, especially women.

Thus, in each community there was one trial with 5-6 replications on different fields to sample the variability in biophysical conditions. Basic soil, topography and cropping history data were obtained for each of the demonstration/validation plots were established by farmers with program orientation and support. Trials and treatments were established on the same site for the duration of the program, allowing for the short-term cumulative benefits of the treatments to be evaluated. Observations of problems on these trials provided inputs into the on-farm research program and into the management of the same trials in succeeding years. Data was made available on qualitative and quantitative evaluations of demonstration plots by farmers and other members of the innovation platforms.
  • Adjustments to the smallholder maize-legume systems tested in the exploratory trials and farmer experiments developed with farm communities in the target research sites and soil quality, system productivity, and disease, pest and weed dynamics quantified (integrated with the previous output)
  • Appropriate interventions for improving seed and fertilizer delivery, and farmer access to technologies and markets field tested in target research sites (moved to objective 4:identifying Effective Scaling Modalities).
  • Lessons from CA-based intensification experiments shared and linked to targeting strategies.
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