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Adopting climate-smart agricultural innovations in Southern Africa: Knowledge alone is not enough

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Some say that knowledge is power. In the knowledge age, information and ideas are touted as raw materials that are as important as other tangible resources such as land, labour and money. In the agriculture sector, this is also true, with information playing key roles in farmer adaptation and resilience building. But recent experiences from a field project to upscale climate-smart agriculture (CSA) in Southern Africa show that by itself, knowledge of proven climate smart agricultural innovation is not enough to ensure farmer uptake.

Field surveys commissioned under the Scaling-Up Climate Smart Agriculture Solutions for Smallholder Cereal and Livestock Farmers in Southern Africa project at the beginning of the 2017/2018 cropping season show that farmers’ knowledge of weather-based index (WBI) insurance does not automatically translate into uptake. Nearly 4,000 farmers were sampled from different project areas in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean and Zambian farmers have relatively high levels of knowledge of the existence, benefits and concept of WBI. In Zimbabwe for example, nearly 60% of all sampled farmers were aware of WBI, with nearly 16% of sampled farmers reporting having taken up the innovation. In Zambia, knowledge of WBI among sampled farmers stands at 43%, but only 4% of the sampled farmers have taken up WBI. Why this disparity?

‘’The uptake of WBI is confounded by many factors, including farmers’ negative perceptions of insurance,’’ says Prince Kuipa, Chief Economist with the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU). Knowing this, ZFU has been working with Econet Wireless to develop an insurance product that bundles WBI together with other services, such as life/funeral insurance cover and agronomic tips.

Raising awareness among farmers

In addition to making the product available on the market, ZFU and Econet have also invested heavily in marketing, in order to increase awareness as well as change negative perceptions of insurance. ‘’We tell the farmers that the life insurance will cover you when you are dead, but WBI will cover you while you are alive (in the face of crop failure),’’ says Kuipa. “We simplified the messaging about WBI, so that farmers are able to understand it without being bogged down with the technical details’’.

ZFU and Econet have used different channels to market the product, including promoting the Combo via SMS and using field Combo agents.

‘’High mobile penetration has been key in increasing our (Econet Wireless) reach,’’ says Caroline Mozhendi of Econet. Echoing Kuipa, Mozhendi also feels that high farmer uptake of the ZFU Ecofarmer Combo is due to the bundling of WBI with other tangible services – especially the funeral cover.

In Zambia, Government mandated the compulsory purchase of WBI for all farmers participating in the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) in the 2017/2018 season. As a result, 1.5 million farmers were made aware of WBI. Despite this knowledge, very few of the sampled farmers (3%) have taken up WBI.

‘’The main reason for the low uptake is that the WBI was only open to farmers under the FISP e-voucher programme. Other farmers in the country do not have access,’’ says Kolawole Odubote, project team leader for CTA’s CSA project in Zambia.

“The National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) farmers in Malawi are aware of WBI because in 2005, NASFAM piloted a WBI scheme with support from the World Bank,” says Wycliffe Kumwenda, Head of Farm Services at NASFAM. The zero uptake of WBI in Malawi is due to the inexistence of a weather index product on the market. This clearly shows that although knowledge is power, on its own, it is not enough to facilitate uptake of CSA innovations.

Key lessons learned

Knowledge on its own is not a sufficient condition for adoption of CSA innovations, such as WBI. Knowledge creation must go hand-in-hand with efforts to make products available in the market, and efforts to create awareness must combine e-approaches with traditional means, such as face-to-face sensitisation.

Different institutions are needed in translating knowledge into use:

  • Private sector must be engaged to develop viable low cost ‘farmer-centric’ CSA innovation and products.
  • Government buy in, although not a panacea to increased uptake adoption and improved access to CSA innovations by smallholders, is of paramount importance in the scale up of climate resilient solutions (Kadzamira and Ajayi, 2019).
  • Farmer organisations bring a large clientele of farmers into the market. This is facilitated by the trust and social capital that exists between and among farmers and promoters of farmer organisations (Njuki et al, 2008). However, without the private sector making innovations commercially available on the market, and the government spearheading scaling up efforts, farmer organisations remain limited in scale and reach.

This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.

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