South African extensionists give recognition to farmer innovations

On 12 May 2005, 70 conference delegates recognised the significance of farmers’ social and technical innovations by awarding Roberta Burgess and Tim Hart (both Core Team members of the South African Prolinnova network) the prize for best scientific paper at the 39th Annual Conference of the South African Society for Agricultural Extension, held in Bloemfontein. The paper is titled “Across the divide: the impact of farmer-to-farmer linkages in the absence of extension services“, (Word Document: size : 52 KB). Approximately 20 other papers were presented at the conference. 

Roberta presented the paper, which deals with the linkages that farmers make in the absence of official research and extension services. It details the case of a local smallholder farmer, Aubrey Billet, who – despite great odds – managed to enter the apple export market already in the 1970s and to remain there up until now, while many of his contemporaries had to withdraw. Aubrey’s innovations, which arose out of his linkage with a large-scale commercial farmer, are of both a technical and a social nature. The first innovation was entering and strengthening a social relationship. This allowed him access to the necessary inputs, resources and information to produce apples of export quality. It later allowed him to gain access to the necessary plant material in order to develop his technical innovations, whereby he grafted market-demanded varieties onto older trees. He could thus remain in the market without having to immediately replace and purchase new trees, and could harvest fruit a few seasons earlier. The paper concludes with a number of lessons to which extension services should pay attention. 

Ineke Vorster , another keen South African Prolinnova supporter, presented a paper on African leafy vegetables and indigenous knowledge. This sparked off strong interest amongst many of the extension officers present. Many had grown up on these foodstuffs but, now that they are employed and can buy exotic vegetables, they had forgotten how important these plants are to many rural households as foodstuffs and in socio-cultural terms. 

About 65 extensionists attending the conference requested copies of the Prolinnova-SA 2005 catalogue of farmer innovations, which was on display at the conference.

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