Members of the MPPI group (Prof Dave Berger, Ncobile Kunene, Elelwani Ramulifho) went out of their comfort zone recently to attend a workshop in Pietermaritzburg on “The role of technology and research in improving food security of smallholders and emerging farmers”, organized by the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (KWANALU) and the University of Missouri (MU), USA.  The workshop aimed to give feedback to all stakeholders of a project involving on-farm testing of a range of maize varieties – traditional, hybrid and genetically modified (GM). KWANALU and MU applied a farmer participatory approach called a “Community of Practice” to explore constraints and benefits for maize production by small-holder farmers, in a project funded by the Templeton Foundation.

The workshop was highly inclusive with talks by the farmers themselves on their experiences, as well as NGO’s, GrainSA, commercial farmers, seed companies, Universities, ARC, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, including the MEC, and even a TV journalist from Ghana. The MPPI group are interested in the impact and genetic diversity of foliar diseases on these maize production systems, and visited the farmer communities during the 2013/2014 season. Ncobile and Elelwani had the following to say about the workshop: The conference was a great experience for us as we were able to interact with scientists, farmers and a number of people from the agricultural sector. The small holder farmers were given a chance to give feedback on their experiences with growing different the maize varieties. They were able to decide if GM technology would be beneficial to them. Whilst they had some complaints in regards to GM maize (e.g. GM seed is expensive), all the farmers agreed that GM maize was superior when compared to traditional varieties. They were pleased with the yield, taste of the maize and reduced labour costs. One of the most important things that we learned from the conference is how important it is to facilitate communication between famers and scientists. 


(Top) Prof Dave Berger with the KWANALU and University of Missouri team

(Bottom) MPPI members with some of the local maize farmers