The Conservation Farming Project is speaking to farmers in the four study sites in order to determine how farmers in those areas manage their land, how decisions about land use are made, and how changes, especially innovative changes, regarding land use management spread (or do not spread) among farmers. This is important as, in order to implement conservation farming on a broader basis in South Africa, we need to understand attitudes towards farming, and to understand what might impove or hinder the spread of conservation farming among the farming community.
In order to do this, we need to understand how farmers approach decision making about land use management. In practice, that means we need to find out what factors might influence a farmer (on any scale of farm) to modify their land use. We need to understand the factors that influence decision making, to find where farmers get their information from, and to identify what factors affect decisions regards land management practices, and what factors might influence either adopting or opposing changes to land use practices.
One area that we have focussed on is information flow between researchers and extension officers, and farmers. We need to find ways to make sure that researchers and extension officers understand what farmers are saying, and vice versa.
Meeting the farmers
We have and are continuing to speak with farmers from the four study sites. These farmers run a range of farms, from large commercial farms to smaller, historically disadvantaged, subsistence farms. Meeting have included local farmers' days, individual interviews, and workshops.
What do farmers think?
Although the interviews have not been properly analysed, several trends have emerged from interviews thus far. Although farmers often diverge widely in their approaches to land management, most would describe themselves as conservation farmers. There is generally a high awareness of the necessity to preserve natural resources. Other issues identified as major concerns are differences between various land use management approaches, farm security, and stock theft.
For many of the farmers interviewed thus far, farming is a way of life. Current economic conditions, including the reduction of subsidies for farming, have left many farmers "feeling the pinch". As a result, many farmers are keen to learn about the outcome of the economic models of conservation farming that form part of this project.
Feedback to farmers
Information workshops have been held in several of the study sites. In these workshops we have spoken to farmers about the project and its preliminary findings. Where possible, networks of local farmers interested in the project have been established.
Once more results are available, further workshops and/or newsletters are planned to feed those results back to the farming community.
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