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Bioscience Issues

Prof Willi Meyers

Creating a Community of Practice in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

MU – Willi Meyers, Jere Gillis, Mary Hendrickson, Ken Schneeberger, Bill Folk,

KWANALU – Sandy La Marque, Sandile Zulu, Minse Modi


  • To understand the social and economic aspects of food security in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
  • To share knowledge and experience from different perspectives – farmers, rural communities, research and development communities, private enterprise and policy makers – on GM crops.
  • To develop knowledge systems around the production and consumption of GM crops that increase food security while providing opportunities for sustainable rural livelihoods.


Research method is Community of Practice
Participatory Research but different:
Definition of research and policy priorities
Development of farmer capacity to work with/researchers and vice versa
Goal is a feedback mechanism and not just improved livelihoods of farmers

  • Benefits of COP for:
  • farmers: experiment with new technology and new relationships;
    researchers: more hands-on experience with farmers’ use and application of knowledge and experience;
    community members: observe experience with technology, community needs prioritized in research and policy;
    Policy-makers: direct knowledge of impacts of technology in communities for developing supportive policies and institutions;
    Private Industry: observation of technology application, identification of potential commercial needs.

    Key Milestones
    first time for soil tests and use of herbicides;

    learned how to select fertilizers and they saved money on the fertilizer from soil test;

    purchased backpack sprayers;

    farmers have saved some money and will probably improve yield;

    new relationships: 1) Pannar seed company; 2) some farmers were started with membership in GRAIN SA, 3) new relationship with Department of Agriculture – connection with the farm advisors (why not before, they count numbers, the reward system discourages one-on-one interactions, our project made it work because Sandile and Minse called and invited the farm advisors and invited them to meetings, and then the farm advisors went to meetings of Grain SA and Bright and learned some new things);

    women have more voice – the women were willing to speak up in the groups – is this partly because of Minse, saved labour for the women;

    better analysis of capacity of farmers on the part of Kwanalu, their needs and wants, and this gives voice to the farmers in the national discussions, farmers see there is a benefit in belonging to this organization, this has spurred new partnership with Kwanalu and Dept of Ag to develop capacity building programs;

    better idea of what smallholders really know and understand about GM crops – and improved varieties of maize;

    understand their production goals – not especially maximum yield – their production goals are to get both green mealies and an ear for later harvest;

    suggests that focus on agronomic practices might be more important than the GM technology itself;

    in the grain samples from the ‘baseline’ analysis, two of the twelve samples collected from smallholders and both commercial samples of milled maize contained significant quantities of GM corn. From this, I believe we can say that some smallholders were using GM corn without knowing it (and without using the GM traits as intended/proscribed by the companies and by the government);

    there is good evidence that BT corn reduces pest damage with consequent mold/mycotoxin content, and we are attempting to incorporate into the design of our experiment, the extent to which use of BT corn by these smallholders may be beneficial to health, as they have very poor storage facilities; and

    during this time period we also received draft reports from Hester Vermulen (consumer perceptions of GM crops), Marnus Gouse (Economics of small holder GM production) and Jeremy Klaasen (stakeholders in agriculture).

    Expected Outcomes
    Output 1: Four workshops for the CoP

    Output 2: Two academic papers describing how CoP participants share their capacities and how this can contribute to the development of knowledge systems that enhance the adaptation of GM and non-GM crops by smallholders for smallholders in order to increase food security and create sustainable livelihoods. Draft of the papers, programs of meetings where they are presented.

    Output 3: Three clusters of demonstration fields which include researcher and farmer managed fields. Location, area planted and names of participants.

    Output 4: Literature review of smallholder experiences with GM crops in S. Africa and elsewhere that can be a resource to CoP members and others interested in the topic. Reviews will be written at a level appropriate for the target audiences. Publication of the literature review on the web for public access.

    Output 5: Analysis of previous data gathered specific to the region with inclusion of socioeconomic impact of GM cotton and GM maize research since 2001 from M. Gouse. Analysis writeup.

    Output 6: Analysis of maize samples from local markets to document existing presence of GM technology. Analysis writeup.

    Output 7: Documentation of the barriers, opportunities and best practices for smallholder use of GM and non-GM crops generated by members of the CoP. Reports for each cropping year outlining the challenges and successes of the CoP activities.

    Output 8: Two regional conferences on how to carry out action (CoP) research. Program, list participants and materials used.

    Output 9: National conference.

    Output 10: Analysis of lessons learned about the potential of GM crops to address food security among smallholders in order to identify research, policy, other institutional gaps and/or other market failures impeding adoption of GM crops. 1) At least two academic papers submitted to scholarly journals; 2) At least 8 policy briefs presented at the national conference and made accessible to stakeholders through the web; 3) Presentation at the national conference of a draft outline of a research and practice and a that incorporates principles and ideas in the C of P that can be used by Kwanalu, S. African policymakers and others.

    Copies of papers submitted to publisher.

    Copies of the policy briefs.

    Copies of draft research and practice agenda to be presented at the national meeting.