Theme 1: Crop Productivity Enhancement

Andreas Oswald (Germany), Thematic Director

See Staff section for more information.

Overall Objective

Increase agricultural productivity and strengthening capacities of farmers and national extension systems in the four focus countries.

Specific Objectives

  1. To assess productivity gaps and identify appropriate technologies to increase agricultural productivity, production and income, in sustainable ways.
  2. To develop, adapt and refine capacity building and strengthening activities for the establishment of an efficient, cost-effective system of knowledge and skills generation and transfer for extension agents and farmers.
  3. To develop, evaluate and implement specific extension approaches to integrate under-served smallholders and women farmers in agricultural extension systems.
  4. To search, access, adapt and use new knowledge, skills and technologies to improve extension efforts and agricultural productivity, and communicate demands and challenges to the research sector and/or other relevant stakeholders.
  5. To integrate crop productivity enhancement into the value chain approach of SAA to make use of synergies with the other themes to serve farmers more efficiently.
  6. To contribute to evidence on the outputs and outcomes of our activities, document and communicate results and conclusions to partners, stakeholders and interested groups and institutions.


Evolving Approach

The introduction and promotion of productivity-enhancing food crop technologies has been the heart of the SG2000 agricultural program since its inception in 1986. The emphasis has been on cereals, which make up 50% of the sub-Saharan African food supply. Packages of improved technologies (comprising mainly fertilizer and improved varieties plus crop management information) have been introduced to more than 3 million farmers through extension demonstration plots. Crop yields in these plots have been typically 2–3 times greater than those obtained by farmers. Despite this potential, it is unlikely that more than 20–25% of farmers adopted the recommended packages, especially the fertilizer recommendations. The packages were just too expensive for most smallholder farmers and access to the inputs was often a serious stumbling block.

In 2009, SAA began a new effort to introduce a more participatory approach in which farmers work with extension staff to select from a menu of options the kinds of technologies they feel may be most appropriate to their circumstances. For example, we are offering two to three options for soil fertility management, some with lower doses of chemical fertilizer combined with greater use of organic sources. Technology promotion is now conditioned by a more explicit objective to increase farmer incomes (not just yields and total production). Thus, cost and risk considerations weigh more heavily in deciding which technologies to demonstrate.

SAA is seeking to allocate 70% of our Theme 1 resources to reaching farmers previously not served by extension advisory services, especially women farmers but also resource-poor farmers and those in more remote locations. The remaining 30% of Theme 1 resources is directed at the relatively better-off smallholder farmers, who traditionally are ‘net food sellers’ or have the potential to become so. Here, the priority is high yield potential and grain quality, with an eye on maximizing value addition and income. This work is channeled through farmers’ associations, which are needed for smallholder farmers to engage successfully in commercial markets.

Crop Management Training

Crop management training, heavily field-centered, is offered to extension subject matter specialists (SMSs), frontline extension officers (EAs), community-based facilitators (CBFs), smallholder farmers and other stakeholders, such as input dealers and seed producers. For farmers, extension officers and community-based facilitators, training is provided at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the cropping season. Training is also provided to members of farmers’ organizations (led by Theme 3, but with Theme 1 involvement). Sessions revolve around farming as a commercial enterprise and include planning and priority setting, the selection of technologies, budgeting, and cost/benefit comparisons.

Farmer Learning Platforms

The SG2000 country programs began implementing Farmer Learning Platforms (FLPs) in 2009 as the main training and extension methodology. FLPs consist of three types of demonstration plots: Technology Option Plots (TOPs), Women Assisted Demonstrations (WADs) and farmer-initiated Production Test Plots (PTPs).

TOPs are normally 1,500 m2 in size, and divided into three contiguous 500 m2 sub-plots. The first sub-plot is devoted to demonstrating the official national agricultural research centers’ recommendations. The second is a lower-cost (intermediate) variation of the same, and the third is the lowest-cost option that still provides a measurable yield and profit impact.

WADs are simplified versions of the TOPs. They are intended specifically for resource-poor women farmers who have been excluded in the past from direct involvement in crop demonstrations and, as a result, whose technical knowledge and agronomic performance in the field lags behind the average for the community. WADs comprise lower-cost options of a particular technology (but still with strong impact potential). They normally are 500 to 1,000m2 in size. About 10–15 women organized into a ‘self help group’ are assigned a WAD.

TOPs and WADs serve as the primary focal points for community- and group-based agronomic training and technology evaluation. TOPs are used to introduce technological innovations to the larger community and serve as sites for community-based field days.

Many farmers who participate in the FLP training and field days will then experiment with the demonstrated new technology options on their own land and at their own expense before making a final decision to adopt and scale up production. We call these plots Production Test Plots (PTPs). PTP farmers purchase the inputs, use whatever plot size they wish, and are free to select one of the several options that were demonstrated. Technical advice may be provided as needed, but there is no intensive supervision by extension and SAA program staff.


NERICA TOP, Kamwenge District in Uganda


Cowpea WAD, Jigawa in Nigeria

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