Choice and voice: creating a community of practice in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
The development and utility of genetically modified (GM) crops for smallholders around the world is controversial. Critical questions include what traits and crops are to be developed; how they can be adapted to smallholders’ ecological, social and economic contexts; which dissemination channels should be used to reach smallholders; and which policy environments will enable the greatest benefits for smallholders and the rural poor. A key question is how the voices of smallholders who have experience with or desire to use GM technologies enter the larger debate. Africa has the greatest number of smallholders and poor with the least exposure to GM crops. Because of the well-established use of GM crops in South Africa by commercial farmers, we formed a community of practice (CoP) involving smallholders, extension, researchers, non-profits and agribusiness in KwaZulu-Natal to examine the conditions under which GM crops are used by smallholders, how smallholders interact with GM technologies and what insights smallholders and other stakeholders can provide regarding these questions. One of the advantages of the CoP approach is that it brings stakeholders together in a non-hierarchical way that encourages new ways of thinking and new partnerships. Such interaction around a specific project can enhance the voice of smallholders in a variety of ways. In our project, smallholder participants have increased their knowledge and can make better decisions about GM technologies, which had been barriers for them. Notably, they have also improved their knowledge of maize production practices, accessed new practice networks, and met new researchers and resource providers. They are now being integrated into these networks in a way that should improve their livelihoods and make the wants and needs of smallholders better known. Such knowledge and experience has improved their voice in agriculture and rural development discussions.
KeywordsCommunity of practice Genetically modified crops Smallholders Agricultural development
Community of practice
KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa)
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