Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 665–672 | Cite as

Choice and voice: creating a community of practice in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

  • Mary K. Hendrickson
  • Jere L. Gilles
  • William H. Meyers
  • Kenneth C. Schneeberger
  • William R. Folk


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.


Community of practice Genetically modified crops Smallholders Agricultural development 



Community of practice


Genetically modified


KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa)



We are grateful for the support provided by the Templeton Foundation through the grant “Creating a GM Community of Practice in KwaZulu-Natal: A Pilot for Assessing Adoption of Innovative Technology and Policy Development in South Africa.”


  1. Akpalu, D.A. 2013. Agriculture extension service delivery in a semi-arid rural area in South Africa: The case study of Thorndale in the Limpopo province. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development 13(4): 8034–8057.Google Scholar
  2. Chataway, J. 2005. Introduction: Is it possible to create pro-poor agriculture-related biotechnology. Journal of International Development 17: 597–610.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Gilles, J., J. Thomas, C. Valdivia, and E. Yucra Sea. 2013. Where are the Laggards? Conservers of traditional knowledge in Bolivia. Rural Sociology 78(1): 51–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Gouse, M. 2012. Farm-level and socio-economic impacts of a genetically modified subsistence crop: The case of smallholder farmers in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Doctoral dissertation, Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension, and Rural Development, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Pretoria.Google Scholar
  5. Grain SA. 2013. Overview. Accessed 31 July 2013.
  6. Kwanalu. 2013. Formulation of Kwanalu. Accessed 25 March 2014.
  7. Oreszczyn, S., A. Lane, and S. Car. 2010. The role of networks of practice and webs of influencers on farmers’ engagement with and learning about agricultural innovations. Journal of Rural Studies 26(4): 404–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Schnurr, M.A. 2012. Inventing Makhathini: Creating a prototype for the dissemination of genetically modified crops into Africa. Geoforum 43: 784–792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Sonneveld, M.P.W., J.J. Stoorvogel, J.A. de Vos, J. Bouma, and G.B.M. Heuvelink. 2008. The role of scientists in multi-scale land use analysis: Lessons learned from Dutch communities of practice. Advances in Agronomy 97: 175–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Spiegel, J.M., J. Breilh, E. Beltran, J. Parra, F. Solis, A. Yassi, A. Rojas, E. Orrego, B. Henry, W.R. Bowie, L. Pearce, J. Gaibor, P. Velasquez, M. Concepcion, and M. Parkes. 2011. Establishing a community of practice of researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and communities to sustainably manage environmental health risks in Ecuador. BMC International Health and Human Rights 11: 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Stone, G.D. 2010. The anthropology of genetically modified crops. Annual Review of Anthropology 39: 381–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Tobin, D., T. Bruening, M. Brennan, and B. Olson. 2012. Agricultural extension and market-led agrarian reform: Findings from an exploratory case study in Limpopo province, South Africa. Journal of International Agriculture and Extension Education 19(2): 39–52.Google Scholar
  13. Tveden-Nyborg, S., M. Misfeldt, and B. Boelt. 2012. Scientific knowledge dissemination in Danish seed communities of practice. Journal of Science Communication 11(3): 1–12.Google Scholar
  14. Valdivia, C., J.L. Gilles, A. Seth, J. Thibeault, E. Jimenez, M. García, and E. Yucra. 2009. Linking knowledge systems for rural livelihoods adaptation under uncertainty: Drying and warming in Andean ecosystems. IOP Science Conference Series Earth and Environmental Sciences 6: 362006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Valdivia, C., A. Seth, J.L. Gilles, M. García, E. Jiménez, J. Cusicanqui, F. Navia, and E. Yucra. 2010. Adapting to climate change in Andean ecosystems: Landscapes, capitals, and perceptions shaping rural livelihood strategies and linking knowledge systems. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100(4): 818–834.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Vermeulen, H. 2012. Review of literature of research related to the consumption of GMO crops with a special focus on South Africa. Report prepared for University of Missouri project Creating a Community of Practice in KwaZulu-Natal. July 26.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary K. Hendrickson
    • 1
  • Jere L. Gilles
    • 1
  • William H. Meyers
    • 1
  • Kenneth C. Schneeberger
    • 1
  • William R. Folk
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Applied Social SciencesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiochemistryUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations