A summary of the main findings is presented in Table 2. Only two claims, increased soil moisture (#1) and enhanced adaptation to climate change (#5), are accepted collectively among program managers, farmers, and the literature. Program managers and farmers additionally agree on enhanced soil fertility (#2) and improved food security for the household (#6). The literature contests five claims. Farmers practicing FGW accept all claims except increased labour demand on women (#4), which female farmers adamantly contested.
Farmers, program managers, and the CA literature generally concur that soil moisture is increased under FGW (Table 2, #1). This is attributed primarily to mulching which reduces runoff, enhances infiltration, and decreases evaporation. Related practices such as planting basins and terracing can further enhance soil moisture reserves. FGW farmers see and feel wetter soil during the growing season and observe a longer time for maize to dry at harvest, compared to conventional farming. They attribute higher yields mainly to more soil moisture, particularly when rainfall is less or erratic. “Even though there are climatic changes, it is not going to affect the harvest as much, because now for example in the part that is not covered, if it rains a little, the water evaporates if the sun comes up. But now for the part that is covered, the coverings help retain the water within the soil and still the crops grow” (Farmer 12).
Program managers and key informants affirm the observations made by farmers (Table 2). “Farmers start to talk about: my soil seems to be absorbing more water, my soil seems to be holding more water and nutrients, my soil looks darker” (Manager 3). Like farmers, they associate higher soil moisture content with mulching.
The CA literature generally confirms increased soil moisture although this evidence is most consistent in drier zones (Table 2) (Okeyo et al. 2014; Palm et al. 2014; Stevenson et al. 2014). Available moisture may vary by soil type. For example, Thierfelder and Wall (2009) studied the effects of CA on infiltration rates and soil water content for different soil types in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Infiltration rates increased from 45 to 49% in CA plots on sandy soils and 57–87% in CA plots on fine-textured soils, compared to control treatments with conventional tillage. They conclude that CA has the potential to increase rainwater efficiency and reduce the risk of crop failure during moisture stress. Although most studies affirm this conclusion, a few attribute moisture extremes such as high runoff to inadequate mulch or water logging to a thick mulch on clay soils (Giller et al. 2009; Baudron et al. 2012b).
Farming God’s Way farmers and program managers both confirmed improved soil fertility, but CA research is incongruent (Table 2, #2). All FGW farmers claimed that retaining crop residue or regularly adding mulch to the field improves soil fertility (organic matter, nutrients). Farmers attributed a visual darkening of the soil, improved tilth, and more macro-organisms (earthworms) to increasing organic matter. Key informants also affirmed better soil fertility: “By covering it with the mulch, and the mulch decaying on that soil and not removing the maize stalks, allowing it to rot there, it is adding a lot of humus to the soil ... this was improving the soil structure, and this was making the soil to be more fertile and we knew that if the soil is fertile it will feed us, and if it is not fertile it will not feed us” (Informant 3).
Program managers also confirmed an increase in soil organic matter (Table 2). Commenting on a field visit with FGW farmers, one manager stated: “… their ability to manage soil moisture and the amount of organic matter that they have built on their soil is an incredible testimony to the practices that come from these (CA) principles, and I find that really impressive” (Manager 1). Program managers associate an increase in soil organic matter with mulching and more available nutrients with crop rotation that includes nitrogen-fixing legumes. They also attribute darker soil colour to improved soil fertility, accepting the farmers’ visual indicator.
Increased soil organic matter and nutrient availability is often reported in the CA literature (Hobbs et al. 2008; Twomlow et al. 2009; Luo et al. 2010; Marongwe et al. 2011; Mupangwa et al. 2012; Palm et al. 2014; Dordas 2015). However, consensus is lacking (Table 2). Some researchers point out that soil organic matter is contingent on the availability of organic inputs (crop residue, manure, compost). Competition for fodder may reduce availability of crop residue. Proximity of inputs also affects availability. Fields nearer to the homestead usually have higher organic matter because sources of manure and compost are nearby (Zingore et al 2007; Guto et. al. 2011). Soil type is also an important factor. Organic matter is typically lower in sandy soils because they lack the physical and structural properties that hold and preserve it (Chivenge et al. 2007). Darker soil colour may be deceiving as well. Adding mulch without tillage may increase organic matter content in the upper soil horizons, darkening them but not lower layers (Baudron et al. 2012b; Giller et al. 2015). Tillage incorporates organic inputs deeper into the soil profile. The significance of this is demonstrated in an 8-year field trial in Western Kenya that compared soil properties under reduced tillage and conventional tillage, each with crop residue applied (Okeyo et al. 2016). It found that soil organic carbon and maize yields were higher under conventional tillage that incorporated crop residue into the soil.
All FGW farmers reported greater weed control but this is contested by program managers and the literature (Table 2, #3). Farmers confirmed reduced weeding on their FGW plots from the very first season and ongoing weed control thereafter. They attributed reduced weed prevalence to mulching. Weeding is still necessary but is not as labour intensive as for conventional farming. “The number of weeds have reduced, it only comes up one or two here and there, where you can go and hand pick, so there’s not much weeds because of the covering” (Farmer 12). Further, FGW farmers state that weeds do not proliferate during the transition from conventional farming to FGW because FGW practices contribute to rigorous weed control from the start. No FGW farmers reported using herbicides.
Program managers confirmed that weeds are suppressed by mulch in the longer term but differ from FGW farmers in recognizing that weed proliferation is likely during the transition to FGW (Table 2). “I think a lot of people start off in the first year without cultivating and without maybe doing even chemical weed control, and so sometimes weeds are a problem in year 1. On year 2 and 3 they go at it and really mulch well, and have good plant density. I think it declines, becomes less of a problem. But on year 1, I have heard several people say, CA took some extra work because it took me a while to get the weeds under control” (Manager 3). An early spike in weeds is likely to increase peak labour demand, especially for women (discussed below), or require a cash expense for hired labour or chemical control. Program managers view weeds as a transition challenge that can be controlled after a few years.
Research data from CA plot and farm trials generally acknowledge an increase in weed intensity during the transition phase and a corresponding yield decline (Table 2) (Giller et al. 2009, 2015; Brouder and Gomez-Macpherson 2014; Pittelkow et al. 2015). Since resource-poor farmers usually focus on short-term returns, early weed competition and reduced yield are significant barriers to CA adoption. In response, some researchers advocate herbicide use. For example, a study comparing herbicide use and manual hoeing in zero, minimum and conventional tillage systems with three cropping schemes in Western Kenya found more than 50% decline in weed abundance and diversity within 1 year under zero and minimum tillage treatments that included herbicides without any reduction in maize yield (Odhiambo et al. 2015). However, the cost of herbicides may be prohibitive for resource-poor farmers, and they may lack training in safe handling and proper application.
Labour and gender
All program managers and much of the CA literature reported an increased labour demand on women, especially for weeding during the transition to CA. On the contrary, FGW farmers in the study, who are 71% women, contested this claim and insisted that their labour is reduced immediately and permanently due to less weeding (Table 2, #4).
Program managers described increased labour demand on women as short term (Table 2). “Potentially, especially in the initial years of practicing CA that leads to more work for women, and less tilling going on, so the men sit around. In the first couple years there is more growing potential for weeds. It is dug by hand or just by crunching, and as tradition, women do this. I would say this is one of the bigger social barriers during the first couple of years on a given farm, with the perception, and in many cases the reality, that it is more work, particularly for women, who are already over worked” (Manager 2). Program managers do acknowledge a decrease in labour for women over the long-term, after weeds are controlled by mulching and crop rotation.
The CA literature generally recognizes a link between CA and gender-differentiated impacts among smallholding farmers (Giller et al 2009; Whitfield et al. 2015) but comprehensive field studies are limited and findings vary. For example, Nyanga et al. (2012) found that women in Zambia decreased their labour for weeding only when herbicides are used. However, chemical control may disrupt mixed cropping or crop rotation patterns, and eliminate edible weeds consumed by the household, adversely affecting food security and requiring more time on it during the hungry season. Conversely, Maher et al. (2015) found labour for female CA farmers to be consistently less (average of 34 days/year) than that of conventional agriculture in Malawi. CA also re-distributed work throughout the year, reducing peak labour requirements. This study also found that more female CA farmers were engaged in supplemental income activities, and households practicing CA benefited from one more month of food availability than those practicing conventional agriculture. Women also adopted CA at faster rates than men.
Gender-related findings from our Kenya study closely parallel those of Maher et al. (2015), countering the results of Nyanga et al. (2012) and claims by program managers (Table 2). FGW farmers (female and male) indicated that women do not have a greater labour load than men on the farm. They insisted that weeds decreased in the transition to FGW due to mulching, and that reduced labour from less weeding is immediate, permanent and available for other household or livelihood activities.
In most FGW households in the study, farm work is not gender-assigned but shared equally. Greater gender equality is also attributed to faith. “For those who are familiar with God, what they plan, they do together, like me and my husband” (Farmer 1). Gender equity is emphasized in many churches and FBOs, and practiced in FGW programs by providing equal access to training, recruiting female trainers, and encouraging female leaders of farmer groups. In the few households where FGW tasks are gender differentiated, both genders may benefit from reduced labour in their gendered tasks—no tillage by men and less weeding by women.
Despite a reduced burden on women overall, labour demand still may peak during time-sensitive activities such as planting and harvesting, or increase with farm size, necessitating hired labour. All but two FGW farmers reported hiring workers for some farm activities but the time and cost of hired labour is less than that of conventional farming. “My labour has reduced, I do not do as much work on the farm as I used to do before, even the cost has reduced because I no longer have to pay people to till the farm and also do the weeding, so that money is channeled into another project within the home” (Farmer 14). However, female-headed households may remain particularly disadvantaged, as revealed in one interview. The interviewee, recently widowed, explained that land inheritance along male lines left her with only a small plot of land. She practiced FGW on this plot and benefited from increased production but the inherited plot was too small for all of her family’s needs. Despite some progress toward gender equality as demonstrated by other female FGW farmers, female-headed households may face ongoing challenges of land tenure, access, and inheritance (Aboud et al. 1996; Burke et al. 2018).
Overall, farmers contest claims of increased weed density during the transition to FGW resulting in an increased labour demand on women. Instead, reduced labour from the start, along with opportunities for training, new knowledge and skills, shared learning, and social support, motivate women to adopt FGW, contributing to gender equality and empowerment, and diminishing the gender gap in farming (Maher et al. 2015).
Climate change adaptation
The Kenyan farmer dependent on rainfed agriculture must adapt to increasingly erratic rainfall patterns characterized by intense deficit (drought) or surplus (floods) and unpredictable distribution (onset, timing). FGW farmers, program managers, and the literature advocate CA for its climate change adaptation (Table 2, #5). For this reason, CA is often equated with Climate Smart Agriculture. However, the role of CA in climate change mitigation such as through soil carbon sequestration is contested.
All FGW farmers confirmed that their farms are more resilient to increasingly erratic rainfall. They state that even when the rains are below average, they will still obtain some harvest to feed their family. “My family has been getting [harvest] throughout, since I started practicing [FGW], even when the rains are not enough. The other [conventional] part; there is nothing to harvest. Before, if the rains were not enough, there was nothing to harvest. But now, even though it rains very little, the part where I am practicing FGW, I am able to get some food to take care of my family” (Farmer 12). Other FGW farmers compared their farms to their neighbours’ farms, where conventional farming is practiced, and affirmed how much more successful their FGW fields are during reduced or poorly distributed rainfall. These farmers reported some harvest, even with only one or two rains in the season, while their neighbours experienced crop failure.
Program managers concur that CA can support the smallholder in adapting to climate change (Table 2). “I realized that conservation agriculture in the sense of the three principles that it embodies: continuous cover of the soil, minimal or no tillage, crop rotation or inter cropping, those seem to me to be ideal practices in terms of mitigating vulnerability to variations in climate, from season to season, on either extreme, either shortages of rainfall or excess of rainfall” (Manager 5). Key informants similarly explained that increased soil moisture because of mulching is critical to mitigating the effects of erratic rainfall. “Also with the issue of climate change, CA to me is an answer. If you plant and if it rains even twice it will be enough to sustain the crops, if the crop is well covered and the farmer will get something as compared to a farmer who does not cover the land” (Informant 3). FGW provides a buffer against complete crop failure when rainfall is reduced or poorly distributed. Buffering is important for strengthening household resilience to climatic extremes (Speranza 2013).
Much of the literature affirms CA as an effective response to climate change for the smallholder (Table 2) (Hobbs et al. 2008; Marongwe et al. 2011; Kaczan et al. 2013; Schaller et al. 2017; Thierfelder and Wall 2010; Thierfelder et al. 2017). Speranza’s (2013) survey of 41 CA farmers in the Laikepia region of Kenya provides a direct account of farmers’ experience with changing climate and the buffering capacity of CA. Farmers interpreted climate change as altered and unpredictable rainfall patterns (76%), reduced rainfall (54%), prolonged drought (20%), and interchanged rainy seasons (15%). CA practices that improved soil moisture on the farm include mulching (59%), ripping (20%),Footnote 3 and digging trenches and furrows (15%). CA farmers reported that soils retain more water (37%), harvests are secured during dry spells (29%), and trees and plants survive dry spells (24%), among other benefits (Speranza 2013). These practices are representative of CA’s potential for climate change adaptation, which explain its link to Climate Smart Agriculture (Kaczan et al. 2013; Speranza 2013; Schaller et al. 2017).
However, CA is not a panacea for climate change. Its role in climate mitigation is uncertain, particularly a claim that CA acts as a carbon sink by sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide into the soil. A policy corollary is that CA farmers should be compensated for their contribution to mitigating global climate change. However, empirical evidence comparing soil carbon sequestration in CA and conventional agriculture is often contradictory and inconclusive (Henry et al. 2009; Andersson and Giller 2012; Palm et al. 2014; Okeyo et al. 2016). Powlson et al. (2016) conducted a meta-analysis of 47 studies of CA and soil organic carbon in Sub-Saharan Africa and found that most studies reporting increased soil organic carbon are overestimates because of errors in soil sampling methodology. Further research is necessary before proposing payments for carbon sequestration as part of an incentivized CA package.
Overall, FGW farmers, program managers, and the CA literature accept the claim that CA enhances adaptation to climate change because practices such as mulching maintain soil moisture content above critical thresholds for crop growth under increasingly erratic climatic regimes. Evidence for soil carbon sequestration and a role of CA in mitigating global climate change is contentious and requires more research.
Household food security
Food security is understood here in terms of four pillars endorsed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 2008): availability (supply of food), access (affordability of preferred food), utilization (safe, nutritious food), and stability (ability to obtain food over time). Achieving all four pillars concurrently is necessary for a food secure household. Food security in the study area is characterized by food availability during post-harvest periods from January to February and again from June to August. Households are most prone to food insecurity from October to December due to a prolonged dry spell. A comprehensive survey of multiple factors affecting food security in the study area is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, crop yield is used as a basic indicator, particularly of food availability and stability. In general, program managers and farmers concur that FGW increased yields and thus improved food security for the household although this is not without some challenges. Findings in the CA literature are more diverse (Table 2, #6).
Farmers practicing FGW unanimously affirmed increased yields - by at least double according to one farmer (Farmer 10). This gives FGW households enough to feed the family through the dry season, while others continue to experience a “hungry season”. Sale of some surplus yield and decreased expenses (hired labour) provide more cash for other household needs such as purchasing livestock, paying school fees, or improving farm infrastructure (grain storage, livestock sheds). All farmers associated FGW with long-term food security for the household, and reported that their farms will benefit food security of future generations because of enhanced soil fertility.
The farmers also identified some limitations to household food security under FGW. First, households are food secure only if they own one acre (0.41 ha) or more. Smaller farms will see increased yields but not enough to become fully food secure. Second, although FGW improves food security, notably food availability and stability, it is not sufficient to satisfy all immediate and multiple household needs (education, health, funerals, cultural feasts, transport). Saving funds for the purchase of next season’s certified seed, fertilizer or hired labour also can be a challenge, and not purchasing them is to risk yield decline. Third, in addition to competition for mulch as fodder for cattle, farmers reported a different threat by small livestock. Chickens, searching for termites, scratch away the mulch leaving the seedbed exposed to heat and evaporation, thereby hindering germination. Fencing is one option but costly. Cooperation from neighbours in keeping chickens confined until germination is preferred.
All program managers confirmed higher yields and attributed these to CA principles (Table 2). Food security is improved in terms of both food supply (availability) and its duration (stability). As a result, the length of the annual “hungry season” is reduced or eliminated. “Because we work in communities which are not able to bridge the hunger gap with food, we were able to clearly articulate that previously the food could only last 3 or 4 months. Now they are able to last the whole period which is 7 to 8 months. So they could actually bridge from one rainy season to the next rainy season with the harvests from the last season” (Manager 4). FBOs frequently target seasonal food shortages by emphasizing availability and stability in their food security programs.
The CA literature broadly recognizes a positive correlation between CA and yield, particularly in drier regions (Table 2) (Hobbs et al. 2008; Brouder and Gomez-Macpherson 2014; Stevenson et al. 2014; Pittelkow et al. 2015; Steward et al. 2018). In these areas, land preparation before the first rains facilitates earlier planting and more efficient use of rainfall, reducing the risk of complete crop failure during drought or stabilizing yields when rains are poorly distributed (Baudron et al. 2012b; Speranza 2013; Giller et al. 2015). For example, CA farmers in Zimbabwe attributed yield increases to timely planting, better soil moisture, and availability and precision placement of fertilizer (Marongwe et al. 2011). These practices improved food security during normal climatic conditions and helped to stabilize it during erratic rainfall.
Despite near-consensus on CA and yield in drier areas, occasional studies show contrary results. For instance, on-farm trials in the semi-arid Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe comparing cotton and sorghum yields for 3 years under CA and conventional practices found that CA did not increase yields during years of average and above-average rainfall, and decreased yields during a below-average year (Baudron et al. 2012b). Researchers found no beneficial or detrimental effect of CA compared with conventional practices, concluding that good farm management such as adequate fertilization, timely planting and weeding, and pesticide application is more important than factors that differentiate CA and conventional practices.
Although site-specific studies result in occasional contrary findings on CA yield, farmers and program managers in this study fully support the claim that yield and household food security are enhanced by FGW.
Adoption of FGW
Why do farmers adopt or not adopt FGW? Their explanations do not fully align with those of program managers and the CA literature (Table 2, #7).
Various reasons for, and barriers to, adoption of CA are postulated elsewhere (Knowler and Bradshaw 2007; Giller et al. 2009; Kinyumu 2012; Arslan et al. 2014; Andersson and D’Souza 2014; Corbeels et al. 2014; Odhiambo et al. 2015; Whitfield et al. 2015; Van Hulst and Posthumus 2016). Key prerequisites for adoption seemingly include changing mindsets, acquiring knowledge and skills, adapting to local agro-ecological and socio-economic realities, and socialization with other adopters for shared learning. These aspects pertaining to the study are briefly considered here.
Changing mindsets is part of the CA adoption narrative, but this narrative accentuates the instrumental—a new way of farming focused on intensification, surplus production, entrepreneurship, market linkages, and resource sustainability (Andersson and D’Souza 2014; Whitfield et al. 2015). These are also aspects of FGW but secondary to its core narrative. Changing mindsets in FGW is interpreted as a religious motivation centered on faithfulness. “When now we came to a new way of farming, we were taught that God wanted us to farm in the best way and to take care of the soil” (Farmer 1). A FGW farmer is asked to restore their relationship to God, people and creation, and to express this renewed relationship in their livelihood. Unlike the external motives assumed in the CA adoption narrative, the FGW narrative appeals to deeply held internal convictions to farm faithfully. This distinction is not without limitation, however. A key informant viewed FGW as a potential barrier to adoption as “you cannot address them all using the same religious approach” (Informant 2), referring to the unlikelihood of someone adopting FGW who does not identify as Christian.
Adapting to local agro-ecological conditions and socio-economic realities is a repeated theme in the CA adoption literature (Giller et al. 2009; Andersson and Giller 2012; Baudron et al. 2012a, b; Corbeels et al. 2015). Program managers concur, stating that the key to success in CA is “teaching it and presenting it in such a way that farmers understand the principles behind it and can innovate and adapt the system to their context” (Manager 1). CA is viewed as an endeavor that takes time to try out, learn from, and steadily improve. However, program managers are critical of the prescriptive agronomic requirements of FGW, which they see as hindering adaption to site-specific contexts. They also expressed concern that farmers may interpret FGW as a divine instruction not to be tampered with, stifling on-farm innovation. “It’s difficult because the problem with equating Farming God’s Way with God’s way of farming is that than it must be perfect ... therefore why would you need to innovate and adapt?” (Manager 6). For these reasons, most program managers of Canadian FBOs no longer promote FGW in their food security programming (discussed below).
Adopting FGW requires that the type and number of farming practices must be changed at the same time. FGW farmers acknowledge that gaining the knowledge and skills necessary for practicing FGW, and its perceived labour requirement, may dissuade adoption. “One of the reasons why they just stop is because this type of farming requires a lot of time and attention. On the other side, they are used to just come, till and go, no digging, no measuring, not much work. So that makes them feel this is too much, and they don’t have the patience for it, especially in collecting the leaves. So those are some of the things that discourage them from continuing” (Farmer 9). Learning and practicing myriad agronomic details and management behaviours, plus biblical teachings, may be a barrier for some.
CA adopters may face strong social pressure to return to traditional ways of farming. Program managers emphasized the importance of the learning process and socialization in adopting CA long term. “It (CA) is sustainable not because of the technology itself, but more because of how it is socialized into the community and how this process of facilitation for the community and the farmers involved is done” (Manager 4). Groups such as Farmer Field Schools play this role for CA, and churches and FBOs do so for FGW.
Faith fundamentally transforms a farmer’s understanding of their vocation, and why and how to farm. However, the role and importance of faith is contested by program managers and the literature (Table 2, #8).
Farmers view faith not only as an internal belief system that is privately held, but as an integrating framework for transforming their vocation and livelihood.
“We never took farming as if it were God’s desire, or in the way God desired it done. But now we have learned how God since the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, there is a way that God desired that we farm. Compared to the Garden of Eden, and how God has instructed, how we did farming before, we had lost our way, our connection… in FGW, now that we have learned how God expects us to farm, we have learned that God wants us to take care of the soil and take care of the environment. If it was possible for everyone in the community to practice FGW it would be very important as it would help us in conserving the environment and in taking care of the soil” (Farmer 1).
The theocentric framework of FGW connects internal faith convictions to daily farming realities, providing vocational purpose and meaning.
Key informants also recognized that, unlike CA, faith is an important catalyst for changing mindsets and embracing FGW. “CA does not address the issue of relationship between man and God. It is not there, and therefore it does not aim at changing the individual attitude, the heart and the mind are not changed” (Informant 3). Faith shapes a farmer’s self-identify and outlook, which influences why and how they farm.
The church and faith-based networks are important platforms for the spread of FGW. In the study, farmers acknowledged the role of Anglican Development Services (ADS) in this regard: “We were trained the (conventional) agricultural way of farming, and then (the trainer) with the ADS came and trained us FGW and explained to us that this is how God wants us to farm. He wants us to take care of his soil, he does not want his soil to be washed away. So that is how, because of our belief in God, we were able to now have the confidence to go and do it, knowing we are doing it for God” (Farmer 9). ADS operates the only FWG project in the study area but other churches often facilitate it. “Before the planting season comes, she is given an opportunity even in church to be able to teach people how to do Farming God’s Way, so they can go and practice before the rains come” (Farmer 4). “[She] is given an opportunity to share with them in the church, and through that many people have joined the group” (Farmer 13). As a trusted institution in many rural Kenyan communities, the church legitimizes FGW, offering farmers encouragement and confidence in the face of change and risk, and a community of adherents for forming FGW groups, sharing experiences, and learning together.
Program managers also recognized a role for the church in teaching FGW principles and practices, advocacy by pastors, hosting training sessions, and providing church land for demonstration plots. Surprisingly however, five of the six program managers indicated that their Canadian FBO no longer supported FGW in their food security programs. This is attributed, in part, to a criticism that the universal claims and prescribed practices of FGW ignore local context, but faith is also implicated. FGW reflects a specific interpretation of faith that may not be shared across all Christian traditions. Declaring that FGW represents the only faithful way to farm is indicative of a particular evangelical tradition characterized by literal interpretation of the Bible. For example, in the creation story God is anthropomorphic as the First Farmer but the plough, a human invention, is distinctly absent from the Garden of Eden, thus God does not plough and neither should humans. Such literal interpretation is determined to be God’s way, establishing human norms for faithful farming. Deviating from these norms, such as tilling the soil or adapting to local conditions, risks being unfaithful. “For me, the challenge with the Farming God’s Way biblical principles is they are developed by a very specific faith base … a very specific brand, or branch of Christianity. And it was a very evangelical, conservative brand, which kind of filters the principles” (Manager 6). Unease, if not disagreement, with literalist approaches contributed to Canadian FBOs withdrawing their support for FGW, but not CA. Another faith-related reason is that FGW is directed at Christian farmers and a policy of most FBOs is not to discriminate program beneficiaries on the basis of religion.
The scant literature on FGW is very critical of a faith-sanctioned CA (see opening quotes) (Giller et al. 2009; Andersson and Giller 2012; Baudron et al. 2012a). Critics question the spread of FGW in light of a contested CA characterized by disparate bodies of empirical evidence from research plots and on-farm trails, and an unresolved tension between universal CA principles and local agro-ecological and socio-economic realities. They argue that a contested CA can be best resolved by more agronomic research based on science and rationality. Their main objection to FGW is a theocentric belief system competing with scientific agronomy as the driving narrative. This objection reflects a historical dichotomy between religion and science that is still contested in Western thought (Livingstone et al. 1999; Gregory 2012). While acknowledging a great diversity of cultures and traditional religions throughout Africa, African worldviews generally tend to be more holistic and multi-dimensional, recognizing fluid boundaries and dynamic interchanges between the physical and spiritual realms (Mbiti 1969; Horton 1993). “In this world, whatever we do, it is as a result of faith. I believe that there is God, and whatever we do, we do it out of our faith in God. That is why I also desired to practice FGW, because I believe in God and I believe there is a way that God wants things to be done” (Farmer 10). This quote seems to suggest that an indigenous worldview characterized by interconnection of the spiritual and physical realms is an influential framework through which faith and agriculture are easily integrated.
Religion, Christian or otherwise, is a powerful force for understanding reality, including farming, in many rural communities. Faith can change mindsets and facilitate adoption of farming approaches deemed to be consistent with that faith.