PICOTEAM is a network-organisation with nodes in Africa, Latin America and Europe
  that supports efforts to bring about change and innovations for sustainable development.

PICOTEAM Ltd. PICO Southern Africa PICO Uganda PICO Tanzania PICO Latin America
PICO Academy for Practitioners PICO Knowledge Networking

Our Experiences

Project Improving Soil Fertility Management in Smallholder Farming

Part of Participatory Extension Approaches (PEA) innovations

Broadening Agricultural Services and Extension delivery (BASED) program
Duration 04 - 12.2005
Country / Region South Africa
Five districts of Limpopo Province, namely Capricorn, Vhembe, Bohlabela, Mopani and Sekhukhune
Services delivered The learning processes within the framework of innovation of soil fertility management practices emerged from the implementation of PEA as part of service delivery re-orientation within the Limpopo Department of Agriculture (LDA) in South Africa. Farmers indentified the problem of declining soil fertility as the main cause of poor maize yields.

The facilitation and implementation of the soil fertility management innovation was guided by the following process steps:
  • Facilitating the understanding and perceptions of farmers about the problem of declining soil fertility
  • Mobilising farmers for taking soils samples and paying for soil analysis
  • Simplifying feedback of soil analysis results to the farmers
  • Linking farmers with input suppliers
  • Experimenting with new options and sharing with others
  • Assessing the different options and planning for the coming season
Achievements The soil fertility management process was first initiated in three pilot villages of the Capricorn Districts by a team of three LDA officers who were mandated to champion the initiative. The impact of the innovation process after years of iterative learning with the communities were as follows:
  • Soil fertility management technical innovations had spread from 3 pilot villages to 105 villages in all districts of Limpopo Province.
  • Knowledge sharing during the organized mid–season evaluations has been the most effective means by which other farmers and officers have been exposed to the soil fertility management process.
  • The facilitators who started with the process of soil fertility management are now facilitating other innovation processes (e.g. livestock mobilization). They are functioning as learners in the new technical areas and as mentors in soil fertility management for new trainees.
  • More farmers have been trained by the soil fertility management facilitators by farmer-to-farmer trainings. The farmer-trainers are serving as coaches and mentors of newly trained farmers during the facilitation of soil fertility management in the communities.
  • Awareness creation at all levels of the innovation process was important for farmers to be able to take informed decisions on what to do next. To do this, the research team had developed facilitation tools (e.g. lever scale for water retention capacity by the soils, posters for showing deficiency syndromes of the essential elements) designed to simplify feedback of analytical results to farmers.
  • Positive results from the implementation of soil fertility management process have been important to strengthen farmer organisations. For examples, in the mobilisation of funds for paying for the costs of soil analysis and accessing inputs from the suppliers new form of organisations were establish to coordinate the activities.
  • Up- and Out-Scaling: the soil fertility management process is now implemented in areas and programs such as: a) high schools, as part of the demonstrations to help students understand the theoretical aspects of soil science in their syllabus, and b) other donor-funded programs (MacDev, LADEP & Land Care) to help their project beneficiaries to improve their soil fertility.
Partners Agricultural Research Council (ARC) - Institute for Soil Climate and Water (ISCW),

Private Sector: Kynoch Fertilizers, Sasol Fertilizers, PROGRESS Milling, Lunds Chicken Farms,  Vleis Sentral Feedlot, INCA - Emmerpan Mine,

Farmer Organisations
Funding Organisation GTZ

Limpopo Department of Agriculture (LDA)
PICOTEAM members involved Joe Ramaru, Dr. Jürgen Hagmann, Edward Chuma and Mike Netshivhodza
Links / Publications

Ramaru, M.J., Hagmann, J., Mamabolo, Z.M. & Netshivhodza, M.H.(2009), Innovation Through Action: Action Research Journey with Smallholder Farmers in Limpopo Province, South Africa: Experiences of soil fertility management, in Research in Action: Theories and Practices for Innovation and Social Change, eds Almekinders, C., Beukema, L. & Tromp, C., Mansholt Publication Series – Volume 6, Wageningen Academic,Wageningen, pp. 45 – 66.
Ramaru, J., Hagmann, J.Chuma, E., Ficarelli, P., Netshivhodza, M. & Mamabolo, Z.(2004). Building linkages and bargaining power between smallholder farmers and service providers: Learning from a case on soil fertility inputs in South Africa , Ugandan Journal of Agricultural Sciences, 2004, 9: 2004 – 214.
Ramaru, J. Mamabolo,Z. & Lekgoro, J. (2002). Better farming techniques? Alternatives to extension in South Africa: id21 Research Highlight: 10 June 2002 from the source:’ Improving, Managing Africa's Soils, #19, International Institute of Environment and Development, London by J. Ramaru, Z. Mamabolo, J. Lekgoro, November 2000


Ramaru J., Mamabolo, Z., & Lekgoro, J. (2000). Improving soil fertility management in South Africa: learning through participatory extension approaches. Managing Africa’s’ Soils No. 19. IIED; London.