Amanzi for Food is seeing real collaborative learning among agricultural lecturers, farmers, extension services, researchers and economic development agents leading to genuine curriculum innovation at Fort Cox College and the University of Fort Hare. There are also exciting developments taking place among farmers in the Nkonkobe and some parts of the Amahlati Local Municipalities in the Amathole District of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. This article focusses on the rainwater harvesting activities in the agricultural education institutions.

But why is education in colleges and universities important for farming and rainwater harvesting? This is because agricultural extension services advise farmers, and their personnel are mostly educated and trained through the colleges and universities. High quality and contextually relevant agricultural education is key to improving agricultural extension capacity and farmers’ capabilities to engage with alternative approaches to improving water security such as water harvesting and use in crop and livestock farming.

Curricula in South African Agricultural Colleges and University Agriculture Faculties generally give primacy to conventional irrigation practices as the means of watering crops and pastures. However most smallholder farmers do not have access to adequate dams or irrigation infrastructure, and do not have the resources to afford to develop their own conventional irrigation systems. In addition the agricultural education curricula do not offer practical alternatives to agricultural water, although there are some minor references to or opportunities for water harvesting. This is summed up by an agricultural educator who observed that “we teach for an ideal environment while farmers encounter often adverse and difficult conditions” (Agricultural Educator, South Africa, Personal Communication, September 24, 2014).

Therefore the introduction of rainwater harvesting through the Amanzi for Food training of trainers’ course has been welcomed as a way of strengthening the relevance of these curricula. Agricultural educators, working together with researchers from Dohne Agricultural Development Institute and other partners, have started establishing productive rainwater harvesting demonstration sites at Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry (and elsewhere). They are now using these systems and the WRC rainwater harvesting materials (see the Amanzi for Food website) to conduct lessons integrating these powerful ideas.

In another development, students from University of Fort Hare’s Agricultural and Rural Development and Research Institute (ARDRI) have integrated rainwater harvesting into Farmer Field Schools in four villages in the Gwali area. Building on the farmers’ indigenous knowledge of ‘Gelesha’ (a traditional practice of ripping the top soil layer immediately after harvesting in order that the ground is ready to receive the rains prior to sowing or planting the next crop) the study group has teamed up with the Amanzi for Food team to discuss and learn about alternative approaches to agricultural water use. This has led to the farmers ‘demanding’ to learn new skills in rainwater harvesting and conservation, relevant to their own contexts and aspirations.

By Tichaona Pesanayi