By Mutizwa Mukute

The Zimbabwe T-learning case study involves expansive learning with eight district organic agriculture associations. These were established in 2013 in Mashonaland East province to bulk production, and market organic produce from local associations. The associations emerged around a need for increasing food and income security and regenerating the land.

Expansive learning is based on analysing, and tackling interconnected matters of concern that were identified in August 2016 during contextual profiling: organic production, organic marketing and group development and linkages challenges.

Two Change Laboratories (CLs), following the methodology developed by Yrjo Engeström in cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) research, were held over four days (24-27 October 2016) and each lasted 1.5 days. Each workshop shared association achievements and innovations, the expansive learning tool, mirror data and the shared vision of the farmer associations before prioritising and analysing matters of concern. This was followed by developing and examining model solutions to the matters of concern – drawing on the distributed cognition of the practitioners, content specialists and development workers.

Prioritisation, analysis and solution development were conducted in three groups and the examination was done in the plenary. The analyses and model solutions were later re-packaged by farmer representatives, typed and printed for ‘faithful transmission’ to fellow farmers (over 80 %) who were represented. An action plan on report-back meetings was developed for each district association. Two people used three audio-visual cameras to record the proceedings.

The first and second CLs were attended by 18 and 20 farmer leaders from four neighbouring districts respectively and by three external content specialists: a farmer innovator in water harvesting and agriculture who transgressed contour ridge regulations, an activist who works with an international farmer movement, and an economics and social science professor from a local university. At least three development facilitators from the NGOs that supported the formation of the associations attended each workshop. A CHAT practitioner facilitated the process, with support from an assistant researcher in one of the CLs.

The analyses (using a problem tree) suggested that the nexus issues (e.g. food insecurity, water and climate change) were stratified at one level, and form a vicious circle at another (e.g. poverty and food insecurity expose farmers to the climate change and weaken their abilities to overcome water challenges). This suggests that the connectedness of (nexus and stratified) issues happens when the vicious circles touch each other. The solutions developed underline: (a) leadership development; (b) on-going collective horizontal and vertical joint thinking, planning, doing, monitoring, reflecting, experimentation, learning and transformation; (c) learning across districts and provinces and with non-practitioners; and (c) collective, evidence-based influencing of fellow and neighbouring farmers, consumers and structures and policies that enable and constrain the achievement of the shared vision – government, NGO and private sector. More learning and insights will be generated through subsequent analysis of recorded audio-video data.

28 October 2016