Diga Udye or Diga Ufe? (Dig-and-Eat or Dig-and-Die?) Is Conservation Farming Contributing to Agricultural Involution in Zimbabwe?

J.A. Andersson, K.E. Giller, P. Mafongoya, P. Mapfumo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstractAcademic


With its focus on soil health and conservation, Conservation Agriculture (CA) is an intensification strategy that is primarily concerned with maximizing output (or better sustaining output) per area.. Although reduced labour requirements are often claimed, the most common CA package promoted in Zimbabwe – hand hoe, basin-based Conservation Farming (CF) – is sometimes referred to as ‘diga ufe’ (dig-and-die) in smallholders’ vernacular, suggesting it is laborious. But is CA/CF adoption also likely to result in increased labour productivity, and subsequently, higher output, food security and improved livelihoods? Or is this form of intensification better understood as a process of ‘agricultural involution’? Coined by anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1963), agricultural involution refers to labour-input driven intensification (higher output per area) which does not result in higher output per head. Geertz viewed this process of agricultural change as driven by its wider socio-economic and agro-ecological environment, characterized by, for example, limited land availability and increased food demands (because of population growth). In contrast to this agricultural involution thesis, CA/CF promotion is often technology-focused. It is also at odds with recent developing thinking which views the farming environment - markets, prices, and social institutions – as the prime drivers of agricultural change (e.g. World Bank 2008). This paper situates CA within the wider socio-economic and agro-ecological environment of smallholder farming in Zimbabwe. Building on: (1) agronomic studies of the workings of specific CA/CF technologies (such as mulching and legume tree intercropping); (2) the targeting and adoption of CA in Zimbabwe, as well as; (3) observations and farmer interviews at CA/CF promotion sites, it explores the applicability of the involution thesis in understanding the likelihood of widespread CA/CF adoption in Zimbabwe.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbstracts of the Regional Conservation Agriculture Symposium, Johannesburg, South Africa, 8-10 February 2011
Place of PublicationJohannesburg, South Africa
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventRegional Conservation Agriculture Symposium, Johannesburg, South Africa -
Duration: 8 Feb 201110 Feb 2011


ConferenceRegional Conservation Agriculture Symposium, Johannesburg, South Africa

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