Agric extension, a transformation toolkit

26 Mar, 2023 - 00:03 0 Views
Agric extension, a  transformation toolkit Some of the motorbike procured by Government for extension workers

The Sunday Mail

Dr John Basera

THE agriculture sector in Zimbabwe provides employment and incomes directly and indirectly to about 70 percent of the population, supplies 65 percent of the raw materials required by the local industry and contributes 40 percent of total export earnings. The sector accounts for between 12 and 20 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The sector is, indeed, a Vision 2030 accelerator.

Agriculture is also key in pursuit of the growth of the rural economy as the sector is up to four times more powerful at reducing poverty and empowering communities and households than any other sector. As such, it is one of the priority economic sectors, and is considered a key engine for economic growth, sustainable development and self-sufficiency. Since the advent of the Second Republic, Zimbabwe has gone through an unprecedented agricultural transformation, growth and rural development phases, especially in the past three years.

At the core of the transformation lies a robust, proactive, responsive and a well-capacitated agricultural extension delivery system. Agricultural extension provision is a cross-cutting enabler in the agricultural transformation toolkit and is entrenched in all agricultural blueprints and sub-sectoral plans.

They year 2020 was the turning point in the agricultural transformation process and this was facilitated by the conscious decision taken to capacitate and empower agricultural extension delivery.

Agricultural extension workers in Mashonaland Central receiving motor bikes

This was after the realisation that improvement of a country’s frontline agricultural human capacity for upscaled productivity is a pre-requisite for sustainable socio-economic and rural development. The agricultural extension officers (AEOs), together with all farmers in Zimbabwe, are the frontline agents for agricultural transformation and rural development.

The sector’s Going4Growth mantra and previous successes recorded to date across all agricultural sub-sectors and value chains are a reflection that Zimbabwe now prides itself with a responsive, robust and value-creating extension delivery system.

All sector plans, strategies and interventions earmarked to transform crops and livestock value chains are anchored in a well-oiled extension services delivery system. Further, the agricultural research-extension nexus is a catalyst for agricultural transformation, industrialisation and development.

Zimbabwe relaunched the agriculture research and extension nexus recently with a conviction that the seamless linkage between agricultural research and extension present opportunities to leapfrog and achieve the agricultural objectives under Vision 2030 much faster and much earlier than 2030.

Agricultural extension structure and governance

Zimbabwe has a pluralistic extension provision system, where the Government and private sector both deliver extension services to farmers. Government, through Agritex and Veterinary Field Services, constitute the backbone in extension delivery with a countrywide scope covering all areas and wards in the country, including peri-urban.

Private extension and advisory services providers in the agriculture sector include private sector players, development agencies, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations, farmer unions and commodity associations.

The opportunities of partnerships, collaborations and complementary extension service provision associated with the pluralist approach allows farmers to benefit from the best and current farming techniques, as well as technologies. Pluralistic extension obviously calls for co-ordination of the various players. Pooling of both technical and material resources cement relationships and provide great synergies. Presently, there are about 59 crop and livestock innovation centres in all the districts of the country, a convenient vehicle for collaboration among development partners.

Capacitation of the extension delivery system

Agricultural extension has multiple goals, including transferring knowledge from global, national and local researchers to farmers, helping them clarify their own goals and assessing their opportunities, educating them about decision-making processes, and promoting desirable agricultural development. The knowledge transfer role of agricultural extension has gained traction in the face of emerging issues (for example, pests and diseases) and increased climatic variability that culminates in weather unpredictability and rapidly changing environmental conditions.

To execute and implement agricultural programmes amid such dynamic change issues, the whole agricultural transformation agenda is anchored in a responsive extension delivery support system that aspires to achieve increased mobility, appropriate training and equipping with digital technologies for effective technical backstopping and coaching of farmers with special emphasis on good agricultural practices (GAPs), climate smart agriculture and inculcation of the “farming as a business” culture. This helps to ensure climate change adaptation, boost in productivity, food security; and promotion of agriculture as an engine of pro-poor and inclusive economic growth. Ultimately, the gains of the land reform programme will be consolidated.

President Mnangagwa sourced over 7 000 motorbikes that were delivered and distributed to veterinary and Agritex officers. Over 7 000 electronic gadgets (tablets) were also procured and distributed to the frontline extension staff.

The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development has a dedicated training department in the Agricultural and Rural Development Advisory Services Directorate to enhance training and help transform rural farming communities from subsistence to commercial farming.

The ministry has come up with new radical transformative training and capacitation programmes for farmers and extension workers. Agricultural colleges have changed curricula in order to produce well-rounded and polished graduates who are capable of imparting the knowledge and skills gained to support farmers for the transformation.

Since 2020, the ministry has made tremendous strides in capacitating extension officers/frontline cadres both technically, as well as materially by way of tools of trade. The support includes the following.

  1. Tablets for e-extension and online in-service training. The tablets are useful in interfacing with farmer groups on their platforms. They also come in handy in the online training sessions, reporting and data collection.
  2. Refresher and re-orientation courses and sitting for obligatory exams twice in a year. The plan is to professionalise the extension service in due course. All this is meant to enable the frontline staff to deliver full services, which will capacitate farmers to achieve high economic yields and returns.

3.Training-of-trainers (ToT) programme targeting extension officers by subject matter specialists.

  1. Monthly allocation of airtime and data bundles for ease of communication and receiving key extension information targeting farmers, and technical capacitation and backstopping through online in-service training.
  2. Motorisation of all field-based extension officers. The motorbikes are part of Government’s efforts to address mobility challenges that have been crippling their efforts to effectively cover farmers in need of their technical services countrywide. This intervention has helped to optimise the farmer: extension officer contact ratio.
  3. Each licensed worker is entitled to a motorbike, with up to 30 litres of fuel allocated every month.
  4. Each extension officer is given personal protective equipment (PPE) that includes rider suits, kidney belts, worksuits, raincoats and safety shoes.

The above support is meant to restore dignity within the profession and address issues of extension services quality, relevance, effectiveness, accessibility and timeliness.

The ministry intends to turn all extension officers into well-polished and technically aware agricultural practitioners and agribusiness advisers.

The Government has also implemented a robust monitoring and evaluation mechanism to ensure the extension officers deliver on their mandates. Structures and processes have been put in place to monitor progress and reports are used to ascertain accountability and responsibility by implementing teams.

Advisory services

The extension delivery and support system is catering for over 3 500 000 communal farmers, 400 000 A1, and 24 000 A2 farmers. The A1 and A2 farmers are a direct product of the land reform programme. Most farmers had been accustomed to farming as a way of life rather than as a business. There are great transformative opportunities that are accruing to the farming sector by deliberately targeting these groups and the extension delivery cadres, and re-orienting them to focus on production- and productivity-enhancing activities.

Farmer capacitation takes the mold of both software and hardware resources. In this regard, an online agricultural college will be launched soon to offer two modules, namely; Executive Programme in Agribusiness Management and General Certificate in Agribusiness Management targeting A2 farmers who did not have the necessary qualifications in Agriculture at the time of the land reform programme. The online programme also targets farm managers and supervisors.

Soft skills impartation

In addition to farming technical skills, there is training and information provision on farm organisation and financial planning and management, as well as entrepreneurship or farming as a business. Owing to resource challenges in some cases, a one-to-one extension: farmer contact is not practicable. The group training method then suffices. This involves methods where extension staff are the facilitators and technical experts at the same time.

Currently, the farmer to extension worker ratio is about 650:1. Livestock- based provinces generally have two extension officers per ward while the more intensive crop and mixed land use provinces have 3-5 officers per ward. Other tools being used include the master farmer, farmer field school (FFS) and lead farmer approaches.

Master farmer training

The master farmer training programme targeting smallholder farmers is a two-year course in which participants cover four learning disciplines of crop production, animal production, horticulture and farm business management.

The knowledge and content is location and need specific. It has an ordinary course and an advanced module. As a standard, each extension officer is mandated to establish or promote and train 10 master farmers, a target of 41 250 master farmers in all per year. To date, 23 952 master farmers have been registered, of which 13 611 are female. This programme was relaunched with a bang in 2022.

Farmer field school per village concept

Our model of farmer field school consists of a village farmer school under the leadership of a village head. Clearly, these approaches are demand driven and participatory in nature. All these are aimed at improving farmer capabilities and decision making, and foster the right attitudes to farming.

To bolster these are farmer field days, green and dry shows, demonstrations and pre-planting seminars, among a host of other learning events and platforms.

The ministry has over 24 000 farmer field schools (FFS), which are centres of agricultural excellence that address and showcase different new agricultural technologies at sub-regional level. Farmers will then adopt, replicate and up-scale the technologies after gaining satisfaction in the socio-economic benefits of the technologies or new practices.

The concept of FFS is an alternative adult learning methodology that is opposed to the prevailing top-down extension method which fails to work in situations where more complex and counter-intuitive problems exist. This is proving to be highly useful and success rate is high.

Embracing e-agriculture in agricultural extension (AgricTips 365)

The ministry is engaging and capacitating every farmer through dissemination of sound technical agricultural advisory notes on AgricTips365 platform. The AgricTips365 platform was introduced late last year and consists of advisory notes timely generated and disseminated to help farmers address real and/or practical challenges in their production activities and decision making daily.

The tips normally follow an enterprise calendar to assure relevance and timeliness. The undertaking is done on a 24/7/365 basis. The advisory tips focus on aspects of technical production, marketing and agriprenuership across all agricultural enterprises. The AgricTips365 mobile app is being developed, targeting smart gadgets users. The platform will also be unstructured supplementary service data (USSD)-based.

Impact of extension capacitation efforts: Performance highlights

Without doubt, our performance highlights indicate that Zimbabwe is on a sound footing to achieve food security and self-sufficiency. The ministry has dubbed 2023 a year to consolidate all the past successes and continue aiming higher, thus birthing the GOING-4-GROWTH mantra.

Excellency, innovativeness, efficiency and effectiveness in executing current and planned workstreams will make the mantra a reality and will power our journey towards Vision 2030, agriculturally.

The previous success records are as follows:

The area under wheat increased from 66 434ha in 2021 to 80 883ha in 2022. Wheat production in 2022 was 375 000t, a record for the country, compared to 300 000t produced in 2021. The country produced 13-month supply of wheat crop, which is a record since the beginning of wheat production in Zimbabwe in the 1960s.

A total of 2 274 927t of cereals was available for 2022 against a national annual requirement of 2 200 000t, leaving a surplus of almost 75 000t. The country achieved a record of 2,7 million tonnes of grains in the 2020/2021 season, which was a year-on-year 200 percent rise from 907 000 tonnes recorded in the prior year.

Hectarage under horticultural production increased year-on- year by 4, 6 percent to 119 000ha in 2022 from 113 000ha in 2021. A specific example is production of blueberry for export, which surged 34 percent from 3 500t in 2021 to 4 700t in 2022.

Maize productivity levels surged by over 280 percent to a national average of 1,4t/ha in 2021 from 0, 5t/ha in 2020.

A sharp reduction in the January disease and other tick-borne- related disease cases and deaths of over 47 percent in 2021 and 37 percent in 2022 was recorded.

Cattle mortalities decreased from 8,86 percent in 2021 to 6 percent in 2022.

Cattle numbers grew to 5,6 million in 2022 from 5,5 million in 2021, goats (4,3 million in 2021 to 4,9 million in 2022), sheep (710 226 in 2021 to 728 245 in 2022) and pigs (314 335 in 2021 to 339 644 in 2022).

FMD outbreaks for 2022 were contained below 8 percent, against a target of less than 12 percent for the same period.

Total milk production increased by 15 percent from 79,6 million litres in 2021 to 91,4 million litres in 2022. Total milk powder imports reduced by almost 20 percent from 8, 9 million kg in 2021 to 7,4 million kg in 2022, including the 36 percent agricultural growth recorded in 2021 season.

Due to the New Dispensation’s deliberate interventions, the sector has grown from US $5, 8 billion, prior to 2020, by 36 percent, to US$8, 1 billion in the 2020/2021 period, a feat we had envisaged to achieve by 2025. This was made possible by Government’s deliberate and conscious move to capacitate the agricultural extension delivery support system. We are, indeed, Going4Growth.


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