Are Extension And Advisory Services Meeting The Needs Of Farmers In Zimbabwe?

Mr Joy Khumalo a farmer from Nkayi District in Matabeleland North bemoans the existence of several organisations out-maneuvering each other at ward level: “Several committees are formed in one ward and power struggles ensue, eroding the spirit of togetherness that typify rural existence,” he said. The ward level has become a political battle front, further polarizing rural areas. Food is being used as a reward for supporting political parties as elections loom, thus shifting emphasis from food production to organising political meetings. 

The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development provides agricultural extension and advisory services through the Departments of Veterinary Services (DVS), Livestock Production and development (LPD), Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX). A number of organisations augment public agricultural extension and advisory services such as; public research-cum-extension organisations; donor-supported rural development programmes; international and private research centres; farmers’ associations; Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) and bilateral donors; private agrochemical input suppliers; commodity processors and exporters.

Mr Mandla Siwela, a small scale farmer in Bubi district said, “We are overwhelmed by the number of meetings we are expected to attend in one week. At times people are compelled to attend. That robs us of the time we are supposed to work in our plots. Lack of coordination between service providers at ward level is disrupting on-farm programs.”

Suspicion and competition between government departments and NGOs should be eradicated. Civic society is viewed by ZANU(PF), the former sole ruling party as campaigning for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)through food handouts from its perceived enemies the European governments, in rural areas and advocating for regime change, he said.

“Community relations and farmer knowledge levels have a bearing on the choice of capacity building approaches. We have not discarded what are perceived to be top-down approaches for new participatory ones for obvious reasons. The level of participation of a farmer is dependent on the level of appreciation of a particular topic and the environment. Different approaches are used for different levels of maturity of the farmer and the community,” said Dumisani Nyoni, the Chief Agricultural Extension Officer for Matebeleland North. 

The plurality of agricultural extension and advisory organisations, ineptitude and political volatility are inhibiting progress in the provision of extension services. “Staff exodus due to economic meltdown and political instability robbed AGRITEX of its technical expertise and institutional memory,” added Nyoni. The land reform programme also presented extension services with a new set of problems such as the integration of traditional farmers and urbanites, dubbed ‘cellphone’ or ‘freelance’ farmers, who were allocated pieces of land. The later brought a culture that is alien to the former further complicating community relations.

Mr Edmore Chikowa, Bubi District LPD officer, said institutional development has began to address itself to the sustainability issue—not just the ‘what works?’ but the ‘what lasts?’ question.  Capacity development advances a more normative (i.e. people centred, participatory and responsive, sustainable and empowering) and less technique-oriented concept than institutional strengthening or institutional development. The creative initiative of people is regarded as a primary development resource, hence helping people believe in themselves is crucial to capacity building. In other words, participation is democratisation.

Chikowa said models used in policy often have deeply embedded assumptions within them about how people do and want to live. Thus agricultural policy and extension recommendations that assume a particular ‘model’ farmer may be way off the mark. There is a need to cultivate bottom-up approaches to planning that will usher in pro-poor polices. People must be regarded as the ‘world’s leading authorities’ on matters concerning their areas.

According to farmers, extension and advisory service multiplicity is disabling information dissemination and causing confusion, hindering farm growth that itself acts as a stimulant for the emergence of more diverse opportunities in the rural economy such as rural services, non-farm enterprises and growth points. Farmers grieve over lack of information alleging that it contributes to poor margins that kill backward and forward linkages. Some farmers moan over inefficient markets due to inadequate information.

Mr Joe Sadza, a small scale farmer from Muzarabani District said, “We are victims of manipulation by middlemen who buy our produce at rock bottom prices because print or electronic media do not educate and inform us on price changes. Extension personnel are equally uninformed about price changes in urban markets. We desparately need community radio stations and newspapers to augment extension services.  It is apparent that government favours politically visible city projects, while pure national rhetoric favours the rural areas,” he observed. 

On commodity markets, Nyoni, castigated discriminative procurement of farmers’ products by hoteliers, chain stores and government institutions as a result of a plethora of ‘isms’. As Grain Marketing Board falters on its mandate to buy all produce, he urged compatriots to desist from cashing in on farmers’ desperation through unfair barter deals that kill the farmer’s spirit. He envisions the penetration of our traditional crops into the large Diaspora market in Southern Africa, Australia and United Kingdom.

There are bright sports illuminating the gloomy picture due to some collaboration initiatives that out lived the era of galloping inflation. According to AGRITEX, these tend to be geographic, sectoral or discipline-specific. Management branch collaborates more with NGOs that are involved in socio-economic issues, while the crop and livestock branches collaborate more with actors with whom they have common areas of interest, such companies as Seed-Co and Agri-foods.

Both formal institutional linkages and informal networks are characterized by joint planning, joint implementation (including field visits), division of tasks, and sharing of information and resources. Through collaborations with International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Regions (ICRISAT) Tsholotsho district now excels in small grains seed multiplication and has since become a reliable seed source.

Njabulo Ncube, livestock marketing practitioner and founding member of a community based organisation (CBO) in Nkayi District said, “Political independence has not liberated people from colonialists’ psychological subjugation.”

He posits that political calamities of post-independent Zimbabwe are symptoms of colonialism that have exacerbated the annihilation of a critical rural development resource called social capital; in the form of extended networks of mutual solidarity, shared beliefs, traditions and commitments to retain long standing practices of daily life..

Nyoni cited lack of extension courses at agricultural institutions as another cause of failure of most agricultural extension and advisory service organisations. All agricultural institutions in Zimbabwe offer agricultural sciences, thus producing a graduate deficient in the philosophical, sociological and psychological aptitude required to execute capacity development in rural areas. He castigated NGOs for failing to invest in in-service training of extension workers, relying on poaching diligent cadres from AGRITEX. He urged agricultural colleges to offer extension and advisory courses with an emphasis on philosophy, psychology and sociology. 

A rural development expert, Mr Ngwiza Khumalo, programme manager of Zinyangeni Christian Church (ZCC) believes the creation of a ‘primary locus of integration’ comprising of line ministries, NGOs, CBOs and the Rural District Councils at district level and the creation of an ‘amalgamated resource envelop’ will kill-off current discord caused by multiplicity of improperly coordinated extension service providers. The current setup is wasteful and unsustainable. The Government of National Unity (GNU) has not defused tension between government departments and NGOs thus lessening chances of collaboration of state and non-state actors. While the GNU recognizes the need for national healing as a prerequisite for establishing an all embracing enabling environment in the country, however, very little has been done, he said.      

Muhle Masuku, a trained agriculturalist is a regular writer on livestock marketing and rural extension services Zimbabwe.
E Mail: Muhle.masuku@gmail.com