Nqobile Tshili, columnist
AGRICULTURE extension officers are key to transforming the country’s agricultural sector into agribusinesses by providing solutions to farming communities.
Three extension agents are deployed per district and this is intended to ensure that they are in constant contact with the farmers; each serving up to 600 farmers.
To ensure that agritex agents are practical and technically sound, they undergo refresher courses twice a year and also take exams to show that they have mastered the concepts they have been taught in an ever-changing field due to of climate change.
The officers are expected to provide technical advice to farmers as the government strives to revolutionize the agricultural sector into an industry starting in the villages.
The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Development leads the rural industrialization program where villages are transformed to be more productive.
Agritex agents have been equipped with motorbikes to improve mobility and also receive monthly airtime allowances to communicate with farmers about agribusiness opportunities.
The country is gearing up for the 2022/23 agricultural season and meteorologists are predicting a normal to above normal agricultural season.
Answer the questions of the ChronicleLand, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Development, Dr John Basera, said Agritex officers are the technical drivers for successful implementation of the climate-proof Pfumvudza/Intwasa farming method .
He said Agritex agents should always be present in communities to provide agricultural solutions to farmers.
“The Pfumvudza/Intwasa program is a climate protection concept that is anchored and enabled by a responsive agricultural extension support system, managed by a well-rounded and polite agricultural extension officer whose role is to: introduce the concept and sensitize local traditional leaders on Pfumvudza/ Intwasa Programme, mobilization and registration of farmers and training of farmers in the underlying principles of Pfumvudza; minimal soil disturbance/digging, rotations, mulching,” he said.
Dr Basera said extension workers should convey and promote the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices that focus on soil moisture and nutrient conservation for increased production.
He said they can do this by organizing the farmers into groups and reducing the burden of digging the Intwasa holes individually.
Dr Basera said farmers also need to share information about Pfumvudza through mobile interactive social platforms and organize learning visits with successful program implementers.
He said they are expected to identify and provide solutions in farming communities, which will lead to improved yields.
“Pfumvudza/Intwasa technically means a new season of producing more on less land, producing more from less other resources, thus making farming a business case. A new season of religious adoption of the principles of Conservation Agriculture to climate proof the food production sub-sector that is so vulnerable to the effects of climate change and build resilience as we move towards the 2030 vision, agriculturally,” he said.
Dr. Basera said that for extension to be effective, the government is continuously improving the skills, knowledge and skills of extension workers through tailored trainings to address farmers’ concerns such as farming as a business, l adaptation to climate change, new pests and diseases.
He said that the Ministry of Agriculture organizes several Training of Trainers (ToT) sessions targeting extension officers who are expected to impart their knowledge to the communities from where they operate.
“They will further pass on the knowledge acquired to farmers. Farmers can ask for advice (demand-driven extension) or agricultural extension workers can give advice on what they see because they are part of the farming community at the lowest local level,” he said. .
“The main roles of extension service delivery are technical support to farmers as well as agribusiness advice. We view our extension officers as agribusiness advisors and are the anchor agents of agricultural transformation and rural development.
Dr Basera said that in recognizing the critical role of agricultural extension officers, President Mnangagwa has made several interventions to ensure that they have adequate resources to administer their duties.
He said they have been given motorbikes and fuel which enable them to reach all their targeted farmers by neighborhood.
“They receive electronic gadgets/tablets, monthly airtime and data packages to facilitate communication and receive key extension information targeting farmers and they also get technical capacity building through ongoing online training. They take refresher modules every six months and take exams,” he said.
“Plans are at an advanced stage to give each agent a demo pack of entries that they will self-administer for skill capacitation. We intend to develop our extension officers into well-mannered and technically savvy agricultural practitioners.
Dr. Basera said the government has also put in place a strong monitoring and evaluation mechanism to ensure that the extension workers are performing their duties.
“A reporting system where weekly reports are submitted is another measure that ensures that agricultural extension agents execute and achieve their scheduled activities. There are various programs that require execution by agricultural extension agents and these have objectives. Structures and processes have been put in place to track progress and reports are used to determine responsibility and accountability of implementation teams,” said Dr Basera.