A VIBRANT agricultural sector encompasses key facets of the agriculture sector, starting with agricultural production and productivity to ensure national food and nutrition security; agriculture, knowledge, technology and innovation systems (AKTIS); agricultural infrastructure; agro-processing and value addition; agricultural marketing and trade; agricultural finance and credit; and land administration and secure land rights.
Currently, agricultural education in Zimbabwe is provided by eight public agricultural colleges spread throughout the country’s provinces.
These agricultural colleges produce, on average, 2 000 graduates per year at diploma and certificate levels.
Training is in the areas of crop and livestock production; commercial farming; animal health; meat and livestock classification as well as disease control.
In addition, private colleges supplement Government efforts, especially in areas associated with commodity exports.
Additionally, each of the 10 provinces has one public university providing agricultural education at graduate and post-graduate levels.
Programmes are also available to upgrade National Certificate holders to Diploma level through modular training which aims to further the technical proficiencies in agriculture to meet the demands of this evolving sector.
As of 2017/2018, there were about 330 students enrolled under the‘Upgrading Programme’ offered at Chibero, Esigodini, Gwebi, Mlezu and Rio Tinto colleges.
Meeting the increasing demand for qualified staff has resulted in other programmes, such as the Young Commercial Farmer Training offered at Kushinga Phikelela National Farmer Training College, designed to train young students who leave college with hands-on skills in agriculture.
The National Farmer Training Centre plays a co-ordinating role in farmer training.
Agricultural training institutes, however, face the challenges of insufficient funding to efficiently run their programmes.
They have inadequate trained staff to respond to the many sectoral changes and needs, and have limited support services in terms of modern infrastructure, industrial attachments and collaborations with public as well as private, national, regional and international partners.
According to the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Development, the AKTIS in Zimbabwe is anchored in agricultural research, education and extension services, and has, at the best of times, facilitated a fairly robust agricultural sector.
However, concerns have been raised regarding the extent to which existing AKTIS (system) has developed in tandem with the current evolving changes in state-of-the-art information, technologies and innovations, the integration of agricultural market-centred business practices, emerging global opportunities and challenges as well as its responsiveness to the needs and demands of the agricultural value chains.
In Zimbabwe, the AKTIS is largely driven by investment in agricultural research, education and extension systems from the public sector, academia and non-State actors.
These systems are used as the main drivers for knowledge exchanged and disseminated across the agricultural value chain. The use of these systems has been facilitated through support along the value chain, that is Government (public) systems (research and extension departments), the private sector, development partners, academic and research institutes and farmer’s associations.
Due to inadequate investments in the development of these systems in Zimbabwe, the informal knowledge networks are rapidly replacing the formal networks as the main drivers of knowledge communication.
Agricultural extension and advisory services play a pivotal role in the development of agriculture in the country.
They impart practical knowledge and skills to farmers and are key drivers of agricultural growth.
In Zimbabwe, extension services are provided by the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) through the Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX) at no direct charge to farmers.
According to the Ministry of Lands: “The extension system was once very effective and efficient, but due to the structural reforms of the 1990s, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the economic crisis of the 2000s, the performance of the system has changed dramatically. The system was further weakened by the increased demand for extension services from the Land Reform Programme in the 2000s that resulted in a rise in the number of smallholder farmers.”
Currently, there is a dearth of extension workers in Zimbabwe. There are about 4 200 extension workers and the total number of farmers is estimated at 1 800 000; the farmer-to-extension services ratio is about 800:1.
To meet the increased demand for these services, the Fast Track Extension Agent (FTEA) training programme was introduced.
However, according to the Ministry: “Some of the graduates produced lack adequate practical proficiency, and this has led to even greater inefficiencies in service delivery.”
Government budgetary allocations are insufficient to sustain the functions of extension services and research institutions in Zimbabwe.
The allocations fall short of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development – Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (NEPAD – CAADP) recommendation of investing one percent of the agricultural GDP in agricultural research.
A huge proportion of the budget allocation goes towards salaries.
Similarly, 95 percent of the current budgetary allocation for extension services is devoted to salaries.
This leaves an estimated annual budget of US$6 million being allocated to other costs.
The budget allocation of funds for research and extension has been dramatically reduced over the years.
These budgetary constraints have significantly reduced research activities and the activities of the extension workers, as well as in-service training, updating technological advances and the procurement of basic research and extension equipment. Furthermore, links with other relevant extension institutions, universities, private sector and farmers’ unions and associations are weak and, in some instances, non-existent.
This has had a negative effect in the dissemination of research results and adoption of new technologies.
Agricultural research is dominated by Government institutions, with some falling outside the mandate of the Ministry responsible for agriculture – such as the Scientific Industrial Research and Development Corporation (SIRDC).
The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is mandated with the co-ordination of research programmes, while other Government and non-Government agencies are responsible for the implementation of such programmes.
There are also a number of research activities taking place that are driven by the private sector, like seed and fertiliser companies, academia (universities and colleges) and, in some cases, individuals using their own resources.
There are a number of research institutions in the Ministry under the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS), and Livestock and Veterinary Services that provide research-based know-how and technical information for advisory services and products for supporting enhanced agricultural productivity and the production of various crops and livestock.
These include the Crop Breeding Institute, Chiredzi Station, Grassland Research Station, Matopo Research Station and the Central Veterinary Laboratory.
The Tobacco Research Board and the Pig Industry Board also fall under the Ministry but outside the DR&SS.
Dr Tony Monda is an independent Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst-consultant. He is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology, agro-economic and food security research in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com