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Life of agric extension service in Zim: Part One…birth of agric extension services

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AGRICULTURAL extension services play an important role in agriculture. 

In Zimbabwe, the agricultural extension service was initially introduced in 1927.

It started with nine agricultural demonstration workers in the Agriculture Department, an arm of the Native Department in the then Ministry of Internal Affairs.

At that time, the two departments, namely the Native Department and the Agriculture Department, were said to be the best collaborators of governmental action.

From the Rhodesian’s point of view, rural agriculture was to be improved through “…the engagement of the Native Department … directly responsible for the appointment of agricultural demonstrators and extension officers.” 

The duties and aims of the demonstrators stipulated that: “…the agricultural demonstrators were appointed to assist and advise natives to make the most of arable and grazing lands.” 

The demonstrators, in turn, worked hand-in-glove with the traditional leadership, mainly chiefs, to implement the settlers’ agricultural policies, projects and other measures deemed necessary by the government. 

However, this had the effect of alienating the chiefs and headmen from their people as it tended to create social inequalities in the manner in which power and income were distributed between the chiefs and commoners by giving the chiefs this vantage position. 

Thus, the engagement of traditional leaders was often resisted. 

 Demonstrators and such administratively appointed chiefs, together with compliant religious leaders, were tasked with the responsibility of persuading and convincing black people to accept the rationale for new crop cultivation that were being introduced in various districts – for example the growing of cotton in Sanyati. 

The agricultural extension service was designed, among other things, to provide material services and advice to the natives throughout the country in line with the Agricultural Demonstration Policy adopted in 1945, by the then Director of Native Agriculture. Demonstrators were employed in marking out new lands for resettled people. One of their major tasks entailed the preparation and marking out of lands for planting. 

Among the first demonstrators to be appointed in 1947 were Macloud Mushawarima and Lazarus Sithole who were stationed in the newly created Sanyati Reserve where cotton was introduced. 

Here, demonstrators were urgently needed in connection with the settlement of the reserve by people dispossessed of their traditional lands.  

My maternal grandfather, Joram Mariga (1927-2000), had excelled in agricultural science at Waddilove School and subsequently trained as an agricultural extension officer.  

He was first posted to Zvimba, then to Nyanga where he began to sculpt and eventually became a world renowned stone sculptor.

The Agriculture Department also maintained official control over certain aspects of agricultural production; for example, registration of the numbers of crop growers, such as cotton, which was also utilised to facilitate marketing procedures and the disbursement of cash to farmers who had delivered their crop to the marketing boards.

Later, the Department of Conservation and Extension (CONEX) and the Department of Agricultural Development (DEVAG) were established. 

CONEX had the institutional mandate to provide advisory services to white large-scale commercial farmers, while DEVAG was meant to service indigenous smallholder farming communities.  

At independence in 1980, both CONEX and DEVAG were amalgamated into the Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX).

The Group Development Area (GDA) approach to farming was used by the Rhodesian régime throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s.  

This approach was based on area and project development through community participation in which in some cases, the local people provided labour while government or donors provided the necessary inputs. 

The GDA concept allowed the extension service to penetrate difficult areas and introduce agricultural extension technology as well as making it easier to introduce other development initiatives closely related to agriculture. 

A large number of GDAs were established in Mashonaland East Province, particularly in Murehwa and Mutoko Districts. A more widely adopted approach was the Master Farmer Training Scheme, which was originally introduced in the 1930s as a means of developing competent farmers.  

This approach was mainly followed by most extension agents, pre-independence, to improve rural smallholder agriculture. 

 The objective of the master farmer training was to spread modern, scientific farming techniques in communal areas. Master farmer certificates and badges were awarded to communal farmers who adopted and practised improved methods. 

This extension approach was based on the ‘trickle-down’ theory of extension in which a few advanced farmers received extension and information training while, in turn, they were expected to pass on this knowledge to other farmers through farmer-to-farmer dissemination and demonstrations. 

My grandfather Henry Muchemwa Zvimba Mhonda, was a Master Farmer in the 1930s and had gained an accumulation of Master Farmer certificates and badges for his farming expertise.  

Both he and my great-grandfather, Chikambi-Zvimba, who was a rancher and mixed agriculture farmer before him, implanted in me an early interest, knowledge and love of the land, agriculture and livestock.

One of the successes of these schemes was the high adoption rate of very visible innovations such as hybrid maize, although the programme failed to produce notable yield increases in many African crops because of the difficult of marketing surplus crops.

Following independence, AGRITEX upgraded the Master Farmer Training Scheme to include an Advanced Master Farmer Training Programme. 

In spite of accusations — mainly that the scheme benefitted better-off farmers at the exclusion of the bulk of communal farmers with little contact with other target groups thus increasing existing income differentials among the social groups, it remained at the core of AGRITEX’s work. 

AGRITEX faced serious difficulties, especially the loss of experienced staff. 

As a result, both institutional memory and technical expertise in dealing with farmers were lost. This was compounded by new staff with limited or no practical knowledge of farming or of providing technical expert advice. 

Given that AGRITEX was a product of two organisations dealing with farmers from different socio-economic backgrounds, it spent much of the initial 20 years establishing itself as a ‘service for all farmers’, but especially smallholder farmers.  

Its main drawbacks were its difficulty to direct services to the needy; the focus on a particular individual or group could precluded support and services for other deserving clientele; a heavy reliance on Government and donors made projects vulnerable in the event of Government deficit or donor weariness; and the assumed approach that all farmers faced similar problems and operated in a homogenous environment.

In time, a number of agricultural extension approaches emerged, including participatory extension approaches, participatory learning approaches, participatory rural appraisals, rapid rural appraisals, participatory technology development, farmer field schools, innovative farmer workshops and look-and-learn tours. 

In other extension approaches like farmer-first, farmer-back-to-farmer, farmer-to-farmer extension and facilitation, extension agents responded to farmers’ requests and programmes and visited farmers only when required. These bottom-up approaches enabled farmers to take the initiative, make decisions and choose from different service providers based on an organisation’s ability to deliver appropriate services.

AGRITEX also experimented with project-based extension, in which a group of farmers worked on a project, such as pig production, while learning the production aspects that then allowed them to implement that project on their own.  

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.  He holds a PhD, DVM and a DBA. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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