ZAMBIA's vitally important agriculture sector which employs more than 70 percent of the working population, is facing a critical shortage of government extension services but at the same time, the governing Patriotic Front (PF) says it wants to make agriculture a priority.
A Makanday survey has shown that:
- Across Zambia there is one extension worker for every 1,000 farmers.
- Extension staff lack transport to get to farmers, and that some use their own bicycles and transport and
- Despite claiming that agriculture is a national priority, only 2% of the budget goes towards extension services and research.
Agricultural extension is defined as the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agriculture through farmer education.
Documents viewed by Makanday show that in 2019, only 2% of the total agriculture budget was allocated for research and extension services. The same documents also highlight that in 2020, 1.50% has been allocated to the same.
However, extension workers face many difficulties.
A survey conducted by Makanday shows that in Luapula Province for example, the camps extension workers man are vast with many farmers for one extension worker.
Adrian Hayunga said he has 980 farmers to manage and resources do not allow him to reach out to every farmer.
“I have a motorcycle that I use for field work but no resources for fuel, so I have to buy fuel myself,” Hayunga explained.
Maggie Makofi also said transport to reach farmers is really a hitch. Makofi does not own a motorcycle and is forced to use her bicycle to reach farmers.
“The main challenge is lack of transport because I can’t get to them quickly when farmers need me,” she said.
She told Makanday that another problem is that the camp is so big that she can’t visit some zones.
Senanga district agriculture coordinator (DACO), Mwangala Mukelabai said the main drawback that extension workers encounter in the district is also transport but fortunately, extension workers all have motorcycles.
“The Agriculture Infrastructure Development Project, sponsored by the African Development Bank, has helped address this issue,” Mukelabai said.
He told Makanday that another problem extension workers face is that some farmers are resistant to change.
“A section of the farmers is not interested in the services provided by extension workers, so this makes it difficult for the workers to carry out their work,” he explained.
Ministry of agriculture director Moses Mwale admitted to Makanday that the government needs to employ more extension workers.
He said currently, the ministry has 2,523 agricultural extension workers who are in charge of 2 701 agricultural camps covering almost 2.5-million farmers.
“This is not enough but we have asked the ministry of finance to give us authority to employ,” Mwale said.
He said in 2018, the ministry recruited 564 extension workers, and is hoping for permission to hire a similar number this time.
He said government is now using other methods to reach out to small-scale farmers, including radio programmes, television and text messages.
But Mwale conceded that the lack of extension services and staff in some areas has had a negative impact on agriculture.
The Patriotic Front government says it has made agriculture its priority.
In his 2021 budget, Finance Minister Bwalya Ng’andu said the sector performed very well in the 2019/2020 farming season. However, Ng’andu acknowledged that despite an increase in output, productivity among small-scale farmers remains low.
He said the government will strengthen extension services and is committed to seeing that all Farmer Input Support Programme beneficiaries adopt climate-smart agricultural technologies and practices.
The National Union for Small-Scale Farmers says a lot needs to be done to ensure that small-scale farmers across the country can access extension services.
Union Executive Director Ebony Loloji said the ratio of extension workers to the number of farmers is very low.
“The ministry of agriculture is understaffed. In most cases, one extension worker is servicing between 1 000 and 2 000 farmers,” Loloji said.
He told Makanday that the quality of service offered to the farmers is not up to standard.
“Extension workers are supposed to be offered refresher courses frequently so that they can transfer any new technology or knowledge to the farmers – but that is not what our farmers are getting,” Loloji complained.
Even if government is introducing new ways of reaching out to the small farmers such as smart phones, only farmers close to town can access this information, leaving those in rural areas at a disadvantage.
Loloji said to improve the quality of extension services, government needs to align the agricultural budget.
“If you look at the national budget, even the 2021 proposal shows that a small portion goes to extension services and research,” he said.
Loloji also suggested government should plan well in advance before introducing new technology to the small-scale farmers.
“Most of the small-scale farmers are considered to be adult learners and so, they need extensive teaching to grasp the new technology,” he said.
If Zambia is to transform the agriculture sector, where should government spend more of its resources? The Indaba Agriculture Policy Research Institute (IAPRI) have the answer, and they say it should be in research.