Extension services in the region are failing farmers and a new approach is needed if the agricultural sector is to be transformed, said Dr Daimon Kambewa at the annual Southern African Conference for Agricultural Unions (SACAU), underway in Cape Town.
“The old extension model was based on providing skills and knowledge to farmers so they can practice this in their fields. But we need to empower farmers. That would be the only way farmers would change and be transformed,” said Kambewa, an associate professor of Agrarian Studies at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture.
He said current extension services are not responsive to the needs of agriculture and should cater to a more complex agricultural future.
What went wrong?
According to Kambewa, farmers are passive receivers of services and new technology, without being innovative themselves. He said there is very little interaction between extension officers, farmers and research facilities. As a result, agriculture cannot change.
He said if farmers have to wait for governments to upscale these services, “agriculture would never be transformed.”
According to him, the private sector needs to come on board to cover the skills and needs farmers have.
“We need the buy-in from the private sector, but also NGO’s, universities as well as farmers themselves to provide these services.”
However, he warns that bringing in the private sector can make extension services costly, “because companies are there to make money”.
Another problem is the quality of help being offered.
“Extension officers are not trained properly, or don’t have the skills to properly aid farmers,” Kambewa said.
They should have more diverse skills to address farmers’ needs. This also means more aspects of agriculture should be covered by extension services. Currently production is the main focus, with subjects like marketing or post harvest planning lacking.
Kambewa said extension is the life-blood of agriculture and should be well funded.
“However, if you look at several government budgets, most funds are allocated to providing inputs and not supporting extension.”
He also believes the extension services of most African countries don’t address agriculture holistically.
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