The Centre for Trade Policy and Development has appealed to the Zambian government to prioritize the provision of Agriculture Extension Services as a sure way of ensuring increased agricultural productivity.
CTPD Head of Programme and Research Brian Chiko Mwiinga said as preparations for the 2019 national budget reach an advanced stage, there is need for the government to increase its invest in Agriculture Extension Services.
Mr Mwiinga said not only should the government employ more extension workers, they should also invest more resources in ensuring that the already existing agricultural extension workers are given periodic refresher trainings to keep them well abreast of the new knowledge and emerging best practices in agriculture for onward transmission to the small-scale farmers.
He said CTPD wants to see a situation where farmers are able to graduate from being referred to as Small Scale Farmers for years on end without graduating.
“It is not a secret that agriculture remains a cornerstone for Zambia’s prosperity now and in the future. Agricultural Extension Services (AES) (also known as agricultural advisory services) world over are regarded as the fuel that propels the agricultural machinery. They are at the very heart of agricultural and rural development and promoting agriculture as an engine of pro- poor economic growth,” Mr Mwiinga observed.
He said the role Agricultural Extension Services play in Zambia’s agriculture is crucial in as far as promoting agricultural productivity, increasing food security, increasing incomes and contributing to the improvement of livelihoods of the poor people most of who are found in the rural areas and are engaged in small scale farming.
“While the Zambian government has invested heavily in the FISP as a way of enhancing Small Scale farmers productivity (which is commendable), it has at the same time not done so well in enhancing the provision of Agricultural Extension Services across the country. The effect of this has been reduced agricultural productivity among our country’s Small-Scale Farmers (SSFs).”
He added, “As such The Centre for trade Policy and Development is of the view that while the Zambian government continues making frantic efforts to make the FISP initiative via the e-voucher system succeed, the gains from these efforts will amount to an exercise in futility if the AES remains dysfunctional. At CTPD, we are alive to the fact that farming involves more than just provision of agricultural inputs.”
Mr Mwiinga said agriculture investment also requires timely and constant provision of information on production practices, post-harvest management and markets.
“As such, it is our considered view that the use of hybrid seed varieties and chemical fertilizers provided under the FISP initiative alone will not yield any meaningful positive results if the recipients do not have access to proper production methods provided via an elaborate and modern AES,” he said.
He charged that it is disheartening to note that in its current form, Zambia’s AES does not inspire confidence.
“The SSF farmers are not receiving the advisory services that they deserve and at the required frequency. The methods being employed are outdated and require urgent attention in this fast-changing technological era. We surely cannot afford to continue employing old, failed and tested agricultural practices at a time when our SSFs are supposed to be embracing new and sophisticated ways of agricultural production methods,” he stated.
“We appreciate the challenges that our gallant men and women who work as agricultural extension officers go through as they discharge their duties. We understand the transport challenges they face. We also understand that the ratio between one extension officer and the farmers is beyond what they can handle professionally and diligently. As if that were not enough, we also understand the poor working conditions that these gallant men and women are subjected to,” Mr Mwiinga added.