Agricultural extension plays an important catalytic role in agricultural and rural development. It brings the farming community information and new technologies that can be adopted to improve production, incomes and standards of living. Agricultural extension provides a channel through which farmers' problems can be identified for research and for the modification of agricultural policies to the benefit of rural communities. The extension system also provides a framework through which farmers are organized into functional groups in order to gain access to production resources such as credit, inputs, marketing services and information on government development programmes.
In Zimbabwe, there are numerous extension service providers, including, especially: public-funded institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), commodity processors, farmers' associations, and private agrochemical input suppliers. Smallholder farmers rely heavily on public extension systems, which are experiencing increasing operational difficulties as a result of dwindling resources. On the other hand, NGOs have better financial resources, but service only small clienteles and deal with only limited numbers of commodities. Various grassroots-level extension providers operate with specific objectives and outputs that are of little significance to productivity and sustainable agricultural development. Pluralism in agricultural extension allows farmers to choose among alternatives because the various extension providers offer different services. However, the levels of pluralism and uncoordinated extension services at the grassroots level are resulting in lower outputs and confusion, at farmers' expense. This calls for the facilitation of coordination and collaboration among both public and private extension providers in order to ensure a unified service and to avoid duplication and wastage of scarce resources. Based on this justification, this study seeks examines the current status of the local extension system and aims to develop a collaborative strategy to ensure its effectiveness and efficiency. The study is an input to an all-stakeholder workshop and pilot programme for the recommended collaborative extension strategies.
Within the main objectives of examining the current status of the local extension system and developing a collaborative strategy to ensure its effectiveness and efficiency, the specific objectives and Terms of Reference were:
i) to carry out a critical analysis of the current extension system;
ii) to highlight the conventional approaches to agricultural extension;
iii) to develop a picture of who is providing what kind of extension service for community development;
iv) to identify current and potential partnerships among service providers within the country;
v) to identify successful experiences in improving smallholder livelihoods;
vi) to assess the individual and collective strengths and weaknesses of the service providers;
vii) to recommend cases for further documentation;
viii) to recommend collaborative extension strategies;
xi) to identify, recommend and justify three potential pilot areas.
The basic research approach used was the rapid appraisal of agricultural knowledge systems (RAAKS) methodology, adapted from Engel and Salomon (1993). The RAAKS methodology is characterized by the active participation of all actors in problem definition, situation analysis and the identification of
constraints to, and opportunities for, improvement. Complementary research methodologies include qualitative research techniques such as key informant (stakeholder) interviews, as well as formal and informal discussions with selected informants. Through this methodology, the study critically analysed systems' capacities, constraints, strengths and weaknesses; individual organizations' roles, perceptions, resource endowments and collaborating partners; and the profiles and extension needs of beneficiaries. Information from desk studies was also used. The target population for the study was defined as consisting primarily of all stakeholders within the public and private extension systems. Interviewed key informants included farmers, technical officers in farmers' organizations, senior extension staff at the head office and provincial levels, field extension agents, NGO representatives and the heads of both private and public extension service providers. Provincial centres visited included Marondera, Gweru and Masvingo, while the rural districts visited included Wedza, Gokwe and Chivi. The Beatrice large-scale commercial farming area acted as the source area for interviews with commercial farmers. Annex 1 contains a guide for key informant interviews.