Studies that seek to analyse the collaborations among various individuals, groups and organizations must always identify the different actors that are directly and indirectly involved in the collaboration processes. This is important for: creating a picture of who and what is involved; establishing individual actors' perceptions and how these affect intervention approaches; and highlighting the various strategies and resources that actors mobilize to achieve their individual objectives. Identifying the actors and looking at individual actors' perceptions, strategies, resources and interactions are now acknowledged as critical for the deconstruction of intervention and rural development processes.
The broadest categorization of actors is the classification of all agricultural extension service providers as interventionists. However, successful in-depth analysis requires a more detailed differentiation of categories. A local agricultural extension system presents a multi-actor, multiple-objective scenario from which various actor categories emerge. These include public community development and agricultural extension service providers, public research-cum-extension organizations, donor-supported rural development programmes, international and private research centres, farmers' associations, NGOs and bilateral donors, private agrochemical input suppliers, commodity processors, and "bat" actors. These categories and the actors falling within them are highlighted in the following and discussed in more detail in later sections.
Public community development and agricultural extension service providers
This category includes all conventional public agricultural and other rural development extension providers.
Public research-cum-extension organizations
This category comprises traditional public agricultural research establishments that are directly or indirectly involved in agricultural extension as a result of their mandates, the nature of their work at the grassroots level and/or the transformation and evolution of research and extension models towards approaches that are more farmer-participatory.
Donor-supported rural development programmes
Unlike many government-instituted rural development programmes, donor-initiated and -supported rural development programmes have been highlighted as actors in agricultural and rural development processes. Stakeholders say that this is because such initiatives are usually well-defined vehicles of agricultural extension and other rural development information.
International and private research centres
A number of international and local private research centres have also been identified as active players in the local agricultural extension system. As is the case with local public research establishments, these institutions are directly or indirectly involved in agricultural extension work for a number of reasons: the need to achieve their objective, which is a wider adoption of developed technologies, owing to the nature of their work at the grassroots level; and/or the transformation and evolution of research and extension approaches.
Farmers' unions and associations emerge as actors not only because they represent their members on the economic and political fronts, but also because they are active in policy advocacy, capacity building programmes and the dissemination of production and marketing information. Two of the four farmers' associations identified represent the two broad categories of farmers in Zimbabwe - commercial and smallholder farmers. The other two are based on a strategic alliance and specific farmer interests.
NGOs and bilateral donors
For various reasons, NGOs represent some of the more pronounced actors in all rural development contexts. NGOs are known for being relatively well endowed with financial resources for their programmes, their great mobility and their drive for bottom-up approaches. In some sectors, NGOs are associated with great strides in rural development. On the other hand, they have also been accused of promoting donor-dependency, and their rural development programmes have been criticized for lack of sustainability.
Private agrochemical input suppliers
For virtually all of the private companies that supply agrochemical inputs, direct or indirect involvement in agricultural extension is part of a marketing strategy to increase farmers' awareness of products, achieve a competitive edge and increase market share. Subcategories of these actors include seed houses, fertilizer manufacturers, pesticide and herbicide companies, and credit institutions.
Commodity processors and exporters
This group of actors is on the periphery of agricultural extension providers, mainly because they are only partially involved in such efforts. Their involvement normally stems from: i) the need to provide information about specific technical production aspects to the groups of farmers who produce on a contract basis on their behalf; and ii) for the same groups of farmers, commodity processors and exporters have also been known to disseminate information on quality and other standards that make either processing easier or exports acceptable.
The term "bat actors" derives from the animal of that name. Bat actors are intermediaries between agricultural extension service providers (interventionists) and the farmers who are the target groups or the intended beneficiaries of interventionist programmes (local actors). Bat actors are normally used as vehicles in interventionist programmes that involve agricultural extension, rural reforestation and natural resources conservation.
Profiles of various public and non-public providers of extension services are given in Annex 2.