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Formal institutional linkages and informal networks among extension service providers

In some districts, intervention has been characterized by much duplication and wastage of resources. In some cases, intervening actors have noticed this problem and have started to collaborate with each other in their intervention processes. Established formal institutional linkages and informal networks have emerged around particular interventions. Some collaboration initiatives have tended to be geographic, and others sectoral or discipline-specific. For these reasons, some linkages have also tended to be departmentalized within certain organizations. For example, in AGRITEX, the management branch collaborates more with NGOs that are involved in socio-economic issues, while the crop and livestock branches collaborate more with actors with whom they have common areas of interest, such as Seed-Co. and Agrifoods. Both formal institutional linkages and informal networks are characterized by joint planning, joint implementation (including field visits), division of tasks, and sharing of information and resources. Established linkages and networks have also tended to manifest themselves in other departments and common areas of interest. Another general finding is that linkages and networks are more pronounced at the district and local levels (the operation levels) than at the head office or provincial levels. Thus, arrangements are usually made at the operational (usually the district) level. A few formal linkages characterize relationships at the administrative (head office) level, where informal networks are almost non-existent.

Conceptually, formal linkages differ markedly from informal networks. Formal linkages are very institutional in nature, and have written and laid down goals and procedures. Informal networks depend more on individual efforts to network than on organizational mandates or initiatives. The perception of formal linkages is that everything is formalized and laid down, and that all participants know their own and other actors' responsibilities. Organizations are represented on the boards of other collaborating institutions or organizations. Informal linkages or networks depend on personal contact among the members of different organizations, tend to be determined by need and are developed when required.

Informal networks usually emerge from mutual accommodation and cooperation among and within various state agencies, NGOs, international organizations and groups of farmers. These networks are characterized by the generation or development of knowledge and the exchange of information and resources through regular interaction or informal contacts among different actors. The main difference between informal networks and formal institutional linkages lies in the initiatives and efforts of different organizations, individuals and local communities to create and maintain them. Informal networks can sometimes be based on the objective of a reciprocal exchange of information and favours. Again, the emphasis is on a one-to-one networking effort, as opposed to the organizational culture that characterizes most formal linkages.

This study has produced a conceptual discourse. One of its major findings is that many stakeholders perceive no clear-cut lines between what can be considered a formal linkage and what can be considered an informal network. Several key informants acting as the representatives of various agricultural extension service providers pointed out that they perceive linkages and networks as a single concept in collaboration efforts. Various informal discussions with informants during interviews also revealed the weakness of formal linkages among agricultural extension service providers - established linkages tend to be more personalized than institutional.

This section provides an insight into various formal institutional linkages and informal networks by highlighting a few selected and exceptional examples of existing linkages and networks that were encountered during the study. Much effort was put into covering as many collaboration initiatives as possible. However, for reasons of time, space and resources, not all collaboration initiatives are described. This section provides an insight into the various organizations, their modus operandi and the existing and potential linkages/networks among different actors by reviewing a selection of collaboration initiatives encountered during the period of the study.

Linkages and networks around various extension service providers


According to sources at AGRITEX, linkages with organizations such as DR&SS, the Department of Veterinary Services and the Livestock Development Trust (LDT) are formalized. For example, in on-farm trials, DR&SS conduct the trials, while AGRITEX field staff mobilize local communities, identify collaborating farmers, introduce researchers and monitor experiments. In addition, AGRITEX is represented on the boards of both the Dairy Development Programme and LDT. A similar formal arrangement exists between AGRITEX and some donor-funded rural development programmes.

However, there are aspects of informal networking within what are classified as formal linkages. For example, the informal networks between AGRITEX personnel and the personnel of other donor-funded rural development programmes probably arise because these programmes are often headed by former AGRITEX personnel. There are similar informal relationships between AGRITEX and several NGOs because AGRITEX is a favourite "training and hunting ground" for NGOs. AGRITEX informants hold that networks are more pronounced at the district level, where the operating environment and the need to achieve objectives force the various actors to collaborate. For example, AGRITEX has informal linkages with rural district councils: it works with local agricultural project coordinators and is represented on local councils' agricultural and natural resources subcommittees.

AGRITEX also enjoys symbiotic relationships with various other agricultural extension service providers, from which both parties stand to benefit. Examples include the joint field days and competitions organized by AGRITEX and private seed houses and animal feed companies. AGRITEX uses these joint activities as platforms for the dissemination of information and to encourage the adoption of new technologies, while private companies use them for marketing purposes: AGRITEX mobilizes farmers and the private agrochemical companies pay for the occasions.

Similar strategic alliances with NGOs allow AGRITEX to mobilize local communities and train farmers in return for better access to the resources that it needs (vehicles, technical assistance and financing). NGOs benefit from AGRITEX's extension expertise and wide representation on the ground to ensure maximum outreach for their activities. Established linkages and networks have also manifested themselves in other departments and common areas of interest. For example, when a number of organizations involved in link-up programmes became aware that AGRITEX's engineering division manufactures farm equipment, they started to use that equipment in their projects. However, most linkages with NGOs are based on short-term projects, and so tend not to be very sustainable.

Informal linkages and networks also exist between AGRITEX and the University of Zimbabwe (based on mutual exchange of information), the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (based on interactions during activities of common concern such as nutrition gardens and supplementary feeding schemes, which both rely on AGRITEX field staff) and many other line ministries (which rely on AGRITEX because their own coverage is very thin).

The Gokwe Dairy Development Programme project

The Gokwe Dairy Development Programme project is an example of linkages and networks at the district or operation level. The project presents a multiple-actor scenario, which directly or indirectly involves several different actors. The Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC), before its transformation into Agribank, provided start-up capital to individual farmers. The Dairy Development Programme is the major player in the project, which it established in 1994 in response to local demands. Its main activities comprise: mobilizing farmers to join the project; taking interested farmers to commercial dairy farms to acquire animals; facilitating the group transportation of purchased animals; and general financial support.

Collaboration between the Dairy Development Programme and other actors in the project included:


The Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) works with rural district councils, which are granted appropriate authority status through the Ministry of Local Government, which also deals with local governance issues such as approval of by-laws. Extension staff of the CAMPFIRE units of rural district councils carry out most of the extension work. The programme is the overall coordinator and a source of expertise for the councils.

A group of organizations under CAMPFIRE act as service providers:

In addition to existing partnerships and the resulting informal networks, formal linkages could be established between CAMPFIRE and various other actors, including the University of Zimbabwe's Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension and Department of Mining Engineering, as well as corporate organizations.

Smallholder-targeted tobacco research and extension

The Zimbabwe Tobacco Association and the Farmers' Development Trust are the major players in tobacco research and extension programmes. Through the Tobacco Research Board, the Tobacco Association conducts research on tobacco and acts as the source of technical information, which is relayed to farmers through the Farmers' Development Trust. However, because it is very thin on the ground, the trust relies on AGRITEX for wider dissemination of information. In the joint programme, the trust train's AGRITEX's field-level extension workers, and then takes advantage of AGRITEX's extension expertise and representation on the ground to ensure wide coverage of the areas they are working in. AGRITEX and these other organizations all share resources and carry out joint activities to promote smallholder tobacco production.

Collaboration in this area includes:

The Cotton Research and Extension Programme

Cotton is an increasingly important cash crop and a potential major earner of foreign currency in Zimbabwe, especially since lobbying for an international tobacco ban. DR&SS's Cotton Research Institute is the key player in cotton research, while AGRITEX remains the key facilitator in cotton technology uptake. AGRITEX identifies farmers for on-farm trials and monitors the trials, while the research institute provides inputs. Breeders work with cotton marketing companies (for both local and export markets) in order to keep in touch with cotton marketing requirements, such as fibre strength and varieties suitable for weaving and spinning.

Cotton marketing companies collaborate with cotton research by:

The Wedza Social Forestry Programme

The Social Forestry Project in Wedza District is a rural development programme initiated and funded by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). The main backbone of the Social Forestry Programme is comprised of the Forestry Commission and AGRITEX, who are also members of the district social forestry committee under the auspices of the Wedza Rural District Council. AGRITEX conducts 80 percent of the training, and the Forestry Commission handles the rest. The commission also works with local authorities, notably rural district councils, and is a member of the council subcommittee on natural resources. The Department for Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Board are the state organs responsible for natural resources management. Their main role is in raising environmental awareness and enforcing natural resource regulations, including the Forestry Act.

The Forestry Commission holds training workshops for teachers and officers from the line ministries. These workshops involve AGRITEX extension workers, local government officers stationed in districts, field officers from the Department of Natural Resources, village community workers from the Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, and members of collaborating NGOs. Other actors include politicians and traditional leaders, who are important components because of the great respect they given by local people.

The Forestry Commission relies on networking to reach its target populations. Networking entails joint planning and the sharing of information and resources for the following activities:

Local people participate in natural resources management through the Village Development Committees of the Ministry of Local Government. These committees mobilize villagers in communal development activities such as woodlot establishment and are also used as vehicles of extension.

The Forestry Commission uses schools as centres for the dissemination of knowledge and information about forestry conservation. The Community Outreach Programme uses students as a vehicle for reaching a wider audience with their extension messages. Extension work in schools is centred on woodlot projects and the Schools Tree Growing and Tree Care Programme, which has annual competitions with awards and judging from private companies.

Networks around rural district councils

Rural district councils are key actors in the rural development process because, at the district level, all rural development projects pass through the rural district council. Although District Administrator offices are officially responsible for coordinating activities at the district level, they are so underfunded that they lack the resources and power to carry out their responsibilities. This leaves rural district councils as the coordinators of local social change processes.

Subcommittees within the Rural District Development Committee include: the Agriculture and Water Supplies Committee (chaired by AGRITEX), the District Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee (chaired by the Natural Resources Board), and the District Social Forestry Subcommittee (which includes the Forestry Commission and AGRITEX). Other committees handle planning, finance, social services, administration, and roads and works. The planning committee is responsible for all of the coordination activities handled by the council. All organizations implementing rural development programmes come through and report to the planning committee. Among the rural development programmes that are coordinated by rural district councils is CARE International's Small Dams Rehabilitation Programme, which also involves AGRITEX, the Natural Resources Board, the Forestry Commission, and the Ministry of Youth Development, Gender and Employment Creation.

As well as their coordination role, rural district councils are also directly involved in implementing rural development programmes. Together with the Ministry of Local Government, rural district councils implement the Poverty Alleviation Action Programme, which seeks to build communities' capacity to develop. This programme funds community development projects that are identified by the communities themselves with the help of AGRITEX. Other actors in the programme are the Ministry of Youth Development, Gender and Employment Creation (through its ward coordinators and village community workers), the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (through environmental health officers), the Ministry of Education (through its network of schools), the Department of Veterinary Services and the District Development Fund (through community dip tanks and bore-holes).

Informal farmer knowledge networks

Smallholder farmers are the holders of rich and diverse indigenous knowledge that is critical for sustained agricultural production. For example, they know which local plant species can be used as animal feed or medicine, and they traditionally practise mixed and intercropping as strategies for diversifying and spreading harvests, ensuring food security, protecting soil and saving moisture. Extension workers discouraged this practice, until they realized its benefits and reintroduced it.

Technology development through trial-and-error experimentation and the integration of new knowledge has always been a necessary part of local farmers' work. Informal experiments by farmers are a result of need, a desire to improve livelihoods, general inquisitiveness, and/or curiosity to verify ideas observed elsewhere (Hanyani-Mlambo, 1995). Farmers also experiment in order to minimize risk, adapt technical recommendations to local conditions, solve specific problems, test existing technologies or ideas (Rhoades and Bebbington, 1988) and adjust to changing climatic and socio-economic conditions. Research also suggests that experiments increase in number and complexity after a crisis.

Trial-and-error experimentation and informal networks have also been sources and vehicles of information in the large-scale commercial farming sector. For example, a large-scale commercial dairy farmer in the Beatrice commercial farming area successfully transformed a high-input commercial dairy enterprise into a holistic low-input dairy system through informal networking and trial-and-error experimentation. Holistic dairy farming is a fairly new concept, which does not rely on traditional extension service providers but on informal networks of farmers who already use the system or who are in the process of adopting it.

Both locally and externally generated technologies are disseminated through farmer-to-farmer interaction. Informal linkages and networks include the exchange and sharing of information, knowledge, agricultural equipment, materials such as seed, inputs and facilities for transporting agricultural produce to market. Farmers also consult each other about the problems they encounter and interact in agricultural extension and other interest groups. Farmer-to-farmer linkages and informal networks tend to be strongest among farmers with common interests and agendas, such as a new crop. Gender- or age-based groups include the male-dominated domain of cattle fattening, youth- and women-oriented activities such as poultry production, and more gender-neutral crop production enterprises such as maize production.

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