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Recommendations and conclusions for collaborative extension delivery strategies


Why collaboration is essential

Collaboration and networking enable organizations to extend, and thereby improve, their outreach abilities in order to serve as many target groups and individual beneficiaries as possible. Lack of collaboration entails the duplication and repetition of projects that have already failed. For virtually all public-funded providers of extension services, collaboration is a strategic alliance that ensures their financial survival, especially given the current socio-economic environment and dwindling operating budgets. Thus, involvement in donor-funded projects could be a major source of operational funds for government departments. Given the present worldwide scarcity of resources and the resultant need for organizations to limit their spending, joint projects and programmes entail the sharing and more effective use of available resources. Collaboration is therefore important for ensuring more efficient use of resources and more effective intervention programmes. For example, organizations can share transport during joint field days or for field visits.

Some programmes are too narrow or too sector-focused to have much of an impact. In such programmes an integrated approach, which does not dilute the sectoral excellence, is important. A unified and well-coordinated agricultural extension service also enables various stakeholders' resources, skills, expertise and experience to be utilized, thereby ensuring the more effective use of resources. On the other hand, lack of coordination can confuse farmers and result in the failure of interventions.

Constraints to collaboration

This report discusses in full the technical, political and organizational factors that cause interfaces where collaboration is supposed to take place. In addition to these, there are various constraints to collaboration at both the administrative and the operational levels. As already mentioned, some implemented programmes tend to be too short-lived to have an impact, both on the ground and in terms of collaboration efforts. Some programmes are also too narrow, i.e. too sector-focused, to have much of an impact. Examples in this regard are NGO-implemented rural development programmes, which focus on specific geographic locations and run on the basis of three- or five-year projects whose time frames are not usually extended. Collaboration with other permanent establishments, such as government agencies or long-term programmes, then becomes difficult, ineffective and unsustainable.

According to various stakeholders, institutional coordination and networking is very expensive. This is because every organization has its own core business to represent in shared activities. Thus, budgeting for coordination platforms, such as field days, may have to include the costs for collaborating organizations that have no or few financial resources of their own (e.g. AGRITEX). Currently, the shortage of resources is leading some organizations to shift their attention from shared activities to concentrate on their core business, and this presents a threat to established linkages/networks. Some key informants highlighted cases in which officers within line ministries claimed travel and subsistence allowances from, for example, rural district councils. When such expenses were not met, collaborating line ministries were unwilling to continue the established linkages. There is also a tendency for people to choose where to go depending on the daily allowances given by the funding organization.

Some of the organizations/institutions that were established for coordination purposes have failed to fulfil this role. For example, the National Agency for Non-Governmental Organizations (NANGO) has been largely ineffective and is on the brink of collapse. A more serious criticism is the suggestion that collaboration efforts have been more supply-led (donor- and dollar-driven) than demand-driven (in response to the efforts of the organizations involved). Different organizations have also tended to use different field extension approaches and strategies. Examples of this include the use of top-down versus participatory approaches and the use or non-use of subsidized inputs earmarked for collaborating farmers in intervention programmes. Such differences in approaches and on-the-ground strategies have also tended to make collaboration difficult.

Recommended collaboration strategies

As previously highlighted, several formal and informal collaboration arrangements already exist. There is, however, a need to strengthen and expand these existing linkages by bringing in more actors and injecting more funds, because linkages are costly. There is also a need to establish new linkages where none yet exist. Several alternatives are considered in the following paragraphs. According to some informants, effective coordination can be ensured if the collaborative strategies implemented are directed at different administrative levels: for example, umbrella strategies at the national level and more specific strategies to coordinate activities at the operational level (e.g. the district level). All recommended collaboration strategies could be pilot tested to evaluate their effectiveness and to adapt them to suit conditions at the administrative and operational levels.

Project Coordinating Committees (stakeholder fora)

The Project Coordinating Committee (PCC) collaboration strategy is a project-specific and localized strategy for ensuring the smooth and effective implementation of rural development projects that involve a number of intervening actors and communities. PCCs are run on the same basis as stakeholder fora, in which a project or programme is coordinated by a committee of representatives from all the stakeholder groups involved. The PCC strategy is already on the ground, having been adopted by a number of rural development projects, including the CARE International projects in Masvingo and the Dairy Development Programme project in Gokwe South District. Although relative success has been reported, to date no detailed studies have been conducted as to how effective this strategy has been. However, the initiative could be extended to benefit many other similar intervention scenarios nationwide. For this reason, the PCC collaboration strategy is a worthwhile initiative to pilot test.

Utilizing and strengthening the coordination functions of rural district councils

As already highlighted, initially the District Administrator had the power to control all sector ministries but, owing to the shortage of resources, the District Administrator is now just a figurehead. This leaves rural district councils to assume a key role in the coordination of rural development processes, which they manage through well-established structures or systems of committees. At present, all district-level government agencies and all NGOs design individual plans, which are input into a single and unified district development plan, e.g. for a particular year or period. All the line ministries and NGOs involved in rural development programmes are attached and report to various district development subcommittees within the rural district councils. For example, AGRITEX and the Forestry Commission (under the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement) report to the Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources; and the Ministry of Health reports to the Subcommittee on Social Services (because of its involvement in the delivery of health services) and the Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources (because of its involvement in nutrition gardens, an initiative aimed at reducing malnutrition in rural areas). As well as district development plans, districts' needs and priorities could also be identified in rural district council documents. However, despite their critical coordination role, at present rural district councils have no influence over what happens within individual intervention scenarios or projects because each organization has its own power structure, which determines that organization's priorities, what is to be done and when.

In addition to current formal and informal structures within the frameworks of rural district councils, there is much scope for them to monitor and evaluate activities at the district level. Based on these additional functions, the level of collaboration among various actors can also be used as a variable for the monitoring and evaluation of progress in ongoing and concluded programmes. To expand this role, there is a need to ensure that all government agencies, NGOs and private companies with a stake in the agriculture sector are represented on various subcommittees at the district level. Therefore, it may be necessary to build the capacity of local rural district council officials through training and the utilization of existing structures to coordinate the various rural development programmes at the grassroots level. The coordination role of rural district councils can also be improved through strengthening their subcommittees, facilitating joint planning at the district level (where there are district development plans) and genuine decentralization that gives power to rural district councils.

Because of their experience and existing structures, rural district councils present the most cost-effective way to coordinate such initiatives. Coordinating extension activities through rural district councils also enables the sharing of experiences among the different organizations working within a particular district. A database of organizations working in a particular district, detailing their main areas of focus and activities, could help in this effort. Progress reports and periodic coordination meetings involving various service providers can also provide feedback to the design of new programmes. However, currently, local rural district councils tend to be weak, understaffed and underfunded, and their coordination impact is weak. This further justifies the need to build the capacity of and these structures and to empower them.

Establishing coordination platforms

Another worthwhile collaboration strategy is the setting up of coordination platforms whose role is to facilitate the establishment, maintenance and strengthening of linkages among various actors in the local agricultural extension system. Coordination platforms can include all-stakeholder workshops, think tank workshops and coordination committees. Such platforms can be designed to analyse the existing extension system and chart a way forward, through setting priorities for extension intervention and facilitating the implementation of joint extension programmes involving several service providers. This also entails more coordinated intervention activities, such as joint meetings, joint field days and joint field visits. By combining field activities:

i) agricultural extension service providers would speak with one voice, thereby eradicating parallel structures within an intervention context and reducing the chances of confusing farmers;

ii) the current duplication of efforts among NGOs and government agencies, and within line ministries or NGOs themselves, could be reduced;

iii) the number of meetings and the time spent with farmers would be reduced - in the worst cases, farmers spend 75 percent of their time attending meetings;

iv) the element of competition would be reduced and a sense of complementarity within service providers would be cultivated.

Coordination at the planning level enables different organizations to direct their efforts to different geographic areas, thereby improving the efficiency of resource allocation. Based on a centralized coordination of efforts, different actors could team up to implement joint intervention programmes. Again, this would ensure a more efficient use of the available resources and more effective intervention programmes.

Strategic alliances could also be formed with private companies and financial institutions, which in some cases are stakeholders because of their role as providers of agrochemical inputs and agricultural loans. Such alliances could ensure the injection of much-needed financial resources, given the strain on publicly funded extension service providers, donor fatigue and the withdrawal of investments for NGOs, as well as the fact that coordination tends to be expensive. A number of stakeholders perceive this as being particularly important, because they regard the availability of adequate resources to ensure effective collaboration as the main issue in collaboration. For example, AGRITEX has the infrastructure but no resources, while some NGOs have the resources but different, and sometimes questionable, agendas. According to these stakeholders, private companies tend to be more cooperative because they have a clearer and more straightforward agenda - to market their products.

Such funding can also enable a number of research-cum-extension service providers, such as DR&SS and the University of Zimbabwe, to be more active in research and extension activities at the grassroots level, thereby putting them in a position in which established linkages with traditional service providers (such as AGRITEX) can be more sustainable and more effective. Given their better research capacity, the involvement of such organizations in research and extension activities at the grassroots level also improves their linkages with target communities and ensures that the technologies generated are more appropriate and the intervention programmes more effective.

Creating a coordination function within the Agricultural Research Council

The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) presents promising potential and has an unquestionable role in coordination. At present, ARC has been largely dormant. However, given its mandate and position within the local agricultural system, and its experience in coordinating agricultural research, ARC could play a pivotal role in coordinating the service delivery of various agricultural extension service providers (some of whom are key players in agricultural research and already work with ARC).

ARC could utilize several coordination strategies. Where possible, all the organizations involved in agricultural research and extension could be listed in a directory, which includes their names, addresses, telephone numbers and core functions or activities. ARC could also coordinate an exchange programme involving personnel from various service providers. For example, extension officers from AGRITEX and the Farmers' Development Trust could be attached to the Tobacco Research Board, or extension officers from AGRITEX and interested NGOs could be attached to the Cotton Research Institute to familiarize them with new production aspects. Extension services could thereby be improved and technology adoption increased. ARC could also be instrumental in coordinating short- and long-term collaborative programmes involving several service providers.

Alternatively, such a national coordination function could be created within a combined DR&SS and AGRITEX, given their mandates, roles and massive contributions to agricultural research and extension. International donors could also have a role and responsibility in coordinating the institutions or activities that they fund. However, the objectiveness and effectiveness of this remain questionable, given that various intervention programmes within certain geographic areas are funded by different donors, some programmes or activities are funded by various donors, and collaboration efforts could become more supply-led than demand-driven.

Strengthening informal farmer networks

Whatever collaboration strategy is selected, it should also take account of the importance of farmer-to-farmer dissemination of information by strengthening the way in which various individuals and communities share information. This emphasizes the issue of strengthening informal farmer networks through meetings (field days) at strategically selected local farms, group discussions focused on common problems, innovative farmer workshops and technical feedback workshops, in a context in which extension agents become the facilitators of informal farmer-to-farmer dissemination of innovations. Such networks could act as platforms for participants to discuss and share their experiences, as well as enhancing the interactions of actors within the technology development and dissemination system. Such platforms also provide participants with first-hand experience, broaden perspectives, are a foundation for new learning, consolidate existing knowledge, skills and attitudes, create enthusiasm, and can improve the diffusion of innovations.

Pilot study areas

Several geographic locations were suggested as possible pilot study areas, including the Chinyika Resettlement Scheme, the Gokwe Dairy Development Programme project, and the Mkwasine Sugar Estate Outgrower Scheme.

The Chinyika Resettlement Scheme was suggested for several reasons: it is the first and largest resettlement scheme in Zimbabwe; farmers in the scheme are involved in the production of numerous crops, including maize, tobacco and paprika; and the scheme presents the perfect setting for a collaboration study and intervention project, given the many organizations involved in the area, such as the Farmers' Development Trust, AGRITEX, Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco and a host of private input suppliers. Successful coordination of rural development programmes in Chinyika, even at the pilot project stage, could also create a solid base for the government's current resettlement drive. Once successful, this initiative could become a blueprint and adaptable strategy for project designs in the ongoing resettlement programme.

The Dairy Development Programme project in Gokwe South District offers a different geophysical and socio-economic setting, but its use as a pilot study is for more or less the same reasons. As is the case with Chinyika Resettlement Area, the dairy project presents a multiple-actor and multiple-objective scenario that makes coordination essential. On the other hand, selection of the Mkwasine Sugar Estate Outgrower Scheme as a pilot study is based on a number of very different justifications: the scheme utilizes a totally different extension arrangement in which estate extension officers provide the principal extension service, with other organizations playing a complementary role; and, as an outgrower scheme, Mkwasine presents a different type of farmer - i.e. cash crops - intervention context.

During the feedback workshop, discussions produced the following criteria for selection of pilot study sites:

i) representativeness of the agro-ecological regions;

ii) diversity of farming contexts, e.g. communal, resettlement, small-scale, etc.;

iii) diversity of farming systems, i.e. numbers and types of enterprises;

iv) community acceptability and individual farmers' willingness;

v) infrastructure and accessibility;

vi) marketing scenario;

vii) diversity of players;

viii) potential for snowballing, i.e. multiplier effect through farmer-to-farmer extension;

ix) prevailing socio-politico-economic environment;

x) availability of resources.

Roles of government institutions, farmers' unions and NGOs

For a long time, apart from its indirect involvement through the ministry and departments involved in research and extension, the government's role in coordinating research and extension activities has remained unclear. This study recommends strategic coordination roles for identified key players in the extension process. It is therefore of paramount importance that the state should take centre stage in facilitating these coordination functions through legislative, mandatory, financial and other tools. The government, together with farmers' organizations and NGOs, needs to address farmers' concerns vis-à-vis marketing agricultural commodities, establishing reasonable pricing policies and disseminating research results for implementation. There is also a need for a thorough orientation programme for all stakeholders at all levels in order to generate sufficient awareness and appreciation of the issues.

In addition, workshop participants highlighted the need for government institutions, farmers' organizations and NGOs to execute the following functions:

i) establishing an inventory/database or profiles of all the stakeholders, highlighting their roles, what they do, and their mandates, missions, beneficiaries, etc.;

ii) revamping policy initiatives;

iii) ensuring that farmers are not short-changed;

iv) protecting farmers' interests;

v) addressing non-technical issues such as the marketing of commodities;

vi) mobilizing and empowering farmer groups;

vii) building the capacity of institutions;

viii) providing funding for the facilitation and coordination of activities.

Furthermore, government institutions, farmers' organizations and NGOs have an important role to play as units outside the provincial or district development committees (coordination platforms) that are empowered to take and implement decisions, i.e. call meetings and coordinate the service providers.


This study's major objectives were to examine the current status of the local extension system and to develop a collaborative strategy to ensure that it is effective and efficient. The study establishes that the agricultural extension system in Zimbabwe is a multi-actor and multiple-objective scenario. Identified actors 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, private agrochemical input suppliers, commodity processors and "bat" actors. The only difference among these is their degree of involvement, whereby some actors are more directly involved while the contributions of others tend to be more peripheral.

The study also establishes that various linkages and networks already exist. Some of these linkages are very formalized, while others tend to be very informal. Conceptually, formal linkages differ markedly from informal networks. However, according to the perceptions of most stakeholders, there are no clear-cut boundaries between formal linkages and the networks that are created among extension service providers. The researcher's observation is that networks tend to be more pronounced than formal institutional linkages. In addition, linkages and informal networks also tend to be more pronounced at the district and/or operational level than at the provincial or head office levels. Established institutional linkages and networks also tend to be built (or rather developed) around particular interventions.

Recommended collaborative extension strategies include using project coordination committees (stakeholder fora), utilizing and strengthening the coordination functions of rural district councils, establishing coordination platforms, creating a coordination function within ARC, and strengthening informal farmer networks. Further research efforts could focus on identifying and characterizing more actors within Zimbabwe's pluralistic extension system, a detailed study of more intervention scenarios and accommodation (collaboration) arrangements that are in place, and gaining an in-depth understanding of the institutional politics that are in play under such circumstances.

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