The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Sunday News Reporter
THE Zimbabwe Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Services (ZAKIS) is in the process of installing Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP) applications on tablets for more than 5 000 extension staff, as part of their collaboration in support of the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement’s digitisation and to enable e-extension services.
ZAKIS is part of a larger EU-funded Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP) that was launched in Zimbabwe in June 2019.
The 40 million euro initiative seeks to boost the beef, dairy, pig, goat and poultry production, complemented by ZAKIS which is mandated to work with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement to coordinate market-oriented education and extension services across the five value chains.
Responding to questions from Sunday News, ZAKIS head of project, Mr Waddilove Sansole said about 5 000 extension staff were targeted to receive applications that will assist them carry out their work effectively.
“About 5 000 extension staff are being targeted to receive the apps which cut across the Agricultural Extension Services (Agritex), Veterinary Services and all other Ministry departments that deliver extension services to farmers,” said Mr Sansole.
He also noted that the ZAGP apps such as the In-Services training app, Kurima Mari app, AgriShare app, ZimAgrihub, Kurima Mari Beef app and Kurima Mari Poultry apps were developed by Welthungerhilfe Zimbabwe and ZAGP info partners.
Mr Sansole highlighted that the procurement of tablets by the Government follows a series of multiple projects where Welthungerhilfe had developed apps together with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement and procured mobile gadgets however at a smaller scale.
He added: “The procurement by the Government of the tablets catering for all extension staff in the country is a scale up to the prior joint initiatives. Currently, as the gadgets are being delivered from South Africa, Welthungerhilfe has acquired graduate interns (on behalf of the Ministry) from State universities to ensure that all mobile applications and web platform gateways are installed on the tablets.”
Mr Sansole said the institutions include the National University of Science and Technology (Nust), Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT), Midlands State University (MSU) and the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).
“While Welthungerhilfe cannot speak on behalf of Government as to where the installed tablets have been taken to, it is important to note that this is a national exercise which will see all extension staff throughout the country benefit from the gadgets,” he added.
Mr Sansole also noted that although the interns were very quick at installing the apps, the limitation was that the tablets were arriving in batches from South Africa, therefore restricting the pace.
He added that they were however, anticipating that by the second week of March all extension officers would have gone digital as they will have the enabling gadgets to do their work harnessing modern digital technology.
Mr Sansole also highlighted that the implementation of a disruptive e-extension strategy will not only improve the efficiencies of extension delivery but will also buttress a system of effective pluralistic extension where the private, public and development sectors work together to advance the cause of the farmers.
He added: “The e-extension strategy is levered on five strategic e-extension pillars which are digital applications, SMS extension, social media extension, podcasts and video-based extension.
“Under each pillar, there is an innovation or e-service that seeks to assist farmers to be more productive and viable through improved extension access.”
He said under the digital applications they had solutions targeted at the extension staff themselves for capacity building such as the In-Service training app, a solution which is a demand driven self-help extension training tools where an extension officer can choose a training which they require, do it via the app and earn a certificate that is ratified by the Ministry.
“You have to be aware that subsequent to the Ministry restructuring, previous crop experts now have to attend to livestock needs of farmers. That being the case, they obviously need training in livestock matters which would be expensive to do in the traditional way.
“The In-Service training application helps them to do trainings in an area of their choice at their own duty station which makes it less costly for the Government,” said Mr Sansole.
The Kurima Mari and Lima Imali application, he said was targeted at farmers and was being updated to its fourth version, soon eclipsing 100 000 users who are not only in Zimbabwe but also from neighbouring Southern Africa.
Mr Sansole also said they had gone further to develop a knowledge portal which is already live called ZimAgrihub, a place where all agricultural literature, journals, private sector pamphlets and researches pertaining to Zimbabwe could be found.
“The idea behind this hub is to create a one stop shop for anyone who might be looking for any agricultural material in print, audio and video from both public and private sectors.
“Furthermore, we have installed a studio at the Matopos Research Institute, we are starting the production of high-quality extension podcasts and videos such that the members of the farming public can have quality assured e-extension material to refer to especially during these difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“These are to be disseminated via social media for which we already have databases of famers exceeding 130 000,” he added.
Mr Sansole also noted that they have also invested in smart weather stations at all agricultural centres of excellence dotted around the country such that they will be able to disseminate localised weather information within a radius of 20 kilometres to farmers so that their decision making is based on localised forecasts and weather data.
He said the initial target for the pilot is 12 000 farmers and they also intended to scale up at a later stage.
Mr Sansole added that for 2021 as the ZAKIS project, they seek to intensify farmer training services to farmers through the Agricultural centers of excellence both physically and virtually.
“As it is quite apparent that this year’s harvest will be quite good as the rainfall has been quite favourable, it is of paramount importance to strengthen knowledge transfer systems surrounding post-harvest management, supplementary feeding and disease control for livestock,” he highlighted.
He also noted that centres such as Matopos, Insiza and Matobo Agricultural Centres of Excellence for the Southern region and Chibero, Mhondoro Ngezi and Chegutu for the southern region will be open for various farmer trainings along these lines.
He added: “As previously mentioned, webinars, pre-recorded videos and podcasts will also be aggressively disseminated to the national farming communities at large.
“We have come to a point where we now have to make our literacy and appetite for technology work on our behalf.
By the end of 2021, we expect to see a sharp improvement in terms of farmer production, productivity and profitability as a result of services provided by the Agricultural centers of excellence.”
Welthungerhilfe is the lead partner of the ZAKIS consortium and also a long-standing partner of the Government in Agricultural development.
Government has said they will before the end of this month distribute satellite-linked tablets and about 1 000 motorbikes to agricultural extension workers countrywide to capacitate them to execute their duties.
Agriculture has been viewed as one of the sector expected to spur the National Development Strategy (NDS1) objectives. The 2021 National Budget has forecasted a 7,4 percent economic growth rate based on impressive performance from two critical sectors of the economy, agriculture and mining.