The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Business Reporter
AS one of the approaches that has been adopted in the agriculture sector, the farmer-to-farmer extension approach is playing a contemporary role to extension services in facilitating the spread of agricultural technologies and improving farmers’ productivity.
The approach (farmer-to-farmer extension) is defined as the provision of training by farmers to farmers often through the creation of a structure of farmer promoters and farmer trainers.
Not only in Zimbabwe but worldwide, the farmer-to-farmer extension services approach is enhancing localised knowledge and skills access by farmers, which is a more sustainable extension model.
The approach utilises lead farmers who share ideas on good land preparation and demonstrate the improved methods they use when farming.
A lead farmer is a farmer selected to train other farmers in a farmer-to-farmer extension model and they are often viewed as role models identified by their communities to train and support fellow farmers in specific technologies.
Mr Gift Tshuma, a 52-year-old farmer from Manasa Village, Malunku Ward of Lupane District, Matabeleland North province is one of the pioneer lead farmers under the Beef Enterprise Strengthening and Transformation (BEST) project in the district.
He owns a herd of 24 cattle and got linked to the BEST project through attending the ward extension meetings in 2019. During the process of selecting lead farmers which was led by Government extension officers, Mr Tshuma was selected as one of the male lead farmers under Malunku Ward.
“I then started my journey as a lead farmer and initially convinced and mentored 10 other farmers in the area. The project capacitates lead farmers like me through trainings and capacity building and I’ve since attended different livestock related trainings that include Urea treated stover.
“I even hosted a fodder demonstration plot on Urea Treatment of Stover (UTS) during the 2019 farming period. The first demonstration on UTS motivated me as a farmer to continue preparing for supplementary feed for my livestock in advance of the dry season.”
He said he has conducted three farmer-to-farmer urea treatment demonstrations that resulted in 1,75 tonnes of stover being conserved.
Mr Tshuma said other farmers in the area developed a buy inn into the programme and as the lead farmer, he has managed to have the second group of 12 farmers registered for mentorship.
“After having adopted the concept of fodder conservation and realising the benefits of UTS from the previous farming season, I saw it crucial to voluntarily avail myself as the lead farmer to mentor and cascade the knowledge gained from the BEST project to other local farmers.
“I began to mentor other farmers on UTS through practical trainings. After conducting the first UTS training at my homestead, two more farmers availed themselves for the training. A total of five UTS demonstrations and 10 silage demonstrations were conducted with the assistance of other stakeholders (Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) and Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex),” he added.
He said this led to most farmers in the area developing an interest in urea treatment and fodder conservation as more requests have been sent to conduct the UTS trainings. This interest is expected to improve adoption on good animal husbandry practices and improve cattle productivity.
Mr Tshuma said farmers have adopted UTS as one of the livestock own feed formulation method and fodder production as well, in a bid to alleviate feed shortages during the dry season.
He said supplementary feed by farmers has assisted in reducing livestock poverty deaths and can be used to fatten without buying much feed from the shops.
Mr Tshuma assisted more than 384 farmers in the 2021/22 farming season and aims to assist more for the current cropping season.
Commenting on the cropping side, Matobo District Agritex Extension Officer, Mrs Francisca Ndlovu said through the Matobo District Agricultural Centres of Excellence (DACEs) in Matabeleland South province, leader farmers were being trained on various farming techniques which they could cascade to the various wards they come from.
“Farmers adopt better after seeing, hence they’ll be able to practically assess the performance of various varieties under farm conditions from planting to harvesting. As a DACE, we work with research institutions as research is farmer-centred. Lead farmers acquire information which they then share with various farmers in the wards,” said Mrs Ndlovu.
She said lead farmers, through the farmer-to -farmer extension approach, could then host other farmers for look and learn tours so that they can implement the same methods at their farms for improved productivity.
Mrs Ndlovu said as a result of the approach, farmers were learning and adopting transformative agricultural methods that enhance their production, promote self-sustenance and ensure sustainability.
Zimbabwe Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Services (Zakis) extension advisor Mr Ronald Veremu, who has vast knowledge in agronomy, said besides utilising the lead farmer model for farmer-to-farmer extension, other options were farmer field schools, field days and exchange visits.
He said the importance of farmer-to-farmer extension was to help farmers practically learn from the good practices other farmers are doing through practicals.
“It bridges the gap in instances where public extension is scarce and farmers learn using a language better understood by them. The other key advantages of this approach is that indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) and technologies are shared which can help combat hunger and adverse weather conditions and also disease and pest control.”
Mr Veremu said the approach allowed farmers to share indigenous and open pollinated seed varieties that are adopted to the local climates and weather.
Highlighting the benefits, he said through farmer-to-farmer extension, farmers’ lives have been impacted positively through various ways that include improved yields through information sharing.
“Diversification of livestock breeds through genetic sharing has also been noted leading to improved productivity. There’s also diversification of crops grown through seed sharing leading to food nutrition security. Additionally, this approach provides psycho-social support through times of need for most farmers,” he added.
Globally, agriculture has been transformed as the farmer-to-farmer extension approach has assisted smallholder farmers to adopt the new innovation approach that will enable farmers to produce quality food and assist their country to be self-sufficient.
Quality seed beds and banks have been created as a result of adopting the approach and these have assisted to preserve indigenous seeds, which are under threat of extinction due to recurrent drought conditions linked to climate change.
The farmer-to-farmer extension learning approach is an appropriate approach to adopt as it increases the coverage of agricultural extension services, efficiency and the rate of adoption of agriculture innovation which is perceived to be a sustainable way to provide extension and rural advisory services and build the capacity of local communities.