An evaluation of the role of extension in adoption of new technology by small-scale resource-constrained farmers : a case of Lower Gweru Communal area, Zimbabwe.
Masere, Tirivashe Phillip.
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The importance of agricultural extension in small-scale farming systems of developing countries cannot be overemphasised. Extension organisations and their agents play crucial roles in transferring technologies to small-scale farmers for adoption and in fostering development of innovations from among diverse actors including farmers, research institutions, input suppliers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and donors. In many developing countries, particularly of Africa, most new agricultural technologies are disseminated by the primary public extension agencies. In Zimbabwe, the Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX) through its agents are tasked with this responsibility. Despite the efforts by AGRITEX and its agents in disseminating new technologies aimed at improving farm production and hence the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, the adoption of most such recommended technology has been poor. This study was thus driven by the following primary question: What are the main factors influencing small-scale farmer innovation and adoption of recommended technology? The objectives of this study were to: a) Determine the main factors influencing small-scale farmer innovation and adoption of recommended technology; b) Evaluate the role and influence that extension has on small-scale farmer innovation and adoption of recommended technology; and c) Determine key attributes of an appropriate extension system and modes for small-scale farmers that may provide a lasting solution to the technology adoption issue. The study was conducted in Lower Gweru Communal area, Zimbabwe with a study sample of 256 small-scale farmers. These farmers were selected by means of multi-stage stratified random sampling to eliminate bias and ensure equal representation of male and female farmers from all the eight Wards of Lower Gweru Communal area (Sikombingo, Nyama, Mdubiwa, Chisadza, Madikani, Bafana, Nkawana and Communal ward 16). Data was solicited from both small-scale farmers and extension agents operating in the study area. Three instruments namely focus group discussions (FGDs), semi-structured interviews (SSIs) and participant observations were used to collect data from farmers. Two focus group discussions (FGDs) were held in each of the eight wards to gather general information about technologies disseminated to farmers over the last several years, sources of technology, and their perceptions of extension services. Similar, but more specific information was collected using SSIs with 200 farmers (100 men and 100 women) from among the study sample of 256 farmers. Participant observation technique was used to corroborate information gathered in FGDs and SSIs. Furthermore, a census in the form of SSIs was conducted with extension personnel servicing Lower Gweru Communal area to solicit the extension workers’ perspective on factors affecting technology adoption by small-scale farmers including their perceived challenges in offering quality service delivery to their clients. The census was necessitated by the relatively low number of extension workers (21) operating in the study area. Key findings from FGDs and SSIs included that small-scale farmers are largely constrained in adopting recommended technologies by a number of factors. These factors include small land sizes, high cost of technology, lack of capital to buy technologies, lack of access to both credit facilities and input-output markets and lack of adequate information support (and practical demonstrations of how to utilise technologies to potentially improve production). Furthermore, farmers cited that they are usually excluded by extension and technology developers in problem definition and development of possible solutions (technologies). As a result, extension agents and technology developers often fail to comprehend farmers’ problems and priorities leading to poor adoption of technology they recommend. Most of these technologies are disseminated in a “one-size fit-all” approach to different farmer groups with different needs and problems. Key findings from extension agents included that they were not able to deliver quality services to their clients (farmers) mainly because AGRITEX is poorly funded and this led to poor adoption of recommended technology. This funding challenge cascades into multiple problems including: poorly remunerated and de-motivated workers, high turnover of experienced, competent and skilled staff; high influx of inexperienced and incompetent staff rushed to replace the experienced and competent staff; high agent to farmer ratios; lack of in-service training for the inexperienced workers; and lack of transport for workers to reach many farmers. The study found a mismatch between technologies that are needed or demanded by farmers and those being recommended or “imposed” on them by extension agents. Unless this discrepancy is addressed the poor adoption of recommended technology issue will persist. As a lasting solution to poor technology adoption, this study proposes and recommends the development of an appropriate extension system and complementary extension modes that promotes building the capacity of extension agents and researchers, and embraces farmers and their indigenous knowledge. In this proposed extension system, farmers’ views, experiences and perspectives are taken into consideration in developing and testing technologies which could improve technology adoption. This extension system should possess six key characteristics: farmer-focused; whose purpose is farmers’ empowerment and capacity development; where the role of extension is mainly that of facilitation and brokering as determined by prevailing farmer needs; where farmers have a key role in determining what to learn and how they want learn; it should emphasise social capital and sustainability; and whose nature of learning is experiential, field-based discovery learning aimed at sharpening farmers’ analytical, problem solving skills and to demand services. However, for the proposed appropriate extension system for small-scale farmers to work effectively, it must be backed by the availability of committed, highly competent and flexible extension agents to function effectively in offering quality service delivery to meet diverse needs of farmers. Equally important for the effective operation of proposed extension system, is the need for strengthening of linkages between key actors in the innovation and technology development network.