The Zimbabwe Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Services (ZAKIS) project, which is part of the broader European Union-funded Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP), has since its launch in 2018, made some significant contributions to strengthening the delivery of agricultural education, extension, and research services in the country.
In the last two decades, these services had become insufficient for the needs of farmers. This was caused by limited funding, inadequate skills, and the absence of a robust and clear policy framework that harmonizes the dissemination of agricultural knowledge and information to farmers.
In an interview recently, ZAKIS head of project Mr Waddilove Sansole unpacked the intervention and highlighted some of its achievements so far.
“ZAKIS is a Government initiative whose activities are led by the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, and Rural Resettlement. It is supported by a consortium of local and international agricultural specialist NGOs that include Welthungerhilfe, ICRISAT, Community Technology Development Organisation, and Sustainable Agriculture Technology,” said Mr Sansole.
He said that ZAKIS responds to pillar II of the National Agriculture Policy Framework (2019-2030) whose thrust is on increasing investment in agricultural research and development, education, and extension systems, as well as in innovations; including climate and business-smart technology.
“We are therefore working to build the capacity of these Government service providers so that they can better deliver their mandate which is to effectively address farmer needs and establish a market-oriented agricultural sector,” he said.
Agricultural Centres of Excellence (ACEs) which have been established at Chibero Agricultural College and Matopos Research Institute are the vital hubs for meeting the ZAKIS objective. These are supported by the District Agricultural Centres of Excellence (DACEs) that have been set up at Insiza, Mhondoro-Ngezi, Matobo, and Chegutu.
Mr Sansole said, “With strong links to over 100 000 farmers, the centres are the focal points for disseminating up-to-date farmer-centric knowledge and for promoting innovations. They are also important hubs for harmonizing the delivery of research, education, and extension services to farming communities.”
Through its consortium partner Sustainable Agriculture Technology, the project has completed refurbishing the animal husbandry facilities and setting up crop demonstration plots at the ACEs. Also, the ACE at Matopos was equipped with a state-of-the-art nutrition laboratory, a solar system for the administration block, and solar-powered boreholes that drive drip irrigation at the centre’s demonstration plot.
“These facilities will strengthen the delivery of services to farmers through activities that include crop and livestock research, the testing and development of new crop varieties and new animal feed formulations,” said Mr Sansole.
ZAKIS also facilitated mutually beneficial linkages between the ACEs and private sector players. These include Fish Feeds, Prime SeedCo, Superfert Fertilizer Company, National Foods Limited, Klein Karoo (K2), SeedCo, and Dupont Pioneer/Pannar. The partnerships were established to improve the dissemination of information to the surrounding farmers through learning events that include innovation platforms, demonstrations, field days, and farmer training workshops.
In partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, ZAKIS has also developed an e-Extension strategy to transform the sharing of agricultural knowledge and facilitate the use of Digital for Agriculture (D4Ag).
This strategy includes the upcoming launch of ZimAgriHub, a farmer-focused national online library, and the setting up of two fully equipped podcasting studios at the ACEs to enable the generation and dissemination of agriculture-related content.
Another component of the e-Extension strategy is the development of an In-Service Training Application for extension services which is also at an advanced stage. As part of this initiative, extension officers will receive Smart Phones and Tablets which will allow them access to digital resources.
Commenting on the e-Extension strategy, the ZAKIS head of project said, “These digital initiatives will build the capacity of researchers, educators, farmers, and extension service providers, allow them to use ICTs to enhance productivity and position the sector for sustainable agricultural development “
ZAKIS is also involved in the capacity building of extension, education, and research staff. The project has an ongoing programme of learning events that are designed to equip the officers with the right skills for improved provision of priority services and to ensure that they meet the changing needs of farmers.
Some of the workshops the project has hosted to date include fish farming training in partnership with Fish Feeds, an export development seminar in partnership with Zimtrade, e-extension training, the horticulture training with Prime Seedco, and the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing training.
Mr Sansole said that the project has also recorded significant achievements in driving farmer-centric and market-oriented action-research that informs agricultural extension and education.
Led by ICRISAT and the Ministry of Agriculture, the action-research effort focused on improving sorghum and pearl millet varieties to contribute to sustainable food and nutritional security in the country.
Commenting on this activity, Mr Sansole said, “We are happy to report that through this initiative, new small grain varieties that are more resilient to drought and better adapted to semi-arid areas are now available on the local market.”
As part of this intervention, ICRISAT and Government have also been working to increase production and productivity by promoting low cost, yield-enhancing, and climate-smart agriculture technologies. These include integrated soil fertility management, soil moisture conservation, and irrigation efficient technologies, crop-livestock integration, as well as on-farm fodder production. The activity is being implemented in Matobo and Insiza.
In line with Government’s drive to create an enabling policy environment for the agriculture economy, through its consortium partner CTDO, ZAKIS is also supporting the Ministry of Agriculture in its efforts to develop a new Agriculture Education, Extension, and Research (AEER) Policy. The initiative is a response to the challenges that have for some time faced the institutions that deliver these services to the sector.
Mr Sansole said, “One of our key priorities is to contribute to the creation of a conducive and functional policy environment that enables the sustainable development of the agriculture sector. This policy will strengthen and harmonize the delivery of services to farmers by creating robust and effective systems. It also builds on the existing sector-specific policies which include the Agriculture Recovery Plan and the Agriculture and Food systems Transformation Policy.”
The AEER policy is being developed through participatory research and a series of inclusive agricultural stakeholder consultation meetings. To date, the meetings have been held in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland Central, Manicaland, Masvingo, and Midlands.
“The workshops provided a platform for Government to present its policy position and for the stakeholders to make recommendations, and to identify gaps in the issues paper,” he said.
In a parallel process, CTDO in partnership with other ZAGP implementing partners FAO-SAFE, is supporting a review of the curricula of all agriculture colleges. This is set to deliver a new and up-to-date agriculture and farmer training curriculum that speaks to the current needs of Zimbabwe’s agrarian landscape.
Looking ahead, Mr Sansole said that the project seeks to institutionalize mechanisms that will ensure a sustainable and functional collaboration between agricultural education, extension, and research.
“To ensure sustainability beyond the project, we are building the capacities of the Government institutions that are tasked with the delivery of agriculture education, extension, and research. These include the newly established Communication and Learning Unit, the soon to be launched Zimbabwe Forum for Agriculture Advisory Services, and the Agricultural Knowledge, Technology, and Innovation Services,” he said.