Wetenschap - 18 januari 2001

Extension service and farmers in Zimbabwe should join forces

Extension service and farmers in Zimbabwe should join forces

The Agricultural Technical and Extension Service (AGRITEX) in Zimbabwe should not impose the newest technology on farmers but instead should try to learn from them. Technologies for ploughing are a good example, says Bertha Mudamburi who will receive her MAKS MSc degree next week on 25 January.

Mudamburi did her field work in Masvingo and Matebeleland provinces in south Zimbabwe, where farmers use oxen, cows and donkeys to plough the land they cultivate with maize, sunflower and cotton. Agritex gives them advice on the use of animals, but most farmers do not follow this.

Yoke

Agritex recommends that farmers use a hitch assembly to determine how deep they should plough. Mudamburi: "The farmers plough much deeper than Agritex advises them. But the farmers know that the animals are capable of this and do not get exhausted. They do not drop dead. A yoke is put around the neck of the donkey, to which the plough is then attached. Mudamburi: "Agritex advises farmers to use a harness specially designed for donkeys, but the farmers use the yokes intended for cows. They are a bit big for the donkey, but in practice the yoke does the job." More to the point, the farmers also save a lot of money by not having to buy the hitch assembly and using donkeys. When they lost many cows during bad droughts some time ago, they were forced to use their donkeys for ploughing and have since continued to do so, using the cattle yokes.

According to Mudamburi the main problem is that the employees of Agritex think that their knowledge is superior to that of the farmers, but she believes that they are in fact out of touch with sensible common practices, which are often smart solutions. Only recently has Agritex started opening up to farmers. Mudamburi: "They should cooperate much more closely with farmers."

Certificate

Unfortunately, farmers who take courses on new technology offered by Agritex often pretend they are putting the advice they have received into practice, while in fact they are not doing so. They do this so that they will get a 'Master Farmer' certificate, which enables them to receive discounts on animal feed, seeds, spare parts for machinery and a recommendation for a bank loan. The certificate is also a form of prestige for the farmers in their communities. The consequence however is that Agritex is not aware of the real practices of farmers.

In her thesis Mudamburi argues that Agritex should not ask the farmers to use the newest technology, but should work together with the farmers to find optimal solutions.

Hugo Bouter

Sometimes it's a question of farmers knowing best: in Zimbabwe donkeys are used alongside oxen and cattle for ploughing, despite contrary advice from extension services. Photo: Bertha Mudamburi

Re:ageer