THE announcement by Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo that the Government is working on modalities to increase the number of agriculture extension officers is welcome.
We say this knowing that increasing the number of agricultural extension officers will address the current shortfall of such important workers.
Surely the move will go a long way in addressing the challenges rural farmers currently face with regards to agricultural know how.
It is also heartening to note that Mr Katambo further informed the Parliament that the objective to employ more officers was to meet the Food Reserve Agency (FAO) recommended ratio to bring more quality agriculture services as close to the farmers as possible.
To attain the ratio, the ministry was undertaking proactive measures such as continuous recruitment of extension staff, citing in 2018 when more than 600 staff were employed.
It is further encouraging that, working with various cooperating partners, the ministry has been providing the extension workers with transport in order to enhance access to extension.
For instance, in the year 2020, 214 motorcycles for extension staff were procured.
Needless to say, such noble interventions would to improved farmers’ productivity, which will ultimately improve food security.
It is also good to note that such interventions came at a time when climate change has affected the country’s agriculture sector negatively.
This unwelcome ‘new normal’ has caught several farmers on a wrong footing since many do not have knowledge on how to tackle the challenges that come with it.
This is mainly attributed lack of extension officers who act as mediators between research institutions and farmers.
Agricultural extension officers function as facilitators and communicators, helping farmers in their decision-making and ensuring that appropriate knowledge is implemented to obtain the best results
with regard to sustainable production and general rural development.
With the changing trends in modern farming, it goes without saying that farmers need agricultural information on new methods of improving their yields.
It is this knowledge vacuum that needs the services of extension officers who come in handy to inform farmers on improved methods of agriculture.
For many years, Zambia has been facing serious officer to farmer ratio, which stands at 1:1,136 ratio calling for a paradigm change.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s recommended agriculture extension officer to farmer ratio one officer to 400 (1:400) farmers.
With the minister’s announcement to employ more agriculture extension officers, we feel this disparity will be bridged.