By HAPPY MULOLANI-
“FOR a long time, we have been capturing data of our farmers in respective camps using the manual system, which is not an effective way as data is prone to be lost.”
This is how Florence Kabamba, an agriculture extension officer for Mumba Camp in Mungwi, Northern Province, voiced out her frustrations.
Her sentiment is shared by Levy Kasanga, a Lupososhi camp extension officer in Chipili District in Luapula Province.
Mr Kasanga believes that the old system of capturing farmers’ data has been challenging because storage of the information was difficult.
“This new system developed is better for us to use in data capturing, storage and retrieval. The system assures us of an organised database. We are also guaranteed that information gathered and stored is easily accessible from district to national level,” Mr Kasanga said.
These sentiments are a reflection of extension officers under the Ministry of Agriculture who are critical frontline staff facilitating various agriculture interventions to smallholder farmers.
The staff is positioned in camp areas located in every district and provides support to many farmers in farming blocks.
Every farming block in a district has a number of camps which constitute it.
For example, Kasama District has four farming blocks namely Kasama Central, Munkonge, Nkolemfumu and Mwamba farming blocks.
The staff structure of these farming blocks is such that a block extension officer oversees camp extension officers who manage respective camps.
Given this hierarchical structure, quarterly reports are submitted from camp extension officer to block extension officer, who in turn submits to the district agricultural coordination office for consolidation.
Once the district consolidates, they submit to the provincial agricultural coordination office, who further submits to the national headquarters in Lusaka.
Given this system of manually sharing reports and information, the major bottleneck is having an integrated and systematic way of collecting, storing and sharing data.
This backdrop led the Enhanced Agribusiness Smallholder Promotion Programme (E-SAPP) with financial support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to partner with Smart Zambia Institute and the University of Zambia (UNZA) to develop a Management Information System (MIS) and mobile application to address the information collection, storage and sharing needs.
Early this year, E-SAPP facilitated training for programme staff, the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock staff at national and provincial level on the developed integrated web system over a four days’ period held at Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka.
In its continued efforts, the final phase of the MIS and mobile application was recently rolled out to district staff and extension field staff who are the main users of the system in six selected provinces.
These include Western, Southern, Eastern, Central, Muchinga, and Northern provinces.
Some focal provincial staff was provided with tablets as well as field staff in focal districts where E-SAPP is supporting interventions across its value chain which include; rice, small livestock, legumes and aquaculture.
“It is good that E-SAPP has provided district field officers in Western Province with tablets and trainings meant to facilitate efficiency in collecting information from farmers on different agricultural projects in the province,” said Western Province Senior Marketing Development
Officer Chibimbi Chungu.
Mr Chungu said there are a number of agricultural activities happening in the province like rice in Kalabo and soya beans in Nkeyema which needs data collection and reporting.
Kalabo District extension officer Thomas Masolo said the application will not only help them in capturing farmers’ details but it will also be locating field officers as they collect data.
Kalabo District agricultural information officer Nancy Mukelabai said the gadget has come at the right time as it will be handy in the dissemination of knowledge products to equip farmers and stakeholders.
Ms Mukelabai said the tablets will mitigate the past challenges of sending multi-media content.
Central Province Agricultural Planner Patrick Longwani said the system was user-friendly and it was timely as staff will have access to gadgets which will enable them share reports in a timely manner.
Northern Province Provincial Agricultural Planner Henry Daka said he appreciated the system, noting that it was inevitable that districts devise appropriate ways of sustaining the system after the phase out of the programme.
Ministry of Agriculture senior technician Nicholas Mwambazi, said the MIS and mobile application comprise different modules like knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation, Activity Work Plan Budget Plan (AWBP) and Matching Grant Facility (MGF) modules.
Smart Zambia Institute System Developer Kasongo Mwila advised staff to make use of the mobile application and continue to register farmers as they progress in their agriculture activities.
“The mobile application will help take stock of the number of farmers engaged in various value chains, which is useful information for planning purposes and also gives an overall picture of captured farmers,” Mr Mwila said.
The development of this system is very useful as staff will now be able to capture data on the number of farmers or households involved in various agriculture activities in real time.
This addresses the concern of how to capture data for these farmers. Ideally, once this system is utilised effectively, the data captured will be of value as it will help for national planning purposes.-NAIS