African Social Enterprise Blog: Linking Women Farmers to Agricultural Innovation, AgTech, Smallholder Microfinance and Climate-Smart Agriculture
Q&A with an Expert: Ackson Mwanza
(Part 1 of 2)
What is agricultural extension and why is it important to our model?
Established to increase the pace and productivity of agricultural development, agricultural extension organizations provide educational services to farmers. Agents are experts in agricultural technologies. They visit farmers across Zambia to learn about community needs and offer training in new methods that help address those needs.
We asked Ackson Mwanza, co-founder and technical director of The Harvest Fund, to give us his expert perspective.
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What is agricultural extension?
Technology transfer is the major aspect of extension. Over the years, it’s come to encompass education. What we want is for farmers to be able to stand on their own, without relying on experts.
Who are extension officers?
Extension officers are people who are trained in the foundations of agricultural principles. Many officers are government personnel. At The Harvest Fund, we have partnerships with the Ministry of Agriculture, for example.
What are the methods extension officers use to reach their goals?
The methods of extension officers have changed over the years. First, you had experts going to the farmers and telling them what to do and how to do it. Officers didn’t get input from the farmers about what was really needed. But a new approach developed. Now, experts involve farmers from the very inception of a new technology—the testing stage.
Before you go into a community, you perform what’s called a needs assessment with local authorities and the farmers themselves. This is the method The Harvest Fund had in mind when we started: the Participatory Extension Approach (PEA).
How do you determine the needs of a community?
Through back and forth engagement between innovators and farmers. Extension officers facilitate the flow between the government and farmers. We have access to opportunities and technologies, and so we can provide that access to others.
Can you give an example of a new technology that you recently introduced?
Hermetic storage bags are a technology that has worked in other parts of Africa. Farmers in the community we serve didn’t know about it. When we heard them complaining about low-pricing due to insufficient storage (the goods start to go bad, and so they need to be sold quickly), we set to work to introduce these bags to them. We found a local supplier, secured a number of bags, and organized a day of training to educate the farmers on how to use them.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview!
Jennifer Flaherty is a writer with a Ph.D from the University of California, Berkeley in Slavic Languages and Literatures. She is an expert in 19th century Russian literature and culture, which she has taught at a number of institutions, and has a broad interest in social issues and how art and cultural forms grapple with them. She is pursuing new opportunities at the intersection of publishing, arts and culture organizations, and non-profit work dedicated to causes of social justice.
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