Written by Sydney Chaima
In an effort to address the shortage of field extension workers across Malawi, government through the Department of Agriculture Extension Services and the ministry of agriculture says it will soon start hiring extension workers with the aim of filling gaps that have existed due to scarcity of the extension workers.
Currently the country has about 57 percent available extension workers working across the country who are not enough to address the needs of farmers which makes some extension workers meant for livestock to also engage in crop farming.
Dr. Gerome Nkhoma who is the Director of Extension in the department of agriculture and extension services told Malawi News Agency that he acknowledges the acute shortage of extension workers in the country but said government is doing all it can to address the situation.
“We are not operating at 100 percent extension worker capacity as a country due to a number of factors including attrition rates, retirement, resignations without immediate replacements for some years, replacement has not been automatic because at one point recruitment was frozen due to budgetary constraints,” said Nkhoma.
Nkhoma also pushed the blame on the implementation of the decentralization policy saying it also had its effect on recruitment of extension workers countrywide.
“The ministry of agriculture handed over all administrative issues to do with agriculture officers based in districts to their respective district councils. These include staffing and promotion of agriculture staff at district level but there have been delays in a number of councils to carry out this mandate for reasons best known to themselves,” he said.
Nkhoma, however, said at the moment they are working on recruiting a total of 337 extension workers who have been trained by the ministry.
“Once recruited the extension workers will be deployed to district councils, the ministry is also addressing staff shortage problem by helping district councils to improve mobility of extension workers from using mere pushbike to motorcycles so that few extension workers can reach out to more farmers with improved mobility,” said Nkhoma.
He also disclosed that the ministry through the Department of Agriculture Extension Services is also in the process of scaling up use of digital extension tools such as mobile platforms, radio, videos and that the department is promoting group based approaches of engaging farmers to be able to reach out to more farmers as opposed to using individual contacts.
Reacting to the news, Ntchisi District Agriculture Development Officer Siliro Magomero commended government for the move it has taken citing that currently in Ntchisi alone they are operating at 47 percent which is far below the national average of 57 percent which is affecting their delivery.
“We have 33 out of 70 sections here meaning we are supposed to have 70 Agriculture Extension development officers(AEDOs)as an ideal situation here in Ntchisi but now with 33 out 70 it means we are understaffed this means the problem is worse here in Ntchisi so with this news it will be a good move,” said Magomero.
He further said that out of the 33 extension workers six are not working as direct field staff but are working on acting capacity which means the figure is much lower.
On mandate given to councils to recruit agriculture extension development officers, Magomero said they are waiting for the council to get an authorisation letter from Local government to allow them hire some officers to add to the existing ones.
Rebecca John who is a smallholder farmer who resides at Chimwankhuku area in the district said she has not been able to get different information about her crops from extension workers because there are just very few in Ntchisi against the high number of farmers who demand their services.
“It is very rare to be visited by these agriculture extension workers because we are told they are not many here. We sometimes lack knowledge on how we can plant or grow a particular crop because when we need them to impart us with knowledge on how to go about it they are not available or they are busy with other farmers and because of this our yields are not that pleasant,” she said.
However, John now is of the view that things will change for the better if indeed government recruits 337 agriculture extension development officers.
“Maybe this time my yields will be much better compared to the past years since we will have more of them (extension workers) in our villages where they will be able to tell us how to grow and look after our crops and may this process be done now not later,” said John.