Government should step up its investment in agricultural extension services if the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) is to yield its intended results, says the Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD).

Ahead of the highly-anticipated 2019 national budget, CTPD head of programme & research Brian Chiko Mwiinga appealed to government to ensure that sufficient resources were pumped into beefing up the Agricultural Extension Services (AES) to help improve productivity, particularly for small-scale farmers.

He explained that a perpetual lack of strong investment in this area would prevent the FISP programme from effectively working for farmers.

“CTPD is of the view that while the Zambian government continues making frantic efforts to make the FISP initiative via the e-voucher system succeed, the gains from these efforts will amount to an exercise in futility if the AES remains dysfunctional. As preparations for the 2019 national budget reach an advanced stage, we wish to passionately appeal to the Zambian government to prioritise the provision of AES as a sure way of ensuring increased agricultural productivity of our farmers,” Mwiinga stated in a press release.

“Not only should the government employ more extension workers, they should also invest more resources in ensuring that the already existing agricultural extension workers are given periodic refresher trainings to keep them well abreast of the new knowledge and emerging best practices in agriculture for onward transmission to the small-scale farmers. We want to see a situation where our farmers are able to graduate from being referred to as SSFs [Small-Scale Farmers] for years on end without graduating.”

Mwiinga explained that AES were at the heart of agricultural and rural development, hence the need for increased investment of resources.

“They are at the very heart of agricultural and rural development and promoting agriculture as an engine of pro-poor economic growth. The role AES play in Zambia’s agriculture is crucial in as far as promoting agricultural productivity, increasing food security, increasing incomes and contributing to the improvement of livelihoods of the poor people most of who are found in the rural areas and are engaged in small-scale farming,” Mwiinga added.

“It is disheartening to note that in its current form, Zambia’s AES does not inspire confidence. The SSF farmers are not receiving the advisory services that they deserve and at the required frequency. The methods being employed are outdated and require urgent attention in this fast-changing technological era. We surely cannot afford to continue employing old, failed and tested agricultural practices at a time when our SSFs are supposed to be embracing new and sophisticated ways of agricultural production methods.”

He further pointed out that extension workers still faced significant logistical challenges.

“We understand the transport challenges they face. We also understand that the ratio between one extension officer and the farmers is beyond what they can handle professionally and diligently. As if that were not enough, we also understand the poor working conditions that these gallant men and women are subjected to,” narrated Mwiinga.

“At CTPD, we are alive to the fact that farming involves more than just provision of agricultural inputs. It also requires timely and constant provision of information on production practices, post-harvest management and markets.”

According to the 2018 national budget, government allocated over K1.8 billion into FISP, which was to be implemented through the e-voucher system this year, while it targeted to recruit 750 extension service workers for the agriculture, fisheries and livestock sub-sectors.