In line with Government’s ICT for Agriculture (ICT4Agri) strategy, 23 officers from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, and Rural Resettlement were recently trained to manage ward information centres.
The 24 centres were established in Matobo, Mhondoro-Ngezi, Insiza and Chegutu Districts by Government with support from the European Union (EU)-funded Zimbabwe Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Services (ZAKIS) project.
ZAKIS ICT4D coordinator Mr Tawanda Hove said that the information centres are expected to deliver pluralistic extension and transform the dissemination of agricultural knowledge.
“The objective of this workshop is to equip extension officers with the knowledge and practical understanding to effectively manage the centres and ensure that farmers access the information that they require for improved productivity and profitability.”
The solar-powered centres, which are equipped with free wi-fi, tablets and smart TV screens, are expected to reach over 100 000 farmers in the four districts by the end of 2024. They are resource centres where farmers can access ICT based extension services, training, and information in the form of digital publications, agriculture applications, podcasts, and video tutorials.
A farmer needs assessment survey conducted by ZAKIS at project inception shows that efforts by some farmers to commercialize their operations are often constrained by the lack of access to information relating to markets, prices, weather, best agricultural practices, and specialized advisory services. In addition, the high cost of data and lack of ICT gadgets have meant that the farmers have remained marginalized as they cannot take full advantage of the opportunities and information available on the internet.
Hove said that the free Wi-Fi at ward information centres will broaden smallholder farmers’ inclusion in the digital economy and mainstream agricultural commerce.
“Lack of timeous and useful information meant that for years farmers had to rely on weak decision support systems. Ward information centres can transform our rural agriculture because they are a gateway to information that is useful to farmers.”
Commenting on the ward information centre management training workshop, Mr Colllen Machingambi, an extension officer in Chegutu said that the centres will provide farming communities with information on markets and good agricultural practices.
“This training has improved my skills on the use of ICT gadgets, internet resources and digital applications such as Kurima Mari, the Inservice Training App and the ministry’s online library, ZimAgriHub, a website that was launched earlier this year with support from ZAKIS.
“We can now assist farmers to access the much-needed knowledge through audio and visual podcasts and other digital resources that are available at the centres. We will now train farmers how to search for information on these platforms so that they too can find the information on their own. This will contribute to the improvement of agricultural practises, which will allow enhanced production and productivity at the household level.”
He added that the ICT gadgets at the centres would make it easier for extension officers to capture and analyze localized data and allow them to improve their reporting and record keeping.
“Going ahead, we will report electronically and present detailed production information that is broken down to household level. Also, we now can track local weather, pest, and disease information. This allows us to timely recommend mitigation measures to farmers,” said Mr Machingambi.
The ZAKIS project seeks to improve Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector by enhancing the dissemination of agricultural knowledge, stimulating innovation, and harmonising the delivery of agricultural research, education, and extension services. It is implemented by a consortium of local and international agricultural specialist NGOs, comprising Welthungerhilfe (WHH), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Community Technology Development Organisation (CTDO), and Sustainable Agriculture Technology (SAT).
The project is part of the €40 million, EU-funded Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP), which is a response to the challenges within the country’s agriculture sector. The programme seeks to contribute to the development of a diversified and efficient agriculture sector that promotes inclusive green economic growth. Its focus is on increasing profitability, building the capacity of farmers, service institutions, and the private sector through increased investment, institutional reforms, and policy alignment.