Field days: Practical tool for extension

10 Apr, 2017 - 00:04 0 Views
Field days: Practical tool for extension Learning from other farmers who are doing it well

The Herald

Learning from other farmers who are doing it well

Learning from other farmers who are doing it well

John Basera and Dr Gorden Mabuyaye
The major role of field days is to introduce farmers, agricultural professionals, extension workers, grain end users, local leaders, and even school children to new farming technologies and techniques.

It is also to make them see how these technologies or techniques can be practically used and applied to increase agriculture productivity levels (yield per unit area), profitability levels and in a broader global economic scope-leading to food security,economic growth and stability in the country.

Based on this, it is therefore imperatively prudent to encourage farmers to organise, attend, participate and learn from these farmer oriented platforms in their respective areas.

In fact, field days are a free platform to exchange experiences, expertise and ideas and an essential tool for extension in Zimbabwe.

The two maize green revolutions experienced in Zimbabwe before and after independence were due to an apt and co-ordinated extension structure and activities.

Again we can attribute this year’s bumper harvest (possibly another maize green revolution) story to good extension work by AGRITEX and private companies’ extension activities.

Learning from and giving feedback and suggestions to experts

Learning from and giving feedback and suggestions to experts

Extension is really and must be a two-directional process where technical agricultural information and technologies are transferred to farmers for use in planning, production, marketing decisions and also farmers providing their experiences or feedback to researchers.

This feedback will help researchers to focus on customer needs, wants and desires. The success of extension is measured upon this “sync” scope of the feedback process.

In this vein, the ultimate fruit of the “sync” will be increased productivity (and profitability) levels and also research in new technologies and techniques. In this regard, researchers must be receptive to farmers’ ideas, suggestions and challenges (they face) so that they can be incorporated in research objectives and research concepts.

For example, at Seed Co we are always guided by the technical adage that a breeder should always breed farmers’ seed variety not a “breeders variety”. In this regard, a variety which does not address farmers’ needs is a poor one-in frank terms! In fact the farmers initiate our breeding objectives through field days and discussion platforms.

A good maize variety must always address the needs of the farmer: high yielding (the ultimate end game), climate smart-wide adaptability (grown and does well in different climatic and soil environments), good agronomic traits (standability/harvestability, disease and heat tolerance, fast dry down rate, water use efficiency; fertiliser use efficiency, among other traits which we technically term “AgXcellence traits” i.e. Agronomic Excellence and Consistency.

This is our conviction at Seed Co and belief as researchers that breeding themes and concepts must come from farmers and are for the farmers. This is just one example to show how important field days are to Seed Co and ultimately to the farmer.

Suitable (maize) crop hybrid varieties for specific agro ecologies

Suitable (maize) crop hybrid varieties for specific agro ecologies

Sources of extension in Zimbabwe

  • Seed companies e.g. the Seed Co Agronomy Services
  • Chemical and fertiliser company extension teams
  • Contracting companies extensionists
  • Social media farmer groups/platforms e.g. the Goromonzi Enterprise Farmers’ WhatsApp group
  • NGO extensionists
  • Farmer unions extension teams
  • Livestock production development department teams
  • Irrigation and mechanisation department extension teams
  • Veterinary services extensionists among others

When are field days conducted?

Field days for summer crops are normally conducted from soft dough stage to drying off stage in maize, pod filling to maturity in soya, seedbed to ripening in tobacco and also at soft dough stage for winter crops(in wheat). In fact, for summer food crops we are in the field days season/time and we encourage farmers to Organise, Attend, Participate, Learn and Apply (OAPLA Principle for extension).

Expectations from field days?

At a field day, field based examples where farmers learn from successful counterparts are physically showcased and technically and scientifically explained.

  • New technologies (e.g. improved climate smart varieties, tillage, planting, spraying and harvesting technologies)
  • New and efficient techniques (e.g. zero/minimal till planting)
  • GAPs (Good Agronomic Practices) e.g. crop establishment and maintenance tips
  • Marketing activities (prices and off-takers)
  • Planning and budgeting (based on the premise that farming is a business)
  • Institutional services (e.g. banking, weather reports and forecasts, contract farming etc.)
  • What does a farmer need
  • to attend a field day?
  • A pen and a notebook
  • Open and ready/ eager to learn mind
  • Hukama igasva hunozadziswa nekudya!

What are the other tools for extension in Zimbabwe?

  • Crop circus meetings
  • Pre-planting seminars
  • Pre-harvesting seminars
  • Focused group discussions
  • Individual farmer tours
  • Machinery calibration sessions
  • Mechanisation day (can be introduced)
  • 10 tonne + Clubs in Maize (re-introduced by Seed Co last season)
  • 4 tonne Clubs in Soyabean (to be re-introduced)
  • Elite clubs in winter wheat (to be re-introduced)
  • Farming competitions e.g. Command Farmer of the year (can be introduced)
  • Agriculture expos
  • Rattray Arnold Research Station Open Days
  • Dry shows
  • Agriculture shows (e.g. the annually held Harare Agriculture Shows, Provincial shows etc.)
  • Livestock and Dairy days
  • Weed control seminars (can be introduced)-critical
  • ART Farm open days among others

We always encourage farmers to participate and interact in these farmer oriented platforms and to get the best possible knowledge on GAPs as possible.

Parting shots

Field days are a tested extension tool to bridge the technology gap between research findings and the actual productivity levels currently being achieved by farmers.

There is need to upscale field day activities in the country and other extension tools and in the same vein farmers are encouraged to attend field days in their respective areas to learn about suitable varieties for their specific regions as well as Good Agronomic Practices (GAPs).

These two aspects contribute 30 percent and 70 percent to the success story of the farmer, respectively. Field days also give farmers an opportunity to see and assess the potential of old versus new seed technologies (e.g. varieties) and techniques.

Don’t leave a field day without having been shown a new and upcoming techniques or technology (e.g. a variety)!

Indeed it is also a platform for private companies to showcase their value wedge and value propositions to the farmer and the industry.

Field days must always be initiated by farmers in conjunction with AGRITEX, local leadership and private companies so that they can determine the key themes and objectives which fully benefit the farmer, researchers and extensionists and the industry and economy in general.

The ultimate gist of field days is to learn and adopt ways to optimise output per unit area, reduce wastes and/or costs, increase farming efficiencies as well as new cropping concepts-all targeting to grow the farmer, the agriculture industry and the economy at large.

Let’s organise, attend, participate in, learn and adopt new technical knowledge. Knowledge is power and an enabler to optimise returns on investment in agriculture systems.

  • John Basera (Head of Agronomy Services at Seed Co Zimbabwe), +263 772 413 184/ [email protected]
  • Gorden Mabuyaye (Group Maize Breeding Lead Scientist at Seed Co Group), +263 772 132 767/[email protected]

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