JUST before the start of the 2021/22 cropping season, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos revealed to Senate that more than three million farmers and 5 294 agricultural extension workers and supervisors across the country had been trained on the Pfumvudza/Intwasa farming concept.
Then, Deputy Minister Haritatos indicated of the 3 255 378 farmers trained, 1 772 183 were women, which logically means the figures have since grown and so should the efficiency with which farmers will be going about their Pfumvudza/Intwasa business on the fields this time around.
These trainings should not be yearly fixtures unless they involve debutante farmers with the already-trained expected to seek other various forms of assistance and not necessarily training.
This should also leave extension officers with less training work and focus their energies more on advisory services than on training because new entrants should no longer be coming in overwhelming figures now.
It also means that where there is need for training, the extension officers can also be more thorough with small numbers of learners.
Quick learners can also learn from their counterparts and may just need extension officers to polish up what they would have grasped from colleagues already using the concept.
Besides conducting the trainings, the extension workers and supervisors are on the one hand expected to track and monitor farmers’ progress until harvest.
Of course, the extension workers will need to be at their best with numbers of farmers adopting the Pfumvudza/Intwasa concept growing every season, while provincial yield targets will also grow in response.
Targets for provinces are set based on their household populations and communicated to ministers of provincial affairs and devolution who in turn should keep liaising with Agritex and monitoring progress as the country marches towards meeting both national and household food security targets.
At the moment, farmers should be busy with holing (making planting stations) and must also not forget to make sure the holes do not get trampled upon by either animals or even people, lest they do the job twice.
Farmers also need to be gathering mulching material and other forms of organic matter to deposit in the planting stations, while securing fertilisers and other necessary chemicals as well.
Extension workers’ task is to just check on the way the process will be panning out.
The Government adopted the Pfumvudza/Intwasa concept to address the problems of low productivity, low production and low profitability in farming, which have in recent years been negatively affecting the food security situation in the country.
The concept has also come in handy as a way of mitigating the harsh effects of climate change that have caused severe food shortages in the wake of successive crop failures.
It is, however, exciting to note that the nation has scored bumper harvests following its adoption of the concept and looks set to consolidate those gains given the amount of resources it has committed to training personnel and equipping extension workers.
Extension workers have been provided with motor cycles to take care of mobility challenges that made it difficult for them to provide advisory services to all those farmers needing them.
They have also been given tablets and data to improve communication with farmers in the areas they cover.
This move will enable them to communicate with big groups of farmers at once, especially at a time like this when the Government is pushing for the country to achieve 100 percent extension and farmer reach systems.
The current 1:575 extension worker-to-farmer ratio is of course too high to be effective, hence the need for active communication devices.
The country boasts 1 600 agricultural wards across all its 60 agricultural districts that need to be manned by at least two extension officers to be effectively serviced. This is currently being done by one extension worker.
Also, there are about 2,7 million farming households and 4 700 agricultural extension officers, which gives birth to the current farmer to extension officer ratio of about 575:1.
It is fast becoming apparent that human dynamics such as these have also been playing their part in the low productivity and production challenges that have been characterising the country’s agricultural sector in recent times.
Essentially, a number of factors, among them poor agronomic practices, poor soils, the impact of climate change and failure to approach agriculture from a business perspective by both farmers and the extension system have been contributing to the country’s dip in agricultural productivity and production.
This has prompted Government to look for simple, but effective ways such as Pfumvudza/Intwasa that is the subject of this offering.
Pfumvudza/Intwasa is a form of conservation agriculture that has been practised for centuries and the concept has now returned coupled with a business motive.
The farmer pays close attention to the number of planting stations, plants per station and the average yield versus domestic requirements and the quantities targeted for the market.
Pfumvudza/Intwasa does not require vast land, yet it yields good quantities of grain, hence the need for farmers to have started preparations for next season because the planting holes need to be ready for planting with the first effective rains.
The organic matter deposited into the planting stations needs to have decayed to reasonable levels for newly established plants to tap into it for nutrients.
The Pfumvudza/Intwasa concept is based on conservation agriculture principles that will naturally help climate-proof agricultural production, and in particular the food production sub-sector hence the need for every farmer to have a least a portion committed to the concept regardless of their farming category — commercial, communal, A1 or A2 unless they have irrigation facilities that guarantee a full production cycle for their crops.
One advantage of the planting stations is that they trap rain water and allow plant roots to use it effectively, which conventional tillage methods do not always do.
Planting stations also enable farmers to apply fertilisers for direct use by plants without risks of them being washed away in the event of rains coming immediately after the fertiliser application.
There is also minimal soil disturbance during the digging of the planting stations with the mulch that is added after planting also helpful in conserving moisture.
The farmer is guaranteed of meeting targeted timelines and the successful adoption of good agronomic practices as dictated in the roll out of the Pfumvudza/Intwasa concept.
The beauty of Pfumvudza/Intwasa is that it can be used for many crops other than maize with very good results.
Government has since extended the programme to include traditional grain crops, soya beans and even cotton with the sole objective of improving yields.
This will boost household and national food security while improving people’s socio-economic reality as well.