Poor turnaround time in responding to farmer-related concerns, and the inability to understand technical aspects of farming are some of the findings presented by an agricultural advisor in her research paper aimed at scrutinising the status of extension support for farmers.
While farmer development is a key priority for the government, an official who has been working for almost a decade in extension support has cited a lack of development and training of officials who are expected to assist farmers as a major challenge.
Keolebogile Segotsane, who started off as an extension officer within the department of agriculture in the Northern Cape, presented a research paper which states that there are areas where the government needed to focus on in realising a stable and food-secure country.
Achieving food security
Although her research was based in the ZF Mgcawu area in Upington, she said the problems and challenges are similar across the province. The title of her research paper is “Enhancing food security through agricultural extension”.
The area is known for its raisin farming as the major commodity and job creator, followed by livestock and crops. Segotsane said she based her research paper on interviewing farmers.
“The main objective of the research was to really study and review the impact agricultural extension has on farmers in achieving food security.
Segotsane holds an advanced diploma in agricultural extension, an honours degree in agricultural management and a degree in irrigation management.
“The fact of the matter is that the majority of black farmers rely on agricultural extension support to ensure that their operations are a success,” she said.
Overburdened with work
Segotsane said it is a known fact that extension officers were overburdened with work which led to them failing other farmers whom they are unable to reach.
“The lack of sufficient officials and proper training and management of these officials have a significant impact on service delivery which may impede food security in households,” she said.
According to Segotsane, she found out that as new farmers entered the market that was not the case with extension officers, resulting in one official having to service almost a thousand farmers.
“The lack of specialised personnel, the gap between extension officers and technical services or researchers is making it hard for research-related problems on the farms to be tackled on time.
Damage already done
“This has resulted in some issues or problems faced by farmers escalating to a point when the needed help arrives the damage is already done,” she said.
Segotsane said as someone who has worked in extension support for quite some time, extension officers love their job and understand the critical role they play as a link between the department and farmers, however, all they need is more support.
“Appointing more personnel in specialised fields, ideally each commodity needs to have an extension officer specialising in that to ensure that farmers get on-point help.
“Training in accordance with the relevant needs of the officials is what is needed to make sure that when we go to the farmers, we know what we are talking about,” she said.
According to the recommendations of Segotsane’s research paper, involving key role players in the sectors and capacitating farmers on how to tackle farm-related issues will be key in enhancing food security.
“In a vast province like the Northern Cape, it was evident that the agricultural assistant practitioners were helping a very big deal, they offloaded a lot of work from our shoulders.
“So, I would say from my research is evident that the extension support of the department needs support itself. There is a lack of commitment from us as the department to see farmers grow,” she said.
Segotsane believes that in order for the province and the country to realise sustainable food security, agricultural extension officers need to be equipped and the government needs to proactively act on the reputational damage associated with extension officers.
Investment in officials needed
Louisa Bezuidenhout who farms with livestock in Upington, said the government needs to invest in their own officials so that they could see improved services.
She said a province like the Northern Cape where getting from one area to another is difficult because of the great distance, needs to have more personnel on the ground, especially in far-flung areas where services are needed the most.
Segotsane’s research paper has been given to the department to better develop strategies that will help the government respond to the concerns of the farmers.
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