A Brief History of Public Extension Policies, Resources and Advisory Activities in Malawi
For a long time, agricultural extension service in Malawi was the prerogative of the government through its Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES). Political changes in 1990s leading to a subsequent adoption of democratic principles necessitated a paradigm shift in provision of agricultural extension and advisory services (Chowa, 2010). Decentralization and the presence of other agricultural extension service providers in the field dictated a review of the agricultural extension delivery system that was followed by a decree in 2000 to launch a policy to promote pluralistic and demand-driven extension system summarized in the policy document titled “Agricultural Extension in the New Millennium: Pluralistic and Demand-driven Services (Masangano & Mthinda, 2011). A part from government ministries, players in the pluralistic extension policy include NGOs which are in majority, Farmer-Based Organization (FBOs), multilateral organizations, private sector organizations and semi-autonomous organization to some extent.
The introduction of the Agricultural extension policy encouraged participation of many other private providers of agricultural extension services. The government further implemented other initiatives including the establishment of the Malawi Young Pioneer Training Bases for training the rural youth in various agricultural skills, the establishment of smallholder farmer crop authorities for coffee, tea and tobacco, the establishment of Special Agricultural Projects, the National Rural Development Program and the introduction of the Block Extension System (Masangano & Mthinda, 2011). These initiatives in part were aimed at promoting production of certain specific crops or commodities, and the provision of extension services mostly based on group approach. With regard to the decentralization, the government of Malawi passed the Local Government Act alongside the decentralization policy so that both policies should work in the manner to promote effectiveness of interventions by transferring power to district level. This created an opportunity to empower farmers by bringing control of extension services closer to them at the local level.
At the national level, Malawi public extension comprises 2,175 staff members and is managed by a team of 18 senior staff according to the MEAS report (2011). One staff member has a PhD, nine have Master of Science degree and the rest of the team studied at the Bachelor level. Women account for 39% of senior management staff. There are 142 subject matter specialists to provide backstopping support to the field staff, eleven of them have a graduate degree and 31% of which are female. Field level extension workers constitute the bulk of staff (92%), with 88 % of them holding a secondary school diploma, and 21% are female. There are two other groups of workers: Information, Communication & Technology (ICT) Support Staff and In-Service Training Staff. Although the public sector does not employ in-service training personnel, 12 workers are involved in ICT support services (Table 1).
Table 1: Human Resources in the Public Extension Service in Malawi (Government or Ministry -based Extension Organizations)
Source: IFPRI/FAO/IICA Worldwide Extension Study, 2011
Major Institutions Providing Extension/Advisory Services in Malawi
The public sector is represented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and its various departments including the Department of Agricultural Extension Services (DAESS), the University of Malawi and other education and research institutions around the country. These institutions provide extension services through various departments and institutes some of which are listed below:
Private Sector Firms
Private sector organizations in Malawi are all part of the marketing strategy to promote particular commodities. There are three private sector firms that provide support in terms of inputs and technical advice to farmers in Malawi. These firms are all international NGOs. They collaborate with government extension officers who assist them in identifying producers, administering contracts and monitoring production to ensure that farmers produce the commodity based on set standards.
Non-Governmental Organizations and other Donors
In Malawi, the NGOs are the largest grouping in the extension system with a substantial number of extension service providers in various agricultural activities. Some of these NGOs are identified with a particular church or religion (CADECOM, CCAP) and others like SSLPP are associated with a particular commodity such as livestock. A list of some of the NGOs operating in Malawi is as follows:
Farmer-Based Organizations and Cooperatives
Farmers have the tradition of organizing themselves at local level into membership-based entities (associations, unions, cooperatives). They mainly organize around common interest like the production of a given agricultural crop, or to pool their resources together and facilitate access to credit and farm inputs. In Malawi, Farmer-Based Organizations (FBOs) constitute a new group in the agricultural system. They include farmer’s associations and unions whose activities focus on promoting production and marketing of a particular crop or livestock product and representing the interests of the members. Local FBOs involve farmers within a specific geographic area like SHMPA, which cater for dairy farmers in the shire valley milk-based area, while others like NASFAM operate at the national level with local groups and associations across the country.
The following events including political changes in 1990s with the wind of democratic change blowing over Malawi, the decentralization of agricultural activities from the MOAFS to the local authorities, the presence of other agricultural extension service providers, and the adoption and promotion of a pluralist and demand-driven extension pose serious challenges to the effective implementation and coordination of agricultural extension programs in Malawi. The increase in the number and types of extension service providers, which in most cases pursue different purposes and objectives are likely to exacerbate coordination problems. The public extension system remains the largest in terms of the number of extension staff employed as well as the geographic area covered. The missing links and weak connections between research, extension and farmers could further add to the many obstacles in reaching farmers with agricultural extension services. Fortunately, the country has the needed elements to increase agricultural production and reduce rural poverty. The presence of a dynamic private sector and the willingness of donors and many other organizations to be a part of the pluralistic system is a positive sign for the country’s economy. Several government initiatives under the Agricultural Extension in the new millennium are tools that could ignite a real agricultural development. Several ICT technologies are currently been introduced in Malawi. Their utilization could facilitate the flow of information and services from research institutions to extension workers, and to farmers. Strengthening Research – Extension Linkages, and diversifying the methods and strategies to assist mainly limited resource farmers get access to agricultural extension services is what the government of Malawi need to emphasize.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Agriculture and Extension
Development of networks and use of low-cost ICTs enhance timely access to accurate and reliable information. ICT technologies (e-mail, internet, phone, radio, TV) are as yet tools that are underutilized in extension strategies. In 2004, the government of Malawi initiated an ICT-based Malawi Agricultural Commodity Exchange (MACE), a market information service project, to improve access by farmers to market information. MACE was intended to improve the efficiency of agricultural markets as part of the strategy to improve food security (Katengeza et al. (2010). Nevertheless, the level of utilization of ICTs in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, is still low compared to the country’s potentials. Several ICT tools commonly used in other African countries are found in Malawi. For example, mobile phone services have been introduced in Malawi and the population has quickly adopted the service. According to the 2009 World Bank statistics, 15.7 percent of the population of Malawi own and operate a mobile phone. This percentage could be considered low when compare to the percentage (63.4%) of people with a cell phone subscription in Ghana. The use of computers and access to internet services is increasing and agricultural extension system is using the technology to reach farmers. Malawi is still relatively slow in the use of computers and access to internet services. In 2009, 4.7 percent of the population had access to internet. ICTs can complement other extension and knowledge services, but there is a critical need to know how farmers currently access information.
Training for Extension Professionals
Bunda College of Agriculture which is one of the five constituent colleges of the University of Malawi, has a proud history dating back to 1966 when it was set up with a specific mandate to train agricultural professionals for the country. It is the only college in the country offering degree level training in the various agricultural disciplines. Bunda College is, therefore, the leading institution in the country in the area of agricultural human resource development. The various agricultural research agencies in Malawi collaborate with each other as well as with regional and international organizations, and offer in-training for research and extension staff. Until recently, training of all senior research and extension staff was done abroad with funding from donors. The Government of Malawi started training staff to replace those soon to retire.
Katengeza, S.P., Mangisoni, J.H., and Okello, J.J. 2010. The Role of ICT-based Market Information Services in Spatial Food market Integration: The Case of Malawi Agricultural Commodity Exchange. Paper presented at the Joint 3rd African Association of Agricultural Economics (AAAE) and 48th Agricultural Economists Association of South Africa (AEASA) Conference, cape Town, South Africa, September 19-23, 2010.
Masangano, C. and C. Mthinda. 2011. Pluralistic Extension System in Malawi, Extension Department, Bunda College of Agriculture. Lilongwe, Malawi.
Chowa, C. 2010. Harmonization of Methods and Strategies in Extension Delivery System in Malawi. In Towards Improving Agricultural Extension Service Delivery in the SADC Region, Proceedings of the Workshop on Information Sharing among Extension Play in the SADC Region, Edited by Kimaro W.H, Mukandiwa L. and Mario E.Z.J. 26-28 July 2010. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Persons responsible for this summary: Andre Mbassa Nnoung, Andrea B. Bohn and Burton Swanson