HISTORY OF EXTENSION AND THE ENABLING/DISABLING ENVIRONMENT
The first step towards having a formal extension service in Zimbabwe was taken in 1907 when the country was a British colony. It occurred because the black Africans, called “natives” living in “reserves” (areas designated for the black Africans), felt pressure and congestion due to increasing number of residents and started demanding the expansion of the reserves with arable land. Colonial administrators, reluctant to agree, took the position that instead of expansion the natives should be taught proper cultivation techniques to produce more from their existing reserves’ land. In 1910, a formal recommendation was made by a Committee of Inquiry into African Affairs that the government establish central institutions in reserves where expert instructors should teach proper tillage methods as well as the treatment and rotation of crops.
This recommendation was not implemented. In 1921, a similar recommendation was made in view of the fast exhausting soil and destruction of timber in the reserves. The need for an instructor, who could go around reserves and demonstrate to farmers, was underlined, as was the establishment of industrial training schools. The recommendation was adopted and two training schools were opened in the early 1920s. Trainees were encouraged to go out in the field and instruct pupils on their own plots. In 1924, twenty-one (21) men were enrolled in the demonstrator training program. In 1926, an American agriculturist named Emory D. Alvord who was also a missionary was appointed by the Department of Agriculture for the instruction of natives. Alvord selected six (6) acres of overworked school land and formed demonstration and experimental plots. He set up a system of agricultural work for adult natives that proved to be very successful and was used as curriculum for demonstrator trainees at the two schools. The first batch of demonstrators graduated in 1927 and the graduates were sent to serve in their respective reserves.
While Zimbabwe was still a British colony, the Department of Conservation and Extension (Conex) and the Department of Agricultural Development (Devag) were established. After gaining independence in 1980, the Government of Zimbabwe merged the two departments to create the Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX). The new department maintained national level staff, provincial agricultural extension officers, regional extension officers, and agricultural extension officers. Below them were supervisors and extension workers who worked as frontline field staff.
AGRITEX provided extension advice to small farmers as a matter of routine and to commercial farmers when requested. A variety of extension approaches were followed including the master farmer training approach, group development areas, radio listening groups, commodity interest groups, demonstrations, field days, study tours and farm visits. The Training & Visit (T&V) system was tried for 10 years but was found inappropriate. For a while, farming systems research approach was also followed but it was not sustained. AGRITEX not only advised farmers, but offered free services to various government agencies, NGOs and private companies that were involved in rural development projects.
In 2002, AGRITEX and the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS) were merged to form the Department of Agricultural Research and Rural Extension (AREX). In 2007, the research arm of AREX was separated to form the Department of Agricultural Research for Development (DAR4D). In 2009, the extension arm was separated from AREX to once again form AGRITEX. Similarly, the DAR4D was renamed as before, that is, Department of Agricultural Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS).
The World Bank, African Development Bank, FAO, UNDP and the World Food Program have provided financial and technical assistance to Zimbabwe. Apparently, international politics has affected the donor assistance. IFAD and the World Bank stopped their operations in Zimbabwe due to non-payment of arrears.