Malawi government to employ 400 extension workers this year

Government says it will soon employ 400 extension workers as part of the initiative to close the widening ratio between farmers and extension workers in the country.

Bosscher: The extension workers in Malawi are overburdened

The Director of Department of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES), Jerome Nkhoma, admitted that the widening gap in the ratio between farmers and extension workers is negatively affecting agricultural production and productivity.

Nkhoma made the remarks in Lilongwe on Tuesday during a workshop on the digital agriculture extension workshop. The workshop was organised by the Farm Radio Trust (FRT) with financial assistance from the Government of Flanders.

Government has already made a number of steps to address this situation. At the moment, the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources will be graduating close to 400 extension workers. Soon after graduation, they will be deployed as officers in different districts in the country. This is just the first step,” he said.

Nkhoma disclosed that once the 400 extension workers are out, the ministry will bring another group on board so that “we can reduce the gap between what we expect and what is available at the moment in as far as the number of extension workers is concerned across the 28 districts of the country”.

Currently, Malawi has close to 1, 700 extension workers serving close to four million farmers translating into one extension worker to about 2,500 to 3, 000 farmers.

“As government, we are aware of this situation and this is why we are promoting use of other approaches, including ICTs [information and communication technologies] so that farmers can access information even in a situation where they do not have an extension worker. This is because ICT provides platforms from which farmers can access information and knowledge about different aspects of production, marketing, but also linkages with stakeholders in the sector,” Nkhoma stated.

FRT chief executive officer George Vilili said the coming in of digital tools in extension will help the available extension workers to increase coverage for more farmers at the low cost.

Vilili emphasised that this is an issue his organisation has been pushing and lobbying government and other actors to go digital so that they can increase access and also scale up in terms of promoting agricultural technologies.

He said it is interesting that Malawi continues to register increase in the number of people who are accessing information through radio and mobile phone.

“Ideally, we are supposed to have one extension worker serving 150 farmers. But currently, one extension farmer is serving about 3,000 farmers. So, I am hoping that with the passage of time, as people are going to be more productive in agriculture, they are going to see the importance of having radio and also owning a mobile phone as platforms for accessing information,” he said.

“We must not focus on where we are now. We must focus on where we are going. You remember when issues of mobile phones were coming in this country; there were few people who had access to mobile phones. But now, we are talking about close to eight million people having access to mobile phones. We are hoping that with the passage of time, we are going to be increase in the number of people who are going to have access to mobile phones,” Vilili added.

The Deputy General Representative of the Government of Flanders, Nikolas Bosscher, said extension workers in Malawi are overburdened with the addition of new farmers each agricultural season.

Bosscher therefore challenged government to urgently find a lasting solution to the problem.

“The ratio of the farmer to the extension worker is between 2, 000 to 3, 000. So, that’s quite a lot of work for one extension worker. So, there is a big gap. So, the idea is how we can close that gap through the use of new innovations such as radio, video, whatsapp grousps, etc,” he said.

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