By Aubed Kang’ombe Zulu
MaFAAS CIKM Officer
Extension service delivery involves farmer to extension worker meetings, trainings, shows and Information Communication Technology (ICT). Farmer to extension worker contact has become a major challenge in the COVID-19 period and this has affected extension delivery for all stakeholders in the field of extension. Participatory rural appraisals where farmers gather in large numbers from their communities to air out their most pressing needs, have been restricted following government social distance controlling measures. Stakeholders’ response to different needs faced a heavy blow.
Considering all these setbacks, Malawi Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (MaFAAS), an umbrella body for extension providers in Malawi, organized a Zoom meeting on 30th April 2020. The meeting was hosted on AFAAS zoom platform. Different stakeholders shared experiences on COVID-19 and extension.
The stakeholders expressed their concerns on how COVID-19 has affected them in their daily operations.
Stakeholders confirmed that social distance restrictions affected face to face extension delivery. Amidst the challenges, good news was that stakeholders upscaled ICT based extension through community radios, sharing of videos through whatsapp and conducting meetings on social media platforms. However, there has been a rising cost of extension delivery due to modifications where organizations are changing to ICT based extension service delivery. The stakeholders agreed to lobby for extension as a means to build resilient livelihoods even in times of COVID-19.
MaFAAS was offered a platform to share proceedings of the 30th April 2020 zoom meeting by the high level National Agriculture Investment Plan –Technical Working Group (NAIP-TWG). The experiences were shared in the 18th May 2020 NAIP-TWG zoom meeting which was aimed at shaping the Malawi agriculture cluster COVID-19 plan in the national response to COVID-19. The MaFAAS raised the following questions to the NAIP-TWG: How can Digital Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services (DAEAS) be included in the agriculture cluster COVID-19 plan? How can existing programs and projects be adjusted to adequately fund and implement DAEAS among government, NGO and private sector extension service providers? How can information flow from other clusters to the agriculture clusters to enrich integration of COVID-19 messages into agriculture extension messages? What support can the agriculture cluster provide to the advocacy efforts proposed by extensionists during the 30th April 2020 zoom meeting such as inclusion of extension as an essential service, free access to agriculture messages on the internet?
These thought provoking questions stimulated a discussion where it was agreed that DAEAS is the way to go during the COVID-19 period and that the agriculture cluster plan should upscale extension activities. Now there is renewed hope that extension will continue operating in the COVID-19 period in Malawi. Current pressing issues include supporting farmers with postharvest management, marketing, and winter cropping messages and associated services.