Tanzanian Women Seek to Shape the Next Generation of Extension Agents

Feb. 12, 2014

Getting information to and from farmers is a huge challenge in Tanzania - a nation the size of Texas and New Mexico combined. Of the country’s 45 million people, 80 % are engaged in small-holder agriculture and have limited access to new production information or knowledge of agricultural markets. Dr. Catherine Msuya, Head of the Department of Agriculture, Education, and Extension at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro, Tanzania, points out however, the number of farmers who are sufficiently informed of the aspects of agriculture can increase through improved extension services in Tanzania.

“Right now farmers ask, ‘How can I improve my production and where can I sell my crops. How can I add value?’ ” says Dr. Msuya. “Farmers in Tanzania do not have easy access to this knowledge right now, but Extension can help them.”
Dessiminating this knowledge to rural farmers is a substantial challenge. For extension professionals to help farmers increase production and add value, they must first be adequately trained and prepared to properly work with farmers in a way that addresses farmers’ needs.

Dr. Msuya visited the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at Ohio State University from January 26th-31st along with two other Tanzanian colleagues: Anne Niediwe Assenga, Director of Training in the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFC), and Joyce Kuliwaki Mvuna, Assistant Director of Extension Services in the Ministry’s Crop Development Division. Through their weeklong visit to CFAES, they learned about how to improve the training of future extension agents in Tanzania and methods for integrating agricultural research and extension activities, which will ultimately provide farmers with better access to new production technologies.

The visit to OSU by the three Extension administrators was not by coincidence. Ohio State University, through the Office of International Programs in Agriculture (IPA), administers a major USAID-funded food security initiative in Tanzania, named iAGRI, in collaboration with Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFC). This project also involves five other U.S. land grant universities and other institutions in Africa and India.  The goal of iAGRI is to improve food security and agricultural productivity in Tanzania by strengthening the training and research capacities of Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security & Cooperatives.

“Extension plays a critical role in working with farmers in Tanzania and seeing that improved technologies get to them,” says Dr. Mark Erbaugh, Director of the Office of International Programs in Agriculture, “and through collaborations with our extension and academic faculty we hope to forge future collaborations that can help improve the capacity of Tanzania to provide more effective extension services.”

Meetings were arranged for the visitors to discuss their programs and challenges with faculty from OSU Extension, the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education and Leadership, the Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI ), the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), and the Center for African Studies through its Director, Dr. Robert Agunga.

Ms. Assenge, who administers agricultural extension training programs for Tanzanian students, emphasized the need for adequate infrastructure and technology to build her country’s capacity to meet an increasing demand for food. Currently agriculture in Tanzania is responsible for 95% of the food consumed by Tanzanians. When current population growth and challenges related to climate change are considered, this number assumes an even greater level of significance. Ms. Assenge added that the agricultural sector in Tanzania has been growing around 4% in recent years, but in order to adequately contribute to Tanzania’s economy in the coming years, it will need to grow at least 6%, and ideally 10% per year. For this growth to occur, extension services will play a key role in helping famers expand their current capacities in all respects, from production to marketing.

Individual Tanzanian’s are prepared to work towards overcoming these challenges through their own innovation as well. According to Ms. Assenge, students are expressing an increased interest in self-employment, not only out of concern that they won’t be able to secure jobs in government institutions or other sectors, but also because self-employment allows them to chart their own path to self-sustainability. The Ministry of Agriculture views this entrepreneurial spirit as promising and is seeking to foster this interest through curriculum development and innovative outreach methods, including online learning. Ms. Mvuna enthusiastically shared that the Ministry plans to initiate “e-extension”, an online program that is intended “to improve extension service delivery and accelerate the dissemination of information in Tanzania”. Webinars and online conferencing are tools that extension agents at Ohio State already use extensively to connect with various constituencies, whether they are farmers, natural resource professionals, or consumers.

Their visit to OSU has opened doors for substantial future collaboration:  OSU extension staff now have opportunities to help their Tanzanian counterparts meet programmatic objectives related to food security, but also can learn about the challenges confronting their extension counterparts, along with others involved in Tanzanian agricultural production.

Before their departure, the women expressed their gratitude on behalf of the Tanzanian people for the College’s hospitality and their willingness to advance Tanzania’s agricultural capabilities through extension services. They looked forward to returning home to apply what they learned so that future extension agents are equipped with the necessary skills to continue Tanzania’s agricultural development. 

Authored by: Beau Ingle, ingle.16@osu.edu