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Extension Opinion No. 21: Supporting farmer driven livestock extension services in Communal Areas

Livestock Extension in Communal Areas.

Options for and priorities of extension often refer to a need for pro-poor results and for public-private partnerships. 

There is real opportunity for this in livestock in communal areas such as the former Transkei where livestock are the most widely held disposable asset of the poor. A community based animal health service that has been applied by Mngcunube Development in working with over 10 000 livestock owners over the last nine years has demonstrated this. The service consists at heart of training local livestock owners to take on the provision and application of basic animal health medicines to willing farmers who pay for the cost of the medicines. In the process they operate as micro enterprises who sustain themselves by making a small profit from the sales and keeping their customers satisfied through reliable service delivery. 

An independent study  of the results of this approach was carried out in the Elundini area of the Eastern Cape where 2459 were sheep owners (and other animals usually). These farmers owned 425 272 sheep including lambs. The project had the following effect on average numbers of sheep per farmer: the number of ewes increased by 100% from 15 to 30; the number of wethers increased from 6 to 10 and the number of lambs from 10 to 20. This arose from improved birth and death rates due to medicines but also to better animal husbandry. The study shows that the net effect of this is that potential annual gross income went from R 416 per average participating farmer to R 18 036 at the market price for sheep at that time. The average cost per farmer (medicines they paid for) to achieve this gain was R 735. When results such as these are multiplied across hundreds of thousands of farmers and millions more sheep (and goats and cattle) the scale of potential becomes clear.

As such one would assume that this would be an area of major attention by extension services. However these services, apart from interventions in the case of outbreak of notifiable diseases, are largely confined to an annual sheep scab inoculation programme of a month or so duration. There is also work to trade rams and cattle for better breeds. The above-mentioned approach led to Mngcunube being described by the livestock services vision of the provincial Department of Agriculture as a ‘strategic partner’ in livestock development. 

What messages are there in the above experience for extension policy? One is that it is possible to achieve a major impact that benefits the poor at no cost to the extension service while at the same time creating local micro enterprises. Indeed, it could replace the current cost of the annual sheep scab campaign. There is of course the not inconsiderable cost of reaching many farmers in rural areas, selecting suitable candidates for training as micro enterprises and then training them ‘on the job’ but these costs can potentially be met from other sources. 

Another lesson is that the micro-enterprises need to be supplied reliably with stocks of animal medicines: this strengthens the need for Ward based input supply and service centres and raises the question of whether these centres have a place in the private sector or the government (extension) sector. It certainly raises the issue of sustainability; the effect is to increase the number of livestock and thus the question of over grazing (even more than at present). So this opens up a role in promoting livestock sales and thus increasing rural incomes: again the question is whether this is a role for government or rather what the role of government and extension in this should be. 

It raises questions what happens when extension (albeit in this case another form outside of government) succeeds. And the approach has shown that negative assumptions about the ability of poor farmers to invest in their assets enterprises can be challenged.

Should the approach taken by Mngcunube be called extension or simply service provision? Whatever your perspective the point is that: 
  • It is delivering what farmers want 
  • It does work 
  • It is sustainable. 
At very least this approach can free up time for trained extension workers to use their skills on other tasks such as farmer education, facilitation roles and so on.

Mngcunube is an NPO which has been in operation since 1995. It specialises in:
  • the design, implementation and monitoring of agricultural and SMME projects in rural areas; 
  • providing mentorship and support for land reform beneficiaries;
  • implementing and managing community works projects.
Find out more about Mngcunube by clicking on the link to their website below. 

Click the image for a view of: Farmer led animal health and livestock support services get results
Farmer led animal health and livestock support services get results

Posted: 10/11/2012 (3:36:46 AM)


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