Evaluation of extension communication strategies used for dissemination of agricultural messages in Solwezi district of North-Western province of Zambia
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There have been increasing challenges regarding the decline in the economic standards of the country and subsequent increase in poverty levels, food insecurity and underdevelopment of rural areas. The challenges have been associated to the ineffectiveness of agricultural sector. It is believed that the agricultural sector has the capacity to revamp and resuscitate the economy through its extension service. The extension service is the communicative section of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. It is responsible for dissemination of agricultural information for change of farmers' attitudes and behaviour to shift from their traditional and uneconomic farming practices to the adoption of improved practices that increase production, income levels, food security, and thus improved standard of living of the rural people.However, there have been several critics about agricultural extension services, and one of the critics is that agricultural extension is a very costly and largely ineffective department and that its personnel are essentially welfare recipients. The claims emanate from the fact that there are few if any positive results to justify for the enormous investment made by the government on extension services. It is noted that the continuity use of traditional farming practices, prevalence of food insecurity and increased poverty levels among the rural people has made the farming communities question about the effectiveness of the extension service as a developmental sector. To respond to those challenges the research focused at the evaluation of the extension communication strategies in use, as major tools for effective extension service provision.In an effort to establish the causal factors associated with the ineffectiveness of the extension service, the researcher used "cross section survey" research methodology. It involved the application of random and none random sampling procedures for selection of agricultural camps, blocks and the experts. Questionnaires, interview schedules for focus group discussions and observation checklist were designed for the purpose of collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. The data collected was analysed by use of the statistical package of social sciences (SPSS).The findings reflected that though there are several criticisms, but there is unmet demand for extension service provision. This means that the need for provision of extension services to the farming community is relevant However, the major factors associated with the ineffectiveness of the extension services were the inadequacy or lack of Knowledge by the extension workers on "communication and social skills" to enable them develop effective and challenging communication strategies that could break the ties of cultural values, and the use of Training and Visit (T&V) extension approach.The development, application and performance of communication strategies in use, and the Training and Visit (T&V) system have been ineffective, inefficient, and unsustainable to promote farmers' learning processes and adoption of innovations for improved farming practices. Other factors associated with the ineffectiveness of agricultural extension services include the following; (i) There is negative attitude developed by extension workers towards extension service provision resulting in poor outreach and interaction between extension workers and farmers; (ii) The extension service has been bias in its message dissemination in the sense that the focus has been much on crop production while neglecting the other agricultural farm enterprises; (iii) Most extension workers (75%) have been operating haphazardly without work programmes and visit schedules, and the few (25%) had outdated and unrevised schedules which could not provide proof of their utilisation; (iv) It was noted that communication strategies appeared only on paper but there was no application; (v) Poor supervision on extension service; (vi) Poor research-extension linkages; (vii) There has been poor or no visits to institutional farms for agricultural advice; (viii) Lack of extension material support.