The debate about the wisdom of restructuring Naads (National Agricultural Advisory Services) and giving its implementation to soldiers is currently consuming a lot of our time. Yet given the importance of agriculture in determining our country’s general advancement we cannot afford to lose time.
Naads was only one of the many approaches expected to help us overcome the various problems that beset increased national agricultural output. It could not have been the panacea for all our farming problems and we ought to have put in place alternative systems through which our farmers could get agricultural education.
The Naads programme became politicised and it made farmers appear so vulnerable and therefore dependent on donations from a benevolent government.
The Naads officials became conduits for passing on the donations and they tended to spend more of their time worrying about accountability for the animals and planting material they were tasked to pass on to the farmers. It is now being disbanded because of its perceived failure to pass on the donations.
But the farmer is supposed to be an entrepreneur driven by the ambition to succeed and is expected to personally put together his or her own start up budget by borrowing or saving. A farmer should know what he or she wants to grow and how to procure the seeds instead of waiting to be told what to grow and to be given seed unless it is under a contract farming arrangement. Beyond that, a farmer needs advice and further education to increase production.
As its name suggests, Naads’ main role among the farmers was supposed to be advisory and not distribution of agricultural inputs or donations.
An alternative way to promote agricultural education now would be to revive District Farmers Institutes (DATICS –District Agricultural and Technical Information Centres) or to set them up where they never existed for the farmers to learn about agriculture through practical demonstrations.
Such institutes spread across the country, would serve as model farms for farmers to visit to see how things are done or for agricultural extension officers to organise short seminars and courses for the farmers.