Public extension agents’ need for new competencies: evidence from a climate variability study in Limpopo Province, South Africa
Changes occurring in the Extension environment include that of climate. Reduced and sporadic rainfall is among the effects of climate change and variability with consequent negative effects on food production. Smallholder agriculture in most developing countries world-wide, including South Africa, is largely rain-fed. Extension agents, therefore, need to constantly improve their capabilities to remain useful to farming communities. The purpose of the paper is to determine Extension agents’ climate variability coping competencies required to effectively support smallholder crop farmers’ production. The study adopted a multi-stage random sampling approach to site and respondents’ selection. Semi-structured questionnaire was used to collect data in 2014 from smallholder crop farmers in four municipalities of Limpopo province. Information was also collected from Extension managers and field-level extension agents of the Limpopo Department of Agriculture by means of questionnaires. The most popular climate variability coping strategy promoted by most extension agents was conservation agriculture. Small yield differences between Extension service-recipients and non-recipients indicate that Extension support has minimal effect on farmers’ production. Agents need new competencies regarding correct application conservation agriculture. The study recommends the involvement of extension agents, scientists and farmers in adaptive trials for effective implementation of conservation agricultural practices to improve crop yields.
Keywords: Extension agents, climate change and variability, Limpopo province, small-scale farmers, conservation agriculture, adaptive trials