A Day in the Life of a Technical Field Officer
By Winnie Felix Kessy, a Technical Field Officer for East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation in Tanzania.
KAHAMA DISTRICT, TANZANIA – It is 6:00 AM, and I have to prepare so I can go to work. Breakfast is a light meal of tea and chapati. This is not my best meal, but it is convenient. As a Technical Field Officer for East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation in Tanzania, I have a higher calling on my mind than best meals: supporting smallholder farmers.
I am particularly passionate about supporting smallholder farmers because I grew up with parents who were peasant farmers. I saw the way they toiled on the land with little support from extension services and with virtually no access to capital. I then said to myself, “I will become an extension officer and support such farmers. After all, if I do not do it, who will?”
It was also not lost on me that the only way to change our household economics and national economy was to farm our way to glory. I won’t bore you with further details: suffice it to say that 6 months after graduating, at a time when I was volunteering at SEVIA Limited, East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation came calling. Like they say, the rest is history.
By 7:00 AM on this particular day, I am already riding my motorcycle to work. In my culture, it is not very common for a lady to ride a motorcycle, but if this is what it takes to be a Technical Field Officer, nothing is going to stop me. I would even pilot an aeroplane if I had to!
Today I am training farmers of Nyambula village on harvest timing and post-harvest handling, but first things first: I start the day by monitoring the demonstration plots of four of our key farmers.
Did I say “key farmers”? Yes, key farmers are very important in my work. As always, I have 20 key farmers this season. Each one of them is hosting a demonstration on a particular crop—a “demo,” as we call it. I then use each demo plot to train 20 to 30 neighbouring farmers. Key farmers are also important in that they continue to advise other farmers even after I move on to work with farmers in other areas.
8:31 AM: The tomato demo of the first key farmer I visit looks good. It is trellising time, and I demonstrate to him how to best trellis his crop in a way that can carry the heavy yield expected from the Imara F1 variety of tomato. I will keep doing this for a while because trellising is a process, not a one-day event.
An hour later, I am at the onion demo of another key farmer. It is looking very good also. I wish all my 20 demos looked this good! Well, most of them do, but there are two that need close attention. One farmer has a habit of irrigating his cucumber crop late and hence needs more encouragement. Another went to a funeral a week ago and is not back yet. I am worried. I may need to ask her friends or neighbours to chip in so that we do not lose that demo.
Now that I have checked on the demos, I have to visit two agricultural-input suppliers. It is my job to train them to know product information and safe handling of chemicals and fertilisers. It is also my job to equip them with the right knowledge to advise farmers. I try to capture the common challenges farmers bring to agro-input suppliers. Today, though, all is well with the agro-input dealers. Next on my list is the market.
Did I say something about the market? Oh yes, the market survey allows me to capture price information and enter it into the monitoring app on my iPad. The app allows calculation of rate of return. I share this information with farmers, especially during training events and field days.
Fast-forward to the market after 12:00 noon. As usual, the main market in Kahama is a hive of activity, despite the heat. Watermelon, cabbage, tomato, cucumber, and onion rule the roost. As I enter the prices on my iPad, I cannot help but notice that the tomato prices are coming down. It looks like everyone went crazy about planting tomatoes early this season (except the demo farmer I just visited), and very soon farmers will be paying the price. I really have to double down on my training on production planning to make sure farmers look towards the future.
Two hours after my 30-minute lunch break, I find myself training 29 farmers for an hour, utilising the demo plot of a key farmer. It really breaks my heart to see overripe tomatoes being harvested and the produce packed into rough wooden crates. I feel even worse when I see people sitting on the pile of produce and crates on the truck. Surely we should not be losing so much produce with all the effort farmers are putting into production.
It is 4:00 PM, and the training is done. As usual, the farmers were late except the key farmer, but how can I complain about time in my part of the world? I still have three more demo farmers to visit. If all goes well, I should be home by 6:00 PM.
Just another day in the life of a Technical Field Officer!