The Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (FSDARD) in South Africa has initiated awards for the best performing extension officers as one of the strategies to honour their contribution. Mr Lebogang Mokoena from the Thabo Mofutsanyana District in the eastern Free State Province was awarded as the best agricultural advisor in the FSDARD.

The award was presented by the South African Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Ms Thoko Didiza, during the National Extension and Advisory Services Awards ceremony held in Polokwane on 15 November 2019.

The award aims to show appreciation to the extension and advisory service officers who performed over and above their normal duties to contribute towards the upliftment of agricultural communities, resource-poor smallholder farmers. The award carries a cash prize of R20 000 (USD 1368).

Lebogang Mokoena is one of the extension officers that have been continuously hands-on since the beginning of the InnovAfrica project. His commitment to his service is evident in the support he provides to individual and small groups of farmers who have a passion for farming in his allocated wards and beyond through practical on-farm advice on different farm activities such as soil sampling, land preparation, sustainable agricultural techniques, cultivar selection, and fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide application.

In addition, Mr Mokoena provides technical information and continuously supports youth in the community to start farming and make a living out of it, given the lack of job opportunities in the area. He regularly organises meetings with the community and stakeholders, making them aware of available funding opportunities and new sustainable technologies and encourage farmers to share their personal experience and challenges.

Mokoena also assists farmers in resource mobilization to uplift resource-poor rural communities in the area. Additionally, he holds annual field demonstrations where farmers from across the district are taught ion different agricultural practices such as pesticides application, harvest methods, and, cleaning and packaging produce.

When asked where he draws his inspiration from, Mokoena responded as follows:

Lebogang Mokoena after receiving the award for the best agricultural advisor in the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in 2019

“I was born and raised by a farming family, thus agriculture has been my passion since an early age. I hold a B. Tech Agriculture in Animal Production degree. My educational background, the practical knowledge and experience I acquired over the years had made me confident to teach and advocate certain technologies above other extension officers.

I attended training workshops and professional consortiums, both provincial and national extension and advisory services conferences to learn from peers in other districts and provinces. I used ICT tools provided to me to search for information and study topics related to weather and climate change, sustainable production of maize and dry beans, value-adding and marketing. I have also participated in research projects such as InnovAfrica where I have learned different approaches to sustainable agriculture. I have also co-authored a research article titled ‘Factors affecting the productivity of small-scale maize/legume producers in eastern Free State’.

Despite the challenges of understaffing and limited resources we are currently facing as extension officers in this region, I have managed to change the perception of farming communities towards sustainable natural resource management  through information sessions, field demonstrations and farmers days, where farmers were empowered to make informed decisions concerning soil fertility management and correction, cultivar selection, production practices, crop protection and marketing so that they earn income from farming while sustaining the environment.”

Within the context of the InnovAfrica project, Mokoena ensures that the farmers prepare the land, take soil samples and plant on time by doing farm inspections voluntarily as an exceptional Multi-Actor Platforms (MAPs) member. He has been actively and practically involved during land preparation (even operating a tractor), planting (calibrating planters and sprayers) and harvesting (quality control and packaging) to demonstrate the new and innovative ways of producing dry beans and maize to the farming community. Given that extension services are regarded as the vehicle that will enhance a wider adaption of successful technologies within the framework of InnovAfrica, having more dedicated extension officers like Mr Mokoena in the project will ensure its success.

Mokoena is a good example of someone who has made many sacrifices to uplift the community, despite the challenges that extension services are facing in this country. More of his kind are clearly required to ensure food security as climate change threatens the sustainability of agricultural productivity in Africa.