Melody is from Zimbabwe and has recently finished working as a Agro-ecology and Extension Services Adviser with the Environment Africa, in Harare, Zimbabwe.
What is your work background?
My background is agricultural development with a strong bias in extension work with farmers.
Before joining Progressio, I worked with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and with Oxfam GB as a Programme Officer – Technical for an urban low input gardening project. Prior to that I was a Provincial Agronomist with the Ministry of Agriculture’s department of technical and extension services (Agritex). This role involved providing technical advice on agronomy issues for Masvingo province field staff, stakeholders/partners and farmers.
Both the Oxfam GB and Agritex roles had strong components of capacity building through training sessions/workshops as well as on-site mentoring, which is similar to the current work that I am doing with Progressio.
How would you describe yourself?
Someone who wants to see things happen. I am not happy when I see agricultural resources (such as water and land) being abused or under-utilised. I get irritated by laziness, particularly when it makes one poor and hungry and in most instances causes one to sin. All this stems from my Christian faith which guides everything that I do in my life. I strongly believe the resources were given to man by God as a blessing for survival and not for wastage/abuse.
What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?
I have a passion for sustainable agriculture. I strongly believe in agricultural production that considers the needs of both current and future generations. When I saw the Progressio advert for the placement, I saw it as an opportunity for me to help fellow development practitioners as well as farmers to earn livelihoods through sustainable means. To me this was an opportunity to increase awareness for communities to know the best ways to utilise the resources at their disposal in their farming systems now and for generations to come.
The then Progressio programme vision that was around changing minds, changing lives also struck me as I also believe it all starts in the mind and if perceptions are changed lives can be changed too.
What made the biggest impact on you since starting your placement? Has it given you a new insight into your country/development work in your country?
Zimbabwe as a country is quite rich in human resources. On arrival at my partner organisation, I was not surprised to find my counterpart already had strong capacity. So I had to do my groundwork thoroughly before setting out strategies for the skill-share process, in order to make sure I was bringing added value. The encounter in this placement has given me insights on operation systems and challenges that local development NGOs are operating under in Zimbabwe. This is the first time I’ve worked at a local NGO as in previous postings I had operated from International NGO offices, with regular visits to the local NGO/implementing partner organisations and project sites. This has been a valuable and enriching experience.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Working with rural communities to help them improve their production practices for increased yields and subsequently food on their tables, while at the same time generating income from the sale of surplus.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
Being able to train a team of core staff from Environment Africa and partner organisations on agro-ecological production practices, as well as the use of the Farmer Field School (FFS) extension methodology. Seeing these trained officers set up pilot agro-ecology FFSs in their respective areas of work further excited me as I could start to see the effect of the ‘training of trainers’ sessions held on the extension delivery methodology while practicing some agro-ecological production practices for soil fertility as well as pest and disease management.
And the biggest lesson?
That being a development worker requires one to go the longest extra mile - longer than what I was used to.
What is the biggest development challenge facing Zimbabwe and/or the area in which you are working?
Low income levels for the rural poor, resulting in limited access to production inputs.
What strikes you most about Progressio’s Development Worker model?
The emphasis on skill-share as a sustainable capacity building model. This ensures that even after the departure of the development worker, the skills have been shared and the partner organisation’s capacity is enhanced.
What is your favourite motto or saying?
In whatever we do let’s have current and future generations in mind.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?
I would advise them to go for it, especially if it is in the field they are passionate about, as it is quite interesting and fulfilling, especially when you see people’s lives being changed for the better. There is however the need to have an open mind and be flexible to adjust to varying partner organisation systems and ways of working, while at the same time remaining professional. Being a development worker is an opportunity for further learning as you also acquire certain skills from the counterparts. It is however a profession you don’t make a fortune out of so anyone considering this profession should know that it’s more a service to the needy and disadvantaged than anything else.
Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?
All things being equal when this placement ends, I hope to get another placement with a development organisation that has a focus on sustainable production in empowering people out of poverty. I hope to do one more round of a placement and then retire to concentrate on my own personal agribusiness.
This placement is sharpening my skills and I believe I will be a different person who can settle in a different scenario altogether. The opportunity that I have in this placement to work with the Product Development and Market Linkages Advisor is opening up my eyes on possible options in my personal business to develop products and link to high value markets.