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Where next for agricultural extension?

In the face of much reduced public expenditure, extension services in sub-Saharan Africa have a daunting challenge: farmers' need for information is as high as ever, but the resources to provide it are meagre at best. In September 2006, the Sub-Saharan Africa Network on Agricultural Advisory Services (SSANAAS) held a symposium in Kampala to share and learn from new experiences in extension delivery. In collaboration with the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) Secretariat of Uganda and other partners, participants from 19 African countries gathered to identify priority development needs and discuss ways of improving technology and information transfer, with particular emphasis on market orientation and farmer empowerment. The following Points of view reflect a range of ideas and opinions on the topics discussed.

New roles and new potential

Agricultural extension is no longer just about improving yields and producing food - the bottom line is to make money. That is a necessary concept if large numbers of subsistence farmers have to break out of poverty. To be a successful farmer you have to be skilled, and you need an opportunity to actually make money in the countryside. People have not been aware of that.
Olle Otteby, Agricultural Support Programme (ASP) Team Leader, Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, Zambia

A farmer gives feedback on her group's findings, at a Farmer Field School for cocoa farmers, near Kumasi in Ghana
A farmer gives feedback on her group's findings, at a Farmer Field School for cocoa farmers, near Kumasi in Ghana

We are working with agro-processors and large marketing agencies, to create a value chain from production to marketing, linking farmers to marketing and processing entities. It is beginning to take shape.
Silim Nahdy, Executive Director, NAADS Secretariat, Uganda

Farming is beyond subsistence, it is more like a business. In the past they were used to getting things for free, donations. They cultivated small plots of land and they were happy with getting enough to feed the family throughout the year. But now they have other needs - they have to send their kids to school, they have medical bills to take care of. Mentalities have changed and farmers are now willing to invest.
Verona Parkinson, AGEMA Consultancy Services, Mozambique

Today we are talking about participation at the farmer's level. We need to empower our farmers so that they can be active partners in the whole process of development - otherwise they will continue to be passive.
Mercy Akeredolu, Coordinator, Sasakawa African Fund for Extension Education Approach (SAFE)/Institute of Rural Polytechnic (IPR), Mali

We are trying to manage and facilitate the process of developing individual households. We work with households because if you involve children, the wife - it becomes a much stronger business unit. If the head of the household is away the business can still work. And you have this multiplying effect where it is spreading from children and their children.
Olle Otteby, ASP Team Leader, Zambia

What are the challenges?

The budget requirement is the main challenge. In Uganda NAADS has probably only 50% of what we require and we therefore cover only about 60% of the country. Secondly you need innovations, you have to keep on evolving. You have to start with a flexible menu, and you have to keep evolving and changing it.
Silim Nahdy, Executive Director, NAADS Secretariat, Uganda

The biggest challenge is the transformation of our agricultural extension services from the old stereotype of connecting researchers and farmers - to being innovative, discussing and working with farmers, researchers and the business community. As a policy maker, educating people and sensitising them to understand the farming sector is important to avoid inaccurate, inappropriate policies.
David Kazungu, Chair of the NAADS Board of Directors, Uganda

People have to think outside the box. Extension work has to be done by everybody - everybody who works with farmers. A farming system is one that needs a myriad of technologies. Maybe what we need is to have an individual who is very good at providing linkages. One cannot solve everything and I think that is a big challenge, changing the mindset.
Barney Laseko, Participatory Agricultural Development and Empowerment Project (PADEP), Tanzania

Is decentralising extension services a good idea?

The decentralised extension system is better because it works with the farmers at the local level. The centralised system in most cases does not take into consideration the problems of the farmers because it looks at national issues that are affecting the country as a whole. The decentralised approach will specifically look at the issues affecting the local farmers at that local level.
Sophia Kasheeta, Ministry of Agriculture Water and Forestry, Namibia

Decentralisation means that districts manage their own funds - this way things are done faster. In the past everybody had to wait for the national office to disperse funds. Sometimes funds came late, and with rain fed agriculture time is sensitive. If the money comes in late farmers can lose a whole cropping season.
Verona Parkinson, AGEMA Consultancy Services, Mozambique

The advantage of decentralisation is that you reach many more farmers. In Kaduna City in Nigeria we have over five hundred and fifty one thousand farming families. The number of people involved means that we have to compartmentalise the approach.
Abdul-Kadir Kassim, Kaduna State Agricultural Development Programme, Nigeria

From my experience of working with National Agricultural Advisory Services I think there is a tremendous shift and achievement in as far as overall output is concerned. When you look at the privatised or the decentralised extension system it promotes farmer empowerment. Farmers' capacity has been built to be able to make decisions on how to improve their own livelihoods and they are taking charge.
Grace Kazigati, District NAADS Coordinator, Kabarole, Uganda

Can extension services be demand led?

A group of farmers record their findings (Bruno Minjauw/ILRI)
A group of farmers record their findings
Bruno Minjauw/ILRI

Farmers or the rural people know exactly what they are missing, and if we have the extension system well set out then these questions are going to be answered for farmers.
Barney Laseko, PADEP, Tanzania

Farmers have to be able to articulate their needs and they have to be able to specify exactly what they require. It is working, but there are problems because the context of advisory services is now broader. You find farmers asking for market advisory services, financial advisory services - different from the usual agronomy and animal husbandry issues. So the context is a lot broader and yet you find the marketplace for services is still very narrow.
Silim Nahdy, Executive Director, NAADS Secretariat, Uganda

If you fail to achieve what you have gone to do in the community, you have to go back to the drawing board. You have to discuss with the people, let them give you their reasons for failing to take on what you have advised, then you can modify your approach.
Abdul-Kadir Kassim, Kaduna State Agricultural Development Programme, Nigeria

Information and technology

The most interesting thing for me has been negating the rhetoric that farmers need credit more than anything else - that is very wrong. Farmers are mostly after technology and information, not credit. They have the resources to work with, and they demand things they can get hold of.
Barney Laseko, PADEP, Tanzania

Technology is not the problem. There is much research that has been done by research institutes - in Nigeria we have over 18 agriculturally related research institutes developing technology. The issue is the linkage between research institute and conveying the research findings to the farmers - the extension or the advisory services.
Abdul-Kadir Kassim, Kaduna State Agricultural Development Programme, Nigeria

We are talking of technology development. I think the most appropriate approach today is to develop technology with the farmers. We are asking researcher up there to come down to the farmer level, see them as active partners and empower them, helping to strengthen the capacity of these farmers.
Mercy Akeredolu, Coordinator, SAFE/IPR, Mali

It is a matter of what messages are passed to farmers. It is about everyday communication with farmers, especially with regard to marketing - we want to be timely so that we can capture the moment and benefit. Messages must be timely, effective and cost effective.

Tabitha Kimani, National Agricultural Extension Programme, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya

Market chains

Extension officer with farmer examining the maize crop
Extension officer with farmer examining the maize crop

If you stimulate production and there are no marketing outlets then you are creating confusion. I think the extension services should focus more on market identification and market restructuring. You have to bring farmers into groups, introduce the question of standards for production - where the research and extension network has to work effectively.
Abdul-Kadir Kassim, Kaduna State Agricultural Development Programme, Nigeria

One of the biggest mistakes I see personally is that many people talk about markets and they are talking about export markets. The times are gone when we export the cotton, cocoa. Today the African countries must provide the market for what they produce agriculturally.
David Kazungu, Chair of the NAADS Board of Directors, Uganda

We are going to look at ways and means of making our extension services more market orientated. I am confident that if the marketing system in Kenya is well organised, production is not a big issue. Our farmers can produce as long as there is a guaranteed market.
Joseph Mungere, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya

The policy perspective

Recently we have implemented the national agricultural sector policy, which is guiding all the key players wishing to be involved in extension service delivery. We had a similar policy earlier, but it did not embrace all the various sectors in the agricultural industry. The current model embraces the agriculture and related sectors, in co-operative development.
Joseph Mungere, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya

The policies are there and that is why we function well. But at times we have a problem with rapid succession in policy.
Silim Nahdy, Executive Director, NAADS Secretariat, Uganda

At universities in Mali we use a market oriented approach to train those involved in the extension services at management level, because these are the people involved in policymaking. We have not had a stable policy, but policy is becoming more favourable for agricultural extension. The government is beginning to realise that farmers have to be involved in the development process.
Mercy Akeredolu, Coordinator, SAFE/IPR, Mali

As a policy maker, educating people and sensitising them to understand the farming sector is important to avoid inaccurate, inappropriate policies.
David Kazungu, Chair of the NAADS Board of Directors, Uganda

Date published: November 2006

 

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