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A bright future for agricultural extension?

A change of mindset among extension agents and departments is needed (© FAO/Ishara Kodikara)
A change of mindset among extension agents and departments is needed
© FAO/Ishara Kodikara

If agricultural extension is in its death throes, as some believe, it's not dying quietly. Indeed, new models of funding, public-private partnerships and a much broader concept of what extension should entail are encouraging many to believe that extension could have a bright future, with ICTs having a major role to play. New Agriculturist attended two extension-focussed conferences this year*, to find out whether the optimism is justified, and how extension in the 21st Century needs to evolve if it is to avoid a sad end. Here is a selection of viewpoints from the delegates.

The big challenges

The challenge for me is the mindset. Instead of considering the extension service as a public good, Africa should now consider the extension services as a public-private initiative or partnership, meaning inviting more and more private companies to join with the public sector for strengthening the extension services right from national level to the rural community.
Azmul Huda, Helvetas, Bangladesh

Extension needs to adapt to meet the needs of indigenous people (© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri)
Extension needs to adapt to meet the needs of indigenous people
© FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

We are reaching only one quarter of the population that should be reached with extension services in the country. We have the financial means to increase the coverage but we do not have the technical and institutional capacity. The second challenge is how to deliver a policy of agricultural extension that is connected with the contemporary concepts of development and sustainability, to deliver extension with participation of women, youth and indigenous people.
Herbin Correa de Silva, Rural Extension Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Brazil

The biggest challenge is actually the gap between the capacity building as it is now and what is required on the ground to actually make extension and advisory services much more functional and performance driven. We are training extension officers to offer technical advice, but they also require skills in facilitation and how to manage systemic change.
Hlami Ngwenya, University of Pretoria, South Africa

One of the major challenges is that there are many service providers serving different objectives, coming from different organisations, with funding agencies of different aims. So there are big challenges of coordination, of ensuring quality of service provision and equity in service delivery.
Charles Masangano, Bunda College of Agriculture, Malawi

Extension in the 21st Century

Extension needs to be more holistic, including supply of farming inputs (© FAO/Erick-Christian Ahounou)
Extension needs to be more holistic, including supply of farming inputs
© FAO/Erick-Christian Ahounou

Our preferred approach to extension is through farmer groups. We adopt an approach where we offer not only agriculture solutions and advice, but we try to answer as many farmers' needs as possible, from marketing and access to credit, to the right seeds and planting material. And we try to involve as many young people as possible.
John Mwaniki, Assistant Director of Extension and Training, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya

Extension has moved from just providing messages to farmers, to involving market access, food safety and trade issues. We need innovative ways so that the extension officer is equipped to deal with these emerging issues. We need continuous capacity building at various levels: farmers, policymakers, extension officers and their trainers.
Owusu Gabriel, Ministry of Food and Agriculture Extension Services, Ghana

Extension should involve facilitation of innovation processes, bringing together diverse stakeholders who can make the difference in terms of decision making in different domains, for example tea, coffee, food production or livestock. Bring them together, facilitate their interaction and help them to take decisions to improve the opportunities farmers get. That kind of institutional change does not cost very much.
Prof Volker Hoffmann, University of Hohenheim, Germany

How should it be funded?

Funding for extension services across Africa remains unacceptably low. No single government on the continent has attained recommended volumes. We want this raised to between 2.8 - 3.5 per cent of the agriculture GDP, if Africa is to attain food security by 2025.
Xiangjun Yao, FAO Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension, Rome

People say we have to think about cost recovering extension. We are talking about a population that have not got the means to make a living in the countryside. Cost recovery is a discussion that perhaps we can do in ten years time, but now extension is a matter of public policy and a priority for the country.
Herbin Correa de Silva, Brazil

Choosing the right channel to deliver up-to-date and relevant information is vital (© WRENmedia)
Choosing the right channel to deliver up-to-date and relevant information is vital
© WRENmedia

The FIPs programme has set up a network of self employed advisors who are working in the villages and they only earn their money through the inputs that they sell. So they are very responsive to the needs they see in their communities and they are entrepreneurial. About 40 per cent of the advisors are women; they are largely younger people but they are showing that they can really make a difference and they are being trusted and people are buying from them.
Duncan Sones, Research into Use Programme, UK

The way to finance services for the people who are difficult to reach, the poorest, is by taxation. Currently, farm produce is taxed but the money goes to a common pool of a country or a district and is distributed from there. Instead, the money could fund free advisory services to reach even the poorest farmer.
Anke Weisheit, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda

Private sector involvement has not worked in several countries. In Uganda it failed because farmers decided to go back to the public extension system where they were not going to pay for services. You cannot take away the responsibility of government for improving the economic well being and livelihoods of the population. It's a human rights issue, and the governments of Africa have to take responsibility.
Adolphus Johnson, Partnership for Agricultural Innovation for Development, Sierra Leone

Who is driving extension?

One way of achieving success in extension is by involving women right from the planning stage to implementation. Women form the bulk of farmers in many rural areas. When you include them in planning, implementation becomes easy. They are more receptive to the new ideas and they feel whatever is being introduced is not being imposed on them.
Maria Senar Linibi, Papua New Guinea Women in Agriculture Development Foundation

The majority of farmers are women, and women should be involved in extension planning (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
The majority of farmers are women, and women should be involved in extension planning
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

There is a mismatch between what farmers need and what we actually provide them and this stems from the fact that most of our extension services are supply led rather than demand driven. Grassroots participation is needed at all levels, so the policies, programmes and projects we design are meeting their needs.
Muluken Wordofa, School of Local Development, University of Trento, Italy

We need to stop viewing the farmer as someone who does not know anything. The farmer has some knowledge and you want to work with the farmer to identify his problem and identify the solutions. That is an attitude change on behalf of the researchers and the disseminators. Then the attitude change on the part of the farmer is also to be more proactive in seeking solutions and taking up opportunities. But the farmer has to drive extension.
Christogonus Daudu, National Agricultural Extension Service, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria

Farmer based organisations can play an important role in agricultural extension delivery. Currently, where there are not enough formal extension staff there are farmer facilitators in the communities: farmer innovators, farmers who are willing to take new challenges, farmers who are willing to disseminate technologies to their fellow farmers. This strategy will encourage small farmers.
Idris Saidu Garko, Sasakawa Global 2000, Nigeria

Potential of ICT

The Kenya government is mainstreaming ICT in its extension services systems. We have established the National Agriculture Information System. Here farmers can access market, animal husbandry and disease related information by just sending a text to a designated number from their mobile phones.
Mary Kamau, Director of Extension, Ministry of Agriculture, Kenya

What role should ICTs play in delivering information to rural communities with low literacy levels? (© Bernard Pollack/Nourishing the Planet)
What role should ICTs play in delivering information to rural communities with low literacy levels?
© Bernard Pollack/Nourishing the Planet

While there are lots of agricultural content databases I am very sceptical that those are readily meaningful for smallholder farmers in specific regions. But if you have a well trained extension person with access to these various databases, he may be that bridge between them.
Andrea Bohn, Modernising Extension and Advisory Services Project, University of Illinois

I do not think there is any future for extension unless it uses ICTs. No state will ever have the money for one extensionist to serve five hundred farmers again. And so what has to happen is the people in extension and the people who run radio stations must cooperate, and that's the big change. So you will have new radio and you will have new extension and it will be better because of their cooperation.
Doug Ward, Farm Radio International

If you look on a worldwide scale, communication is impossible without ICTs. But still there is much local knowledge around that is only transmitted orally, and this is equally as important as ICTs.
Lorenz Schwarz, Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services

Making a pluralistic system work

In many developing countries, NGOs, private companies and farmers' organisations are delivering extension services to producers using a range of modalities. It is now widely accepted that no single actor or agency is best placed to offer the wide ranges of advisory services required. This means that a plurality of service providers is needed to meet the needs of producers and the rural poor. The role of governments must be that of ensuring quality.
Volker Hoffman, Germany

Achieving efficiency despite multiple extension agents and agencies is crucial (© WRENmedia)
Achieving efficiency despite multiple extension agents and agencies is crucial
© WRENmedia

We talk about the pluralistic extension system, but there is little coordination. There is not a good understanding of what the comparative advantages of each type of provider are and in what kind of context. An effort really must be made for a coordinated effort, one where the actors do not perceive themselves as competitors, so that they complement each other.
Andrea Bohn, University of Illinois

We need to look at the multiplicity of players and how far advanced into commercialisation the farmers are. When you are working with the very poor, the partners will be mostly NGOs and government but when you are talking about commercialisation it involves the private sector.
Silim Nahdy, Executive Director, African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services

The future lies in public-private sector partnership, remembering that farmers are part of the private sector. You cannot expect the government to do everything, but at the same time the government needs to create an enabling environment for these things to happen.
Jethro Greene, Caribbean Farmers Network, St Vincent and the Grenadines

* African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services symposium 2011, Accra, Ghana and International Conference on Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services, Nairobi, Kenya

Date published: December 2011

 

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Very interesting perspectives, and almost all have some degr... (posted by: Bell Okello)

 

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