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Strategies for effective extension services to guide the advancement of animal agriculture in developing countries.

by S.D.Mack and S.Fernandez-Baca


Over the last decade most of the increase in animal products have been achieved through an expansion in stock numbers and not as a result of increases in animal productivity. With a declining resource base such a situation is clearly not sustainable.

The challenges facing agricultural extension in general, and the livestock sector in particular, are formidable. The increasing world population will continue to be dependent on declining resources to feed itself. More efficient production systems must be introduced, but not at the expense of the environment or resource base, and conservative, risk-adverse, traditional farmers must be persuaded to become more innovative. At the same time, this must be achieved within a framework of fluctuating commodity prices, erratic policy making and increasing financial constraints. A functional, efficient and cost-effective extension service is a major prerequisite if we are to develop long-term sustainable livestock production systems.

Throughout the world numerous different extension approaches have been tried in the attempt to improve farming practices. These approaches have included: the classic general extension service; commodity based services; the training and visit system; participatory services linked with producer associations; project driven services; the farming systems approach; and the educational/institutional (University based) extension approach.

As would be expected, livestock extension services throughout the developing world vary considerably in respect of institutional arrangements and resource allocation. For example, Malaysia continues to maintain a specialized livestock extension service which is both adequately funded and staffed with well trained officers. Agritex, the Zimbabwe extension service, is a good example of a country-wide service of relatively well trained and equipped general extensionists, supported by teams of subject matter specialists and veterinarians. In Chile, extension work is undertaken by private consultants, selected on a competitive basis with funds provided through the National Institute for Agricultural and Livestock Development (INDAP). Unfortunately however, in many countries livestock extension is a service in name only. The reality remains that all too often livestock extension is restricted to providing limited services, such as, AI (rarely effectively) or animal health control programmes with the emphasis on specific diseases; rather promoting services or interventions aimed at improving overall animal productivity.

The trend in the provision of livestock extension has been away from the specialized, usually veterinary orientated, commodity approach, towards general, multi-disciplinary services. A notable exception is Botswana which has invested heavily in its livestock industry (but less so in livestock extension) in response to its favoured access to the european markets and, consequently, its ability to sell beef well above world market prices. The rationale, and it is correct, for dealing with livestock as an integral part of the general extension service is that the farm enterprise consists of series of interrelated activities. These activities are co-ordinated by the farmer utilizing the resources that are available to him. Livestock are usually, except for specialized enterprises, an integral part of the farm and should therefore be treated as such. What is required therefore is an extension agent that is capable of taking a holistic view of the farm.

Within extension services livestock usually take second place to crop production. In a way this is understandable and is unlikely to change. Food and cash crop production are often economically more important to the national economy than livestock products, hence they receive a higher priority in the national development plans. Technical interventions applied to crops can have an immediate and quantifiable impact, in contrast, many of the interventions associated with improved animal production take a longer to fruition and are not simple to evaluate.

As far as livestock extension is concerned, the use of general extension agents does however raise a number of practical issues regarding how a multi-disciplinary extension worker can be provided with the sufficient range of knowledge and skills needed to be effective. The skills required for animal husbandry are very different from those associated with cropping and agronomy. For an extension agent to be effective they must have the confidence of the producer and that requires credibility - this is particularly important when dealing with livestock. Credibility comes with being able to show procession of knowledge and, more importantly, practical skills.


Many of the constraints affecting livestock extension apply equally to the overall extension service. To highlight some of these issues it is worthwhile examining what is expected of the extension agent. Ideally she/he will be a paragon, competent in a wide range of technical and social skills, having a a knowledge of:

Clearly this is an ideal, whereas the reality is that all too often extension agents are: under-trained, under-equipped, under-employed, under-paid and under-motivated.

Furthermore, the general extension worker has a multiplicity of duties to perform, including:

In attempting to undertake these duties they are often hampered by:

These are the same constraints that affect the service as a whole and can be broadly classified as internal and external constraints.

External Constraints:

External constraints relate to the larger social, economic, administrative and political environment in which the extension service must work. Many of these macro issues have been discussed in the second plenary session on “Policy and Environmental Issues”, however, we raise them again briefly as they concern the implementation of extension services.

Government policy usually dictates priorities and resource allocation within the agricultural sector and, as mentioned before, livestock production usually takes second place to the food and cash crop sectors. Government policies, however, do not necessarily reflect the priorities of the farmers and producers. It is not easy for an extension service to convince a farmer to adopt practices which are unlikely contribute to either increased income or fulfil a specific perceived need. Extension cannot coerce people to do things they do not wish to do.

Pricing policies have provided classic examples of government policy working against the local producer. Controlled farm gate prices, usually way below world market prices, are used to ensure a cheap food supply for the urban (politically active) populations. For example, the importation of subsidized milk powder has, in the past, ensued that many a domestic milk industry has failed to develop, as hasahappened in the Philippines.

Combinations of educational and employment policies have lead some countries to build up vast public sector organizations in terms of manpower, yet completely stricken for recurrent funding with which to undertake extension duties. For example, Egypt now has over 15,000 veterinarians and a government committed to finding employment for all new graduates. It is ironic that underemployment is probably as large a constraint as the lack of skilled staff to agricultural development.

Internal Constraints:

Lack of Appropriate Technical Messages. The shortage of technology is often cited as a major constraint to livestock development. This is not true. There is ample technology available ranging from the basic principles of animal husbandry through to improved nutrition based on recent understanding of the rumen function and sophisticated biotechnology, capable of increasing animal production. What has been lacking has been the capability to interpret when and where such interventions are appropriate.

Interventions are only appropriate if they are acceptable to the client and capable of satisfying their perceived needs. Two provisos must, however, be added:

Fundamental to this question is an understanding of the farmers actual objectives for keeping animals. In commercial and semi-commercial operations the objectives are clear and constraints relatively easy to identify and correct. This is not necessarily the case regarding the small-holder sector. The primary outputs from animal production, such as, milk, meat, hides/skins and fibres may only account for 50% of the total returns to the farmer, and secondary benefits, such as, manure, draught power, capitalization may be equally as important.

However, invariably, interventions originate from the top and are passed down to the producer and are often aimed at one particular sector, say milk production. The point is made that a 50% increase in milk production may only corresponds to only a 10% increase in overall returns to the producer, if milk represents 20% of the total animal products. These are clear cases were the objectives of the producers are not the same objectives as those of the authorities. Communication between the producer, researcher and policy maker is one of the fundamental principles of most extension systems. It is also the main area where systems have failed to live up to original expectations. The failure to involve the producer in the development of extension programmes has been a major constraint.

All too often we have seen technologies advocated, often with international assistance, that:

Lack of Trained Staff. The basic qualifications of the general extension worker varies from country to country and ranges from degree holders, diplomates from agricultural colleges to agricultural high school graduates and secondary school leaves. Some of these higher level training institutes may offer animal husbandry as an option, but generally coverage given to animal production is rudimentary. Partly, this is due to the fact that these institutions lack the necessary expertise and facilities required to provide adequate practical experience. The consequence is that the majority of agriculturalists have had little exposure to animal husbandry. There is clearly a need for strengthening both research and educational institutions and, equally important, their links with the extension service.

In-service training should provide the opportunity to narrow the gap between current level of competence of staff and that necessary to fulfil the duties required of them. Most countries have inservice training programmes implemented through, or supported by, a network of agricultural (some specialized) training centres. However, as far as training in livestock production is concerned it is usually provided on an ad hoc basis.

Without being too specific or deliberately negative, there are a number of inadequacies that can be identified regarding the provision of in-service training in animal production, these include:

Lack of Programme Planning. National policies and objectives regarding livestock development are not always either well prepared or stated. All too often objectives derive from centralized autocracies and have little regard for variance in either agro-climatic conditions, farming systems - let alone the requirements of the actual producer. Defined policies and realistic objectives based on sound rationale are required at the national, provincial and local levels, if there is to be any chance of sustainable livestock production. There is clearly a role for small, autonomous extension services better suited and accountable to the client (producers).

Lack of Communication. Extension should be at the hub of a network of information, input and support services aimed at the producer. However, these linkages, especially in the poorer developing countries, are weak. This is particularly the case in the most important link between the farmer, extension and research.

Communication should be bi-directional with the extension services acting as the principal intermediary between the producer and research, government and other interested institutions. In the case of animal production the role of the Subject Matter Specialist is critical in the communication process.

Inter-institutional communication is often sadly lacking. Research and extension services are often separated in different ministries. Where there do occur together, strong vertical hierarchies exist within divisions whilst horizonal links between them are weak. The Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture is a case in point where livestock development, extension, training, research, marketing, programme planning and many other departments all fall within the Ministry's mandate - the lack of co-ordination between them is a major constraint, certainly, for livestock production. Again, Indonesian is by no means the only example.

Lack of Resources. There is no doubt that a lack of resources are a constraint to all extension services. Within an organization salaries take priority and mention has been made to over-staffing, and it is not uncommon for 80 + % of extension budgets going on salaries. One consequence is that the necessary recurrent support costs to cover transport, travel allowances, fuel, extension support material are severely restricted.

Lending agencies are reticent regarding lending to cover recurrent costs, unless it is crucial for a project; this is not necessarily case with capital costs. It is still rare to find an adequately capitalized extension service with sufficient housing, vehicles and equipment.

The lack of resources are not just confined to the extension institutions. If development is to succeed, it will dependent equally on the supply of essential inputs, for example, credit, breeding stock, drugs etc. If production is to increase, it is essential that both a market and a marketing infrastructure are available to handle surplus production.

This section has not intended to be deliberating pessimistic, its aim has been to highlight some of the main constraints, so as to assist with a examination of potential strategies.


Some premise need to be stated from the onset:

National Planning

Clearly, there has to be policies to provide the structure and guidance to the livestock sector. These policies should be realistic as well as being economically and environmentally sound and, hopefully, would have taken into account the existing (or pipeline) situation regarding: institutional, infrastructural and marketing aspects. To be realistic, policies must take account of both the aspirations and capability of the producer.

Policies will differ both between and within countries and may be commodity or sectorially orientated. Policies should provide a framework, but must also be accompanied by clearly stated and attainable objectives. Again, objectives will need to be determined at the regional and local levels.

Strategies, of which extension is just one, need to be determined that can effectly achieve these objectives. Such strategies could include, for example, strengthening research, training more specialists, investment in marketing and infrastructure. And, of course, the question must also be asked whether such strategies can economically achieve their objectives - this would require some degree of for cost-benefit analysis.

We believe that there is an important role for both the major lending agencies and the international technical organizations, such as FAO, in providing assistance to governments in determining policies, objectives and priorities at the sectorial level.

Setting Priorities.

Given that resources are likely to continue to be limited, it will be essential that efforts to develop livestock production are prioritized and targeted within the broader policy framework.

This raises the question of which sectors should be targeted and where would be the appropriate entry point. Efforts should be targeted to those situations where interventions are likely to have the greatest impact or benefit. Livestock production systems range along a continuum of sophistication that starts with the scavenging or extensive, minimal input and limited output systems, through semi-commercial to sophisticated, commercial production.

The majority of livestock are held in the small-holder sector, small but widespread increases in productivity could, overall, make a considerable impact. The problem is that in risk-adverse communities where animals are kept for many purposes, the minimal input some output systems take some beating. To change such systems is not easy and we suggest should not be an objective on a blanket approach basis.

Improvements are, however, possible as has been shown by FAO's small ruminant projects in Togo and The Gambia where appropriate technologies, based on improved husbandry and basic inputs, have been introduced and accepted along with corresponding increases in productivity. However, they are expensive in that they required intensive extension inputs at levels, which we would suggest, are not sustainable on a wider basis. What such extension exercises do achieve, however provided they are successful, is to activate producers to benefits of improved animal husbandry, and move them further along the continuum.

It is not just extension that can provide the impetus for change, other circumstances can also be responsible. Nigeria provides a good example, where sound technologies based on browse trees integrated into the farming systems along with animal health interventions (developed by the ILCA Small Ruminant Programme) have had a slow uptake in western Nigeria, where land pressures are such that farming practices are not under sufficient pressure to change. In contrast, in eastern Nigeria with higher human populations, land use is under greater pressure. Virtually overnight in many villages local by-laws were enacted which confined (previously free ranging) small ruminants, suddenly animals had to be managed and inputs provided. Gradually, some farmers gave up keeping sheep and goats, whereas other started to specialized. Here was situation that was amenable to change and would have been a suitable area in which to focus extension effort.

Where effective producers associations (formal or informal) are operational they should provide an appropriate focal point for an extension programme. If not, the formation of such groups should be a priority.

In targeting areas or sectors, attention must be given to ensure that the necessary support and ancillary services, input supply and distribution, and marketing infrastructure are available. We would suggest that in this regard there is much to be said for targeting livestock extension programmes within the overall umbrella of an on-going integrated agricultural development programme.

Lastly, but not least, there has to be a willingness on behalf of the farming community to participate in a programme. Ideally, the initiative would have originated from the community, not as all too often happens, an programme being sold to the producer.

Problem Identification and Potential Solutions

Having selected target areas/sectors it is necessary to identify problems and constraints, in particular those that can be readily rectified. Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) techniques provide a convenient methodology for this purpose. The RRA should contain a Subject Matter Specialist Knowledgeable not only of the principal production systems, but also conversant with the cultural and socio-economic conditions of the area. The role of the Subject Matter Specialist is crucial, without adequate training and practical experience, there is a real danger of inappropriate technologies being promoted.

Proposed interventions need to be practical, acceptable and stand a realistic chance of achieving their objectives. It is important that other aspects, apart from pure technical issues, are clearly understood, for example: labour availability, reasons for keeping animals, women involvement, cash resources and markets are fully taken into account. If necessary On-Farm-Testing (OFT) should be carried out as part of the participatory process involving research, extension and the producer.

Detailed Workplans

Immediate objectives need to be prepared with detailed workplans. The workplan should detail manpower requirements, responsibilities and, at least at a rudimentary level, a critical path analysis to identify crucial points in the programme.

The impact of the extension programme can be evaluated by a) regular RRAs and b) regular monitoring of animal productivity from selected producers. Simple recording of herd/flock dynamics (births, deaths, sales, purchases), estimates of milk yields, if applicable, and/or size/weight estimates, combined with local market information can produce valuable information of actual performance.

Extension Methodologies

The efficient use of extension technologies is not new. Interpersonal techniques are effective, providing the agent has credibility and a good product to sell, but are particularly expensive in terms of staff and resources. The approach is justifiable in establishing a network of contact families who we believe should be the principle agents of change. Women have a prominent role in small-scale animal production systems, but, in many countries it is difficult to deal directly with female household members for cultural reasons. Furthermore, we still have a long way to go in recruiting sufficient female extension agents. The concept of the contact family is that an agent deals with both the husband and wife who, in turn, disseminate information to their respective peer and gender groups. The extension process, thereafter, evolves around the contact family who act as demonstrators, risk takers and sources of information. Demonstrations, field days, group meetings are the techniques used with which we are all familiar. This is the classic “extension by example” approach.

General awareness and continued support for such programmes are provided through the mass media: radio, television, newsletters etc. Certainly, we believe that greater use could be made of these techniques, especially as both the necessary hardware and software is nearly always available. What is so often lacking is the adequate skills to use them to greatest effect.

Extension Strategies

Given that appropriate policies are available, priorities have been established, appropriate technologies are tested and available, workplans and objectives have been set - there remains the final hurdle of how to realistically implement such a programme.

Training cum Development. This is an approach that FAO (AGA) is developing in some its projects to facilitate livestock extension and development. The concept is to use a small, multi-disciplinary, task force within a selected area, to promote livestock production through a combination of training and development activities. It recognises a number of important points:

The approach adopted has been to follow through a series of sequential steps.

A number of lessons have been learnt but the approach still needs further development and modification. In one particular project, problems arose in a number of areas, notably with regard to the involvement of a) producers in the both planning and training stages b) the support of the extension worker's immediate supervisions and c) the lack of initial an rapid rural appraisal. Out of necessity, training was undertaken at training centres and we believe that residential courses at training centres are not necessarily conductive to good training - invariably they have neither the facilities or the trained staff.

With dutch bilateral assistance the International Poultry Centre in Indonesia has taken its extension staff and farmer training programme out of the Centre. Training is now being undertaken with small training teams in selected districts, which travel around and hold training sessions for both farmers and extension staff in the villages, using village facilities. We believe this to be an extremely promising exercise that should be followed closely.

What is clear, regardless of the extension methodology adopted, is the crucial role played by the Subject Matter Specialist. It is at this level that greater emphasis is required to ensure that they are adequately trained and have the opportunity to gain necessary and relevant practical experience.

Sustainable Approaches for the Future. All the alternative approaches mentioned are viable and sustainable in the short-term, in that they prioritize and optimize existing resources. However, we would suggest that government funded livestock extension, as we know it, is not sustainable in the long term in developing countries.

Greater effort needs to be given to examining ways in which the advisory role can be transferred to respected livestock producers within the community. Not only would this have considerable cost savings but would almost certainly be more effective than the use of inexperienced extension agents who lack in credibility. We believe that the development of producer associations or co-operatives are likely to have a pivotal role in the provision of livestock extension services in the future.

Externally assisted projects should examine ways in which the infrastructure, capital or credit can be provided to establish services (advice and inputs) that farmers would be willing to pay for. For example, if we take a hypothetical case of a mixed farming area where cereals and grain legumes are grown and livestock are an important component of the farm system. Straw, plus grain supplements, are likely to be a major components of the diet. A small unit providing the services of say a hammer mill, simple mixer and maybe a straw chopper, with payment being made in cash or kind, would be a welcomed and utilized service. Supplementation with molasses and urea would have an important beneficial impact on the nutrition and, consequently, productivity of the animals. However, provision of the inputs is often restricted by the logistics of distribution. A bulk storage tank for molasses and a store for urea, linked into a wider distribution network, would make such ingredients readily available. One could envisage the situation where the operation of such a unit could be leased to a respected livestock producer in return for a commitment to undertake basic training and advise other farmers. Extra duties could be provided on a contract basis, for example, tagging and recording animals using AI, operating bull centres or maintaining demonstration plots. Such a system could easily be developed under the umbrella of an active producer association.

We strongly believe that there remains scope for more imaginative approaches to be developed to provide more effective livestock extension in developing countries.

As producers associations develop, which must be a major objective of an extension service, they will reach the stage where they are able to provide their own advisory services along with input supply and marketing services. We believe that the experience provided by the Operation Flood programme in India is an example of the potential of producer associations and provides valuable lessons for the future.

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