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Importance of strong research-extension linkages in increasing livestock production in sub-Saharan Africa

M. L. Kyomo

Southern African Centre for Cooperation in Agricultural Research and Training, Private Bag 00108, Gaborone Botswana


Introduction
Information flow between research and extension
Bridging the gap
Complexity of extension
Strategy to increase smallholder agricultural production in SADCC
National linkages between research, extension and training
References


Summary

The hypothesis in this paper is that the flow of information from agricultural research to farming communities and vice versa requires that continous contact be maintained by individuals able to make information comprehensible to farmers. These individuals are extension workers and are at the centre of information flow. They remain the link between research workers and the farmers if the link is weak then agricultural productivity will not increase. The link can be strengthened in several ways including improved collaboration between research and extension. Both groups must learn to package information so that it may be readily understood by the farmers they are expected to serve. Extension should not be the prerogative of public institutions. Private and non-governmental organisations can also play an important role in the transfer of technology to farmers Therefore these organisations need to be fed with information from research.

Introduction

World Bank reports of 1988-90 observed that about one in four people in sub-Saharan Africa did not get enough to eat and food emergencies remain an all-too-frequent reminder of poverty. To fight hunger, African countries need economic growth and food security, which implies food availability and access or capacity to purchase food. If the human population continues to grow at about 2% a year, food production should grow by at least 4% per year if the region is to meet the demand for food.

Agricultural research and extension institutions can help bring about this increased production. However, these institutions cannot operate in a vacuum, irrespective of how good they may be. There are a number of prerequisites for research and extension to operate successfully. Firstly, there must be government commitment to agriculture and agricultural research and extension. This presupposes that economic policies must be supportive of agriculture and the institutional environment must be supportive of research and extension. Second, public research and extension should not work in isolation (Figures 1 and 2). Closer working relations between research and extension organisations must be encouraged.

Figure 1. Research and technology transfer links among private and public institutions.

Figure 2. The analytical framework.

Research and extension are long-term processes and returns on investment may take at least 10 to 15 years to realise. Public-sector research and extension require considerable investment of capital and operational budgets to be effective. Agriculture is a strategic sector in the economies of sub-Saharan Africa, e.g. about 80% of the total labour force is engaged in agriculture and agriculture accounts for between 35 and 60% of foreign exchange earnings. Agriculture contributes about 35 to 50% of the gross domestic product of the countries under consideration.

The topic under discussion is research-extension linkages in relation to efforts to increase livestock production. Research in this context can be defined as the development of better crop or livestock germplasm to suit a particular demand or the generation of new technology to solve a particular constraint. Extension can be defined as the furthering and popularisation of knowledge. It signifies the stimulation of desirable agricultural illumination. It can also mean information flow into farming communities and flow of information from farmers to researchers, input and services suppliers and policy makers. Extension plays an important role in the formulation of policy for agricultural development and sits at the centre of the agricultural information network. It is not a passive conduit but an active system that can be directed, it seeks out and organises information and then channels it to and, equally important, from farmers. This paper argues that research-extension linkages are very important in transferring developed technologies from those who generate them to the users. To communicate effectively, research must be as strong and efficient as extension. Both must have well-qualified and motivated staff who have an adequate resource base to work from.

Information flow between research and extension

It has been stated that agricultural development begins with increased control over the environment and increased output of desirable plants and animals. This development must be a sustainable one, which is explicit to the promotion of agricultural technologies that are ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and meet with the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs. Hence, for both research and extension sustainable agriculture must be the key strategy. An agricultural system performs well if the developed or generated technology is comprehensively transferred to the users.

Roling (1990) argues that scientists involved in basic, strategic, applied and adaptive research, together with subject-matter specialists, village-level extension workers and farmers, should be seen as participants in a single agricultural knowledge and information system. The interface between research and technology transfer is an important one in determining the performance of the whole system. Roling (1990) argues that, historically, research has stopped too early in what should be a continuous and dynamic process of developing and diffusing new technology. Researchers have been physically and mentally isolated from farmers, with the tendency to hand down an unfinished, untested product to extension staff.

Roling (1990) further states that "Extension contact staff - squeezed between the farmers they live among, who often ridicule the technologies they bring, and their superiors, who demand results in line with policy directives - have been caught in a crisis of morale."

Bridging the gap

One of the known ways of bridging the gap between research and extension is the method adopted by medium-sized and small businesses (Roling, 1990). Such businesses become more innovative by enhancing their capacity to utilise external information. The 'process consultation', which involves introducing a step-by-step model of the innovation process thus stimulating the creativity of company staff members and encouraging the use of external information, is recommended (Roling, 1990). In agriculture, process consultation is a useful concept as it complements the role played by expert consultation by providing an external input of information or technology. Process consultation is a means of mobilising people, educating them and organising them to become effective participants in the agricultural knowledge and information system. Information from external sources is crucial to the effective functioning of any information system, but if the system does not have the capacity to generate and enhance appropriate roles for its constituent parts, it will not be in a position to absorb such information.

In an attempt to improve the linkage mechanism, countries must apply a number of approaches (Roling, 1990). The annual report of a research institute is one way of linking research with extension. Other methods include surveys of farmers' problems conducted jointly by research and extension and quarterly meetings between research and extension programmes to discuss current and future activities. Regularly published annual reports are useful for scientific staff and some farmers. Annual workshops where research and extension activities are presented to a large audience is another useful mechanism. A pre-workshop meeting at which senior project officers meet to transform research findings into recommendations is also helpful. Training programmes where research officers explain details of latest recommendations to field agents (extension staff organised in groups according to agro-climatic zones) and at which extension workers can raise issues encountered in the field would also be useful. Field days organised about three times during the planting season involving researchers, extension workers and farmers are another approach.

Many companies practice 'body swapping', a system where a researcher in basic research can be posted to the research and development (R&D) department of the company. This can be applied to agriculture where a similar exchange of staff takes place in the research-extension liaison officer model. These officers can be recruited from the extension system to work in on-farm adaptive research teams, where they play an especially important role in enlisting the support of extension services once technology is ready for more widespread testing and dissemination (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Group composition and links between subgroups in the two-department single-apex management structure.

It is also argued (Roling, 1990) that although linkage mechanisms have become both varied and more sophisticated in recent years there exists some interface that no linkage method can bridge. For example, the status or functional differences between two institutions (research and extension departments) may be too great, their goals too divergent, their competition for the same resources too keen, or the span in the calibration of the research-practice continuum may be too long. Therefore these problems should be examined and ways found to improve linkage. One such way is to use subject-matter specialists and technical liaison officers to:

· maintain liaison with research in order to keep abreast of new technical developments and help translate field problems into researchable questions

· establish links with input suppliers so as to increase the likelihood that necessary inputs will be available and

· provide technical support to field staff and pick up field problems from them.

Important functions of technical liaison are adaptive research, training, developing reference materials and training aids, trouble shooting and responding to extension agent"' requests for help.

The research-extension linkage can operate effectively if there is cooperation between domains or categories. For example a beef producer needs integrated information from the beef cattle production branch, the veterinary services branch, the pasture development branch and the economic services branch. Communication across branches is not always easy. One way of improving coordination has been to appoint cross-branch regional extension leaders who report directly to the overall director.

Complexity of extension

Extension involves changing human behaviour through communication. Therefore the umbrella mandate of extension is to enhance the capacity of farm families to deal with their problems and to meet new opportunities. The major task is information transfer.

To be effective, extension advisory services have to provide information ranging from home economics to farm financial management. This requires competent institutions and mechanisms for both disseminating and receiving information.

Strategy to increase smallholder agricultural production in SADCC

In the SADCC (Southern African Development Coordination Conference) region four strategic elements to increase smallholder agricultural production in member states have been identified. These are the needs to:

· strengthen national and regional capacity to develop and transfer technology needed to assist smallholders

· increase national capacity within the region to recruit, train and retain professionals required in research, extension and training

· develop and strengthen use of a systems approach to agricultural research, extension and training for programmes that focus on smallholder problems and solutions

· upgrade national capacity to conduct agricultural policy research and analysis.

National linkages between research, extension and training

Few national research, extension and training institutions in SADCC member states are integrated. The attainment of increased agricultural production, a professed objective of all countries, will require the building up of national systems encompassing these three functions. These systems must lead to an effective relationship between the 'developer' of useful technology, the 'deliverer' of this technology and the 'consumer', the farmer/smallholder. At present, however, there are still some historical, organisational and structural impediments which, together with the traditional orientation of most of the research and extension entities, make close linkages very difficult to establish. Even if serious attempts are made to create such ties, the existing constraints will, no doubt, make it difficult for them to be fully effective in the short term. Regional programme proposals must be designed and focused to help solve these problems.

References

Roling N. 1990. The agricultural research-technology transfer interface. A knowledge systems perspective. In: Kaimowitz D (ed), Making the link. Agricultural research and technology transfer in developing countries. Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, USA.


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