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Extension advisory services in Central and Eastern Europe

G. Adams

Geoffrey Adams B.Sc. (Agric.), Dip. Farm Man., MBIAC is an independent consultant. Since 1992, he has worked in most Central and Eastern European countries, either as a specialist in agricultural extension management or as adviser on Renewable Natural Resources to the Government of the United Kingdom's Department for International Development. He is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Reading's Agricultural Extension and Rural Development Department. He may be contacted at 1 Woodlands Road, Sonning Common, Reading, RG4 9TD, United Kingdom; tel./fax: (+44) 118 9721469; e-mail: geffory.adams@


Profound changes in the political, economic, agricultural and social environments of Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) have created a need for effective extension services. Three different approaches to meeting this need are identified in the following article. It is difficult to compare the effectiveness of the different countries' approaches because of the range of situations involved. However, important requirements for all countries are identified, including clarity of purpose for extension services, the quality and qualifications of advisers, increased motivation of advisers, the use of mass media and information technology, collaboration between extension and research, and the implementation of sound rural development policies. The conclusion is that farmers in CEECs, aided by extension services, can compete very effectively with current European Union (EU) member countries.


Les services de vulgarisation en Europe centrale et orientale

Depuis les changements profonds de l'environnement politique, économique, agricole et social survenus dans les pays d'Europe centrale et orientale (PECO), des services de vulgarisation efficaces sont devenus nécessaires. Dans cet article, trois approches différentes pour répondre à cette nécessité ont été identifiées, encore que la diversité des situations dans les différents pays ne permette pas d'élaborer une réelle comparaison. Les besoins les plus immédiats de tous les pays sont relevés, notamment: définition claire de la raison d'être du service de vulgarisation, compétences et qualifications des vulgarisateurs, amélioration de la motivation des vulgarisateurs, usage des médias et des technologies de l'information, lien entre vulgarisation et recherche ainsi que mise en oeuvre de politiques de développement rural rationnelles. La conclusion est que les exploitants agricoles des PECO, grâce aux services de vulgarisation, pourront devenir de réels concurrents pour les pays actuels de la Communauté européenne.


Servicios de extensión en Europa central y oriental

Los profundos cambios registrados en la situación política, económica, agrícola y social de los países de Europa central y oriental han creado la necesidad de servicios eficaces de extensión. En el presente artículo para abordar esta necesidad se señalan tres criterios distintos, aunque la variedad de situaciones en los distintos países hace que la comparación de la eficacia resulte difícil. Se citan requisitos importantes para todos los países, como claridad de objetivos del servicio de extensión, calidad y calificaciones de los asesores, mejora de su motivación, uso de los medios de comunicación y la tecnología de la información, vinculación entre la extensión y la investigación y aplicación de políticas racionales de desarrollo rural. La conclusión es que los agricultores de los países de Europa central y oriental, con la ayuda de los servicios de extensión, se convertirán en competidores muy eficaces de los actuales países de la Unión Europea.


The transition from command to market economy has had a profound effect on agricultural production and farming systems in Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs).1 This article reviews the general situation of agricultural extension in these countries, although it does not seek to deal exhaustively with any one country's situation. Extension is part of the adult educational process. In the article, extension services are defined as those organizations and individuals that provide information, advice and consultancy services to farmers and their families on all aspects of rural development.

The agricultural environment

Before reviewing extension services in CEECs, it is useful to consider the agricultural environment in which these services operate. There are no intrinsic reasons for farms in CEECs not to be competitive with those in the European Union (EU). Climate, topography and soil types are all similar and, in much of the region, there should be a real competitive advantage for the production of such crops as sunflower, maize and wheat. In practice, however, farms in CEECs are experiencing difficulty in becoming competitive with Western farms, owing to:

Although problems remain, there are signs of improvement. Oilseed and vegetable production are already above their 1989/90 levels. In Bulgaria and Romania, agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) is increasing - in contrast to national GDP - and cooperation among farmers is growing. There is also a greater understanding of the multifunctional role of agriculture in rural areas through its provision of employment, landscape preservation, care for the environment and maintenance of biodiversity.
Remaining problems include a lack of clear government food, agriculture and rural policies, i.e.: Which groups of farmers are governments going to support with extension activities? Should they concentrate on the most economically productive sector or on the very small farmers, most of whom will never manage commercially competitive farms? Efficiently administrated rural credit and modernized food processing procedures are also needed. Food processors will insist on higher standards from suppliers in order to meet EU requirements, and this "pulling" effect will encourage primary producers to adopt appropriate technologies to meet buyers' demands.
Employment within agriculture is likely to fall. If current levels of value added per agricultural worker were increased to half their EU levels, a workforce of 6 million people would be needed instead of the current 10 million. This highlights the necessity for policies that consider the needs of the whole rural community. Farms in CEECs have the potential to exploit the demand for "ecofriendly" production. As the use of agrochemicals has declined considerably since 1989, much of the region's agricultural production is organic, or very nearly. The rapid establishment of formal certification schemes will provide a significant opportunity for some producers to meet the increasing demand for organic produce. Most producers should be encouraged to manage their farms in a way that preserves the unplanned gains for biodiversity resulting from decreased agrochemical usage.

Development of extension services in post-war Europe

In CEECs, there is considerable interest in establishing extension services for which the farmer pays, following the example of Western Europe. However, the situation in CEECs now is very different from that of the post-Second World War period, when charges for advice were being introduced in Western Europe. At that time, national economies were strong, there was a food surplus, farming was profitable and farmers were already used to receiving advice. It is not surprising, therefore, that Western governments decided that farmers would pay for advice aimed at benefiting them.
Farmers in CEECs are very poor and largely unaware of the value of advice. Governments are anxious to increase food production and accept that extension services are a valuable tool in achieving this goal. The concept of charging for advice has been widely considered and partially implemented.
Discussion of the relative merits of charging for advice or providing it free to farmers is beyond the scope of this article. If people do not appreciate that advice will help them, or if they genuinely cannot afford it, they will not pay for extension services. Ultimately, those who realize the value of advice and have the money to pay for it will expand their businesses by taking over the land of their less perceptive or poorer neighbours. In time, the agricultural industry will be restructured and farms will be operated by the most efficient managers but - at what social cost? It is against this background that the various systems implemented in different CEECs are considered and some of the important issues discussed.

Horses and donkeys are important to agriculture in many Eastern European countries


The approach taken to agricultural extension in CEECs

The approaches adopted within CEECs can be divided into three broad categories.

The fully funded government organization. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland and Romania are all adopting this approach. All have many small farms (Bulgaria has 1.8 million, for example). Albania has a publicly funded state service based on 28 regional centres providing free advice, and is establishing a small fee-charging service in two of the centres where farming is considered most profitable. Bulgaria's National Agricultural Advisory Service has 30 local offices funded by local government with central government support. Croatia has established an autonomous unit within its Ministry of Agriculture to manage services across the country. The Polish extension service, established in 1991, provides an extension centre in each of the 49 voivodships (Kielczewska, 1996). The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia both have government-funded extension services.

Advice provided by private consultants. Hungary, Estonia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have adopted this policy. They believe that government should not provide consultancy services but can encourage farmers to use private advisers if required.
Estonia provides grants to farmers who employ consultants, and commissions organizations such as the Farmers' Union to undertake specific advisory activities. The independent Association of Agricultural Advisers, founded in 1994, has played a significant part in the development of the consultancy profession.
Hungary established a national body for extension coordination to advise the Ministry of Agriculture. Government support to consultants includes funding training for farmers and consultants, funding publications that support these activities and providing a support infrastructure.
Slovakia has established a network of extension centres that provides a link between those seeking advice and those providing it. Farmers receive subsidies for certain types of advice.
The Czech Republic has allowed consultancy services to develop in response to market demand and has provided financial inducements to farmers to use available advice.

A government service that raises money from the private sector. Latvia and Lithuania have extension services formed from previous departments within the Ministry of Agriculture and have negotiated arrangements to provide additional services to farmers in return for fees. At present, only a small proportion of these services' income comes from fees. The services have regional offices staffed by advisers and a headquarters where staff includes specialists and central support facilities.


The effectiveness of extension services is notoriously difficult to measure. Without a full analysis of the situation in each country, any comparison of the effectiveness of the different approaches would be misleading. However, several issues are important in defining the role and determining the success of extension services, and these can be considered.

Reliability of advisers

If farmers are to use advisers, they must have confidence in the advisers' ability. In Western Europe, confidence has been built up over many years and is backed by legal systems. New entrants to the consultancy business must sell their services in a competitive market and depend on establishing a good reputation quickly. EU farmers are used to obtaining advice and are experienced in working within a market economy. They should therefore be better able to make sound choices and understand the risks when employing a consultant than their relatively inexperienced counterparts in CEECs are.
Farmers in CEECs are not used to a market economy and are generally sceptical of the value of advisers, especially government ones. Legislation to protect against the provision of negligent advice is only starting to be introduced. Farmers' financial resources are extremely limited: in most cases, the land provides for their own needs with only a small surplus that can be sold. Farmers are more likely to accept advice when they are assured of the advisers' competence. In countries where private consultants are the main source of advice, governments have considered establishing a licensing system for advisers. Estonia already has such a scheme and Slovakia and Hungary seem likely to follow.
Ideally, government extension services should select only suitably qualified personnel. In practice, existing government staff are transferred to the extension service even though many have only limited interest in and understanding of extension. This has reduced the effectiveness of the services.

A recently privatized dairy herd searches for food on the roadside


Machinery that was suitable for large state farms is often not ideal for small, private farms


Milk churns waiting for collection. It is expensive to collect small quantities of milk, and leaving milk in the sun causes a severe deterioration in its quality


Advisers' qualifications

Under the communist system, agricultural education in CEECs produced graduates in specialist disciplines, who subsequently worked in environments where they became even more specialized in their expertise. On the large state farms, different agricultural experts often worked in isolation from one another. The zoological engineers responsible for animal nutrition were not, for instance, involved with animal selection and breeding, and the agronomists responsible for variety selection may not have had contact with the plant protection specialists. Experts were also untrained in business management, group formation and marketing in a market economy. This legacy has meant that individual agricultural experts are ill-equipped to provide advice to today's smaller-scale commercial enterprises and tiny family farms. Much training has been given, but much more needs to be provided to help people to become proficient advisers.
The universities in CEECs have expanded their curricula to include business management and marketing. However, organic production, environmental issues, impact assessment and landscape management also need to be included. The only practical way to provide advice to small mixed farms is through generalist advisers who can appreciate the needs of the whole family unit. Training specialists to become generalists has proved difficult, but has been successfully achieved in some countries (Estonia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia).
More training in interpersonal communication skills and extension methods is required. Short courses provided as part of technical assistance programmes are very valuable, but cannot be a substitute for the postgraduate diploma and higher degree courses available in Western Europe. At present, the teaching capacity for these topics is limited at CEEC universities, although facilities are expanding and improving.

Adviser motivation

There are many highly motivated advisers in CEECs, but there are many more who are "seeing their time out". Pay is low and prospects for advancement are uncertain. The perceived status of advisers is lower than that of scientists working in universities and institutes, and this discourages some of the best people from entering extension work as a career. If the standards of advisers are to be improved, CEEC governments, and the consultants themselves, must seek to increase the remuneration, clarify and improve the career opportunities and improve the status of advisers.

Identification of users' needs and involvement of users in management

Rural appraisal techniques have not been widely used in CEECs and, when they have been used, they tend to "result in a regurgitation of farmers' problems rather than identifying solutions", as one author has commented (Zijp, 1997). Questionnaires have occasionally been used to try to assess what farmers want. Generally, the approach has been top-down, with extension service managers assessing the farms. The experience of Western countries shows that, for extension services to be more effective, it is necessary to pay more attention to what farmers perceive as being their needs.
An advisory committee of the kind used by the Latvian Agricultural Advisory Service is desirable for all publicly funded extension services. This committee holds regular meetings and its membership includes representatives of the various stakeholders, which is of benefit to both the service and the owner (the government). Management committees should be avoided. They remove authority and responsibility from extension service management, leading to a lack of focus for the organization and a lack of motivation for the staff.

Identification of clients and the services to be provided

Governments face a dilemma concerning extension services. Should they support advice for all, or concentrate limited advisory resources on specific farming groups? CEECs have thousands of very small farms, relatively few larger family farms and a small number of very large farms. The larger farms manage a high proportion of the land. Returns on investment in advisory services are likely to be much greater for services supplied to larger farms than for those supplied to very small units. Larger farmers are more likely to be able to afford to pay for advice. However, if governments ignore the small farmer, they may alienate a significant proportion of the electorate. The following recommendations apply to many CEECs:

Use of mass media and information technology

At present, insufficient use is made of the mass media and information technology. Print journalism and broadcasting, especially radio, are very effective means of communication. A survey in Romania, for example, showed that farmers considered radio the most credible source of information (Zijp, 1997). The mass media are the only practical means of getting information to thousands of small farmers, although their advice-giving capability is limited.
The Internet has had little direct effect on the great majority of farmers, although some advisers have access. "Telecottages" and community communication centres, such as those established in Sweden and Hungary, have potential for providing direct access to farmers and for informing locally based extension agents. At present, however, equipment costs and the low standard of telecommunications systems prevent the wider use of information technology. More thought needs to be given to its use in CEECs, as the potential benefits to rural populations are considerable.

The extension-research link

The effective and rapid transfer of research results to the farming industry is essential if that industry is to become and remain competitive. Although extension agents obtain their information from many sources, research is one of the most important ones. In CEECs, the link between research and farms was relatively straightforward when both were owned by the state. Today, links between farmers and researchers are poorly developed and urgently need strengthening. Governments cannot afford to spend money on unnecessary research, and research centres must respond to the needs of the farming industry. The use of commercial farms to demonstrate and test new techniques is an effective extension tool that also establishes valuable links among farmers, extension workers and researchers.


Traditional cheese-making in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania


Other sources of advice

The agricultural supply industry and purchasing organizations employ advisers who can provide valuable help to farmers. These advisers usually wish to develop and maintain long-term relationships with their clients, although their first loyalty is to the company's owners. The use of distance learning has considerable potential. A United Kingdom-supported project in Romania has successfully demonstrated that management techniques and skills can be imparted to the managers of fish farms.

Rural development

As farms in CEECs become competitive, rural employment will fall, possibly to less than half of its current level. To mitigate this effect, there is a need for a rural development programme that supports entrepreneurial activity in rural areas, such as the EU's Special Assistance for Pre-Accession Countries in Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD) programme.2 To meet this need, agricultural extension services should expand their activities and expertise into rural development, or work very closely with agencies that provide rural development advice.

Looking ahead

It is not possible to offer any kind of general prescription for progress in the development of CEECs' extension services. This is because their farming structures and research and extension achievements and needs are all very varied. If extension services are to be a tool in achieving increased agricultural production, countries need to address the following key issues; these are not listed in order of priority and the point to be stressed is that all efforts should be geared towards meeting the current and potential future needs of agricultural producers and their customers:


A farmers' group meeting in Bulgaria



Given their political will and the continuing support of the international community, most CEECs will eventually achieve an agricultural industry that is fully competitive with those of the EU. Farmers who survive into this era will have learned the hard way and will prove very efficient competitors to EU farmers, who are used to a high level of protection. The pluralist approach to the provision of extension services within CEECs reflects the different priorities of the respective governments. As indicated above, this suggests that there is no single system that is right for all situations.
Governments need to decide on clear, well-reasoned policies for agriculture and extension. To what extent, and how, will they support their agricultural industries? Are they prepared to consult the agricultural industry and take difficult decisions to modify the content of their agricultural research programmes? The development of stronger social policies providing support and empowerment for rural communities is essential if the social cost of modernizing agriculture is to be acceptable.
At present, the low price obtained for primary agricultural products is probably the main constraint to farms becoming competitive. While government policies have a place, the main path to improvement lies in better marketing, involving improved quality and continuity of supply. A modernized processing industry will demand both, thus providing the incentive for farmers to increase and improve production. The research and extension sectors have a major role to play in ensuring that appropriate technologies are available to the industry and that farmers have the technical information and knowledge to judge what is in their best interests.

1 Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

2 Which can be contacted at:

3 Requests for more staff are usually refused because of lack of funds. Many ministries of agriculture have thousands of employees, including teachers, researchers and staff in regional offices. (An Action Plan for Coordinated Aid to Poland and Hungary [PHARE] project, for example, reports that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Romania has 32 000 employees.) Relatively few people are employed at headquarters, which leads to a lack of adequate resources for policy work. Some of the thousands of posts could be identified as less important and the funds, not necessarily the people, be transferred into agricultural extension work.


EU. 1998. Agricultural situation and prospects in the Central and Eastern European countries: summary report, EU DGVI. Brussels.

Kielczewska, B. (ed). 1996. Agriculture and food economy in Poland. Warsaw, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Economy.

Kozari, J. 1997. The recent past, present and future of the Hungarian extension system. Rural knowledge systems in the 21st century. Rural extension in Western, Central and Eastern Europe. In I. Wallace, ed. Proceedings of the symposium held at Reading, Cambridge and Edinburgh, 6 to 17 July 1997. Reading, United Kingdom, University of Reading Agricultural Extension and Rural Development Department.

World Bank. 1999. Supporting rural development in Central and Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union. Report, rural sector. May 1999 (Available from:

Zijp, W. 1997. Extension: empowerment through communication. Rural knowledge systems in the 21st century. Rural extension in Western, Central and Eastern Europe. In I. Wallace, ed. Proceedings of the symposium held at Reading, Cambridge and Edinburgh, 6 to 17 July 1997. Reading, United Kingdom, University of Reading Agricultural Extension and Rural Development Department.


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