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5. Reform initiatives

The environment of agricultural extension is changing (Rivera & Gustafson 1991, Neuchâtel Group 1999, Qamar 2000). A large number and variety of reforms have already been put in place worldwide. Change is also evidenced in the move to combine agricultural extension with rural extension (World Bank 1997; FAO/World Bank 2000). An expanded view of agricultural extension has occurred and currently includes the advancement of rural extension programmes and rural development.

When considering the reform strategies that are most amenable to FAO’s above-mentioned goals to promote food security and alleviate poverty, several strategies and approaches appear particularly appropriate. FAO’s main approaches certainly involve, and should involve, stakeholder participation, extension and farmer training programmes, and farmer group promotion. The menu of options for promoting institutional reform is even more varied. In view of the market and non-market options mentioned earlier, and applying the vision and principles forwarded by several international bodies, these reform strategies would include (1) promoting pluralism, with an emphasis on pluralistic partnerships, including partnerships with farmer organizations and private venture companies, (2) cost-recovery schemes, where applicable, based on contractual provisions under which the clientèle are protected from inappropriate or unproductive advice, (3) decentralization arrangements with lower tiers of government under which local authorities are given tax-raising powers or some form of fiscal federalism, and (4) subsidiarity to farmers and farmer organizations. This list of strategies deliberately omits those strategies which advocate total privatization under which responsibility for extension funding and delivery passes entirely to the private sector, because the obligation on government to make provision for small farmer development and welfare appears to be crucial for the implementation of food security and poverty alleviation programmes in lowincome countries.

While decentralizing and privatizing elements are needed, the vision underlying the enactment of these and other purposive strategies must be viewed with an eye to the role of central government, and not only to dismantling or transferring its powers. A balance-of-powers vision involves a more equitable and broadlybased set of national development players, and is the premise on which contemporary policy-driven strategies need to be built.

Division of responsibility is needed and should constitute the long-term overall vision and purpose of reform (Rivera 2001). This vision would encompass distributing powers between the central authority and other constituent government units, and promoting a private sector that fosters the development and independence of organized groups around their special economic and social interests. In short, this vision would entail fostering a balance of powers (1) among the various tiers of government (central, state, regional, provincial, governorate, district and municipal), (2) between the public and private sectors, and (3) between government and associations, including organized citizens. A balance of powers of this kind does not yet exist in most developing countries, and must be explicitly set out in the agenda of development goals.

5.1 From pluralism to partnership

The term «extension pluralism» is used in countries such as Uganda and Mozambique to signify government-led development under which private extension-providers are either funded to provide extension field services or are incorporated in some way into the public sector extension system. In some countries, such as Viet Nam and Zimbabwe, which also practise extension pluralism, NGOs and other non-public service-providers receive little government financing. The term, «complex of extension-providers», is used to refer to the fact that in many instances a range of agricultural and rural extensionproviders operate in a country. It should be noted, however, that pluralism, like other subjects relating to agriculture and extension, is still the subject of debate.

Referring to Bolivia, Bebbington and Kopp (1998) say that «...the increasing tendency of government to engage in contractual arrangements with NGOs, under which the NGOs merely implemented government programmes, has often served to weaken the identity and legitimacy of NGOs, although it did provide them with much needed funding». Similarly, Anderson and Crowder (2000) argue that «contracting-out tends to be an administrative or technocratic approach where governments and/or donors promote contracting for a variety of fairly economic rationales. However, they also tend to try and keep methodological and conceptual control, which can limit learning and flexibility.... While often advocating the existence of several partners, these approaches do little to encourage pluralistic partnerships...». These comments once again reiterate something that has already been stated elsewhere in this paper: no single reform measure can be considered a panacea, but all are «work in progress», dependent on the commitment, resources, capacity, attitudes and motivations of the stakeholders at various levels.

The agricultural extension complex in a country, or in a region, is certainly nothing new. What is new is when public sector funding establishes a pluralism of agricultural and rural extension-providers. The critical question that still remains to be answered, however, is whether public sector funding of private-providers and the apparent «pluralism» will actually result in viable and meaningful «pluralistic partnerships ».

Although it is subject to criticism, government-led pluralism can be used by the developing countries to expand and improve the range and effectiveness of public sector extension. Depending on donor involvement and conditionalities, institutional pluralism (in addition to providing a more effective service) makes it more likely that the funded institutions will promote participatory approaches in extension.

5.2 Partnerships with farmers and the private sector

In a partnership, equal authority is vested in the parties to it. In some countries (South Korea, Taiwan), farmers’ associations are equal partners with decentralized government authorities. In other countries (e.g. Israel) farmers may «contract- in» certain services to establish an equal partnership, since decisions regarding the provision of field services are made by the farmers’ associations. More recently, other forms of public sector partnership involving government funding have emerged (e.g. Chile, Hungary, and Venezuela). Where government funds private field services providers, however, there remains the same question that arises in relation to pluralism regarding the equality of the partnership when government pays.

In a true partnership, the field service is established, and with two partners it functions on the basis of a 50:50 voluntary association with a financial budgetary partnership between the government (usually regional or provincial) bodies and the local agricultural authorities. The regional councils and the agricultural authorities jointly run and manage the service on a regional or local geographic basis. Underlying such partnerships are usually the establishment and provision of field services including budget sharing, the joint management of field services, and joint central management. In a partnership, the field service provides extension advice and services, engages in technology development, and acts as the authoritative professional body in the technical fields and services defined in the partnership agreement.

While there may be some dispute regarding the authenticity of the newer, contracted, institutional partnerships, as partnerships, they nevertheless appear to be needed to meet the growing demand for food and to sustain the natural resource base at a time of declining public investment in research and extension (Swanson 1998). Swanson argues that new institutional partnerships allow for cooperation with, rather than competition against, private agricultural development firms. He notes that private sector firms have the resources and comparative advantage to produce and distribute different types of proprietary technologies, such as improved varieties/hybrids and agro-chemicals. In the process, both the technology development and transfer costs of these proprietary technologies are passed on to the farmers, and ultimately to consumers. Swanson claims that associating the private sector component with a national technology system makes it more sustainable.

5.3 Cost recovery schemes

Various cost recovery strategies exist. There are systems in which government and private organizations charge for extension information, and arrangements in which extension technicians work with farmers on a fee-based contract. Repartition of costs is seen as an important development by committing the stakeholders to share the burden of funding extension, which encourages them to acknowledge and appreciate the value of information.

Several public and private sector extension cost recovery schemes exist. Hanson and Just (2001) cite such public schemes as: (a) fee-for-service extension provided by a public extension system, (b) partially public-funded private extension schemes, under which extension services are provided by private firms under contract or their fees are paid from public extension budgets with a contribution paid by the user of the services, and (c) policy-supported private extension schemes, under which fee-for-service extension provided by private firms is made viable by government requirements or subsidies are provided for or taxes levied on specific production practices. Private extension schemes involve fee-for-service extension provided by private firms with no public support, and are clearly private. Considering both the market failures of private extension systems in which privatization reduces social welfare provision, and the public extension failures in which privatization increases social welfare provision, Hanson and Just (2001) argue that «a universal movement towards paid extension is not in the public interest». They conclude that «optimality calls for a mix of public, private, and paid extension including policy support of private extension».

Recovering the cost of advisory services by charging the users for them is sometimes seen as having several objectives: to ease the burden on public funds, to stimulate private sector participation in service provision, and to make the services accountable to farmers as paying clients (Kidd et al. 2000). According to this view, cost recovery partly depends on the viability of the agricultural markets and the ability of the farmers or their organizations to pay for services.

In the formulation of the NAADS (National Agricultural Advisory Service) project in Uganda, Crowder (2000) notes: «The key factors in applying user charges to services are the abilities and willingness of farmers to pay. Commercial farmers producing high value crop or livestock products for secured markets presumably are more willing to pay for advice than farmers whose profit margins are small and who operate in uncertain markets». Referring to the Uganda National Farmers Union, he notes that «While farmers may say that they are willing to pay for advisory services, the determination of fee structures needs to take into account not only the stated willingness of farmers to pay but their actual ability to do so». In the case of the Ugandan farmers, their ability to even partially pay for advisory services is limited by their lack of surplus financial resources.

Charging for extension, however, need not be based on financial resources alone, but could also be based on payment in kind, such as (1) a portion of the crop produced, (2) services to the extension service, or (3) selling farm-related materials. For this to be done, the extension agent’s advice must be appropriate. One example of this kind of fee-charging for extension exists in China (Fei & Hiroyuki 2000) where contractual arrangements are established between the farmer and the extension technician, and payment depends on production and the sale of farmrelated produce used as payment for the extension services received. China’s experiment is particularly interesting because the function of the fee-charging scheme is not so much to recover the costs but rather as an incentive mechanism. Farmers and extension technicians are closely associated in this scheme, with rights, responsibilities and economic interests directly linked by contract between the farmer and the technician. As mentioned earlier, such an arrangement requires high quality technical expertise and training on the part of the extension technician. Although it is not always feasible, this system of direct contracting between the extension technician and the farmer differs from the schemes generally cited but, as Fei and Hiroyuki suggest, it does offer a valuable cost recovery alternative that the developing countries could envisage.

5.4 Decentralization to lower tiers of government

Decentralization is most often thought of as the shifting (or devolution) of authority for extension to lower tiers of government. In general, decentralization involves the transfer of funding and management authority to sub-national government levels. Policy-makers and practitioners challenged to develop strategies for the reform of extension, particularly decentralization to lower tiers of government, must weigh up and decide what is important, and why and how the various issues must be treated (Deller 1998).

Although the nature of the reform will vary between countries, Dillinger (1995) points to three main ingredients for a well-structured decentralized government. First, functional responsibilities must be clearly assigned among government levels, with hard budget constraints on central government participation in nominally local functions. Second, revenue sources must match functional responsibilities with only minimum scope for bargaining and negotiation, and capital financing systems must reward creditworthiness rather than political acumen. Finally, a system of accountability balancing central regulation against local political participation must be instituted. In short, Dillinger notes that a system based on rules works better than a system based on negotiations, and that political autonomy has to be matched by financial autonomy.

To date, the centralist tradition in the developing countries has inhibited selfreliance and the development of civil institutions at the community level, both of which are critical elements for the smooth functioning of decentralized local administrations. For policymakers and practitioners in the field the present emphasis requires action to be taken to discover the most appropriate way to move towards the reform option of extension decentralization.

One approach to developing national recommendations for extension decentralization might be to convene a national workshop. The purpose of such a workshop would be to review institutional reform strategies undertaken worldwide and to bring together current and potential stakeholders to examine various decentralization arrangements, including the issues and successes in other countries. The national workshop could serve to clarify the direction in which these stakeholders think the country should move in pursuing decentralization reform of agricultural and rural extension. The diverse structural and financial arrangements adopted in the last two decades by governments worldwide to improve agricultural extension services would be analysed and compared, with a view to providing a menu of alternative options when confronting the challenge of decentralizing public sector agricultural extension.

If decentralization is to work, however, local authorities must be partially financially independent of central government. Shah (1994) emphasizes the importance of «fiscal federalism» under which the subgovernment level is provided with block grants and/or authorized to raise taxes to finance its operations, including such services as agricultural and rural extension.

5.5 Subsidiarity (decentralization) to the grassroots level

Subsidiarity refers to the operational authority and responsibilities that are devolved to the lowest possible level of authority, consistent with organizational competencies and the efficient use of funds. Resources, including funds, would be assigned to the grassroots level based on specific responsibilities. The extent to which governments are interested in and willing to shift the authority for providing extension services to farmers’ associations and viable rural community groups, may be worth exploring. While subsidiarity suggests that authority should go to the lowest level of society, the move should be practical and consistent with the overall public good (Porter 2001).

Transferring or delegating extension responsibilities to entities at the grassroots level sometimes implies a choice between shifting authority to local government and/or local community groups. It is important to ensure that economies of scale and scope are not compromised and that all costs and benefits are internalized. Making local communities responsible for programmes, as Colombia has done, is also an attractive option because it incorporates rural people into programme design and implementation.

Governments are beginning to adopt institutional and technical measures to give responsibility to the farmers for the management of agricultural extension programmes. Participatory involvement is seen as making services more responsive to local conditions, more accountable, more effective and more sustainable. This form of subsidiarity is occurring in places as distant from one another as Bolivia and Uganda.

The decision by government to move towards grassroots command of extension may take different directions. In Uganda, for instance, government is moving towards shifting fiscal responsibility to districts and sub-counties while transferring the rights to farmer associations to contract-out to private entities for extension services (Uganda 1998a). The expectation is that the existing public sector extension agents will set up extension consultancies and become commercial providers, along with other commercial non-governmental entities.

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