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Interface analysis

In intervention programmes, the multitude of actors with different backgrounds, mandates and experiences, and the resultant differential viewpoints, perceptions, objectives, practices and strategies, often produce interfaces (struggles, negotiations and accommodations) at various points of interaction. These interfaces occur among intervening, bat and local actors and among the various intervening agencies themselves. The situation is exacerbated by the complex interactions among specific practices/interventions on one hand, and the many actors and their strategies on the other. The result is not one, single intervener-local actor interface, but a far more complex situation in which there is a hierarchy of many different interfaces. Such emergent interfaces complicate the implementation of intervention programmes, and result in programme implementation and programme outcomes that are different from those originally expected. In other words, interfaces partially explain the "failure" of interventionist programmes such as agricultural extension. Several factors are usually at work: political, technical and organizational.

Political factors

Political factors refer to institutional politics and the interest groups that play a role in them. An example is pressure from policy-makers, foreign agencies and farmers' organizations and its effects on the values, rewards and sanctions that are created to inhibit or facilitate collaboration among various actors.

A number of researchers attribute the lack of collaboration to professionalism. According to Chambers (1986), normal professionalism refers to the thinking, values, methods and behaviour that are dominant in a profession or discipline. Lack of collaboration and interfaces therefore develop because professionals have developed negative attitudes towards actors at the lower levels of a calibrated science-practice continuum. For example, researchers doubt the competence and motivation of extension workers, who in turn look down on farmers and consider them less knowledgeable. There is also the problem of undervaluing farmers' indigenous knowledge and their potential contribution to the technology dissemination process.

Related to the paradigm of professionalism are disciplinary bias and professional jealousy. Because of their technical training, researchers tend to focus on high-powered technical-oriented research (much of which is inappropriate to most smallholder farmer circumstances) and the production of equally technical scientific publications, through which they hope to win promotion. The more researchers write technical publications, the less extension workers are interested in them. At times, power struggles and individualism within organizations have resulted in poor working relationships among those organizations. Committee meetings, which are meant to bring all stakeholders together, have often been a failure because of poor attendance, non-representation of some organizations or a lack of patience and commitment on the part of attending members. Some informants reported a tendency for people to cooperate when they stand to benefit, but not when the sacrifices outweigh their own individual benefits. Common excuses are "we are busy", "we are short of staff" and "we would like to, but we do not have the resources".

Technical factors

Technical factors are the methods and activities that are associated specifically with the development and dissemination of agricultural technology to different environments and target groups.

Use of the group extension approach and good farming competitions has significantly improved the linkages among extension service providers. Seed houses and private agrochemical companies sponsor competitions on good methods of farming. This approach enables extension organizations to share resources and take advantage of economies of scale by working with large numbers of farmers to ensure a far wider coverage in a smaller time span (cost-effectiveness).

However, intervening organizations and the individuals within them are often very rigid in their approach. The tendency has been to favour disciplinary specialization and actions that are "according to the book" rather than for the good of intended beneficiaries. The use of diffusionist approaches has tended to worsen this situation, as has the recent introduction of World Bank-initiated economic reforms. The Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP), introduced in 1991, had the objectives of increasing exports, improving balances of payments, and reducing the national budget deficit by cutting government spending. However, the budget cuts for public-funded agricultural extension service providers, who are traditionally already poorly funded, has crippled field operations to disastrous effect. This is a great concern, especially because collaboration requires financial resources if it is to be sustainable.

Organizational factors

Organizational factors include the division of tasks, resources and authority among different organizations and individuals, and the internal management and informal dynamics of each organization and its components.

The perception within some sectors is that there is insufficient cooperation among agricultural extension service providers (despite their common ultimate goals) because these services are established without built-in complementarity. An example is DR&SS, the Department of Veterinary Services and AGRITEX, which fall under the same ministry but under different directives. Only recently have there been initiatives to amalgamate DR&SS and AGRITEX into a single entity. On the other hand, the University of Zimbabwe falls under the jurisdiction of a totally different ministry. The location of various supposedly collaborating organizations in different administrative structures/institutions tends to worsen the interaction and communication among those organizations.

Different administrative structures and organizations also entail differences in institutional mandates and organizational cultures. Each organization is restricted by its set official mandate, i.e. what that organization was set up to achieve. On the other hand, organizational culture is basically a set of organizational norms and taboos (the "dos" and "don'ts"), which individuals learn through attachments, induction courses and/or in-house training programmes. Not surprisingly, differences also occur in the values and priorities that govern organizations in their setting of targets and strategies for their staffs.

Rigid mandates and the compartmentalization of duties and responsibilities within and among different organizations have also meant a duplication of duties among organizations. Although set mandates make a clear distinction of duties among research and extension organizations, the distinction of duties within the group of various research and extension service providers is not very clear. In several cases, parallel service delivery systems are in place. Inevitably, there are overlaps among the available services. However, it seems farmers recognize that the services are not identical and take advantage of the situation by applying different strategies to gain access to and utilize them.

Governments in developing countries have always struggled to allocate scarce resources among competing choices. Given collapsing economies and even tighter budgets, governments have been forced to cut spending on, sometimes essential, services. In most cases, this has led to supposedly collaborating partners fighting for scarce resources (empire building). Bureaucracy and long hierarchical lines of communication have not only tended to delay the communication process, but have also weakened linkages within and among intervening organizations.

Over the years, most organizations, including private players in the local extension system, have maintained a policy of frequent lateral transfers for their field staff. The resultant high turnover of extension agents presents one of the major causes of rather weak institutional linkages. This high turnover has led to the failure of extension personnel in some organizations to understand the local context thoroughly, the failure of organizations to gain each other's trust (a failure to enter each others' circles of confidence) and, ultimately, a failure to establish sustainable linkages among extension service providers.

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