Public sector commitment is essential to promote agricultural extension and communication for rural development and food security. A new and expanded vision of the public sector role is overdue with respect to food security, rural development and agricultural extension.
Three main recommendations are put forward to governments: (1) to develop a newly conceived policy agenda for agricultural extension and communication for rural development; (2) to adopt a diversified and pluralistic national strategy to promote agricultural extension and communication for rural development; and (3) to build a platform for dialogue and collaboration with the relevant institutions that comprise the diversity of multi-sectoral agricultural extension service providers that exist in most countries. The purpose of these recommendations is to advance the livelihoods, i.e., food security and income generation, of poor people in rural areas.
A re-conceptualized and re-capitalized agricultural extension strategy combined with a concomitant communication-for-rural-development strategy and the development of multi-sectoral arrangements with all sectors to promote food security are the paper's main import. Re-capitalized extension means the training of both public and private extension agents, the development of sound strategies, programmes and policies, and the institutional arrangements that facilitate extension. These strategies and the resultant systems are sorely needed to advance the livelihoods of poor people in the rural sector.
The main premise of the paper is that the public sector has a continuing and unique role to play in promoting rural development through extension/communication services. Governments are well placed to promote increased institutional pluralism in extension service provision and oversee the quality enhancement and assurance necessary for rural development. In any pluralistic institutional arrangement of extension activities government will inevitably be involved in quality control issues, promotional programmes, and support services such as monitoring and evaluation and specialized technical support. The challenge is to resolve how best to promote coordination of services and how best to intervene when necessary.
Accordingly, they are called on to promote multi-sectoral and, to the extent possible, integrated networks of extension providers and also communication services with the object of advancing the public good.
Three arguments are put forward around the topics of agricultural extension, rural extension and food security. First, agricultural extension interpreted even in the broadest sense cannot and should not be assumed to resolve the variety of rural development problems currently placed on its doorstep, although it may serve to inform relevant agencies and organizations of non-agricultural problems diagnosed in the field.
Also, a "rural extension" commitment must be considered, whereby other, nonagricultural concerns are addressed-especially those relating to income-generation and the development of micro-enterprise but including health and other issues relevant to the approximately 40 percent of people in the rural sector who do not work the land. This obligation can be met at least in part via the establishment of communication-for-rural-development programmes, utilizing in particular interactive radio technology. This would require organization but not great expense on the part of government.
Finally, food security is and needs to be overtly and broadly recognized as a public good as well as a social and economic good. Such recognition is a major challenge to government, one that has yet to be fully confronted. While various international and non-governmental organizations are seeking to assist governments with this challenge, ultimately the responsibility falls to government-at all levels. The role of national government is central for catalyzing its country's energies to combat food insecurity and poverty.
The paper seeks balance. It favours a multisectoral approach to extension development, emphasizing the role of the public sector (at all levels) but recognizes the significant contribution of private companies to technology transfer and the value of the non-government organizations for assisting in the advancement of poor sectors of society. However, the paper concentrates on the role of the public sector. What is, or should be, the role of the public sector? The answer to that question is ultimately of greatest concern. One of the purposes underlying this paper is to convince policy-makers to recognize extension activities as a public function that must not be lost, as has been the case in some countries, nor underestimated. Extension can play an important role in agricultural and rural development and in social and economic development overall.
With respect to models and approaches to agricultural extension, both top-down and bottom-up systems are effective and efficient, depending on the expected result. After all, private company advisery systems utilize top-down technology transfer methods. Given the need for democratization of the rural sector, the present emphasis on participation of stakeholders in programmes and community demand-driven projects seems correct. Inevitably, questions of rural youth and rural women need to be considered, for women in many cases do as much if not more agricultural and other work than men, and youth are the generation of the future. The paper does not contain all the answers, nor does it cover all the issues involved in agricultural and rural development. The focus is on the institutional pluralism that has occurred in extension, and confronts the task of how to begin to re-envision and integrate that institutional pluralism into a network for the common good. Given a new vision of extension, the final recommendation is that governments organize multisectoral networks of extension providers, and assist in the support of all sectors involved in extension and technical assistance. Extension is an important function for assisting the rural poor to enhance their livelihoods.