Agricultural extension continues to be in transition worldwide. Governments and international agencies are advancing structural, financial and managerial reforms to improve extension. Decentralization, pluralism, cost sharing, cost recovery, participation of stakeholders in development initiatives and the decisions and resources that affect them - these are some of the elements in extension's current transition.
Public sector extension was severely attacked in the 1980s for not being relevant, for insufficient impact, for not being adequately effective, for not being efficient and, sometimes, for not pursuing programmes that foster equity (Rivera 1991). A critical turning point occurred that affected the way information transfer, heretofore considered the purview of public sector agricultural extension systems, was conceived and practiced. Not only did public extension systems come under public scrutiny and political attack but, as well, were confronted by heightened competitive interests from the private sector. Input suppliers and output buyers became increasingly active in instructing farmers in the processes and standards desired by particular markets. Often enough, these information providers created demonstration plots and field trials, similar to public sector extension techniques but with a view to vertical technology transfer. In some cases, "contract farmers" turned into workers for the contracting companies. (See Box 1 on "Contract Farming").
Despite the high returns associated with extension found in a number of studies (Birkhaeuser, Evenson and Feder 1988; Anderson and Feder 2003) there was a general feeling that public sector extension was overextended. The scarcities of financial resources for extension and in some cases the lack of skilled manpower and dearth of organizational capacity (The World Bank 1981:5) led to major changes in ideological, economic and technical perspectives of agricultural extension. Also, the forces for worldwide structural adjustment resulting from massive debts by nations North and South, the onslaught of conservative ideology emphasizing efficiencies over welfare, the accelerating reaction against subsidies in agriculture, all these contributed to the critical assessment of extension. Thus, governments began to discredit and withdraw their commitment to extension. In their eagerness to evade extension's institutional problems and to relieve the larger economic problems, in a sense many governments chose to ignore extension.
Following two decades of criticism and change, a new awareness of the role of the public sector in funding, but not necessarily delivering non-formal agricultural extension, has occurred. The latent demand for agricultural extension services is evident in the developing countries.
Box 1: Contract farming
Contract farming is an agreement between farmers and processing and/or marketing firms for the production and supply of agricultural products under forward agreements, frequently at predetermined prices. The arrangement also invariably involves the purchaser in providing a degree of production support through, for example, the supply of inputs and the provision of technical service.
Contract farming is becoming an increasingly important aspect of agribusiness, whether the contracts are negotiated with multinationals, smaller companies, government agencies, farmer cooperatives or individual entrepreneurs. The approach appears to have considerable potential in countries where small-scale agriculture continues to be widespread, as in many cases small-scale farmers can no longer be competitive without access to the services provided by contract farming companies. However, the decision to use the contract farming modality is a commercial one. It is not a development model to be tried by aid donors, governments or NGOs because other rural development approaches have failed (Eaton and Shepherd 2001).
In high-income as well as middle- and low-income countries, governments are being pressured to reform and reprioritize public sector agricultural productivity programmes and confront related issues, such as the management of natural resources, rural development, the environment, and health. Extension institutions (public, private and third-sector) are important players in any effort to respond to these critical issues.
The role of government is critical for the reconstruction of agricultural extension, especially for fostering the public good. Only the public sector can effectively and efficiently carry out certain functions and indeed, only national governments can assume the responsibilities that affect the state as a whole. Only governments can ensure that extension services work for the public good, even if those services are provided by contracting with private sector providers (Rivera and Zijp 2002). And only national governments can promote increased institutional pluralism in extension service provision and oversee the quality enhancement and assurance necessary for rural development.
"Strong, effective, and efficient governments are essential to development, for they alone can create the enabling environment required for the private sector and civil society to flourish" (Serageldin 1996).
Extension is a nonformal educational function that applies to any institution that disseminates information and advice with the intention of promoting knowledge, attitudes, skills and aspirations, although the term "extension" tends to be associated with agriculture and rural development1. Appendix 1 lists its many and various approaches (Alex, Zijp and Byerlee 2001). No matter what the name of the system, approach or programme (e.g., cooperative extension, advisery services, Special Programme for Food Security, technical assistance or technology transfer), the function remains that of extension: the transfer and exchange of practical information.
At the same time, extension is a political and organizational instrument utilized to facilitate development. Its purposes may differ, from technology transfer by companies organized around specific, usually monocropping farm systems to problem-solving educational approaches to participatory programmes aimed at alleviating poverty and advancing community involvement in the process of development. Internationally, extension's institutional (and at present generally pluralistic) systems tend to differ from country to country.
Most ministries of agriculture have an extension unit that deals mainly with crops and mixed agricultural systems, as well as separate technical divisions (livestock, forestry, fisheries, etc. ) some of which also provide extension services. During the 1970s and 80s, efforts were made to unify ministerial agricultural extension operations but with limited success. This same diversity and separation of agricultural extension activities exists in international organizations2.
Extension is multidisciplinary. It combines educational methodologies, communication and group techniques in promoting agricultural and rural development. It includes technology transfer, facilitation, and advisery services as well as information services and adult education. It is dependent for success on other agricultural development processes such as marketing and credit services, not to mention economic policy and physical infrastructure. In short, it is a function that is dependent for success on other factors, including other services and institutions. In many cases its success depends on the ability to shift programme direction and development to stakeholders and programme users.
When systematically and effectively provided3, extension is known to enhance social and economic development. Technological change and the knowledge system that underpins it, is a critical factor in development (World Bank 2003a). Despite the difficulty of isolating its impact on agricultural productivity and growth from that of other factors, many studies have demonstrated the high economic returns of investments in agricultural dissemination. Investment in agricultural research and extension is thus a crucial input of agricultural growth (Anderson and Feder 2003). However, "agricultural extension services in developing countries are currently grossly under-funded to undertake the activities required for achieving food security while protecting the productive resource base in order to keep up with population and economic growth" (Gallagher 2002).
Various and distinct public sector agricultural extension reforms have occurred since the mid-1980s. Table 1 categorizes these reforms into four main categories. The first (upper-right quadrant) involves a political structural change, often referred to as decentralization. In the illustration, decentralization refers to deconcentration of central authority to branch offices or institutes, as well as the shifting of staff from national to provincial, district or sub-district levels (e.g. Iran), and to devolution of authority to lower levels of government (Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Philippines, Indonesia, Uganda and Tanzania).
The second (lower-right quadrant) represents change toward partial privatization-whether through subsidies to producers who then are obligated to seek agricultural extension services from private providers, through grants to producer organizations or entities at local levels, or through public sector contracting with private or "third-sector"4, 5 (Gui 1994) organizations to provide services. The third (upper-right quadrant) refers to systems where the producer pays directly to the provider for services rendered. The fourth (lower-right quadrant) applies to situations where governments have either commercialized their public sector agricultural extension services, or have otherwise transferred these services in total to the private sector.
The central rectangle refers to situations where governments employ several strategies (e.g., devolution, partial privatization, and/or cost-recovery measures to foster extension activities for agricultural development). This phenomenon should not be confused with "institutional pluralism" that refers to the fact that various sectors are engaged in extension provision.
A strategic vision and guiding principles for the design of agricultural knowledge and information systems for rural development (AKIS/RD) have already been outlined by the FAO and the World Bank (2000) and underscored in the FAO document, Agricultural and Rural Extension: Options for Institutional Reform in the Developing Countries (Rivera et al. 2001). These two documents provide a basis for developing new opportunities in raising AKIS/RD effectiveness, and set the stage for an integrated approach to agricultural education, research and extension. New linkages to other agencies and organizations in a multisectoral network of extension/communication providers will be necessary in a new vision of extension and rural development.
Table 1: Public sector agricultural extension reforms since the 1980s
Briefly, the upper-left quadrant indicates a partial or total shift of authority from the central authority to lower levels of authority or subgovernment. Deconcentration is an example of shifting authority to branch offices or regional institutes. Devolution is when the funding and delivery of extension services is shifted to the state level (Brazil, Mexico) or to the municipal/district level (Bolivia, Colombia, and The Philippines). In Mexico, however, devolution is incipient; nationally there is a system of subsidies to producers for extension purposes (similar in some respects to the previous arrangement in Chile). Additionally, as with some 70-plus other countries, Mexico is experimenting with the FAO Special Programme for Food Security. Thus, as in other countries, Mexico has adopted several diverse strategies as regards extension and rural development, and appears to be moving toward federalism and a greater balance of powers between central and sub-government.
In the lower-left quadrant, three strategies are cited. In the first, the central authority selects to provide subsidies to small farmers on condition of their contracting with private sector providers for extension services (e.g., Chile, Mexico, and Uganda). In the second, the central authority contracts directly with private entities to provide services to producers (Mozambique, Hungary, and Venezuela). An interesting example is the case of Honduras where the government has contracted with a coordinating service outside its own country (namely with CATIE, headquartered in Costa Rica) to then contract with private extension providers within Honduras. These two strategies-subsidizing farmers to contract with the private sector and contracting with the private sector-are strategies aimed in part at enabling the private sector to provide extension services. The third strategy in the lower-left quadrant is relatively recent; it involves providing grants to communities directly for them to undertake development projects. This World Bank initiative seeks to motivate communities to take ownership for their own development. Still, the community projects are not necessarily (and in fact the cases are few) for developing extension services.
In the upper-right quadrant is the strategy of fee-based extension service. An example of cost-recovery for extension services is Ecuador's Programme for Modernization of Agricultural Services (PROMSA); however, this programme involves both the public and the private sector in the financing and delivery of services and therefore incorporates reform measures associated with the lower-left quadrant. Again, this is an example of a mixed system and, indeed, Ecuador's approach to extension involves subsidizing as well as cost-recovery programmes. This quadrant underscores the fact of agricultural information's commodification (Buttel 1991).
The lower-right quadrant refers to countries that have totally commercialized (New Zealand) or privatized (England and Wales; The Netherlands) their public sector agricultural extension services. This quadrant also includes those countries that selected to withdraw completely from provision of extension services and support for extension education, and generally shifted authority to national and international NGOs (Peru). This quadrant reflects the general withdrawal of some countries during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s from public sector involvement in goods and services and the consequent shift of authority to the private sector or third-sector organizations.
The central rectangle in Table 1 refers to diversified strategies - strategies that employ multiple "mixed" approaches. Increasingly governments have either adopted or builtup a "mix" of extension systems and programmes, and it is likely that such mixed arrangements will continue to prevail in the future.
One intention in Table 1 is to stress that no single political or institutional strategy is dominant in the reform of public sector agricultural extension. There is no formula for reforming extension. Nonetheless, there are a number of lessons to be learned from these strategic determinations and their varied experiences. As the next paragraphs indicate, a consensus appears to be developing as to the best policies to follow with respect to extension and rural development.
At the international workshop on "Extension and Rural Development" jointly hosted in November 2002 by the World Bank, the USAID and the Neuchatel Group, a number of policy recommendations (underlined below) were put forward. They are central to the issues of extension, rural development and food security. Poverty reduction has been purposely placed first as it highlights one of the main concerns in this paper and provides a framework in which to consider the others. Eight recommendations were submitted:
The above list offers a valuable set of recommendations for governments to consider with respect to agricultural extension and rural development.
The main observation in this section is that following two decades of criticism and public sector reform of extension services - sometimes involving severe downsizing or even withdrawal from the provision of services - a new recognition of the role of the public sector in promoting extension is resulting in the advancement of diverse strategies of agricultural extension. This adoption or build-up of diverse strategies for delivery of extension services points toward the tendency of the future.
"Agriculture has to meet this change [of a rapidly increasing population], mainly by increasing production and on land already in use and by avoiding further encroachment on land that is only marginally suitable for cultivation" (Chapter 4. 1). "The priority must be on maintaining and improving the capacity of the higher-potential agricultural lands to support an expanding population" (Chapter 14. 3).
Agenda 21, Earth Summit. Rio de Janeiro
Poverty worldwide is excessive. In many countries as much as two-thirds of the population are "dirt poor", with minimum access to basic needs including adequate nutrition, clean water, proper sewage, and health care. The problem of food insecurity is massive and will be further discussed in the third section of this paper.
The rural sector deserves immediate and considerable attention. At least half the world's poor live in rural areas, and the majority of these rural poor work the land. More than 60% of the poor in Latin America and the Caribbean live in rural areas, and their poverty is more extreme than that of the poor in urban areas; the magnitude and heterogeneity of their situations are such that it is difficult to determine what precisely are the causes and to therefore assign possible solutions (Echeverria 1998). Likewise, the factors affecting food security vary widely. Some governments have engaged in processes of devolution with the aim of ensuring that local governments possess the resources and authority to confront poverty. This appears to be an important step toward involving a broader array of participants in the fight to reduce poverty and food insecurity.
At the same time more carefully differentiated extension strategies are required if governments are to reduce poverty among the rural poor because poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon. To date, various approaches recognize diverse livelihoods, e.g., the "sustainable livelihoods approach" (LSA) and the "farming systems approach" (FSA). These are in addition to the Special Programme for Food Security, which fosters a production/irrigation approach while incorporating elements of both LSA and FSA. These different programmes tend to overlap in their goals. However, LSA places emphasis on vulnerability and tends to be a social approach6. FSA focuses on the farm household and is a more technical approach7. Special Programme for Food Securityconcentrates on food security and income generation related to agriculture, and is of particular interest to the present document because it is essentially an agricultural extension programme that focuses on the rural poor.
To reduce food insecurity, the FAO initiated the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) in 1994. A special dimension of FAO's work8, this programme was strengthened and its implementation accelerated9 after the 1996 World Food Summit (FAO 1996). In 2003, the SPFS was operating in over 70 countries (FAO 2003). SPFS began with a set number of objectives aimed at increasing production and small-scale water control, but has gradually expanded to embrace related rural development problems.
In 2002, an independent external evaluation of the SPFS (FAO 2002A) made twenty-four recommendations to the programme10, which resulted in a number of actions taken by FAO (FAO 2002B). As a result, the programme widened its approach and embraced a number of more strategic concerns related to agricultural development processes such as post-harvest management11, development of small-scale processing facilities, and access to credit and supplies. SPFS currently consists of project initiatives; however, FAO is seeking to expand the programme by encouraging national governments to incorporate SPFS as a national programme with wider parameters relevant to food and agriculture. The SPFS, along with agricultural extension communication and other food security/pro-poor policies and institutional actions, represents a production-directed means of contributing to the public good goals formulated by the 1996 WFS.
Agricultural extension is at the centre of the SPFS. Aside from providing the structural unit within which SPFS projects operate, in some cases extension may step in where innovations introduced by SPFS are not picked up on a national scale, as the External Evaluation (2000) suggests will likely be the case where SPFS projects are time-bound, or where countries have decided to undertake other actions toward reduction of food insecurity. Whatever the case, SPFS must leave the responsibility for the programme and its goals to governments. Also, there is the expectation that governments will eventually share responsibility for food security with empowered commodity-based and community-based client groups (Rondot and Collion 2001). Donor projects in general need to consider exit strategies but in order to ensure a transition to a sustainable system they will need to focus on results to ascertain the basis for being sustained, and this means having effective monitoring and evaluation systems.
FAO leadership currently hopes that some countries will develop SPFS into a nationwide programme. Others may not. Whichever the case may be, improved extension systems remain a crucial element in a national food security strategy. Closely associating extension providers with SPFS goals is one means by which national governments can further indicate their commitment to the public good of food security12.
Among the various FAO and other international programmes aimed at assisting developing countries to reduce food insecurity, the SPFS began by supporting food security in Low-income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs), but as of 2003 the programme was operating projects in over 70 developing countries. In general, the programme sets out to help developing countries to:
- control water resources through micro schemes that protect from the vagaries of the weather (drought and flooding) that cause serious fluctuations in annual output levels;
- boost the crop, livestock and aquaculture productivity, including diversification and intensification of production by small farmers so that they can feed their families and secure a surplus to increase earnings;
- identify and find measures for responding to the socio-economic constraints on the production, marketing and processing of agricultural commodities;
SPFS projects differ according to the particular situation of the geographic region, its natural resources and the characteristics of the people involved in the project. It is also affected by other elements such as project leadership and government policies. The programme lays out five major corporate strategies: (1) Contributing to the eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty; (2) Promoting, developing and reinforcing policy and regulatory frameworks for food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry; (3) Creating sustainable increases in the supply and availability of food and other products from the crop, livestock, fisheries and forestry sectors; (4) Supporting the conservation, improvement and sustainable use of natural resources for food and agriculture; and (5) Improving decision making through the provision of information and assessments and fostering knowledge management for food and agriculture.
SPFS projects centre in particular on the diversification of income opportunities for the rural poor, and the responsiveness of policy interventions to the requirements of disadvantaged groups. The main task is to enhance small farmer livelihoods by improving their agricultural output and thereby contributing to their food security and income generation. At the same time, the projects promote related activities such as participatory forestry, gender approaches and, not least, encourage the creation of agriculture-related facilities such as the building of greenhouses and processing centres, and development of commercial activities among the poor. The projects utilize participatory approaches and methods to support food security and income generation.
On-site examination of two SPFS projects in Guatemala confirms that project interventions are being carried out successfully and that the ancillary attributions regarding local institution building are clearly evident in project implementation. While SPFS may not have taken hold everywhere nor been successful in every instance, the point is that it has the capability of significantly improving the lives of the people in the places where its leadership and resources are adequate.
SPFS implementation takes place in two phases. Phase I is a micro-economic phase consisting of four major components: (1) water control through small systems of water collection, irrigation and drainage, (2) intensification of crop production systems, (3) diversification of production systems into small animal production, "artisanal" fisheries and aquaculture, and (4) analysis and resolution of socio-economic constraints to food security. Phase II, i.e. the macro-economic phase, has three dimensions:(a) an agricultural sector policy reform to overcome socio-economic constraints, (b) an agricultural investment programme to address infrastructure, and (c) the preparation of feasibility studies of bankable projects designed to ensure bilateral and multilateral financing.
Core features of the SPFS strategy are national ownership with the participation of farmers and other stakeholders at all stages of the programme's conception and implementation, priority given to small farmers, environmental awareness, integrated and multidisciplinary approach, emphasis on modernization of low-cost simple technologies, and social equity (gender and role of vulnerable groups).
In all SPFS projects, national agricultural extension services are actively involved in introducing improved technologies, forming men and women farmer groups, and organizing field demonstrations. However, their contribution remains limited, and varies according to the extent of their involvement in planning and decision-making, and their strengths and weaknesses. Even though the purpose of the SPFS is not strengthening of a country's extension system, yet it is imperative that extension services be strong enough for meaningful implementation, monitoring, impact assessment and sustainability of the SPFS projects. This is especially true in case of those SPFS countries where extension services have become weak as a result of decentralization or structural adjustment programmes.
SPFS leadership in the FAO hopes that SPFS projects will eventually become national programmes in the countries where they are successful. In those countries where agricultural extension programmes no longer exist, have been badly reduced, or have become weak, SPFS implementation staff could become the equivalent of a national extension service, in this case specifically serving poor populations who work the land. In contrast, where government has successfully reformed agricultural extension system, utilizing a diversified strategy for extension development, the SPFS will form an important component within the overall extension framework.