In Eritrea, agricultural extension services are provided primarily by the public sector, through officers of the Ministry of Agriculture. The main points of contact between the Ministry and farmers are sub-zoba offices. Technical specialists are based in the subzoba headquarter town and meet farmers when they visit the villages or when farmers come to the HQ. Though extension services are free, farmers bear costs in using the service - the travel expenses necessary to reach the extension center and the time used to attend meetings and visits (Garforth, 2001).
The Government of Eritrea is committed to moving towards a new approach to extension called the Farmers Advisory Service (FAS). The FAS is intended to be participatory, grassroots and focused on demand generated by farmers. The general aim of the approach is to facilitate the better use of Eritreas natural resources and enhance farmers potential for improved agricultural production by empowering them to take an active role in decision making processes for the long-term sustainable development of agriculture (Steele, 2001).
Within this framework, a reconsideration of pastoral indigenous knowledge and information systems could be helpful in tailoring new extension services aimed at pastoralists to their special circumstances. As shown in the previous chapter, the Beni-Amer, and presumably the other pastoral groups of Eritrea (the Hidareb and Afar), in fact possess sound and effective indigenous knowledge about the management of their herds. This knowledge could provide a basis for further livestock research and could serve future livestock extension programmes. The extensive use of pastoralist images, concepts and vocabulary may be used in designing and communicating effective extension messages. To deliver these messages, radio is probably the most appropriate medium, given its wide diffusion and utilization in rural areas.
Using indigenous knowledge could also lead to increased participation of pastoralists in pastoral development projects and could be a starting point for supporting grassroots institutions (such as herders associations and groups) that can back up technical and social interventions (Fre, 1992). An example could be the integration of traditional ethno-veterinary knowledge, through the direct involvement of Seb-Lalamro, traditional veterinarians, into animal health service programmes. As has been shown, many traditional remedies appear to be just as, or more, effective than their western commercial equivalents and they are also much more accessible. Unfortunately, much of this information is in danger of being lost with the advent of modernization. There is the risk that the erosion of this knowledge in favour of western technologies and commercial drugs, could leave many stockbreeders with neither traditional nor modern remedies, the latter being too expensive or unavailable, to combat disease. This is just one example, but it indicates the need for further research aimed at recording and using the rich indigenous knowledge of Eritrean pastoralists.