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3. Review of extension tools

Nearly 60 extension books, pamphlets, fliers, brochures, etc. were reviewed. Each is briefly summarized below, in chronological order, either by country when produced there or in a general category when produced elsewhere but used in at least one of the countries.. These extension tools were of two general types: those aimed directly at farmers and those aimed more at extension agents. Both tend to be technical in nature attempting to generalize aquaculture technology according to the perceived needs of policy-makers and researchers.

In addition, some extension tools are not printed, but take the form of radio or television programmes. A number of radio and television stations carry agricultural messages, including aquaculture. We were not able to review these, but they were mentioned as important tools in the country reviews and can be used to effectively convey a variety of technical and non-technical messages.

3.1 General

3.2 Cameroon

3.3 Côte d’Ivoire

3.4 Kenya

3.5 Madagascar

3.6 Zambia

3.7 Analysis and recommendations

Many of the documents reviewed have been in use for many years and are widely available throughout Africa. Most of these are technical documents aimed primarily at extension agents, acknowledging the generally low quality of training and support provided to aquaculture extension in Africa. The best of these are produced by international agencies, particularly those generated by the series of UNDP/FAO projects in Madagascar and by FAO headquarters in Rome. Other examples of high quality tools are those produced by INADES-Formation, the Agromisa/CTA Agridok Series and the NORAD project in Zambia.

To include farmers in the target audiences, efforts have been made to incorporate good pictures, posters, videos, slides and films in the repertoire of extension tools. However, these are expensive and sometimes rely on technological infrastructure (e.g. slide projectors), limiting their usefulness in rural Africa. In addition, international projects are often the only initiatives with sufficient financial resources to produce such tools and when projects end, little or no effort is made to continue to update or disseminate them.

That so many aquaculture projects have identified the inappropriateness of existing (general) tools for their particular target farmers reflects the high levels of variability among farmers that render highly generalized approaches of limited use: sometimes good at encouraging adoption, but poor at guiding problem-solving adaptation of technology.

Technical documents that attempt to describe how a system will perform under particular circumstances, tend to rely on technology packages that extension agents and farmers attempt to memorize. These packages describe experiment station results conducted under idealized conditions, so farmers must expect results that differ significantly from the package. Small-scale farmers, particularly in rain-fed areas, are accustomed to variability but they also expect their extension agents to be able to interpret this variability and give specific answers for a specific situation. Farmers have this kind of ability, gained through years of practical experience. This sort of knowledge is, however, very difficult to write down succinctly and is almost never available to extension agents with limited field experience.

Another type of general extension manual does not deal with technology at all, but rather focuses on the process of doing extension. If these guides take local cultural mores and the motivation of farmers into consideration, then they can be more broadly useful than the technical bulletins. However, these “how-to” manuals generally fail to deal with the basic problem faced by extension: farmers want specific answers to specific questions and these questions are usually technical in nature, involving quantitative phrases such as How much? How long? How big? In the absence of an extension service that incorporates the knowledge gained through experiential learning over the course of extensive field experience, these types of questions are very difficult to answer and cannot be derived from even the longest and most participatory discussion if no one in the group has ever weighed a fish.

Our review of the available extension documents in five countries has revealed a large gap: specific technical documentation that can take into account the large variation among farmers in terms of land, soil, water and human capacity. We imagine that such a document could only be usefully produced at a very local level.

A more general approach might be to combine the technical and process approaches into a process of guided experiential technical learning, such as the participatory research systems currently being tested in Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire. Such an approach combines the generalized process approach to adapt generalized technology to specific situations. In effect, a guide to the process of gathering the needed technical data to answer farmers' questions.

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