Beijing, China, 17 – 21 May 2004


Table of Contents










Current context of agricultural extension service systems in Asia and the Pacific

1. Some 60 percent1 of the Asian and Pacific population engages in agriculture, contributing significantly to the gross domestic product of countries in the region, ranging between 6 and 43 percent. Although faced with changes and challenges, agriculture’s role in providing livelihood for the people and stability to economies of the region remains crucial.

2. At the same time, global, regional and national forces are impacting the region’s agriculture and rural development. Many of these forces are driven by the effects of globalization and liberalization of the market economy, reduced levels of investment in agriculture, rapid technological, transportation and telecommunications changes and diverging demographic factors.

3. On the positive side, globalization and liberalization have stimulated regional cooperation and integration, trade, investment, rapid technology development and economic growth along with rural transformation. Many countries in the region have benefited from unprecedented success in poverty and hunger reduction.

4. Experiences in numerous countries in the region indicate that subsistence agriculture is moving toward greater industrialization and commercialization. Intensifying production and wider application of modern technologies have been acknowledged as the needed spurs for growth and are reliant upon capacity building and investment in natural resource conservation and technology transfer. Knowledge and skills development are also crucial, especially where rural populations lag behind urban dwellers in education and skills training attainment.

5. On the negative side, decentralization, globalization and trade liberalization are compounding the problems of marginalized vulnerable groups, especially women, small producers and landless farmers. The income disparity between the rich and the poor is growing as well, and ensuring household food security and access to food for those who are hungry and poor continues to be a major challenge. In some cases, people who are poor and food insecure have been made worse off because of inappropriate policies that favour large and industrial producers or provide incentives for direct investment with negative social and environmental impacts.

6. Pro-poor and pro-environment policies and special programmes for food security are proven models that can help increase the income-generating capacity of marginalized groups. Effective rural education systems and health and social welfare schemes will be required to create an enabling environment for improving the livelihoods of such marginalized groups.

7. During the past few decades, the Asia-Pacific region has created unique models in agricultural and rural development and has provided a spectrum of good practices and success stories from the Green Revolution to modern biotechnology applications, from agricultural research to education and extension, from innovative agro-industrial entrepreneurship to regional and international trade, from local farmer community development (including farmer schools for integrated pest management) to social initiatives of non-government organizations (NGOs), from developing research networks to rural financial systems.

8. Though some countries have yet to fully recover from the impact of the 1997 financial crisis, Asia and the Pacific is seen as the most dynamic region with the potential to become a trend leader in development in the twenty-first century. Both the experiences and lessons learned in the recent past in the region’s social, economic and political transformations and development are recognized as assets to build upon in the coming decades. The region’s huge human resources will be another asset to be more fully harnessed.

9. While high population growth rates in Asia and the Pacific will produce a rich pool of human resources, they will also present many tough challenges. By 2030, the region’s population will reach 4.2 billion, representing 50 percent of the world’s total population. To feed the growing population will require tremendous increases in agricultural production. For cereals alone, it is estimated that agricultural production needs to increase by roughly 80 percent – equivalent to an additional production of 380 million tonnes of cereals per annum. The population dynamics will be a key factor to a number of developmental and environmental issues, such as formal education, HIV/AIDS and rural health, migration, urbanization and unemployment. In addition, most countries in the region will be increasingly affected by shifting demographic trends. Already out migration of young people and males has led to a situation where rural residents are predominantly elderly and female.

10. Other critical challenges facing the region include increasing unemployment, uneven distribution of wealth, natural calamities such as typhoons and hurricanes, increased pest and disease incidences and increased reliance on modern technologies – but with uneven distribution and access.

11. The role of public-supported agricultural extension services2 has traditionally been to provide the important link between agricultural research and farmers and the farming community, especially for technology transfer in support of agriculture and rural development. Although this role is still played by extension services, the demands for support, as well as the targets, mechanisms, processes and strategies, require more varied and comprehensive attention regarding clientele and strategies to address their specific needs.

12. This paper will focus on the important role played by agricultural extension in agricultural and rural development in the Asia and Pacific region and examine the changing roles and trends and possibilities for continuing to ensure adequate attention to serving marginalized and resource-poor farmers’ and farm communities’ needs for information and technology.

Effectiveness of extension services in reaching marginalized and poor farmers for food security

13. The important role played by agricultural extension services in providing linkages and support to agricultural research in information and technology transfer for farmers and farming communities has been crucial to agricultural successes. This was evident during the Green Revolution that began in the region in the 1960s. Through such efforts, increased production and productivity of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry was achieved in many countries. However, strong criticism of public agricultural extension services has circulated in recent years. According to Qamar (2002), this criticism is due to its top-down approach, which has been supply-driven, technically weak, patronizing, catering only to large farmers and providing insufficient coverage of and contacts with farmers. Other criticisms include the inflexible blueprint approaches (such as the training and visit (T and V) system that the World Bank promoted) and the notion of extension being “mitigating” rather than “anticipating” in tactic. Providing extension services at all has even been questioned.

14. It is true that public extension services, unfortunately, have been ineffective in reaching farmers and farm communities with information and technologies needed to ensure food security and sustainable development. Where it has been insufficient, farmers have managed to obtain information from other sources. These preferred sources include other farmers, private sector agricultural marketing and sales providers (of seeds, fertilizers and agrochemicals) or from NGOs and civil society organizations.3 There is substantial literature providing evidence of this fact. What is clear from many studies, however, is the continued need for information by farmers and farm communities – thus necessitating continued improvement in ways and means to provide the extension support that farmers and farm communities require and demand.


15. Given the reality of an interconnected world, the recent trends currently confronting agricultural extension globally are also manifesting regionally and nationally. These include responses to the effects of globalization, privatization, increasing commercialization of agriculture, increased democratization and participation, environmental degradation, increasing incidences of natural disasters, improved communications including the availability of information technology, the need to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, preferences for multidisciplinary approaches and holistic development and criticism of extension itself (Qamar, 2002). The effects of globalization and privatization on extension, for instance, are probably most pronounced in the highly competitive, market-driven orientation of agribusiness. However, most extension services are ill prepared to deal with the changes due to extension agents’ lack of knowledge and skills in those areas. Also, the forces for the changes are external in origin and thus extension has little or no control over them. The impacts of the changes are many and complex and can include traceability of product sources, food safety, increased consumer demand and increased farmer demand for up-to-date, rapidly changing policy and regulatory information. The impacts also place greater requirements on people and systems that generally are ill prepared or may even be adverse to such demands and needs.

16. The specific trends that have emerged for agricultural extension at the regional level in the Asia and Pacific region are likewise related to the key challenges and problems that agricultural extension faces and which include the following:

For a variety of reasons, the development resources channelled traditionally to agriculture through the public sector have become increasingly scarce. National and international budgets for agriculture are now much more seriously constrained. Moreover, investment in agriculture has decreased considerably over the past few decades – a trend that is evident on a global scale but is also true of the Asia and Pacific region (see the discussions in Siamwalla, 2002). Such decreased funding directly affects agriculture and even more severely impacts those agricultural components such as agricultural extension that are traditionally given lower priority and thus have smaller funding allocations compared to other sectors within agriculture (such as crops, livestock and forestry research and development). In some cases, continued support for extension is no longer assured. Faced with such realities, agricultural extension services will continue to be severely constrained. It will be difficult to ensure support for extension services through the provision of appropriately trained and qualified staff in sufficient numbers and adequate funding for the efficient and effective implementation of their functions and responsibilities. Thus, already weakened public extension systems will become even weaker. A positive development has been the involvement of private companies, including NGOs, cooperatives and associations, in extension work that provide services complementing those offered by public-supported extension.

As public-funded agricultural extension institutions struggle with funding and other challenges, NGOs have become increasing successful as agents of change that are especially active at the grassroots level. In fact, NGOs have become a major form of non-government support at this level. Their strong focus and commitment at local levels and their use of participatory strategies make them useful allies for extension work. Furthermore, their focus on food security and on marginalized sectors of the population provides a positive basis for extension delivery. Likewise, the role played by cooperatives and associations is useful, especially in regards to providing extension services to members for free and to non-members for a fee. Trends toward market liberalization, privatization and decentralization have led to a multiplicity of actors in Asian rural development (Siamwalla, 2002).

A number of countries have abandoned the conventional, centre-focused multilayer organizational structure for extension in favour of a decentralized mechanism. The emphasis is on having small units at the national level to address functions relating to policy, coordination and training, while delegating those relating to programme planning and implementation, including fiscal authority, to provincial, district or municipality government levels (Qamar, 2002). As Van Crowder (1996) points out, decentralization not only gives local government control over personnel and finances, but in theory also focuses control closer to the level of farmers and thus can improve accountability to their needs. Countries in the region where decentralization has taken place include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines while various others are at various stages of either adopting or considering such a system. Although positive in principle, experience has shown that initial difficulties are faced regarding adjustments to the decentralized modalities for which appropriate planning, financing and staff training for the devolved extension staff who have been moved from central to decentralized control will be required. Moreover, the achievement of full decentralization is a long, slow process that must be carefully planned and requires political will and commitment.

Given the problems that extension agents face in facilitating direct contact with farmer clients and with researchers due to the physical distances involved and the lack of transportation needed for their mobility, the application of ICT offers excellent possibilities. Utilizing ICT for strengthening research-extension-farmer linkages must, however, move from pilot testing phases to integration into research-extension systems and beyond the urban focus. Major factors to also address include the creation of an enabling environment, development of infrastructure, development of software and information content, making ICT sustainable, building capacities, combining its use with traditional media and learning from success stories (APO, 2002).

Client involvement and empowerment has become a prerequisite to ensuring sustainability of initiatives. A number of approaches have been tried. A very successful FAO-initiated participatory approach is the farmer field school (FFS), which originated as the means to promote integrated pest management in Asia in the mid-1980s. The FFS concept has spread to other regions and is one of the forefront extension-approaches used by various FAO and non-FAO projects and activities (Rivera et al., 2002).

Given the complex nature of agriculture and the challenges being faced, the use of multidisciplinary approaches involving a mix of specializations is becoming more and more the norm in addressing information delivery today. Technical specialists along with social scientists and communications and information specialists are combining expertise to address farmers’ and farming communities’ problems and needs.

Studies have shown that farmers depend on multiple sources for information and technologies. In most societies, face-to-face contact is still the preferred mode of communication. Given the large populations to be served by extension and the dispersed and distant locations, face-to-face communication is not always possible and thus needs to combine strategies and communication channels to include traditional information sources, such as radio, print, video and television, together with new forms of delivery such as through ICT.

Apart from knowledge and information available from sources external to local and rural communities, there exists much traditional knowledge, wisdom and expertise, including important farmer units and groupings. These provide entry points into local communities for extension and a useful basis for building up expertise, information and technology.


17. The trends regarding agricultural extension in Asia and the Pacific have both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, there are opportunities for strategies that can be appropriately applied to ensure that the vital support to rural farmers and farming communities, especially for marginalized ones, continues to be available. Important components for effective extension include the following:

18. In addition, new perspectives are needed regarding public funding; decentralized activities require coordination and dialogue between actors. Incorporation into poverty reduction and rural development programmes and plans at national levels should be given attention as well.

19. Despite improvements being made, current extension services still favour large, resource-rich farmers, with the majority of marginalized resource-poor farmers and farm communities being inadequately served. In addition, women and girls, due to various cultural, social and economic factors, are likewise not well served by extension services. These marginalized groups, which also include people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and those who are HIV/AIDS-affected, constitute the majority population in the region – which accounts for roughly two thirds of the world’s 1.2 billion absolute poor and 508 million people, or around 64 percent, of the global undernourished population. In the context of Asia, the rural population is ageing, a trend that has significant implications for agricultural extension. While it represents a challenge (the elderly might be less able to make use of hi-tech innovations and may prefer oral to printed or Internet information, for example), it also creates opportunities (older persons can be used as tutors/trainers and as role models for the young). The marginalized groups are often the less educated and are primarily rural dwellers and resource-poor farmers in the region. They must be served if significant impact is to be made in terms of improved food security and sustainable development.

20. Implementation of reforms in extension has begun, especially in developing countries, advancing institutional pluralism (Rivera et al., 2003). A common strategy involves NGOs, for-profit companies, consulting firms and farmer cooperatives contracting for delivery of extension field services. Either public or donor support, or both, is needed for broader implementation of this strategy.

21. Entering into various types of partnership is another possible reform strategy. In most countries, there exists today an institutional “complex” of service providers, including public, private, and semi-public or NGO groups (Rivera et al., 2003). Public extension entities can develop linkages or strengthen existing partnerships, especially with the private sector, NGOs, civil society groups, rural education institutions and other appropriate entities for extension support. Multistakeholder partnerships are advocated but will require purposeful linkages and networking, together with the provision of appropriate capacity building.

22. Implementation of policy changes might also be considered to allow extension workers to function more as information gatekeepers and providers while allowing other existing bodies to handle traditional extension tasks regarding technology transfer. As previously mentioned, other sources are generally more preferred by farmers for information and technology than publicly supported extension services. At the grassroots level, NGOs and civil society organizations have proven to be very innovative and successful in technology transfer. As information gatekeepers and providers, extension workers with appropriate training and motivation can facilitate in searching, repackaging and/or interpreting information from various sources, including from agricultural research, the Internet, library sources, etc. Such a modified role for extension augers well with the notion of modern agriculture being more knowledge- rather than technology-driven.

23. Strengthening the use of ICT to close the gap between those who have access to extension services and those who do not, along with the strategic use of traditional media, is an opportunity that needs to be harnessed. ICT is now increasingly available and becoming more affordable. A number of countries within the region have already made good headway in this area, but these efforts are on the whole available only as pilot projects or in the urban areas where infrastructure has already been developed or is being established. A significant concern relates to overcoming the digital divide and the penetration of information systems, including cost factors.4 Annex 1 contains an attempt at grouping countries in the Asia and Pacific region regarding ICT use and penetration and clearly illustrates a lack of homogeneity. Given the diversity involved, no one system will suffice for all situations and countries. Issues relating to access and cost will need to be guiding factors. What is clear is that extension must harness the huge potential of ICT. A variety of models are currently being tested/used in the region and in other parts of the world that can offer useful lessons. Studies of such models would be an appropriate first step. Linking ICT with other traditional mediums, such as radio, print, television, videos and CD-ROMs, is also advocated, with choices dependent upon the local situation and realities. ICT provide information access and networking, which are two areas where current extension systems are weak – between research and extension and between extension and farmers.

24. Strengthening and upgrading rural education and training is a sure means for addressing the knowledge, skills and information gaps that currently exist for farmers as well as change agents. The important role that rural education institutions can play in this is vital and will require policy changes and commitment and support by governments, donors and communities, as rural schools and institutions are often given lower priority compared to urban institutions and are thus under-resourced and under-utilized. Strengthening of education’s linkages with extension is a needed component.


25. Approaches for achieving effective extension might include all or a combination of strategies based on circumstances at national and local levels. Rivera (2003) advocates five important “strategy recommendations” to address the food security challenge:

  1. Design differentiated strategies to reduce poverty and food security
  2. Pursue approaches that recognize diverse livelihoods
  3. Implement programmes to strengthen producer capacity
  4. Focus on development of human and social capital
  5. Establish social safety nets to enhance food security of the very poor

26. A few examples of some good practices and lessons from various countries are presented to illustrate the possibilities of what can be achieved:


27. The demands and needs brought about by the changing macro and micro situations confronting agriculture, and more specifically by agricultural extension in the Asia and Pacific region, calls for new solutions and strategies. Despite extension’s weakened status and role in agriculture and rural development, it is still recognized that extension continues to be needed but that the role and strategies followed must change or be modified. It is recognized that given the important role of agriculture and rural development, a revitalized and expanded role for advisory and information services is central to pro-poor agricultural growth.

28. Given the lack of homogeneity between countries and situations, a one-shoe-fits-all approach cannot be adopted. Some solutions and strategies have been suggested to cope with some of extensions’ critical challenges via institution building. Good practices are being followed and used elsewhere with adequate testing and adjustments to local needs and situations. Sharing information about good practices is seen as an important component for ensuring a means for learning

29. Continued training and re-training through planned capacity-building programmes at national and regional levels is emphasized. This is especially important when considering that many of the staff, especially those involved in extension work in public institutions, have not had formal extension/communications training.


30. The Conference members may wish to recommend the following:



Asian Productivity Organization (APO). 2002. Report of a study meeting on Integration of Agricultural Research and Extension.

Coldevin, G. 2001. Participatory communication and adult learning for rural development.

Das, P. 2002. Research-extension-farmer-marketing-civil society in India: New horizons and extension modalities, Paper presented at the FAO Regional Expert Consultation on Agricultural Extension, Research-Extension-Farmer Interface and Technology Transfer in Bangkok, Thailand 16-19 July 2002.

FAO. VERCON Virtual extension and research communication network brochure.

FAO & WB. 2000. Agricultural knowledge and information systems for rural development (AKIS/RD), Strategic Vision and Guiding Principles.

Food & Fertilizer Technology Centre. 1999. Information flow in three national extension systems.

Mee, A., Haylor, G., Vincent, S. & Savage, W. 2003. Information access survey: Cambodia, STREAM/NACA. 50 pp.

Qamar, K. 2002. Global trends in agricultural extension: Challenges facing Asia and the Pacific region, Paper presented at the FAO Regional Expert Consultation on Agricultural Extension, Research-Extension-Farmer Interface and Technology Transfer in Bangkok, Thailand 16-19 July 2002.

Rivera, W. M, 2003. A new extension vision for food security: Challenge to change. Rome: FAO, 2003

Rivera, W. M., Qamar, K. & Van Crowder, L. 2002. Agricultural and rural extension worldwide: Options for institutional reform in the developing countries. Rome: FAO, 2002.

Siamwalla, Ammar, 2002. The evolving roles of the state, private and local actors in rural Asia. http://www.adb.org/Documents/Books/Rural_Asia/Evolving_Roles/default.asp

Van Crowder, L. 1996. Decentralized extension: Effects and opportunities, SD Dimensions, http://www.fao.org/sd/EXdirect/Exan0013.htm

Zakaria, A. 2002. Indonesia: Research-extension-farmer-market interface and technology transfer, Paper presented at the FAO Regional Expert Consultation on Agricultural Extension, Research-Extension-Farmer Interface and Technology Transfer in Bangkok, Thailand, 16-19 July 2002.

Zhen, L. 2003. Sustainability of farming practices in Ningjin county of Shandong province, People’s Republic of China, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand, pp. 174.




Based on the overall status of ICT use in agricultural research and development (ARD), Asian countries can be categorized into four groups:



A- Advanced users of ICT in ARD

Australia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Taiwan province, People’s Republic of China

B- Less advanced users of ICT in ARD

India; People’s Republic of China; Malaysia; Pakistan; Philippines; Thailand

C- Rapidly developing ICT use in ARD

Bangladesh; Fiji; Indonesia; Iran; Nepal; Papua New Guinea; Mongolia; Sri Lanka; Viet Nam

D- Slow development in ICT use in ARD

Afghanistan; Cambodia; Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Myanmar

Source: From a presentation by Ajit Maru of the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), 2003

Note: Although not directly focused on extension, the information provides a good indication of ICT use in agriculture, but would certainly be lower for extension.


1 1999 FAO data

2 Agricultural extension is referred to in this paper as any non-formal education and training programme or system that is involved with disseminating and exchanging knowledge and information for agricultural and rural development purposes.

3 A recent study in Ningjin county in China, for instance, showed that a wide variety of information providers exist with the more preferred information providers being mass media sources (print, radio and television) followed by other farmers and sales personnel and with the least preferred source being the government extension services. Studies in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Samoa showed similar findings.

4 The Programme for Bridging the Rural Digital Divide to Reduce Food Insecurity and Poverty makes the case for a new strategic programme through which FAO will facilitate a global partnership to address the rural digital divide. The programme will strengthen human and institutional capacities to harness information and knowledge more effectively for agricultural and rural development. The proposal responds to a real gap not yet addressed in a cohesive way by the international development community. For details see http://www.fao.org/gil/rdd/