Chapter 10 :Human resources development in agriculture: Developing country issues

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10.1 Introduction
10.2 Magnitude of the task
10.3 Basic education and agriculture
10.4 Agricultural extension and training
10.5 Technical and professional education in agriculture

10.1 Introduction

There is increasing evidence and recognition that what matters for development, more than natural resources and man-made physical capital, is the capability of people to be effective and productive economic agents, in short, human capital. In the particular case of agriculture, most studies on the subject establish that the education and skills of agricultural people are significant factors in explaining the inter-farm and inter-country differences in agricultural performance, along with the more conventional factors such as availabilities of land and water resources, inputs, credit, etc.

With the shrinking of per caput agricultural resources following demographic growth, with the agricultural labour force in the developing countries projected to continue at positive (though declining) growth rates and with the share of young people in the total also continuing to grow, the task of upgrading the literacy, the skills and other capabilities of the agricultural people is enormous, for coping with both the increases in numbers and the backlog inherited from the past. Moreover, the increasingly binding character of natural resource scarcities imposes severe limits on the extent to which production increases can be had through expansion of extensive agriculture. The generation and diffusion of technology and management capabilities for more intensive and modernized agriculture and supporting services become imperative. This can only be achieved through the upgrading of the quality of human resources employed in agriculture.

It is noted that many dimensions of the human resources development (HRD) issue are final end-objectives of development, e.g. Iiteracy, better health and nutrition, etc. Although this chapter is concerned with policies to upgrade the quality of people to become more productive and more energetic economic agents, the need to make progress in literacy, health, nutrition, etc., as objectives in their own right, should not be lost sight of. This is important, since it implies that evaluation of returns to investment in these areas must take into account the value of improvements in literacy, etc., as increasing the welfare of individuals directly and not only indirectly through making them more productive economically. These considerations cannot but influence the criteria for making decisions concerning the allocation of scarce resources, e.g. between promoting basic education versus creation of more directly productive agricultural skills.

For practical purposes, this chapter does not cover the entire set of variables whose evolution determines HRD outcomes. In particular, it does not cover aspects of health, sanitation and nutrition (direct policy interventions to improve nutrition are discussed in Chapter 9). It rather focuses on those actions aimed directly at upgrading the productive potential of people making a living in agriculture. Section 10.2 presents the magnitude of the target population, now and in the future (the population economically active in agriculture). Section 10.3 focuses on basic education and agriculture. Section 10.4 discusses policies and actions to diffuse technical and management knowledge to the persons working in agriculture through the extension services. In both Sections 10.3 and 10.4 the historical developments and present situation are presented and discussed before discussing the needs and possible developments in the future. Section 10.5 highlights the important place of technical and professional education in agriculture in HRD itself and in development in general.

10.2 Magnitude of the task

A first impression can be had by observing that the present population economically active in agriculture (PEA) in the developing countries of just over I billion is likely to continue to increase by some 13 percent in the next 20 years (Table 10.1). The growth rate is slowing down from 1.2 percent p.a. in the last 20 years to 0.6 percent in the next two decades, and indeed the PEA is about to peak in the regions of Latin America/Caribbean and East Asia. But this is not likely to happen in the two regions with the highest shares of their population in agriculture and with high incidence of rural poverty (sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia). This means that 20 years from now, these two sub-regions are still likely to have 60 percent of their labour force depending mainly on agriculture for employment and income. This contrasts with likely developments in the Latin America/Caribbean and Near East/North Africa regions which seem to be transiting towards patterns of labour force dependence on agriculture more typical of southern Europe.

Naturally, the human resource development effort has to provide for the entire agricultural, and indeed the rural, population, not only those classified as economically active. In particular, interventions in the areas of basic literacy, health and nutrition have to reach people well before they grow to become members of the PEA. The magnitude of the task can be appreciated from a few related parameters. In the first place, the numbers in Table 10.1 have to be multiplied by a factor of 2.2 for the developing countries as a whole to obtain the estimates of the total agricultural population (a lower factor applies to East Asia, a much higher one to Near East/North Africa). Secondly, the age structure of the rural population implies that some 13 percent of the total, or some 350 million, are in the age group 15-24 years, a group commonly referred as youth in the HRD programmes. Their numbers will be edging up towards 400 million in the future. Indeed, from the point of view of providing basic education services, these estimates will have to be more than doubled to account for children in the age agroup 6-15. Finally, the share of economically active women in the PEA is about 30 percent for the developing countries as a whole, but with wide regional variations, e.g. 56 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 37 percent in Near East/North Africa, 31 percent in Asia, but only 12 percent in Latin America. It is obvious that the data referring to women are of great importance for focusing the HRD effort in the rural areas given the increasing recognition of the role of women-in-development in policy making in combination with the fact that past HRD policies have tended to favour men rather than women.

Table 10.1 Population economically active in agriculture (millions)*

  1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
All developing countries 790 923 1051 1130 1190
(% of total econ. active popul.) (71) (66) (60) (53) (47)
93 Study countries 780 912 1039 1120 1180
(% of total) (71) (66) (60) (53) (47)
Africa (sub-Sahara) 98 118 140 170 205
(% of total) (81) (76) (71) (66) (60)
Near East/North Africa 31 32 35 38 39
(% of total) (57) (46) (37) (30) (24)
East Asia 411 488 549 550 530
(% of total) (76) (71) (63) (55) (47)
South Asia 203 235 275 320 365
(% of total) (71) (68) (65) (61) (57)
Latin America/Caribbean 37 39 41 41 40
(% of total) (41) (32) (26) (21) (17)

*The data, and in particular the projections, should be understood as indicative of broad orders of magnitude. They are, as far as possible, standardized for comparability among countries and regions. They may differ from those obtained from the routine labour force survey statistics. For discussion, see FAO (1986). Data by country are given in Appendix 3. The basis of these estimates is the historical data up to the early 1980s from ILO's work providing internationally comparable statistics. ILO is in the process of updating these data.

10.3 Basic education and agriculture

Basic education, often referred to as literacy and numeracy education, is the most fundamental of HRD efforts, not only as a universal right of the individual but also as the foundation for any further initiative in human resource development in agriculture designed to improve agricultural production and, hence, incomes and welfare. Basic education can improve significantly the efficacy of training and agricultural extension work which in turn affect agricultural production through: (a) enhancing the productivity of inputs, including that of labour; (b) reducing the costs of acquiring and using information about production technology that can increase productive efficiency; and (c) facilitating entrepreneurship and responses to changing market conditions and technological developments (Schultz, 1988). The relationship between education and agricultural development cuts both ways and the two are mutually reinforcing, with demand for schooling rising as rural incomes increase.

Table 10.2 Average social and private rates of return to education by region*

Region Social Private
  Primary Secondary Higher Primary Secondary Higher
Africa 27 19 14 45 28 33
Asia 18 14 12 34 15 18
America 35 19 16 61 28 26

Source: Schultz (1988: 575).

*These rates of return are based on statistical associations between the market earnings and schooling of individuals, therefore they do not include other possible benefits such as the effects of education on the productivity of non-market time such as the time spent by farmers in own cultivation and the time spent by women in home production, on infant mortality and female fertility, etc. Private returns are typically the internal rate of return to investments made by individuals in their own education. The investments include both explicit (tuition fee, costs of uniform and books, etc.) and implicit (opportunity cost of time) costs of education. In calculating social returns, all costs of education, including public sector subsidies, are included on the cost side of the calculation. The social rare of return is lower because the same benefits (incremental income of the person receiving the education) are compared with total costs of providing the education, not only with those financed by the person concerned. In this case, the term "social" may be misleading because it does not include the benefits of education of a given person accruing to other persons and society at large (externalities).

An analysis of 37 sets of farm data from developing countries showed that farmers completing four years of elementary education had higher productivity by, on average, 8.7 percent (Jamison and Lau, 1982). The same authors estimated social returns to investment in rural education of 7-11 percent in Korea (Republic), 25-40 percent in Malaysia, and 14 25 percent in Thailand, under various assumptions. A recent review of research findings for Asian countries comes to similar conclusions (Tilak, 1993). But the most extensive studies related to rates of return to education at different levels have been conducted using data at the national level. A summary of the findings of these studies is presented in Table 10.2. The rates of return are highest for investment in primary schooling in all regions for which there was information. Since rates of return on public investment in most other sectors are commonly well below those presented in Table 10.2, there is a strong prima facie case for strengthening public provision of education, including the reallocation of funds within the total education budget in favour of primary education. But the relative emphasis to be attached to the different levels of education will vary among countries and over time, depending on the level of technology used in agriculture. The higher the actual or potential technological environment (use of MVs, agrochemicals, irrigation), the higher the required level of education, which must increasingly focus also on the need for sustainable use of resources, aspects of nutrition, health, etc.

Public expenditure on education in developing countries has climbed from 2.9 percent of GNP in 1970 to 4.1 percent in 1988 (UNESCO, 1991). However, the improvements have not been uniform across different regions, e.g. sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean experienced reversals in the 1980s. Nor have figures been that impressive for the least developed countries when real expenditures on education are adjusted for population growth. Notwithstanding the reported declines in expenditure in some regions, the enrolment rates in all regions seem to have consistently improved, as evidenced by the increases in expected years of school enrollments.

Nevertheless a large proportion of the adult population, both female and male, in rural areas in many developing regions continues to be classified as illiterate (Figure 10.1). Apart from the factors already noted, possible misallocations of public resources within the education sector, relatively long gestation periods required for training teachers, and relatively higher unit costs of providing educational services in the rural areas may have also contributed to the persistence of high rural adult illiteracy rates. The relevance of the first factor can be illustrated by considering the fact that despite the relatively lower social rates of return to higher education, the "developing countries as a group spend over 25 times as much per student for the 7 percent of the school-age population enrolled in higher education as for the 75 percent in primary education" (FAO, 1991e). Moreover, since the education system produces its own main input, the rate at which the system expands is limited by the capacity of the system to produce teachers. Thus in the initial phases of developing the education system, the rate at which educational services expand can be slow and costly. The fact that rural populations tend to be spatially more dispersed exacerbates these problems and increases the unit costs of providing educational services in rural areas.

The situation of access to education of rural women deserves a special mention. The importance of women's labour in planting, cultivation, weeding, harvesting and processing of food, in feeding their families and in rearing children, brings into sharp focus the urgency of improving women's access to educational services. Despite the increases in enrolment rates for women, in line with overall increases mentioned above, "in the low- and middle-income countries as a group, there were still only 81 females per 100 males in primary school and 75 females per 100 males in secondary school in 1987. In sub-Saharan Africa, there were only 77 and 59 females per 100 males in primary and secondary school, respectively, with the lower number of females relative to males in school reflecting both fewer female entrants and a higher dropout rate among women" (FAO, 1991e). Indeed, these disparities are even larger in the rural areas.

Figure 10.1 Rural illiteracy rates. From UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook for those countries for which data are available. Data do not necessarily correspond to the same year for each country

The reasons for the gender disparity in enrolments (and educational attainments) are both cultural and economic. Tradition often demands special concern for the privacy and social reputations of women. In cultures where female seclusion is practiced, the impact of that tradition on girls' enrolment after puberty is substantial. These concerns prevent parents from sending girls to school, unless schools are located close to home, well supervised and served by female teachers. When parents themselves lack education, they are more reluctant to challenge tradition to educate their daughters. Traditional constraints tend to be far more severe in rural areas.

Among economic reasons, the high opportunity costs of sending girls to school weigh heavily in household decisions. These costs include chore time, children's forgone earnings, and - especially for girls - mothers' forgone earnings. The opportunity costs of sending girls to school are likely to be higher for poor families in rural areas, since they tend to make a greater contribution to family welfare.

10.4 Agricultural extension and training

Agricultural extension "assists farm people, through educational procedures, in improving farming methods and techniques, increasing production efficiency and income, bettering their levels of living and lifting the social and educational standards of rural life" (FAO, 1984a). Publicly supported agricultural extension services for farm people are an innovation of the twentieth century. For example, the USA established its Cooperative Extension Service in 1914.

This HRD innovation in agriculture has been spreading in recent years. Out of 198 extension organizations in 115 countries which provided reports to FAO in 1989, only 10 percent had been established before 1920, while 50 percent had been established after 1970 (Swanson et al., 1990). The increasing adoption of organized extension services in the developing countries reflects the realization of their importance for agricultural development and the high rates of economic returns that have been demonstrated by the experience of countries where extension has been properly delivered. For example, a study reports that in the USA a $1000 increment in extension spending was associated with a $2173 increase in farm output within a two-year period (Evenson, 1982b). Comparative studies from several countries provide further support to the finding of relatively high economic returns to investment in agricultural extension (Evenson and Kislev, 1975; Evenson, 1982b; Feder et al., 1985). More recently, studies on productivity-increasing effects of agricultural extension services have been reported. A report on World Bank support to agricultural extension services in 22 sub-Saharan African countries is illustrative. An average of 40 percent increase in yields in the first year has been recorded in a 1989-90 study (World Bank, 1992b).

The findings of the recent Global Consultation on Agricultural Extension of FAO indicate that the rate of return to investment in extension is influenced by a variety of factors. These range from the economic value of the farm product, with cash and export crop farmers enjoying higher returns than food crop farmers; the general economic climate, with returns being lower in relatively poorer agricultural nations; to the nature of the extension services provided, with larger returns to those systems that embrace large numbers of farmers and have lower costs per farmer (Contado, 1990). More generally, it is recognized that an effective extension system cannot be considered on its own and that it "needs a supportive environment that includes a long-term commitment to agricultural growth expressed through the provision of adequate agricultural support services-of which extension is but one- and macro-economic policies that, at a minimum, do not disfavour agriculture" (Hayward, 1990).

Scope of extension effort worldwide

Agricultural extension services in the world have been expanding during the past three decades. Around 1959, there were approximately 68 organized extension services, with as many as 180000 agricultural extension personnel. By the year 1980, the number of organized extension services had increased to around 150, with a total personnel of about 350000 (Evenson, 1982a). The estimated extension workers in 1989 stood at approximately 600000, of whom nearly two-thirds were located in developing countries. A least developed country like Mozambique, for example, had in 1989 about 350 professional/ technical staff in extension following the establishment of a national extension service in 1986 with UNDP/FAO assistance. The data collected for FAO's Global Consultation indicate that agricultural extension expenditure was approximately US$4.6 billion in the 98 countries for which data were available, of which nearly 87 percent was in developing countries. If it had been possible to include all countries of the world, the estimated total expenditure on extension would probably have exceeded US$6 billion per year (FAO, 1991d).

In spite of the tremendous increase in the numbers of agricultural extension workers in the last three decades, the actual coverage of agricultural extension services in the developing countries has been limited. In the USA, Canada and Europe, one public extension agent covers about 400 economically active persons in agriculture, even before counting the services of private sector extension agents. In the developing countries an extension worker covers on average about 2500 such persons. This suggests that in actual practice, only one out of every five economically active persons in agriculture receives extension services in the developing countries. This rate is likely to be lower when one considers that about one-fourth of the extension worker's time is devoted to non-educational duties, which was equivalent to approximately 140000 full time years of extension workers' time in 1989 (FAO, 1990a).

Another issue is the kind of farmers served by the extension agents. Data from the Report of the FAO Global Consultation on Agricultural Extension show that in the reporting developing countries, 6 percent of extension agents' time and resources is devoted to large commercial farmers, 26 percent to smaller commercial farmers, while 24 percent is devoted to subsistence farmers and 6 percent to farm women. In a well-documented case study of the extension programme in two provinces of Turkey, however, the record indicates that 100 percent of the 5100 large-scale farmers were served by the extension service, while only 55 percent of the 62 300 small-scale farmers were receiving extension services. Of the 17900 medium-scale farmers, 90 percent were receiving services from extension (Contado and Maalouf, 1990).

The preceding paragraph illustrates the problems associated with public extension services. The private sector has varying degrees of involvement in agricultural extension work in most countries. In developed countries, the trends towards privatization relate to budgetary problems (Legouis, 1991). In the developing countries, the need to increase coverage and contain the costs of public extension are the main driving forces behind the increasing involvement of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector in extension (Maalouf et al., 1991). For example, in Colombia, 35 percent of the 2315 extension agents are provided by an NGO-the National Federation of Coffee Growers. In Uganda, 7 percent of the 2040 agricultural extension agents are provided by a private company (FAO, 1991d). However, at the end of the 1980s, worldwide, NGOs and private firms providing agricultural extension services constituted only 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively, of the total number of extension agencies (data for 113 countries covering 186 extension organizations; FAO, 1990a). Furthermore, their coverage in the developing countries tends to be small and concentrated among cash crop farmers. But with the move towards structural adjustment policies and privatization of production enterprises and services, there has been an increasing involvement of the private sector in providing extension services. Even if this involvement is concentrated on large commercial farmers and commodity producers, it could result in freeing public funds which could then be channelled to other farmers.

Issues for the future

As noted, the population economically active in agriculture (PEA) will continue to grow in the developing countries, to about 1.2 billion by year 2010. There would be a need for over 2.4 million extension workers in order to provide effective extension coverage, since a ratio of 500 economically active persons in agriculture to I extension worker is deemed to be the upper limit for providing effective extension service. If the rate of increase from 1980 to 1989 continues, there could be 2.1 million extension workers by 2010, which would be very close to the requirements. There are, however, two factors that may hinder the attainment of this projected number: first, the considerable contribution of China to the increase of extension workers during 1980-89 might not be repeated in the next two decades; second, in Africa the trend has been for the resources devoted to extension by the Ministries of Agriculture to decline (25.6 percent of total budget of the Ministries of Agriculture in 1980, 22.3 percent in 1985 and 18.8 percent in 1988; FAO, 1990a). But there are also countervailing factors. One is the increasing allocations for extension by Ministries of Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific, Near East and Latin America and the Caribbean. Another is the trend towards expanding the role and share of the private sector (NGOs and private commercial firms) in agricultural extension services. A third factor is the expansion of agricultural development schemes where farmers pay for agricultural extension services through commodity levies such as the Rubber Industries Smallholders Development Authority (RISDA) and the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) in Malaysia, the National Federation of Coffee Growers in Colombia, etc. A fourth factor is the increasing number of countries adopting a partnership in funding extension services between the central government and the local government as in the case of China, Poland, etc. Finally, there will be increased availability of people trained in agriculture for extension work in most developing countries as the intermediate and higher level schools of agriculture established in the 1960s and 1970s mature and turn out more graduates in the years towards 2010.

Another critical problem in HRD in agriculture is the gender issue. In developing countries, an important proportion of farm work continues to be done by women but only 17 percent of agricultural extension workers are women. If the proportion of women extension workers remains constant over the projection period, there will be approximately 330000 female extension workers by the year 2010. But by giving stronger recognition to the role of women in agriculture, increasing the number of female students in agricultural schools and colleges and increasing resource allocation for extension services directed to women farmers, it may be possible to raise the proportion of women extension workers to 20 percent of the total in the developing countries.

The low level of training of a large proportion of extension workers is another issue for developing countries that must be addressed in the future. Given the increasing number of middle-level and college agriculture graduates in many developing countries, it is probable that the older high-school trained extension workers would be replaced gradually by persons with higher educational qualifications. This is already happening in many countries of Asia, Latin America and the Near East, where the proportion of low-level extension workers could decline from 40 percent in 1988/89 to perhaps 20 percent by the year 2010.

10.5 Technical and professional education in agriculture

The amount and quality of trained technical and professional manpower in agriculture are critical factors, both in agricultural development and more general HRD. This "human capital" is relatively scarce because training takes years and is costly. However, investing in technical and professional education has a high multiplier effect when trained personnel are properly employed as extension agents, trainers, researchers, programme managers, policy makers and in the private sector.

Although many developing countries still have serious shortages of trained manpower in fields related to agriculture, considerable progress has been made during the last three decades. By 1983, for example, there were over 400000 trained agricultural personnel in 46 countries in Africa. In 25 of these countries, moreover, the existing institutional capacity was sufficient to allow the training of the required number of agricultural personnel for the year 2000 (FAO, 1984b). Worldwide, increases in institutional capacity for training are reflected in the increased number of extension personnel mentioned earlier, as well as of agricultural research personnel. ISNAR reports that agricultural research personnel in developing countries increased at the rate of 7.1 percent annually from 19753 to 77737 during 1961-65 to 1981-85 (ISNAR, 1992).

However, when these numbers are compared with requirements, especially in the least developed countries, there are still considerable shortages. For example, Ethiopia would have to graduate 231 people at the professional level and 1254 at the technical level annually to reach the minimum estimated requirements for trained manpower in agriculture by the year 2000. As mentioned earlier, the problem in agricultural extension is a shortage of well trained extension agents in many developing countries. In the case of research, UNESCO data show that there were approximately 500 scientists and engineers per million population in a sample of developing countries as compared to more than 3000 scientists and engineers per million population in developed countries (UNESCO, 1991).

For most developing countries, the supply of technical and professional manpower in agriculture for the next decades will remain problematic. In Africa, 18 of 46 countries surveyed in 1983, had reported that their technical agricultural personnel was less than 50 percent of the year 2000 minimum requirement. Even in those developing countries where, in general, numbers of technical and professional manpower met the minimum requirement, the problem is an excess of numbers in certain fields and shortages in others. For example, in Africa only 7 percent of technical and professional trained manpower in agriculture are in forestry, 5 percent in fisheries and 11 percent in livestock (FAO, 1984b).

The major problems of developing countries in the area of agricultural education and training as they face the new century include inadequate institutional capacity, relatively low level of public and private support to agricultural education, and limited resources and experience to cope with new areas of training in agriculture, i.e. environment and natural resource management, biotechnology, farming systems management and agribusiness.


1. Based on data provided in the World Bank's World Development Report-1984, Schultz estimated that over the period of 1960 1981 the expected years of school enrolments in low-income countries had increased from six to eight years, with greater improvements for middle-income countries. The apparent "paradox" of increased enrolment with lower public expenditures in low-income countries is explained in terms of: (a) declining quality of schooling per student; (b) declining unit costs of production of educational services of a constant quality relative to the general price level; or (c) errors in the underlying data (Schultz, 1988: 552-7). It must, however, be stated that data referring to the 1980s indicate temporary reversals also in enrolments in most regions.

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