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Existing agricultural research and extension systems

Agricultural research and extension functions are generally organized under a ministry of agriculture. However, within the ministry there are separate institutions or departments for performing these functions. These institutions or departments may have different organizational structures and operational procedures. Universities and national research institutes are generally research centres, while the agriculture department performs the extension function.

In this conventional system, most emphasis is laid on breeding, testing and distributing activities. A top-down system is followed in generation and technology transfer, where researchers are expected to come up with better varieties and hand over them to extension for demonstrations and diffusion to farmers. In this set-up, each function develops its own programme more or less independently, leading to duplication of programmes. This is not only a waste of resources but also creates confusion among producers regarding which organization to approach.

This type of research and extension system is hierarchically structured from national level to field level. Internal communications from upper to lower levels within the organization may be easy, but communication between organizations takes a circuitous route and hence is often ineffective. Coordination at lower levels is possible only with specific directives from higher levels.

This model has been successful in meeting the demands of resource-rich farmers and producers of high value commodities, as they are able to communicate their needs to researchers. However, small-scale, resource-poor farmers, especially in less productive and heterogeneous agro-ecological areas, have been left out of this model. There is no feedback from these farmers to agricultural departments and thence to research centres.

Such research extension systems are found most commonly in developing countries. In developed countries, such as the USA, the extension role is also performed by research institutions (Cooperative Extension Services) which facilitates a better integration of research and extension functions. In addition, in such countries the private sector takes an active interest in technology generation and supply.

Types of agriculture and research-extension linkage

The nature of research-extension linkage problems vary with the agro-climatic and socio-economic characteristics of the local agriculture (Chambers, 1988). Based on the above characteristics, Chambers classified agriculture into three categories.

The first category is characterized by high-input, high-yielding production systems, and found primarily in developed countries and in a few areas in developing countries. The problems of farmers in this system are overproduction and escalating costs. Here the research-extension linkage is well established.

The second category consists of areas benefitting from the green revolution, where applied research has made a dramatic impact on foodgrain yields. This type of agriculture is found mainly in high-capacity areas of the tropical countries, and particularly where irrigation is available. In these areas, a reasonably strong linkage between research and extension exists, and the need for further strengthening the linkage is moderate.

In the third category, which is characterized by poor and diverse resources endowments and ecological conditions, the most urgent need is to strengthen the research-extension linkage. These areas are characterized by low and uncertain rainfall, lack of irrigation, and poor infrastructure. Yields are low and uncertain, and there is a general degradation of resources. However, the potential for increasing agricultural production is high and unexploited. The challenge in these areas is to develop sustainable technology for the heterogeneous agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Though attention has been given to the third category of agriculture, most prevailing research and extension systems have been organized and managed to meet the technology demand of the first two types, as they generate urgently needed foreign exchange and produce foodgrains. The technology needs of the third category of farmers are mainly expressed through government policy, as the farmers are unorganized in such areas.

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