4. Extension and communication

Contents - Previous - Next

Mass media in extension
Audio-visual aids in extension


Communication - the sharing of ideas and information - forms a large part of the extension agent's job. By passing on ideas, advice and information, he hopes to influence the decisions of farmers. He may also wish to encourage farmers to communicate with one another; the sharing of problems and ideas is an important stage in planning group or village activities. The agent must also be able to communicate with superior officers and research workers about the situation faced by farmers in his area.

There are many ways in which extension agents and farmers communicate. In this chapter, some general principles of communication will be looked at, and the use of mass media and audio-visual aids for communication in extension work will be discussed.



Any act of communication, be it a speech at a public meeting, a written report, a radio broadcast or a question from a farmer, includes four important elements:

- the source, or where the information or idea comes from;
- the message, which is the information or idea that is communicated;
- the channel, which is the way the message is transmitted;
- the receiver, who is the person for whom the message is intended.

Any communicator must consider all four elements carefully, as they all contribute to effectiveness. In considering each of these elements, the questions that follow provide a useful check-list.


- What information does the receiver want or need?
- What information can he make use of?
- How much does the receiver already know about the particular topic?

The four elements of communication

- What attitudes does the receiver hold concerning the topic?
- Should these attitudes be reinforced, or should an attempt be made to change them?

The four elements of communication


- What will be the most effective way of sharing the information? (This will depend upon the considerations outlined below.)
- What are the characteristics of the message? Does it need a visual presentation, as when crop pests are being described? Is it necessary to show movement or detailed actions (in which case, film, video or a demonstration will be needed)? If a permanent, accurate record of detailed information is required, as in farm records or fertilizer recommendations, the information should be in written or printed form.
- What channels are available to the receivers? Do they see newspapers? Can they read? Do many of them have radios?
- What are the receiver's expectations? A senior government official, for example, is more likely to take notice of a written submission followed by a personal visit.


- What should the content be? A balance must be achieved between what the receiver wants to know and what the source feels the receiver ought to know.
- What form should the message take? In other words, how can the message be put into the words, pictures or symbols that the receiver will understand and take notice of?


- Where will the information come from?
- Where should the information be seen to come from? An account of a successful cooperative in a nearby village may have much more effect if it is given by the members, through a radio programme or a visit, than by an extension agent at a public meeting.
- Has information from the source proved reliable in the past?
- How credible is the source in the eyes of the receiver?

Information often passes through several channels before it reaches a particular receiver, but it is rarely passed on in exactly the same words in which it was received. In particular, technical information is often distorted as it goes from one person to another. Extension agents should aim at being accurate sources and channels of information, and should make sure that farmers have heard and fully understood any information passed on to them. Leaflets and posters can be useful reminders of the spoken word.

Not all communication is deliberate. For example, people's behaviour, the way they speak to each other or the clothes they wear reveal much about them and their attitudes. If an extension agent is always late for meetings with farmers" groups, the members may come to the conclusion that he does not take them seriously. If he wears casual clothes when addressing a formal village meeting, villagers may say that he has no respect for them. Even if this is not so, the fact that they think it is will affect their relationship with the agent and, therefore, his effectiveness. The message that is received is not always the one that the source intends to pass.


A good communicator listens more than he speaks. An extension agent who does not listen to farmers and engage in a dialogue with them is unlikely to be very effective. There are four main reasons why a two-way exchange or dialogue is more effective than a monologue.

- Information needs can be assessed.
- Attitudes concerning the topic of the communication will emerge.
- Misunderstandings that occur during the exchange can quickly be identified and cleared up.
- Relationships of mutual respect can develop. If an agent listens, farmers will know that one agent is interested in them, and they will be more likely to pay attention to what the agent has to say.

Shared meanings

Communication is only successful when the receiver can interpret the information that the source has put into the message. An extension agent may give what he feels is a clear and concise talk, or an artist may be satisfied that he has designed a poster that conveys over the desired message, but there is no guarantee that those for whom the talk and poster are intended will interpret the message correctly. In the figure below, for example, the intended message is that crops should be rotated; however, many farmers may not understand the meaning of the arrows, or the symbols that stand for the different crops.

It is important that the same meanings for the words, pictures and symbols used in communication be used by the source and the receiver. If this does not happen, various kinds of problems can arise.

The agent may understand the message, but will the farmer?

Language. Even if source and receiver speak the same language, local variations or dialects may use similar words with different meanings.
Jargon. The technical language of specialists has to be translated into words that are familiar to the receiver. Extension agents need to learn what words and phrases farmers use when talking about their farming activities.
Pictures and symbols. Attempts to communicate through pictures and visual symbols often fail because the receiver does not recognize what they represent. Interpreting pictures is a skill which, like reading, has to be learned.


Mass media in extension

Mass media are those channels of communication which can expose large numbers of people to the same information at the same time. They include media which convey information by sound (radio, audio cassettes); moving pictures (television, film, video); and print (posters, newspapers, leaflets). The attraction of mass media to extension services is the high speed and low cost with which information can be communicated to people over a wide area. Although the cost of producing and transmitting a radio programme may seem high, when that cost is divided between the millions of people who may hear the programme, it is in fact a very cheap way of providing information. The cost of an hour's radio broadcast per farmer who listens can be less than one-hundredth of the cost of an hour's contact with an extension agent.

However, mass media cannot do all the jobs of an extension agent. They cannot offer personal advice and support, teach practical skills, or answer questions immediately. Their low cost suggests that they should be used for the tasks to which they are well suited. These include the following:

- Spreading awareness of new ideas and creating interest in farming innovations.
- Giving timely warnings about possible pest and disease outbreaks, and urgent advice on what action to take.
- Multiplying the impact of extension activities. A demonstration will only be attended by a small number of farmers, but the results will reach many more if they are reported in newspapers and on the radio.
- Sharing experiences with other individuals and communities. The success of a village in establishing a local tree plantation might stimulate other villages to do the same if it is broadcast over the radio. Farmers are also often interested in hearing about the problems of other farmers and how they have overcome them.
- Answering questions, and advising on problems common to a large number of farmers.
- Reinforcing or repeating information and advice. Information heard at a meeting or passed on by an extension agent can soon be forgotten. It will be remembered more easily if it is reinforced by mass media.
- Using a variety of sources that are credible to farmers. Instead of hearing advice from the extension agent only, through mass media farmers can be brought into contact with successful farmers from other areas, respected political figures and agricultural specialists.

Mass media communication requires specialist professional skills. Few extension agents will ever be required to produce radio programmes or to make films. However, extension agents can contribute to the successful use of mass media by providing material to media producers, in the form of newspaper stories, photographs, recorded interviews with farmers, items of information about extension activities or ideas for new extension films; and by using mass media in their extension work, for example, by distributing posters and leaflets or by encouraging farmers to listen to farm broadcasts.

Principles of media use

For extension through mass media to be effective, farmers must:

- have access to the medium;
- be exposed to the message: they may have radios, but do they listen to farm broadcasts?;
- pay attention to the message: information must be attractively presented and relevant to farmers' interests;
- understand the message.

Mass media messages are short-lived and the audience may pay attention for only a short time, particularly where the content is educational or instructional. If too much information is included, much of it will soon be forgotten. This means that information provided through mass media should be:

Simple and short.
Repeated, to increase understanding and help the audience to remember.
Structured, in a way that aids memory.
Coordinated with other media and with advice given by extension agents. It is important that what the farmers hear and see via mass media matches what extension agents tell them.
A poster on a shop wall in Malawi, containing several complex messages

Dialogue is also an important part of communication. With mass media, however, there is little opportunity for a genuine dialogue between farmers and those who produce the material. Consequently, media producers are not in a good position to determine farmers" precise information needs, or to check whether their messages are understood correctly.

One solution to this problem is for the producers to carry out research into farmers' existing knowledge, attitudes, practices, and problems concerning farming topics, and for mass media messages to be pretested. This means that a preliminary version of the message is given to a small number of farmers so that, if they have any difficulties interpreting it, revisions can be made before the final version is prepared.

Extension agents can help media producers by keeping them informed of farmers' concerns and information needs, and by reporting any failure to understand the content of the products of mass media. People who produce radio programmes' posters and films are usually more educated than farmers and are not normally in regular daily contact with rural people. They cannot, therefore, easily anticipate how well farmers will interpret the material they produce.


Radio is a particularly useful mass medium for extension. Battery-operated radios are now common features in rural communities. Information can reach households directly and instantly throughout a region or country. Urgent news or warnings can be communicated far more quickly than through posters, extension agents or newspapers. Yet, despite radio's mass audience, a good presenter can make programmes seem very informal and personal, giving the impression that an individual listener is being spoken to directly. Radio is one of the best media for spreading awareness of new ideas to large numbers of people and can be used to publicize extension activities. It can also enable one community or group to share its experiences with others.

There are, however, a number of limitations to the use of radio in extension work. Batteries are expensive and often difficult to obtain in rural areas, and there may be few repair facilities for radio sets that break down. From the listener's point of view, radio is an inflexible medium: a programme is transmitted at a specific time of day and if a farmer does not switch on the radio in time, there is no further opportunity to hear it. There is no record of the message. A farmer cannot stop the programme and go back to a point that was not quite understood or heard properly, and after the broadcast there is nothing to remind the farmer of the information heard.

A further limitation is the casual way in which people generally listen to the radio. They often listen while they are doing something else, such as eating, preparing food, or working in the field. For this reason, radio is not a good medium for putting over long, complex items of information. A popular format in many countries, therefore, is for short items of farming news and information to be presented between musical records. Radio drama, in which advice is given indirectly through a story or play, is also popular. This can hold attention and interest for longer than a single voice giving a formal talk. Finally, there is little feedback from the audience, except with a live broadcast where it is possible for listeners to telephone in their questions or points of view directly to the programme presenter.

Where there is only one national radio station, it may be difficult to design programmes that meet particular local needs. Moreover, it may not be possible to cater for variations in agricultural practices and recommendations in different areas. However, the growth in recent years of regional and local radio stations does make it possible for locally relevant information to be broadcast, and for extension agents to become more closely involved in making radio programmes. Local radio stations may be willing to allow extension agents to have a regular weekly programme; if so, they will usually offer some basic training in recording and broadcasting skills.

Farm broadcasts will only be attractive to farmers if they are topical and relevant to their farming problems. Extension agents can help to make them attractive by sending information and stories to the producers, and by inviting them to their area to interview farmers who have successfully improved their farms, or to report on demonstrations, shows and other extension activities.

Ways by which extension agents can achieve a more effective use of radio include:

Recording farming broadcasts on a cassette recorder for playing back to farmers later. This could greatly increase the number of farmers who hear the programmes.
Encouraging farmers to listen to broadcasts, either in their own homes or in groups. Radio farm forums have been set up in a number of countries; a group meets regularly, often with an extension agent, to listen to farm broadcasts. After each programme, they discuss the contents, answer each other's queries as best they can, and decide whether any action can be taken in response to the information they have heard.
Stimulating the habit of listening to farming broadcasts, and the expectation of gaining useful information from the radio. This can be done by the extension agent listening to the programmes and talking about the contents in his contacts with farmers.

Many extension agents will at some time have an opportunity to speak over the radio. They may be asked to interview farmers in their area or perhaps give a short talk themselves. The following guidelines for radio talks and interviews may be useful.

Radio talks

- Decide on the purpose of the talk; in other words, what you want people to know, learn or feel at the end of it.
- Attract attention in the first few seconds.
- Speak in everyday language, just as you would in a conversation, and not as though you are giving a lecture.
- Repeat the main points carefully to help the listeners to understand and remember.
- Give specific examples to illustrate your main points.
- Limit your talk to three minutes; the listeners will not concentrate on one voice speaking on a single topic for much longer than that.
- Make the talk practical by suggesting action that the listeners might take.
- Include a variety of topics and styles if you are given more than three minutes. A short talk could be followed by an interview or some item of farming news.


- Discuss the topic, and the questions you intend to ask, with the interviewee beforehand.
- Relax the interviewee with a chat before beginning to record the interview.
- Avoid introducing questions or points that the interviewee is not expecting.
- Use a conversational style; the interview should sound like an informal discussion.
- Draw out the main points from the interviewee, and avoid speaking at length yourself; listeners are interested in the interviewee rather than you.
- Keep questions short; use questions beginning "Why"?, "What?", "How?" to avoid simple one-word answers, such as "Yes" or "No".

Audio cassettes

Audio cassettes are more flexible to use than radio, but as a mass medium they have their limitations. Cassette recorders are less common in rural areas than radio and are thus less familiar to villagers as sources of information. The cassette also has to be distributed physically, in contrast to the broadcast signal which makes radio such an instant medium. However, agents involved in many projects have found audio cassettes to be a useful extension tool, particularly where information is too specific to one area for it to be broadcast by radio.

The advantages of cassettes over radio are (a) that the tape can be stopped and replayed; (b) the listeners do not have to listen at a specific time of day; and (c) the same tape can be used over and over again, with new information being recorded and unwanted information being removed.

Information can be recorded on cassettes in a studio, where many copies can then be made for distribution, or it can be recorded on a blank cassette in the field. The possibility of recording farm radio programmes for playing back later has already been mentioned. Cassettes can also be used for:

Updating the extension agents' technical information. Pre-recorded cassettes, distributed by the extension organization, are a good way of keeping extension agents in touch with new technical developments in agriculture.
Sharing experiences between farmers' groups and between communities. An extension agent can record interviews and statements in one village and play them back in others.
Providing a commentary to accompany filmstrips and slide sets.
Stimulating discussion in farmers' groups or in training centres by presenting various points of view on a topic, or from a recorded drama.

Cassette recorders are light and fairly robust. However, they should be kept as free from dust as possible and the recording heads kept clean by using a suitable cleaning fluid, such as white spirit.


The main advantage of film as a mass medium for extension is that it is visual; the audience can see as well as hear the information it contains. It is easier to hold an audience's attention when they have something to look at. It also makes it possible to explain things that are difficult to describe in words, for example, the colour and shape of an insect pest or the correct way to transplant seedlings. Moreover, by using close-up shots and slow motion, action can be shown in far greater detail than it is to see possible watching a live demonstration. Scenes from different places and times can be brought together in order to teach processes that cannot normally be seen directly. The causes of erosion, for example, can be demonstrated dramatically by showing how a hilltop stripped of trees no longer prevents rain-water running down the slope, creating gullies and removing topsoil. Similarly, the benefits of regular weeding can be shown by filming crops in two contrasting fields at different stages of growth. Once a film has been made, many copies can be produced with the result that thousands can then watch the film at the same time.

Films come in two formats: 16 mm and 8 mm. Most cinema and educational films are in the larger 16-mm format. Equipment and production costs for 8-mm films are much lower, but because the picture quality is not quite so good and the projected picture size is relatively small, 8 mm has until recently been regarded as suitable for amateur domestic use only. As equipment improves, however, more organizations are producing training and educational films in 8-mm format. An 8-mm film cannot be shown on a projector made for 16-mm films or vice versa. Whichever format of film is to be used, it is necessary to have a projector; a screen or a white wall on which to project the film; a loudspeaker for the film's soundtrack (unless it has no soundtrack, in which case the extension agent may need a microphone, amplifier and loudspeaker so that he can give his own commentary); and a power source, which will either be mains electricity or a generator. If a generator is used, it should be as far away as possible from the projector and the audience so that its noise does not distract them from the film.

Because films require this cumbersome equipment, it is not practical for the extension agent to show them in villages unless he has motor transport. It is more common for mobile cinema vans to bring films to rural areas, or for films to be shown in schools and rural training centres where equipment is available.

A suitable arrangement for showing films or slides: the audience must be able to see and hear clearly

Film has a number of other limitations as a medium for rural extension. A film may take several months to produce since filming, processing, editing and copying all take time. Films are also expensive to make, and are worth making only if they can be shown many times over a number of years. They are, therefore not a good medium for topical information which soon becomes out of date.

The films seen by rural audiences have often been made in areas that are very different from those where they are shown. It may be difficult for the audience to relate their own farming to the crops, livestock, farm implements, people and housing that they see on the screen. The content may therefore seem of little relevance to them. Furthermore, there is no opportunity for a dialogue between film producer and farmer. Extension agents should, therefore, preview a film wherever possible, be prepared to explain the relevance of the information it contains whenever the details may be unfamiliar to local farmers, and be ready to answer farmers' questions afterwards. Finally, like radio programmes, a film is over very quickly and there is no permanent record of what was seen and heard.

An extension agent should only use a film when it fits in with his extension programme. If farmers are interested in dairy farming, then a film on the topic can give some ideas about the equipment, breeds of cattle and forms of organization they might need. Again, if an agent wishes to spread awareness of the dangers of soil erosion, a suitable film could explain the causes and effects as well as control measures.

When using film for extension purposes, an agent should keep the following points in mind.

Select films which fit in with the extension programme.
Publicize the film, after selecting a suitable date and venue in consultation with local leaders. Films are best shown in the evening; if the weather is suitable, the film can be projected against the outside white wall of a school or other building.
View the film in advance, and decide if the information needs to be adjusted to suit local conditions. This can be done either by speaking to the audience afterwards, or by turning the sound commentary off and giving a verbal explanation while the film is being shown.
Try out the equipment, especially if there is to be no technician present. It is useful to know how to change the bulb in the projector, for example, as these occasionally break.
Follow up the film by discussion and questions to help the audience to understand the content, relate it to their own situation and remember it.

Television and video

Television, like film, combines vision with sound and like radio, it can also be an instant medium, transmitting information directly to a mass audience. Television signals can be broadcast from a land-based transmitter, by satellite or through cables. However, in many countries, television transmission and sets are still restricted to urban areas, and the potential of television for rural extension will remain low until sets become more widely available. Television sets are much more expensive to buy and repair than radios, and programme production costs are also far higher. Where television has been used for rural extension communication, access and impact have been increased by group viewing followed by discussion.

Video combines most of the advantages of film and of audio cassettes. Using a video camera, picture and sound are recorded on a magnetic tape and are then immediately available for viewing on a monitor or television set. This enables the production team to re-record any material that is not satisfactory. As with audio cassettes, unwanted information can be removed and the tape reused.

As a mass medium, video has more to offer than film, since video programmes can be made far more quickly in multiple copies, and the lightweight video cassettes are relatively easy to distribute. As video equipment - television monitors and video cassette recorders - becomes more robust, it will be possible to use mobile units to show up-to-date programmes, made within the country and even within the area, to large numbers of rural families. The tape can be slowed down, wound back to repeat a particular action, or held on a particular frame while the extension agent explains a point. The same mobile units could carry portable video cameras to collect material for new programmes. The main limitation to viewing is that only 20 to 30 people can satisfactorily watch a video programme on a normal television set, while several hundred can see a film projected on to a large screen.

Where video equipment is available - and it will become increasingly so over the next few years - extension agents should refer to the guidelines given above for using film and audio cassettes.

Printed media

Printed media can combine words, pictures and diagrams to convey accurate and clear information. Their great advantage is that they can be looked at for as long as the viewer wishes, and can be referred to again and again. This makes them ideal as permanent reminders of extension messages. However, they are only useful in areas where a reasonable proportion of the population can read.

Printed media used in extension include posters, leaflets, circular letters, newspapers and magazines.

Posters are useful for publicizing forthcoming events and for reinforcing messages that farmers receive through other media. They should be displayed in prominent places where a lot of people regularly pass by. The most effective posters carry a simple message, catch people's attention and are easy to interpret.
Leaflets can summarize the main points of a talk or demonstration, or provide detailed information that would not be remembered simply by hearing it, such as fertilizer application rates or names of seed varieties.
Circular letters are used to publicize local extension activities, to give timely information on local farm problems and to summarize results of demonstrations so that the many farmers who cannot attend them may still benefit.
Newspapers are not widely available in rural areas. However, local leaders often read newspapers, and a regular column on agricultural topics is useful to create awareness of new ideas and to inform people of what other groups or communities are doing.

Printed media can be either very sophisticated, with colour photographs and a variety of lettering styles, requiring expensive equipment that is only available in large cities, or produced simply and cheaply using equipment found in many local extension offices, such as a typewriter, stencils, a duplicator and a photocopier. This simpler technology makes it possible for extension agents to produce leaflets and circular letters that are relevant to their area and can be made available quickly to farmers. With the use of two duplicators - one with black and one with red ink- quite attractive leaflets can be produced. Stencil duplicators cannot reproduce photographs, so illustrations must be limited to simple outline drawings and diagrams. Modern photocopiers, however, can produce reasonable copies of black-and-white photographs.

Where the extension agent is using printed material that has been mass produced, he should make sure that it complements his extension activities. Posters may be used, for example, to draw attention to a topic related to a later demonstration, but printed material that the farmer does not see as relevant to what the extension agent does or says will have little impact.

Printed media are of little use if they are not distributed. Expensively produced posters, leaflets and magazines should not be allowed to gather dust on extension office shelves: they should be made widely available and farmers should be encouraged to look at and discuss them. Posters should be replaced regularly with new ones. In addition, where printed material proves to be irrelevant or difficult for farmers to understand, those who produced them ought to be informed so that improvements can be made. Posters and leaflets that seem clear to the extension agent may not be fully understood by farmers. Whenever possible, the agent should help to explain their meaning. In time, farmers will become used to the ways in which pictures and words convey information and will find it increasingly easy to interpret printed media.

When the agent is preparing his own printed media, or material is being produced to his specifications, the following stages offer a very useful guide. They apply equally to posters, leaflets, circular letters and newspaper articles.

Define the context. The agent should be clear about the purpose of the material. Is it intended to create awareness and stimulate people to seek more detailed information? Or to remind farmers of what they have learned? Or to provide detailed technical information and serve as a reference for future use? The agent also needs to know how the material will be used by the audience. Will it be seen casually as people pass by a notice-board? Will it be studied individually in the home, or discussed at a group meeting?

Know the audience. Before planning the content, the agent needs information about the particular audience: their knowledge and attitudes concerning the subject-matter of the information, and their farming practices.

Decide on content. The information must be relevant to farmers' needs, and the content and amount of information should also suit the context in which the media will be used. A poster, for example, should contain one simple message in large, readable type that can be interpreted quickly by a passerby.

Attract attention. The material must be attractive at first glance. Only if a person's attention is caught by a leaflet or a poster will he spend the necessary time to look at, read and absorb the information it contains. This can be helped by short, boldly printed headings, eye-catching pictures and sufficient empty space to prevent it from looking too dense or cluttered.

Structure the information. The agent can help farmers to understand and remember the information by dividing the contents into sections that lead logically from one to another, and by the use of headings and underlining to bring out the main points.

Pre-test. All locally produced material should be pre-tested before use. It can be shown to a few people from the target group, who should then be asked what information they have learned from it. This gives an opportunity to improve the material, if necessary, before beginning final production.

Exhibits and displays

Apart from being a useful way of sharing information, an attractive, neat display suggests to people that the extension agent and his organization are efficient and keen to communicate. Displays are suitable for notice boards inside and outside extension offices, at demonstration plots (where the progress of the demonstration can be recorded in pictures), and at agricultural shows. Although a good display can take quite a long time to prepare, it will be seen by many people. With displays on permanent notice-boards, it is important that the material be changed regularly so that people develop the habit of looking there for up-to-date information.

A display should stick to a single theme broken down into a small number of messages. It should include several pictures (preferably photographs) and diagrams which must be clearly labelled. If there is a lot of printed text that is not broken up by pictures, the display will look dull and fail to attract attention.


In an extension campaign, several media are used in a coordinated way and over a limited period of time in order to achieve a particular extension objective. The advantage of campaigns is that the media can support and reinforce one another. The disadvantage is that campaigns can take a lot of time and effort to plan. Often the extension agent will be involved in campaigns planned by staff at national or regional level. His role will be to make local arrangements for meetings, film shows, demonstrations advance publicity, accommodation for visiting staff and distribution of printed material.

An extension agent can also plan his own local campaigns. A campaign can be useful in situations where the farmers of an area face a common problem for which there is a solution which could readily be adopted. Campaigns require careful planning to make the best use of all extension methods and media available. Principles of extension planning (see Chapter 7) and guidelines for the various methods and media should be used in planning campaigns.

Traditional media

Traditional forms of entertainment can also be used as extension media. Songs, dances and plays can convey information in an interesting way. Even when they are prepared in advance, they can be adapted at the last minute to cater to local situations and response from the audience. No modern technology is required and these media are especially useful where literacy levels are low. By involving local people in preparing the plot of a play, extension agents can stimulate the process of problem analysis, which is a fundamental part of the educational aspect of extension.

Contents - Previous - Next