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As farming gets more complex and greaser crop yields are required to feed more people on less land for each, farmers' know-how needs to be constantly upgraded. Agricultural research profits no one if its results are not communicated fruit filly to the farmer. Some regions are well served by extension or on-farm training, more formal agricultural education and communication services such as farm reports on radio. Other regions have a great need for this critical input: knowledge.

Farm Agents Bring Extension to the Field

TODAY, most countries have some type of extension system, by which agents take the latest advice and research findings right to the farmer's field. An estimated US$6 billion a year is spent and some 600 000 extension workers are engaged worldwide in serving the educational needs of farmers, herders, foresters, fisherfolk and others.

Even with this effort, only a small fraction of those in need of extension is being served, and the quality and relevance of service are uneven. By 2000, an estimated 1.25 million trained extension workers will be needed.

Considerable contribution to increased production has been obtained through technology development. However, with transfer successful mainly for medium and large scale farming, much less has been achieved in transferring technology to subsistence farmers in a participatory manner. Worldwide data indicated that in 1989 only about 6 percent of extension personnel time was devoted to women farmers and 7 percent to young farmers and rural youth. There is also considerable regional disparity in extension coverage (see chart).

Financial support for extension varies worldwide from as little as 0.2 to 0.5 percent of agriculture domestic product (AGDP) in some countries to as much as 6 percent in others. The average is about 0.5 percent. It is recommended that developing countries should invest between 1 to 2 percent of AGDP in extension.

Agents for 100000farmers, 1988

Agricultural Education at the Crossroads

QUALITY FORMAL and non-formal education in agriculture is a prerequisite for development. Yet FAO figures show that investment in agricultural training, extension and research has declined from 9 percent of total donor agricultural assistance in 1984 to 2 percent in 1989. Notwithstanding a lack of funding, some progress has been made. For example, the enrolment of women in intermediate and higher level agricultural education in Africa has increased from an average of 15 percent to nearly 25 percent. In order to provide more useful service to agriculture, institutions need to:

Extension worker talks with farmers in Madagascar

Defining the Target Audience

A large majority of the agricultural labour force of 1.3 billion (1995) people worldwide needs ongoing training, especially:


Agricultural labour force by gender in 1985 (% of active population)

Communication at the Service of the Disadvantaged

COMMUNICATION methodologies and tools can help overcome the barriers of illiteracy, language, intercultural difference and physical isolation. A good communication strategy can establish a dialogue with rural people, involve them in the planning of their own development and convey knowledge and skills necessary for improved farming.

Key methodologies and approaches include:

Estimates of radio sets in Sub-Saharan Africa

Training and Communication: Excellent Return on Investment


Multimedia impact

Pinpointing Problems....

In order to make progress in the struggle to upgrade farmers' knowledge and skills, the following problems must be addressed:

... and Possible Solutions

Four trends are emerging in countries that have made a serious effort to provide extension and education for all farmers. They are:

For further information, please contact:
Information Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Vialle delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy. Tel:
(39-6) 52 2 5-3276/52 25-4243; Internet: or
Research, Extension and Training Division, (39-6) 5225-3363

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