By Geoffrey Adams
1 Woodlands Road,
Sonning Common, Reading
RG4 9TD, UK
This paper was prepared under a contract with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome under the technical guidance and supervision of FAO Research, Extension and Training Division. It was presented at the Conference on the Central and Eastern European Agricultural Extension held at Eger, Hungary
May 14-18, 2000
Click here to go back to Part I
Recruitment policy should seek to employ the best and most appropriate people and to be perceived as so doing by existing and potential employees and by other interested groups, e.g. the universities. To achieve this, the qualities, knowledge and experience required for the jobs should be determined in advance, the post openly advertised and a selection procedure using as much objectivity as possible followed. The manager should list and weight the desired criteria on a sheet of paper and more than one person should independently score the candidates against these criteria. Candidates that score below a minimum level should not be appointed even if no others are available. Those candidates that score the highest will, of course, be the first to be offered the job.
Promotion is not a right for the individual employee but a necessity for the efficient running of the extension service. Staff, however, want to see opportunities to attain more attractive jobs. This means having a clear structure with opportunities equally available to all qualified people.
Promotion is really recruitment to a job, the difference from normal recruitment being that the candidates come from within the organisation rather than from outside. It follows that procedures similar to those for recruitment should be followed, particularly in relation to the specification of criteria relevant for the job. The advantage for the manager is that there is much more information available about the candidates than when the selection process draws on external candidates. Good managers ensure there is constructive feedback on the performance at the interview both to the successful and unsuccessful candidates. Procedures should be in place to seek recruits from outside the organisation if there are no suitable internal candidates.
Poor performance from employees
If staff have agreed their objectives and these are equally well understood by manager and employee there should be no misunderstanding when performance is not at an acceptable level. As we do not live in a perfect world this is not always the case!
Whatever the situation there must be a system for dealing with poor performance. Poor performance leads to inefficiency in the organisation and is unfair to the other employees who are meeting their requirements. The first issue is whether the employee has failed to meet the performance criteria because of external factors. If so it may be the manager's fault for failing to identify the external limitations or in failing to provide the agreed resources. In this case new performance standards should be agreed. When the fault is entirely or largely with the employee then positive action is essential. The manager needs to recognise from the start that the problem may lead to dismissal of the employee and should therefore ensure that all procedures followed are in accordance with the law and the contract of employment.
The disciplinary process should be transparent and fair and follow a sequence:
Selection of the most appropriate people for the job is a key role for the manager. Interviews play an important part in this process and it is therefore important that managers are trained in interview techniques. Few people are good at always asking the right question in the right way. When to ask an open question, when a closed one, when to push for further information, when to hold back? What signals is the body language of interviewer sending and what signals is the candidate's body language giving? Large companies and organisations spend large amounts of money on training their managers in interviewing skills. Extension services have the same requirements. By devoting time and effort to learning the skills the organisation will undoubtedly benefit from an improved performance.
At times the good manager will need to act as counsellor for some staff members. This, because it usually relates to the employee's personal circumstances, is a delicate and demanding role. The manager undertakes the task because the employee is valuable to the organisation and most managers will also consider they have some moral responsibilities to their staff. Counselling for a trained adviser, or manager, can be difficult because it depends on the counsellor refraining from offering advice or instructing the individual on the action to take. The aim is for the person being counselled to reach their own decisions that will allow them make the necessary adjustments and overcome the difficulties.
A sound recruitment policy and good personnel management will minimise the disciplinary problems but it is a lucky manager who never has to address some of these during his or her career. The contract of employment should describe what are disciplinary offences but it is not always clear whether an offence has been committed. The first task therefore is to obtain all the facts. Then the manager may need to take advice from within or outside the organisation, particularly in relation to employment law. In apparently serious cases the employee may be sent on paid leave until the information has been accumulated. Once the manager is sure that he or she has all the facts then the decision on action can be taken. It may be a reprimand; it may be dismissal or it could be some other action that falls between these two.
Appeals procedures Managers do not always get it right in their treatment of employees! Even if the manager is right the employees may not think so. For this reason an appeals procedure is recommended. It will give the employees confidence that they will be treated fairly and may provide the manager with additional support if the national legislation allows the employee to claim against the employer for unfair dismissal.
Conflict within an organisation is a severe restraint to integration of the different sections essential to achieve good results. Conflict arises because of fundamental differences in peoples' objectives and priorities. Managers need to act fast and decisively to overcome any conflicts that arise and to convert these to constructive debate. They can do this by:
Conflicts of interest
It must be clear to the farming family in whose interest the employees of an extension service are working. Usually the service is working to improve the position of the individual farmer or farmer's family, but not always. The Farming and Rural Conservation Agency (part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) in England and Wales for example could be described as an extension service but is, in reality, trying to persuade farmers to adopt environmentally friendly farming practices that may not be in the farmer's individual interest. Conflicts of interest can occur between the organisation as a whole and some of its clients, between individual staff members and the organisation, or between staff and their clients.
Conflicts of interest between the extension service and an outside organisation can arise because, for example, the extension service is paid to conduct some experiments on behalf of a company or the company provides, free of charge, material for a demonstration site. If the company's products are not the best then they may well put pressure on the extension service to play down the product's deficiencies. These conflicts cannot be avoided. They must be minimised by ensuring clear and unambiguous agreements between the extension service and the other organisation and, if appropriate, making these agreements public.
Many advisers in the CEE, and from other countries, have their own small farms. This must present risks of disease spread between the adviser's holding and those of the clients unless adequate precautions are taken. The adviser could also be in the possession of privileged information that allows him or her to gain financially. For instance he or she might hear of the unexpected cessation of a grant scheme. Ideally the situation would not be permitted and the conflicts would not occur but this is unrealistic. Management needs to be aware of the situation and ensure, so far as possible, that employees do not have an unfair advantage over farmers who are not employed by the extension service. Some would argue that it was an advantage for advisers to have their own farms because they were more in tune with the practical situation. This is a weak argument and implies poor training and support for the adviser from the extension service management.
Advisers are in contact with farmers and, in both state and private extension services, are often expected to provide information to the centre. The information may be used to help develop policy, improve the marketing of products and to provide comparative data that will help clients develop their businesses. In all situations the farmer should be informed at the outset the uses to which the information will be put and there should be structures in place to ensure that the data supplied are not traceable to the individual farmer without the individual's express permission.
Advisers can also find themselves in the uncomfortable position of finding breaches of regulations or of the law on farms. If this is reported to the correct authorities then the farmer's trust in the adviser will be broken. If not mentioned then the adviser could be seen as condoning the situation or even becoming involved in fraud. There is no easy answer to this dilemma. Management's role is to give clear guidelines to the advisers on what to accept and what to report and ensure that when in doubt the adviser consults his or her manager.
So far this paper has concentrated on management principles and on the management of the people employed. Managers also have responsibility for efficient and effective use of other resources, the buildings, cars, farms, telecommunication facilities, computers etc. available to the service. Extension service managers are responsible that the correct use of funds. The consultancy service manager will also have responsibility to ensure revenue targets are met.
The first stage is to identify what information is necessary for management purposes and what for other purposes such as tax accounts and public accountability. This can get to extreme situations for example The Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce in the UK produces 4 different sets of accounts from the same data to meet the differing requirements of the EU, the British Government and management.
This section considers only accounts for management purposes.
Inventory of assets
The number and condition of the assets should be recorded in an inventory that is checked at least once a year. The condition of the assets will affect the motivation of the staff. Where no winter heating is available, for instance, staff cannot be expected to perform to their potential. If transport is lacking, as is often the case in the CEE countries, then farm visits become difficult and advisers rely on clients coming to the office. As there is often a large difference between what the farmer perceives as the situation and what the adviser perceives to be the situation a farm visit is essential for sound advice to be offered. If advisers cannot visit the farm the danger of inappropriate advice being given is greatly increased.
There should be a replacement policy and budget for assets that deteriorate.
Once the inventory has been produced a budget must follow. It is against the budget that financial performance will be monitored. As the budget is a device for putting financial data against a series of physical activities it needs to include a record of what assumptions have been made in its preparation. Involvement of staff, and certainly local management, in budget preparation will give them a greater feeling of involvement in the organisation and greater accuracy in the budget. However care needs to be taken that confidential data on, for instance, an individual's salary is not disclosed to unauthorised people.
If all local managers are asked to provide their estimates of need as the starting point of budget preparation then it is probable that the demand for financial and other resources will exceed the possible supply. Discussion with the local managers on the changes to be made is preferable to executive action by senior management. Local managers should then be issued with their own budgets and be expected to manage their resources within the budget. This does not mean that they have a free hand to spend without control but does mean they should not have to justify every item of expenditure. Whether money is spent wisely will become apparent when the results of the local team's work are measured. Audit checks should identify whether the money has been spent correctly.
The cash flow
Once the budget has been agreed then a cash flow forecast is drawn up. This is divided into appropriate periods, weekly, monthly or quarterly depending on the circumstances. Again local managers should have their own cash flow forecast. The cash flow is the critical financial control document and regular reports are essential. Deviations from expectation should be noted and acted upon promptly.
A forecast of physical activities to be undertaken and of the results expected should accompany the cash flow.
Record keeping is essential and is disliked by most people. The data collected will be used to assess performance against budget, cash flow and the various physical and financial performance measures. The data are only useful if accurate. Obtaining accurate data can be difficult especially when there are many centres where staff work, as is often the case for extension services. Minimising inaccuracies requires convincing those who supply the data that it is in their interests to provide good information and for a system of cross checks to be built into the data collection procedures. Good training followed by swift and succinct reporting of results to the staff is a key to obtaining reliable data. Care needs to be taken to ensure that people do not manipulate the results to show their section in a favourable light. Management also needs to show that they use the information in their decision making. What records to keep? Only those that are expected to give a worthwhile return for the effort involved, or are required for audit purposes.
All staff should keep an official diary that records: who they have seen, when and where they have been and what were the main items discussed. It should also record travel distance and any items of expenditure or income related to the extension service. In an ideal world all advice should be confirmed in writing but time does not permit this. Certainly all contentious and complex advice should be confirmed. Use of a duplicate notebook is a simple and rapid way of providing a written report for the farmer and for the adviser to retain a copy. This is especially when advising on such things as chemical usage where a misunderstanding of the dose rate can have very serious consequences.
Performance measures and efficiency indices
Computers make it too easy to manipulate figures. Consequentially there is a tendency to collect too much information, process it in too many ways and then produce too much paper which does not get read. It is management's role to decide what is important and key to achieving the planned results. By comparing results between advisers and offices (bench marking) a comparison of the efficiency of individuals and teams can be made. Used sensitively these will help to improve performance. Some possible efficiency measures are listed below. The relative importance of any one measure will depend on the circumstances in the organisation. No one measure should be used in isolation or without regard to the circumstances prevailing.
Milestones, in this context, describe certain points in the project when specific actions should have been completed. Identification of milestones is a valuable management tool especially when the project is due to continue over a long period. They may represent what has to be completed before payments are made. In an advisory campaign, for instance, they could represent the completion of a questionnaire stage, or the sowing of an agreed number of demonstration plots. They are a useful tool and allow managers to keep control of expenditure and of progress.
Alternative revenue sources
Extension services in the CEE countries are very dependent on donor funding which will, in due course cease. They should therefore be seeking alternative sources of revenue. The EU has a major programme, SAPARD, (Special Aid for Pre accession countries for Agriculture and Rural Development) which is aimed at improving the rural economy. So far this appears to be receiving little attention from the extension services although it should offer an excellent opportunity for strengthening the demand for advisory services.
Extension services should have an extension programme or programmes; a consultancy service will have a marketing plan. They have many things in common and are therefore considered together. Extension services are not the only organisations to have extension programmes. Estonia has no state extension service but the government has an extension programme that is implemented by private and Farmers Union consultancy services using a system of grants from funds supplied by the World Bank. The Netherlands privatised the extension service but the government contracts certain extension activities to the company.
The essential aspects of the programme or plan 11 are:
Identify clients' needs and wants
The first part of this depends on identifying who is the client! In most cases it will be the farmer, but it could be a government department or commercial firm that is employing the consultancy company to undertake a specific task. Whoever is the client, the most likely requirement is for the extension service to persuade the farmer and/or his family to make changes in their activities.
Despite the development of rural appraisal techniques, the extension organisation all too often believes it knows what are the farmer wants and needs. They may well be accurate in identifying the needs but can often be wrong when identifying wants. A simple example. Many advisers will assume a farmer wants to maximise his/her income. Wrong. Many farmers want security of food supply or to be able to pass their holding on to their children. Prior to privatisation ADAS had an extension development department that made sterling efforts to assess the degree of success of extension programmes and to identify what farmers wanted. ADAS thought they knew. But in the run up to privatisation professional market researchers were employed and they found a different picture. ADAS had been a successful extension service but if it had paid more attention to identifying farmer needs it would have been even more successful. It is now a successful consultancy company.
Farmers in the CEE countries are often unaware of the benefits that accrue from good advice and that good advice is available. There is therefore a need to promote the value of advice to the farmers. Estonia introduced specific measures, including the preparation of a video, to do just this. Few other countries appear to have addressed the issue.
Where a substantial effort has been made to identify the needs and wants of the farmers, as in Nizny Novgorod, the advisers consider this well worthwhile. The process has helped them focus their programmes where they can be expected to be most effective. The data also provides a baseline against which achievement can be measured.
What is to be achieved - the objectives
As ever, clarity of purpose is crucial to achieving a satisfactory outcome. The objectives need to be realistic, measurable, time related and understandable. Often there will be a hierarchy of objectives e.g.
Ultimate objective - Improved standard of living for the farmers
Intermediate objectives -
Higher income from the farm
Higher productivity on the farm
Better milk yields from:
Farmers know how to feed for high yields
An extension programme would be targeted at levels 3 and 4 but the results should meet the objectives at levels 1 and 2.
Setting appropriate objectives for the programme implies knowledge of what the farmers want, a base line from which to measure change, and a clear exposition of what benefits the change will bring to the recipients.
Who is to be affected?
Selecting the target groups requires care and a degree of precision. For example it is obvious that if the aim is to improve wheat production then it is farmers that grow, or can be expected to grow, wheat who should be targeted, not livestock farmers. As resources are almost certainly limited a further selection is then needed to identify those farmers who will give the best response for the effort involved. Within the selected group sub groups may be identified for different approaches. E.g. farmers known to have 50ha of wheat will receive a visit from an adviser, those with 10 to 50ha will be invited to special meetings and demonstrations, while those who grow less than 10ha will be given advice by post and over the radio.
What is the individual farmer expected to do?
Is he/she expected to produce more feed, grow different varieties, and or improve the grain storage by bird proofing and vermin proofing the store? The actions that the farmer is expected to take must be clear and the benefits of this action must be made clear.
How will the extension service do the work?
The selection of methods is the responsibility of the manager and his team. Will it be a mass or group approach or a series of individual visits? Will it involve demonstrations on farms or at research centres? The manager has to ensure that:
How will the activities be organised?
To achieve success all involved should know what are the objectives, what is to be achieved and why, who is to undertake the various tasks, what these tasks are and when they are to take place. A written plan is worthwhile and the logical framework methodology has much to commend it.
Language is particularly important. The effective extension programme must take into account the language in which the farmers communicate. This is not just language in the sense of French or Hungarian or Russian but also the way in which the farmers use the words of their native tongue when they communicate with one another. Researchers often have to give careful consideration to the words used when talking to farmers, as the language of the scientific paper is seldom appropriate in this circumstance.
Special staff training may well be necessary to ensure that the right message is put across.
Committing the plan to paper will allow the manager to identify the resources needed and estimate their quantity. From this it should be a simple step to identify whether adequate resources are available and if not decide whether they can be obtained. The use of private funds through sponsorship or provision of materials is very common. Used carefully these are very valuable allowing the service to undertake work it would otherwise be unable to afford. Used badly they can result in a perceived or real loss of independence and integrity of the extension service.
Feedback of results and post project appraisal
Post project appraisal should be undertaken to assess the results. Were the objectives met? What were the reasons for success or failure? As discussed earlier staff are demotivated when they have no feedback of results so this should be done as quickly as possible after completion of the programme. Interim reporting on some longer programmes should be normal practice and be written into the project programme.
Support from the farmers' leaders will improve the effectiveness of the extension service and help to sustain the changes resulting from individual extension programmes. Many extension services in the public sector have advisory committees and some have management committees. Management by committee is seldom satisfactory, but a good advisory committee can be beneficial especially when dealing with government departments and in seeking to influence farming families. In Latvia the initial idea when establishing the extension service was to follow the Danish model for extension services where the Farmers Union shares ownership and management of the extension service with the government. The lack of a representative and effective farmers association precluded this. However, the statute for the Latvian Agricultural Advisory Service specifies that a farmer should chair the advisory board.
The terms of reference for the committee need to make clear the duties and responsibilities of the individual members. Membership should be for a specific period and reappointment should be limited to one additional period. This will result in a proportion of new faces each year bringing with them fresh perspectives and ideas. A good independent chairman chosen for his or her expertise and interest in the well being of the rural communities is desirable with the Chief Executive of the extension service as second choice. Commercial consultancy companies have a board of directors some of whom will have an executive role. Occasionally they will also have an advisory panel.
The lack of effective farmers' associations that represent the majority of farmers in the CEE countries means that farmer representatives are usually appointed by the government and not elected as representatives of the farming community. As effective farmer organisations develop so more representative farmers should be appointed to the boards and councils.
As well as using advisory committees the manager should be continually in touch with the leading farmers and clients and operate a formal programme that will:
For example the extension services in Croatia and Nizny Novgorod either have already, or intend to survey farmers to ascertain their views on the service provided.
Innovation is what drives economic systems, and an extension service is an economic system in its own right. It will be innovation that determines the efficiency with which future capital, labour and energy are used. It will be innovation that will determine the future productivity of the extension service. Managers cannot afford to ignore it and must establish a culture within the organisation that encourages innovation. But innovation means change and someone once said the only person that welcomes change is a wet baby!
An example of effective innovation occurred within the 3M company which was very unhappy with the sales of the Post-It pads when they were first issued. Until, that is, one salesperson sent free samples to the secretaries of the senior managers of major companies. The secretaries loved them and then the boss wanted them and now sales are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Innovation is the generation, acceptance and implementation of new ideas, processes, products or services. It can occur in any part of the organisation and can involve creative use as well as original invention. Application and implementation are central to this definition; it involves the capacity to change or adapt ". 12
Innovation to be useful must help the organisation to meet its objectives. Once the objectives have been set then the organisation needs to create a climate in which innovation flourishes. This climate is:
The organisation has succeeded in creating the climate for innovation when all employees perceive they can contribute to the organisation, improve it and sustain it.
The establishment of extension services in the CEE countries has itself been a major innovation. Managers now need to consider how they can encourage a culture of innovation within their organisations. There are many people who are full of ideas and if guided well and given clear objectives, with which they agree, will provide a host of novel approaches to the application of technology on the new small farms and to the promotion of advice. Allowing these people to experiment will greatly strengthen the extension services.
Managers can encourage innovation by :
People will always need help and support and those in rural areas will be no exception. This will mean that there will be a demand for advisory services for a very long time.
The main concern for the immediate future in the CEE countries is continued funding for the extension services. No service is near to being self supporting. It either receives government funds and/or international donor funds or utilises a World Bank loan. Without an effective extension service the farming industry in the CEE countries will, as in the case in the West, support relatively few advisers leaving many farmers close to poverty and failing to make their potential contribution to the national economy. Public funding will be essential if the large numbers of small farmers are to receive any help. True the number of such farms can be expected to decline but this will be a relatively slow process that will depend on age taking its toll and the development of alternative employment. The social costs of such a policy could be substantial and unacceptable.
The challenge for the extension services in the CEE countries is to demonstrate their value. They must convince governments, particularly the Ministries of Finance, that they really are making a significant contribution to the growth of the economy. They must convince the politicians that a vibrant rural economy is in the country's interest and that the extension service has a major role to play in helping to achieve this. The ability to demonstrate that the service is efficiently organised and effective and so represents good value for money for the taxpayer will be crucial in obtaining continued support.
Chargeable services will have a place. Large scale units, and those smaller units that are really progressive, will have needs that it is impractical to expect a publicly funded extension service to meet. Identifying these potential clients, structuring the organisation to meet their needs and having an effective marketing strategy are all activities that need to be undertaken urgently if the publicly funded services are to avoid damaging criticism that they are helping those who can afford to help themselves.
While it is understandable that many of the public services have the facility to charge clients for certain services it means that the organisation has two different sets of goals, those of an extension service and those of a consultancy service. If the government is to continue paying then either the service will need to divide into two distinct organisations each with its specific remit or there should be very clear "contracts" between government and service providers defining exactly what is to be provided and what achievements are expected. It is essential, in this situation, that farmers understand which services are free and which ones arechargeable.
Allowing a state funded service to provide both free and chargeable services gives it potential to have an unfair competitive advantage over private consultancy services. The state service could subsidise its commercial arm by allocating an unfair proportion of the overhead costs to the state funded part of the organisation. Advisers providing free advice could also act as overt or covert salespersons for the chargeable services. Governments should take these points into consideration when considering the future of the advisory services in their countries.
Types of advice needed
The demand for advice will remain and in the medium term can be expected to increase. There will always be people less able to look after themselves for what ever reason, the aged, the infirm, the less dynamic. However as more farmers become aware of the value of good advice the nature of the demand will change.
The future of extension services is bound up with the future of the rural economy. Total demand for food will continue to increase and although there will be difficulties of distribution the potential sustainable supply from temperate zones is far from being achieved. Agricultural production will therefore remain a major industry and probably the most important sector of the rural economy. Consumers will demand ever-higher standards of what they perceive as quality and, as economic growth takes place and people become more affluent, they will be prepared to pay for this quality. At the same time international competition will keep the prices of the basic agricultural products relatively low except in occasional periods of shortage. This means prices will be somewhat volatile as the world moves towards more free trade. Individual farmers will increasingly compete one with another for market share and so demand that their advisers treat their processes with greater confidentiality. More farmers will seek niche markets requiring more specialist knowledge on the part of the adviser.
Other factors that will affect the demand for advisory services will be the need to make better uses of the countryside resources, (forests, amenity, water) and greater emphasis on environmental protection and animal welfare.
The rural population will decline as a proportion of the total and inevitably as the generations pass will become more and more disassociated with the land and will be ignorant of the fundamental processes of production. A recent survey in the UK for instance showed that around 50% of the respondents thought potatoes grew on trees.
This leads to the conclusion that there will a demand for 3 types of advice:
There is a possible fourth position in which the government funds the collection and dissemination of information. Farmers and advisers may then access and interpret the information for their own situations. The information could be made available at full or subsidised cost.
Technical and economic advice for the commercially active business
Commercially active businesses will require consultancy services that give them a competitive advantage over their neighbour. They will consider the purchase of advice as an investment. They will however demand high levels of expertise on the part of the advisers and will want them when they need them, not when the adviser chooses to call. To meet this challenge the extension service will become a consultancy organisation responding even more closely to the clients needs. It will mean the service identifying profitable markets and training people to meet the ever more demanding requirements of the clients. It will also mean hard choices as enjoyable but unprofitable work is shed. At the same time it must be recognised the adviser will be dealing with people, and many successful people want someone dispassionate, informed, intelligent and discreet with whom to discuss their ideas. Experience with extension services that have become consultancy companies indicates that while some of the staff respond to the changes many find the new conditions unacceptable and move elsewhere.
As agriculture becomes more competitive farmers and their families will want to diversify their businesses. The increased affluence of the non farming population will present opportunities that can be exploited. This presents the extension service manager with increased market opportunities and he or she will need to consider carefully how far the service should go in advising on the diverse range of activities possible. Where it is decided that other organisations have a competitive advantage then the manager should forge strong links with compatible organisations that will be to mutual benefit.
Advice designed to encourage farmers and landowners to undertake activities that are considered to benefit the whole community
Governments will come under increasing pressure to provide an environment that is attractive to the majority of the (urban) population. A combined stick and carrot approach has been reasonably successfully adopted in many countries and is likely to continue. This will lead to a demand for extension workers (environmental sales people?) who will seek to persuade the rural dweller to undertake activities that are not production or profit orientated. These activities, at least in the eyes of the urban dweller, will make the countryside more attractive, safer or accessible. The existing extension services are in a good position to undertake this work but will need to establish clear boundaries between the staff who work as consultants for commercial farmers and those who work for the government.
Advice and help for the socially deprived
The socially deprived will need special help. In the UK the Countryside Agency has identified that there is as high a proportion of the rural population who are socially excluded as there are in the urban areas. This pattern is probably true in most other countries. Government assistance to these people could well include technical assistance to help them lead a fuller and more rewarding existence. The adviser will need to be as much a social worker as someone with a high level of technical knowledge.
The organisation that makes effective and efficient use of information technology will remain viable long after the one that failed to take advantage has gone. Internal communication will become ever more rapid, video links will become the norm so that eye contact can be maintained and body language observed over distance. Managers however will need to avoid the danger of excessive impersonalisation of their communications. Managers and staff can use impersonal contact to avoid discussion thus leading to entrenched positions and unsatisfactory relationships.
The information available to, and used by, farmers through the internet is now immense and will develop further. Electronic monitoring for pest and disease will automatically lead to corrective action being taken without human intervention. More electronic control of equipment will reduce the demands for labour. Robotic milking will be followed by robots taking over other routine tasks on the farm. We will see more distance learning available to farmers, probably group discussions using video links. The progressive extension service will be involved in the development of these and many other electronically based services and in educating their clients how to make the most efficient use of them.
The extension service manager's role
The future for extension organisations is bright provided they have the right strategy, accurately identify the valuable opportunitiesthat continue to occur and utilise these to the full. The manager will need to:
Individual farmers have negligible impact on the market but react to market forces, producing more when prices are good and less when prices are low. The long lead time for most agricultural production and the combined effect of many businesses making similar decisions leads to a volatile market for produce. Extension services should undertake an increasing role in the interpretation of market information so that their clients are better able to withstand the vagaries of the market economy and to some extent help to reduce the amplitude of the fluctuations.
Extension services are business organisations whether they are commercial consultancy companies or government owned or cooperative owned extension services. They service people living in rural areas who are relatively isolated and often of a very independent nature. At the same time the urban dweller is less inclined to appreciate the need for a rural population to provide food. The extension service is working therefore within a very educationally diverse and geographically diffused population.
The development of extension services in the CEE countries has been rapid and substantial. The enthusiasm and quality of many of the personnel is very high. Each country has adopted a different approach. The Czech Republic has practically no public funding for extension, Estonia, Hungary and Slovakia use private organisations but provide support from public funds and countries such as Albania rely almost entirely on a public service. Moldova has, until recently, had a service that concentrated on the provision of information rather than advice. In the Ukraine a debate on how to structure the service is still underway with different pilot projects operating across the country.
The target clientele also varies. The Nizny Novgorod service aims at large scale farms while most CEE countries are looking to provide a service for a wide range of size of farm although placing emphasis on encouraging the establishment of competitive agricultural businesses rather than the social aspects of extension. Very small scale producers are generally left to fend for themselves. There is certainly a social case that more attention should be given to meeting the needs of these people who find themselves in an alien economic environment with little or no social support services. The agricultural advisory services could extend their rural development activities to meet the needs of these people.
There is an understandable desire on the part of extension service management to become independent of the government and this usually takes the form of opting for a chargeable service. If advice is only available to those who can and will pay for it the majority of farmers will be excluded. Alternative systems whereby the government contracts with an independent extension organisation for the supply of specific services offer a way forward.
Extension service managers have the same concerns as any business manager but work in an environment that requires an extremely wide knowledge of the industry and of people. The greatest difficulty is identifying not so much what their clients need as in identifying what they want and then converting these needs into wants. Public services in particular can have great difficulty in obtaining clear objectives from their owners. In this situation the manager is probably well advised to produce his or her own objectives and present them to the owner seeking the owner's agreement.
Stimulating and managing the change within their own organisations is, perhaps, the greatest of all challenges for managers of extension organisations. The increasing pace of technology development, the forth coming entry into the EU for CEE countries and changes in the arrangements for world trade in agricultural products arising from the revised World Trade Agreement will present even more challenges to the manager. At the same time the job is, and has the potential to remain for many years, an extremely worthwhile and rewarding occupation.
Although extension services in the CEE countries have management or business plans there is scope for developing more specific strategies and preparing more precise objectives. It is worth remembering that objectives should be SMART. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, Time related). They should also be challenging. Objectives are of limited value unless performance is measured in relation to them, something that is all too often lacking.
The effectiveness of the extension organisation could be improved through working more closely with stakeholders. Research services, with some exceptions, are still reluctant to accept that they need to identify farmers' real needs and change their programmes to meet these needs. Governments appear to be spending large sums of money supporting research that is often inappropriate for the new situation.
The staff of an extension service are its most valuable resource and the manager needs to spend a high proportion of time on motivating and managing them in order to obtain the greatest benefit from people who are often very dedicated to their work and the farmers they serve.
The rapid change in senior management in many services has hindered the development of the services. Emphasis amongst managers is often on management rather than leadership when the latter is crucial to developing a culture that encourages efficiency, customer care and innovation.
Personnel management in the CEE countries is largely informal except for the provision of contracts of employment and job descriptions. The latter, however, frequently lack precise objectives. Career planning is in its infancy. Significant resources are, and have been, devoted to training. The need now is to move the emphasis from general training to preparing a training programme that meets the requirements of the individual member of staff.
Budget preparation is very much a top down process. Involvement of staff in this crucial exercise would increase motivation and understanding of the environment in which they work. Even more important is the need for cash flow preparation and monitoring and for this to be broken down to individual office or team level. The monthly reports should be made available to staff. There is considerable scope for the use of bench marking to improve performance of the organisation.
Not all organisations prepare an extension programme or marketing plan. This results in an ad hoc approach to work and no basis against which to judge success. Staff should be informed of the success, or otherwise, of extension and marketing plans. A formal reporting process is often lacking, such reporting that takes place is informal and often incidental to other matters. The need for all those communicating with farmers to use appropriate language is acknowledged by advisers but often not appreciated by scientists.
Extension services in the CEE countries would be strengthened if more attention was paid to the techniques used for their main activities. What, for example, is the best way to organise demonstrations? - Is it specific plots on commercial farms or are demonstration farms the best approach? What role should research and educational institutions play?
The biggest challenge facing the extension services in the CEE countries is in obtaining funds in the future. The international donors will withdraw support, indeed some, e.g. UK government's Know How Fund, have already done so. The economies of some of the CEE countries are not expanding sufficiently rapidly to provide additional funds for supporting extension and few farmers will be able to afford to pay economically viable rates for advice. The apparent lack of utilisation of SAPARD funds in this situation is surprising. These could provide the necessary impetus to demonstrate the value of an effective advisory service.
Extension services in the CEE countries must demonstrate to their governments and to the electorate that they are able to make a valuable contribution in helping the rural community adapt to the changing economic climate and make a valuable contribution to the nation,s economic growth and improved welfare for the rural population. In this way they can justify the investment of public funds in extension services.
1Consultancy Services in Croatian Agriculture. Prof. Tito Zimbrek. Rural Knowledge Systems for the 21st Century. Proceedings of the Symposium held at Reading, Cambridge and Edinburgh 6 -17 July 1997. I Wallace ed. AERDD, The University of Reading, UK.
2 Evaluation of Extension Systems. Prof J Kozari. Paper presented at the conference.
3Ritchie I. Consultancy services in a free market. From the public to the private sector: the Agriculture New Zealand story. Rural Knowledge Systems for the 21st Centrury. Proceedings of the symposium held at Reading, Cambridge and Edinburgh 6 -17 July 1997. ed Ian Wallace. AERDD The University of Reading.
4In the conference the CEE countries were augmented by reports from Russia, The Ukraine and Kyrgystan. For the purposes of this paper CEE countries includes the experiences reported from these two countries.
5Post script. Since the conference the UK Government, in response to the reduced economic condition of farming, has made available limited free independent farm business advice to farmers.
6Extension and Research for Farm Competitiveness. K Brent and G Adams. Structural Change in the Farming Sectors in Central and Eastern Europe. Lessons for E U Accession. Second World Bank/FAO workshop June 27 - 29 1999. Csaba Csaki and Zvi Herman ed. World Bank Technical paper no. 465
7A term used by R H Tuck, one time Professor of Agricultural Economics at The University of Reading.
8A commercial consultancy service in the UK that was formerly the government's Agricultural Development and Advisory Service.
9The term family business is used to include other rural activities, e.g. forestry. Although the great majority of holdings in the CEE countries are very small providing little more than a subsistence for the occupiers they nevertheless act as mini businesses even though profit maximisation is probably not their main objective.
10Conference on Central and Eastern European Agricultural Extension, Eger, Hungary May 14 -18 2000
11Much of this section is based on Chapter 7 of the book Agricultural Extension by A W Van den Ban and H S Hawkins 1988.Published by Longman Scientific and Technical
12Rosabeth Moss-Kanter, The Change Masters, Unwin Paperbacks. ISBN 0-04-658244-4