Education Knowledge

December 2002

A public/private partnership for extension delivery in South Africa

Michelle E. Owens,
Extension, Education and Communications Officer
FAO Regional Office for Africa
P.O. Box 1628
Accra, Ghana

and Martin J. Eweg
Senior Extension Specialist
South Africa Sugar Association Experiment Station
Private Bag X02, Mount Edgecombe 4300
South Africa


AT Agriculture Technician, DAEA
CG Commercial Sugarcane Grower (30 or more ha and 250 tons sucrose)
DAEA Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs
DO Development Officer, MCC
HOD Head of District, DAEA
JV Joint Venture or Joint Venture Agreement
MCC Mill Cane Committee (local, political administrative body)
RD Regional Director, DAEA
RD&E Research, Development and Extension committee
SASA South Africa Sugar Association
SASEX South Africa Sugar Association Experiment Station
SES Sugar Extension Specialist, SASEX
SSG Small-Scale Sugarcane Grower (less than 30 ha - usually .5 to 1 ha)


Country Context

South Africa is a country of diversity, which has recently emerged from a position of separateness, based on race and culture, to one that since 1994 has had to participate in a global society. People of different groups were compelled by laws to have separate health and education facilities, and even were required to live in designated areas and therefore there was little opportunity for social and professional exchange. The post apartheid period of growth has provided opportunities for reparation and reform that is encouraging unity and inclusion in many areas. South Africa is now a successful world model of political and social reform, having been on the brink of civil revolt and anarchy less than 10 years ago.

Edmund Morewood established the first sugarcane fields in the KwaZulu-Natal province in 1848 with the first shipment of sugar following in 1853. The first black owned steam mill was established in 1865. The predominantly white, commercial growers established the Experiment Station (SASEX) in 1925 the research division of the South African Sugar Association (SASA). The primary objective of this research center continues to be the development of new varieties with specific characteristics of high sucrose and disease resistance. Historically, growers pay a levy to SASA on every ton of cane produced and sugar millers pay a levy on every ton of sugar processed. These funds have been used to provide development of research, marketing and extension. However, these growers were primarily white, commercial producers. Black small-scale growers became a contributing entity to the mills in the early 1970's. The provision of the informational needs of these rural growers was the responsibility of DAEA. Unfortunately the DAEA extension had little to no access to current research and production information even though the black small-scale growers were contribution to the SASA levy.

Reform Measures

In 1994, the apartheid government was replaced in a democratic election process. Also in 1994, as a result of deregulation measures within the sugar industry, there was a change in the funding of extension services to sugar growers, specifically that the millers were no longer willing to contribute to the funding of extension. Therefore, commercial growers decided to pay for extension on a tonnage basis through an additional extension levy. SASA did not have sufficient resources to provide an effective extension service for the emerging small-scale grower sector in KwaZulu Natal, however SASA made their research facilities available to all growers, including representation of the SSG on the SASEX Steering Committee. At the same time, SASEX approached the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs (DAEA) to form a partnership for the provision of extension services to these small-scale growers. SASEX proposed to join in partnership with DAEA, having a common interest in the development of the 46,000 small-scale sugar growers in the province. The original 1995 Joint Venture agreement required that the SASEX extension and the DAEA extension structures interact to create a vehicle to deliver sugarcane extension to the Small-Scale Growers (SSG) in the province. The Joint Venture agreement operates with four SASEX Extension staff (Sugar Extension Specialists, SES) and 36 DAEA Agricultural Technicians (AT). The SASEX staffs provide the technical expertise and the DAEA staff function as the field extension agents.

Although the initial purpose, and one of the continuing purposes of the JV, is to improve sugarcane production, the impetus for pushing sugarcane production amongst the various stakeholders are as varied as the stakeholders themselves. The formal partners in the JV (DAEA & SASA) are motivated to improve sugarcane production among all sugarcane producers in the province. However, they are also concerned to improve the profit or economic bottom-line of their producers and to improve the social situation of the province. There are also several informal partners in this JV including Mill staff, the Commercial Growers, the Medium-Scale Indian Growers, MCC, Farmers Organizations, Input suppliers, Contractors and the Tribal Authorities, or Municipalities. These informal partners have many and varied reasons for wanting the Joint Venture to succeed. Yet, the common thread that brings them all together is to improve the production of sugarcane in the region, providing a social and economic stability to rural producers and hence provide stable and improved living conditions of all involved.


The JV agreement required that the SASEX extension and DAEA extension structures to interact to deliver sugarcane extension. Some understanding of both structures is required in order to appreciate the constraints under which the Joint Venture has operated. SASEX is a non-profit, private organisation and has a flat management structure with a high level of accountability on budget. Conversely, DAEA HOD have substantial autonomy and report to their Directors. The DAEA has a rigid empirical structure with all accountability being at the senior levels only. There is a system of administration that requires considerable effort and time delays between initiation and delivery. There are Sub Directorates that offer a support service to the regions but these are often bureaucratic in nature with little autonomy do not allow for efficiency or effectiveness. This system varies little from that which operates in many national public sectors around the world.

As remarked by one of the Regional Directors, this Joint Venture started as a pilot activity and they really didn't know what they were getting themselves into. Unfortunately there is little documentation of public-private partnerships, such as this Joint Venture, to deliver effective extension services to rural or small-scale farmers. Small-scale growers or rural farmers are unique clients of extension services, as they require both technical and developmental information to assist with their farming activities. However, given this dearth of information on joint public/private extension ventures, the partners of this JV had the courage to strike out and learn as they went along, establishing the required structure and support as it became necessary.

Impact of the Partnership

Structure: Information Flow

Prior to the development of the JV, information to the farmers or SSG was coming in an uncoordinated fashion from not only DAEA and SASEX but also from Mill staff, Contractors and Input suppliers. Now with the JV structure in place, the SSG have noted that they are getting their information in a more organized fashion. In achieving its objective of improving extension services to SSG, the JV has had a substantive impact on the flow of information both from researchers to the farmer and from the farmer to the researchers. This has occurred primarily through the development of a separate communication structure that incorporates some of the structural characteristics of both partners. Both partners of the JV bring their relative strengths to the information flow. SASEX is stronger is providing sugarcane production information, while the DAEA is stronger in providing rural development information which is equally important to the SSG. While it is not true that DAEA only generates development information, they are perhaps better equipped to develop this type of information than SASEX. Conversely, SASEX is more likely to have better expertise and resources in the development of technical sugarcane production information. However, in reality, this relationship is not exclusive and both partners are developing both types of information. The JV is not only pushing sugarcane production, but also development, and this coordination of production and development information is vital for success of the SSG.

What is important to note is that the structure of the JV is somehow separate from the two partners and both partners are able to feed information into the new communication structure. See Figure 1 below. It is important to note that the information flowing to the farmers is now coming from the JV in a unified fashion and not from two independently acting stakeholders. And as indicated by the diagram, the JV also allows for better information flow from the farmers (SSG) to both of the JV partners.

Figure 1: Information Flow

The above diagram characterizes some important components of the unique structure established by the JV. The SSG recognize that the information they are receiving is now better coordinated and hence more reliable. In the areas where the JV is functioning well, the SSG noted that they are no longer getting different information from the DAEA and SASEX staff.

Additionally, in some locations, the Mill staff members are contributing their information into this new communication structure and are delivering information in coordination with the partners of the JV. The enthusiasm of the SSG to improve sugarcane production is highest in areas where the information flow is coordinated between DAEA, SASEX and Mill staff. And in some of the best cases, the RD&E committees are working to bring the Contractors and Input suppliers into this communication structure. This improvement of information delivery is one of the best things about the JV noted by the SSG and MCC. Once a communication structure is developed and implemented for delivery of information to rural farmers, other stakeholders can use this structure for information delivery.

Structure - Meetings & Reporting

The monthly Research, Development and Extension meetings (RD&E) at each mill is a good example of how the formal and informal partners of the JV are able to come together under the umbrella of the JV to discuss common problems and issues and improve information flow to the SSG. The RD&E meetings are scheduled to occur on a monthly basis and are attended by members of SASEX, Mill extension, DAEA, Farmer representatives, the local Development Officer (DO) and other invited developers or supply agents.

Participants in the RD&E meetings find the monthly meetings to be constructive, useful and worthwhile. It is during these meetings that all the extension staff - SASEX, DAEA and Mill - can explain their work plans and discuss common areas of relevance. In this way, the extension work carried out in the field with the common audience of SSG, is thus delivered in a coordinated and more effective arrangement. It is interesting that the groups that have an active RD&E committee have few problems with implementing the JV, because they are able to deal with problems and issues on an on-going basis. Groups not holding these RD&E meetings have long lists of problems with sugarcane production in their areas, and one group that has not been meeting for some time has requested that the RD&E meetings should resume. The locations where the SSG are experiencing the best improvements in sugarcane production and income from their sugar fields are also the locations where the RD&E committees are meeting regularly with full participation of the stakeholders.

Structure - Extension Materials

In addition to the JV structure, the improvement of information flow can also be attributed to the development of better extension materials. The poster training modules and vernacular newsletters developed by the SASEX team are greatly appreciated by all stakeholders. The development of these materials is done in collaboration between the sugar extension specialists (SES) and agricultural technicians (AT). The SSG report that the field sessions are more informative and interesting with the posters.

There is overwhelming support for the posters by the AT. The technicians report that the information available to them via the posters is excellent. They state that the posters are useful in the field, although sometimes the posters may have too many words and not enough pictures. The scripts provided to the technicians with the posters were also greatly appreciated as this aids in the consistency of information delivery. However, some note that they need to deliver the same extension message to the same groups sometimes three and four times. It is boring to deliver the information with the same methodology each time. To date, all extension materials for the JV are developed and produced by SASEX.

Stakeholders - Small-Scale Growers

Where the JV has been successful, the JV has created an atmosphere of hope amongst the small-scale sugarcane growers. These SSG are producing more sugarcane with higher sugar content and hence earning more money from their sugarcane production than they had prior to this reform in extension delivery. As a result, these growers are hopeful of further improvements in their management, production and monetary returns of their sugarcane fields. In addition, their neighboring farmers are also becoming interested in the information and technology being offered by the technicians as a means to improve their income from sugarcane. They are now hopeful that their economic position and that of their families will improve. It would be destructive to both the social and economic development of the province to remove the structure and support of the JV at this time.

When growers were asked what they would do if their AT was reassigned to a different area, they reply that they would get another AT. Hence, it has been questioned that perhaps the JV is creating a dependency of the SSG upon extension services. And this may be true to some degree. However, when considering the role of extension in rural development, this is probably as it should be, at least initially. Ideally AT should be the link to bring the relevant information and skills to the SSG and stimulate development within rural communities. As the farmers and groups improve their skills and as the members of these communities recognize the value of what the AT is offering, they should begin to demand more of this type of information and service. At this stage, the farmers and groups should begin to develop more organizational and leadership skills (possibly through RD&E) so as to be able to access the required information on their own accord. The fact that some of the SSG within the JV are already demanding more involvement and information (bookkeeping, market gardening and syndicate farming) from the AT is a very healthy sign that they are already looking to take more control of their own development.

Stakeholders - Agriculture Technicians

There is an observable difference in the enthusiasm levels of the AT, which can be directly correlated to the success of the JV in their particular area. In places where the JV is working well, the AT are fully committed to their work. These AT were appreciative of the training and support afforded them through the JV. In particular, they were pleased with the junior and senior sugarcane certificate training courses offered by SASEX. The AT appreciate the monthly refresher courses and the training materials provided to them. They acknowledge that by their involvement with the JV, they receive priority travel for their work programmes. Overall, it can be said that the AT are empowered and encouraged to do their jobs well. Some of the more enthusiastic AT refer to the SASEX research station as 'our' research station, even though they are employed by DAEA.

Conversely, in areas where the JV is not quite so successful, the AT are not motivated to do their jobs well. When asked about the RD&E meetings, there are many excuses as to why these meetings were not occurring. These AT are not visiting their SSG; are not delivering many field sessions; do not have many observation plots; and do not travel often to the monthly refresher courses. It is possible that these AT do not have the necessary support of the HOD in their districts to motivate them to perform well.

Two additional issues raised by the AT are transparency and accountability. AT do not understand the responsibilities of the different stakeholders, nor who pays the salaries of the various members of the JV. AT also are not sure what the contribution of their efforts could mean in real or perceived benefits to their professional development. The technicians are unclear as to the reporting structure of the JV. There is different information coming from different AT as to what reports had to be written and to whom the reports are delivered. Even the use of the reports was uncertain to many of the AT. Most view the reports as only additional workload and do not identify the reports as being useful to their own work programme or their own professional development.

The selection of DAEA technicians for involvement in the JV is uncoordinated and unclear. There should be more transparency in the establishment of selection criteria, process of selection, and guidelines for removal or changing of a low performing AT.

Stakeholders - Head of Department

All technicians are required to prepare monthly progress reports, but only those in the JV do so with any regularity, primarily due to the additional supervision of the SASEX Sugar Extension Specialists. The HOD indicate that these reports make their workload much easier to manage as they are better informed of the work of their AT. A few of the HODs are trying to instill this same reporting principal and format for all of the technicians involved in other disciplines and commodities in their districts. This is a case of the structure of the JV partnership having a positive impact on the reporting structure of the public extension system. However, this issue of supervision of the JV AT seems to be a sensitive issue and some HOD are not willing to relinquish any of their administrative authority over their AT. It has been documented that in the areas where the HOD is receptive to administrative support from the SASEX SES, the sugarcane production has improved.

Stakeholders - Informal Partners

The Mill extension staff members are generally supportive of the JV agreement and view the improved delivery of extension information as way to make their own jobs of cane procurement easier. Since the Mill extension staff can avail upon the communication structure of the JV, this frees up some the time of the Mill extension staff to focus on coordinating the delivery of the sugarcane to the mill. The JV structure, specifically the RD&E meetings and newsletter, allows mill extension staff to disseminate their own information to the SSG more timely and effectively. Many of the Mill extension staff members have undergone the SASEX junior and senior level certificate training courses as SASEX provides the mill staff members with technical information and training when it is requested. Many times the mill extension staff members report that through their involvement with the JV, they have a more positive reception from the SSG in the field. They attribute this attitude change to the fact that they are part of the process of delivering coordinated information to the SSG who appreciates the fact that they are no longer receiving confusing or conflicting extension messages.

The Mill Cane Committee (a local, political body representing the farmers within the sugar industry) employs the Development Officers (DO) at each mill. The DO provides the administrative connection to local growers organizations. The DO facilitates the taking of MCC minutes, prepares agendas and arranges the training as required by each group. The DO is a key link between the resources of the JV and the SSG. In some areas the DO is very effective in promoting the development of the SSG and sugarcane production. However, there are reports of some DO who are manipulative and self-serving. In these cases, the MCC are not very enthusiastic about the potential of the JV in their province.

Conclusions & Recommendations


As a direct result of the implementation of JV partnership agreement, the SSG have increased their sugarcane yields from 28 tons/ha to 39 tons/ha. There has also been an increase in the horizontal production of sugarcane as many more hectares are being developed in the tribal trust land areas. More farmers have gone into sugarcane production since the inception of the JV, partly because of the guaranteed market and improved technical services.

Black farmers (primarily SSG) who were previously denied the opportunity of owning land, now can receive land by way of land redistribution of state owned land by the national government. Also, a land sale market has been created in the traditional white commercial area where any farmer can purchase title to land. It has been observed that black farmers who purchase these large farms are now welcomed as a commercial sugarcane farmer and receive their extension services from SASEX with the other commercial growers.

This JV has not only made inroads into improving sugar production among the SSG and improving capacity of the technicians, members of the MCC and mill extension staff, but also changing attitudes of these stakeholders about government (public) extension services. Government is now seen as a partner and not a single service provider, and this is a positive change. As mentioned by one of the government officials, "The JV is not pushing sugar, it is pushing development". And this may be one of the most convincing and pervasive strengths of this JV partnership when looking to the future.


The extension messages delivered by the JV are technically sound and widely appreciated. Most of the extension messages and materials developed to date have come from SASEX, with input from the HOD and AT. As mentioned in the observations section, the AT find it necessary sometimes to repeat the same extension message to the same SSG group several times. Although they greatly appreciate the posters, they indicated that they sometimes feel constrained by the posters and the accompanying scripts. Specifically, when they are repeating the same extension message several times using the same extension methodology. The technicians stated that they would like to explore other means of communicating the same message to their growers groups, but still maintaining the consistency of delivery.

One use of extension materials that is clearly appreciated by the farmers and technicians alike is the "Ingede" newsletter produced four times a year in local language. Although useful and highly requested, it is relatively costly. An alternative recommendation is to consider the creation of a one-page newsletter or bulletin that would cost less than the "Ingede" and allow all SSG something tangible to take home and read. Or post the newsletters on a bulletin board in a community center. These could be developed to support the poster sessions so that any grower attending a poster presentation will have something to take home as a reminder of the topic.

Although the technical information contained within the training posters is conveyed in the field, often times the delivery is lecture oriented. Perhaps the extension staff could use some more training on extension delivery methods. It might be useful to explore other delivery methods such as songs, contests, drama groups, or radio as a few examples. The Mill extension staff members highly recommend the continuation of the Observation Plots. These plots allow the SSG to critically select sugarcane varieties best adapted to their growing conditions and encourage farmer-to-farmer interactions.

As the JV continues to evolve and mature, the improved information channels and communication structures developed to improve distribution of sugarcane management and technical information could be utilized in the future to address economic and social concerns of the sugarcane grower groups. In some of the areas under the JV, the structure is well in place and operating effectively. However, this is not the case for every location. Some efforts need to be undertaken to ensure consistency of development of the JV structure, specifically the RD&E meetings and Information Flow. This might be achieved by changing of some of the AT or the movement of some of the AT. For the JV to be successful, it is critical to have the support of the HOD and an operating RD&E with active involvement of the MCC (either the DO or key contact growers). In areas where the JV is not yet fully operational or successful, it might be useful to use 'study tours' of key people, such as HOD or Tribal Leaders, to areas where the JV is operating successfully. It is highly recommended that the tours of the SASEX research station continue for just this reason, to build support of supervisory staff and key decision makers in the communities.


What is becoming apparent is that the SSG need to work more in groups in order to take advantage of limited resources. Skills such as group formation, numeracy, bookkeeping, and marketing are being requested more and more by the SSG and the local producer's organizations. As such, the JV is going to have to become more involved in the development of rural development extension messages, or growers need to have more control over the development of extension messages.

Technicians have a greater recognition and status level in DAEA and communities by way of the SASEX shirts, the refresher courses, and the priority travel arrangements given them in their districts. It has been requested by many that AT could be better motivated with new shirts, which would better indicate their involvement in the JV team. It is also suggested that the issue of reporting be clearly addressed to the AT. The AT need to be better briefed on their reporting responsibilities. In addition, they need to be made aware of the opportunities for professional development that may arise as a consequence of completing their reports. Along the same line of improving communication among the AT, there should be some sort of a forum or structure in place to allow for the technicians to interact with each other outside of the supervision of DAEA or SASEX supervisors. They could benefit from a period of time to freely share problems and solutions to their POW.

It was mentioned during a couple of the interviews that although the technicians were improving, were more knowledgeable and credible, perhaps is would be better if they were actually growers themselves. This comment came from both SSG and mill staff members. Some thought that this would indeed give the technicians more credibility with the growers. However, others were strongly against the idea, saying that the AT would then be spending too much time on their own fields and not doing their jobs as extension technicians, leading to a conflict of interests. It was also speculated that part of the value of the observation fields is that they are done by farmers and therefore doable by other farmers. However, another possible approach to this situation would be to utilize model farmers or farmer promoters.

In some places, the role of the Development Officer was being abused to the detriment of the success of the JV. It has been suggested that management of MCC finances become the responsibility of the MCC (a group) instead of the DO (an individual). Then it would be possible for the farmers to have more say (power) in how the funds of the MCC are spent. The SSG might request more training opportunities from the SES and AT if they had control of their funds. It is recommended that whoever has responsibility of MCC funds should provide clear and transparent records of these funds to the local associations and possibly also to the RD&E.

Another informal partner in the improvement of sugarcane production are the farm labourers and contractors/haulers. Some of the Mill extension staff members are of the view that it is ineffectual to train SSG, as it is not the SSG themselves, but rather hired farm labourers who are doing the farm work. These Mill extension staff may not want to cooperate with the JV because they believe the JV is focusing on the wrong target group, SSG. Whatever the answer, the labourers are part of the equation. The JV has not yet dealt with the training of farm labourers and contractors/haulers.

Future Directions and Priorities

At this time, five different proposals are suggested for consideration of the future direction of this, or any other similar partnership between public and private extension. These proposals take into account structural, stakeholder and content components of the extension system. Selection of a particular plan for future advancement will depend on the priorities of the particular situation, and may contain elements of several priority components.

  1. Status Quo: In this situation, the decision made would be to continue with the existing structure of extension delivery and to continue with transfer of technical information. The expectation in this scenario would be to improve production through vertical crop yield.

  2. Developmental Messages: For the success of SSG, there is a documented need for developmental messages/skills in addition to the technical information. In this particular case, the SSG have specifically requested training in Numeracy, Bookkeeping and Marketing. The growers in KwaZulu Natal province have realized that they need more skills to be able to determine the economic viability of sugarcane production. Luckily, the JV has established a system of information dissemination through the AT, Field Demonstrations, Observation Plots, RD&E meetings, Newsletter and Posters which could be availed upon to disseminate these additional topics requested by the growers.

  3. Broaden Stakeholder Inclusion: As indicated earlier in this study, there are many stakeholders who are involved/interested in the success of this JV partnership. In this study, they include, but are not limited to, Mill staff, the Commercial Growers, the Medium-Scale Indian Growers, MCC, Farmers Organizations, Input suppliers, Contractors and the Tribal Authorities, or Municipalities. Although these stakeholders are either involved or interested in the JV, they do not have any commitment or responsibility to the partnership. It is possible that separate agreements could be drafted for inclusion of these stakeholders to increase their support and responsibility to the development of SSG in their provinces.

  4. Structural Changes: It may be in the best interests of the SSG for the growers themselves to have more control and input to the JV structure. It is proposed that the SSG be allowed more room for input into the development of meeting agendas, topics for technical research developments, methods of extension delivery, support for field trials, and control in the delivery of information. Model growers should be identified for support of farmer directed extension efforts. This would necessitate a change in the structure of the JV and specifically in the communication flow allowing growers more control. A possible schematic diagram of this philosophical change in extension delivery is proposed in Figure 2. Here, the farmers are viewed as the base of the communication structure and are supported to develop their own technical and developmental extension messages. The farmers would also be more responsible to the structure implying such things as planning of field days, establishment of meeting agendas and development of technical curricula. However, the growers would require support from both SASEX and DAEA as indicated by the arrows flowing through their structures.

  5. Figure 2: Farmer-led Information Flow

  6. Social Messages: It is well recognized that although most private extension systems are focused only on production improvements, the public extension systems have a broader mandate to include other developmental skills and messages. However, in addition to improving the skills of the clients, public extension also have the role of addressing social issues that can impact upon national agriculture production. These can include such topics as: Impact of HIV/AIDS on Agriculture, Migration of Rural Youth, and Gender Inclusion. However, as the JV partnership has created an improved system of information delivery, it is possible that these AT could also become skilled to address these social issues in the rural communities. The AT is often times the only direct contact that the rural growers have with these types of information which are impacting on their abilities to support their households.

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