Posted November 1999
Extension is part of the adult educational process. In the context of this paper extension services are considered as those organisations and individuals that provide information, advice and/or consultancy services to farmers and their families, including horticultural crop producers, on matters related to production from rural areas. Although the main consideration is extension for agricultural production, it is recognised that extension services should include forestry and socio-economic activities.
Forms of agricultural extension services have operated in both Eastern and Western Europe since the middle of the last century. In the UK the term 'university extension' or 'extension of the university' was commonly used in the 1840s and Cambridge University formally adopted a system for the establishment of extension centres in 1873 (Van den Ban and Hawkins 1988). In Bulgaria the first agricultural schools were founded in 1883 (J. Achkakanova-Dimitrova, personal communication) and the Croatian/Slavonian Agricultural Society established eight regional extension services in 1842/43. (Zimbrek 1997). No doubt there are many other examples.
It is valuable to consider the context in which extension services have developed in Europe in the last 50 to 60 years as this demonstrates why Western Europe has largely moved to services for which the farmer pays and why CEE countries are establishing extension structures. It also highlights the differences between the situations relating to agriculture in the two regions that can be expected to influence the organisation of extension services.
The end of the Second World War found Europe seriously short of food, and governments introduced measures to increase production. These included expanded extension services, which in many cases were funded by the tax payer, and the formation of co-operatives for buying inputs and selling produce.
In the West the measures were successful and the emphasis changed from food production per se to economic food production. Eventually by the late 1970s, the EU was producing more than it needed from an increasingly smaller proportion of the work force. This led policy makers to question the logic of the tax payer funding advisory services that were helping farmers to produce food that was not needed within the EU. The result was a move towards charging farmers for the services they received and, in the case of England and Wales, privatisation of ADAS (Agricultural Development Advisory Service), the state advisory service and in Holland DLV becoming a self supporting foundation. It is important to note that these developments took place in a situation where farming was profitable and farmers were used to receiving advice. Western governments retained a facility to provide advice, in reality to persuade farmers, on matters of "public good", e.g. care of the environment, encouragement of biodiversity, and landscape enhancement.
The CEE countries followed a different path and in the 1950s amalgamated the myriad of small farms into state farms or co-operatives run by party officials. These very large units, often of several thousand hectares, employed a range of qualified specialists. Because there were relatively few of these farms, the research institutes could easily contact the relevant specialists and provide them with the results of the research findings which the specialists were then expected to apply on their own farms. This information transfer was usually done by lectures and demonstrations and constituted the main extension activities during the communist period. Private farmers, where they remained, were excluded from the extension system.
Since 1990 in most of the CEE countries the state and co-operative farms have been broken down into much smaller units resulting in thousands of very small farms. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary did not follow this path and have retained the large farm structure but with changed ownership and management. The profitability of farming has been at best poor and there has been an enormous drop in agricultural production. At the same time the government reduced funding, in some cases by 50 per cent within one year, to the research institutes, and so they could no longer afford to provide free services to farmers.
The result of this combination of circumstances was an acceptance that if farm production was to be increased (and possibly, for political reasons, the new farmers made to feel that something was being done to help them) extension services suitable for the new situation were necessary. The economic situation of all CEE countries was such that only a very limited amount of money from government was available to pay for the extension services. It is not surprising therefore that the idea of following the west and selecting a system of charging for advice was widely considered and in some cases implemented. However, conditions in the CEE countries are very different from those applying when chargeable extension services were introduced in the West. In particular the farmers in the CEE countries are very poor and are largely unaware of the value of advice.
It is not intended in this paper to discuss the relative merits of charging for advice or providing it free to the farmer. What seems clear is that if people do not appreciate that advice will help them or if they cannot afford to invest in advice they will not pay for extension services. Taken to its logical conclusion, if advice is helpful, then those who realise its value and find the money to pay for it will expand their business at the expense of their neighbours. In time, the agricultural industry will be restructured and farms operated by the most efficient managers - but at what social cost? It is against this background that the different systems implemented in different CEE countries are considered and some of the important issues discussed.
The approach taken to agricultural extension in CEE countries
The different approaches adopted can be divided into three broad categories:
The fully funded government organisation
Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland and Romania, are countries that have, or plan to, follow this path. All have many small farmers and the first three, at least, are only in the very early stages of developing the extension services, despite substantial technical assistance from the EU, the US and other donors. Romania and Albania have yet to establish a credible extension service although both have sections within the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for extension and both have plans for local extension offices and, in Romania's case, staff that are supposed to advise farmers. However, anecdotal reports indicate these people are neither active nor effective. The recent appointment of a Director for Agricultural Extension within the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture and Food implies that Romania has a real commitment to focusing more attention on extension.
The Polish extension service was established in 1991. It provides an extension centre in each of the 49 voivodships and these provide advisory, information and education services. (Kielczewska 1996).
Bulgaria has established the National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAAS) which has 30 local offices, each with about five specialists, nine regional offices and four national centres for training, information, agri-business and accountancy, and soil analyses. Funds come from central and local government. (Achkakanova-Dimitrova, personal communication).
Croatia established the Agricultural Consultancy Service in 1994 as a department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. It is now an autonomous structure within the Ministry employing around 100 advisers based in local offices who are required to take a proactive approach to their work. It is financed from national and local government. There is provision for local government to fund and employ additional advisers (Zimbrek, 1997).
Macedonia and Slovenia are both understood to have government funded extension services.
Advice provided by private consultants
Hungary, Estonia, and the Slovak and Czech Republics have adopted this policy. The fundamental philosophy is that it is not for government to provide the consultancy services but government may encourage farmers to use private advisers if it meets its policy requirements. Schemes are in existence to subsidise the advice.
The Estonian position is described elsewhere in this workshop and will not be summarised here. However, it is noteworthy that in Estonia an independent Association of Agricultural Advisers was established in 1994. This has subsequently expanded its membership and played a significant part in the development of the consultancy profession in that country. It should be emphasised that the organisation was established by forward thinking consultants and, although encouraged by the government, is a completely independent organisation.
Hungary recently established a "National Body for Extension Co-ordination" which includes farmers and makes recommendations to the Ministry of Agriculture. Government support to consultants includes funding of training for farmers and consultants, funding of publications to support these activities and provision of an infrastructure to support advisers through the establishment of three regional extension and information centres based at, but legally independent of, three universities. There are also a number of professional knowledge centres that co-ordinate advice and provide specialist support to the private consultants. There were 670 advisers registered in 1996 (Kozari 1997).
Slovakia is still developing its policy for extension. Current plans are for a network of Extension Centres that will provide a link between those seeking advice and those providing it. Farmers receive subsidies for some forms of advice.
The Czech Republic has allowed the consultancy services to develop in response to market demand as well as providing financial inducements to farmers to use the advice available. Progress in the use of consultants is monitored by a research project operated and managed by The Czech Agricultural University in Prague in association with The University of Reading, UK and involving a range of institutions in the Republic. The results for this project are expected to be published later this year.
A Government Service that raises money from the private sector
Latvia and Lithuania have taken this path. Both have extension services that are part of the Ministry of Agriculture and both have negotiated arrangements whereby they may provide services in return for a fee in addition to those normally provided to farmers by the government. At present, only a small proportion of income comes from the private sector. The organisation of the services is similar to regional and local offices staffed by advisers and with a headquarters staff that includes specialists and provides central support facilities such as publication preparation and information storage and retrieval.
The effectiveness of extension services is notoriously hard to measure. Moreover, in the differing circumstances of each of the CEE countries to make any comparison on the effectiveness of the different approaches, without a full analysis of the different situations prevailing in the countries, would be at best unwise and at worst dangerous. What could be considered are a number of issues that are important in defining the role and determining the success of extension services.
The quality of the advisers
In most countries agricultural advisers may practice as consultants without having a professional qualification. This is in contrast to some other professions e.g. veterinary surgeons. A prerequisite for farmers to use advisers is that the farmer has confidence in the ability of the adviser. This is achieved in the West through a number of mechanisms, based on the fact that advisers are legally required not to be negligent when advising their clients and to advertise only that which they are able to provide. Consultancy firms have been established for many years and have built up reputations. New entrants to the consultancy business have to sell their services in a competitive market and depend either on past reputation or on quickly establishing a good reputation. EU farmers are used to obtaining advice and should be experienced in working within a market economy and so better able to make good choices and understand the risks when employing a consultant. It might also be argued they are sufficiently financially sound to withstand the impact of bad advice (though most would deny this in today's circumstances).
The CEE farmer is unused to a market economy and generally sceptical of the value of advisers, especially if they come from the government. Legislation regarding the provision of negligent advice is in its infancy if on the statute book at all. The farmer's financial resources are very small and for the great majority of farmers the land provides for their own needs with a small surplus being sold. In these circumstances greater credibility can be expected to be given to an adviser who is known to have relevant knowledge. Where the government is providing the extension service then the government, at least in theory, will select only suitably qualified personnel. In practice the government advisory services tend to take existing government staff who are probably technically qualified but who often have, at best, only a small interest in and understanding of extension. Where the policy is to encourage private advisory services then some form of approval scheme may give greater credibility to advisers in the farmers' eyes and also provide a measure of control for governments in the administration of support for the advisers. Estonia has already established a scheme and Slovakia is seriously considering one.
Latvia and Lithuania have established state services with the opportunity of raising revenue, and have obtained substantial technical assistance that emphasised meeting the needs of the clients. The combination of attention to customer needs, the realisation of partial operation in the market economy and the training provided to the advisers has ensured that the quality of their staff is high.
Qualification of advisers
Agricultural education in the CEE countries produced technically well qualified and knowledgeable graduates in specialist disciplines. Subsequently these people worked in an environment in which they often became more specialised. The zoo-engineer responsible for animal nutrition was not involved in animal selection and breeding, and the agronomist responsible for variety selection may not have talked to the plant protection specialist. Thuis may have been an appropriate situation for the very large collective farms, but it is certainly unsuitable for the smaller scale commercial enterprises and utterly useless for the very small family farms. In addition, skills in business management, group formation and marketing in a market economy, which are now considered essential, were not taught. Western universities have recently extended their curricula to include organic production, environmental issues, impact assessment and landscape management. Educators in most of the CEE countries have now changed the curricula and provide courses in marketing and business management. However, they need to make further changes to meet today's needs.
Training specialists to become generalists has proved more difficult but has been successfully achieved in some places (Estonia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia). There is still much to be done in this area, particularly regarding the need for consultants to understand the concept of urgency and to be able to write brief, succinct and relevant reports for their clients.
Inter-personal communication skills and training in extension methods remain a high requirement. The short courses provided as part of technical assistance programmes are very valuable but cannot be a substitute for the post graduate diploma and higher degree courses available in western Europe. Presently, the teaching capacity of CEE universities in these topics is very limited. Institutions such as the Institute of Rural Development in Tartu, Estonia and the Department of Pedagogy at the Czech Agricultural University, Prague, are amongst those who are rapidly expanding their expertise.
Motivation and management of advisers
Many advisers within the CEE countries are there because they lost their jobs in research institutes or on the collective farms. In these circumstances it is, perhaps, surprising that there are so many highly motivated advisers. However if standards are to be improved further then better-qualified people will be needed. Pay and prospects for advancement are key incentives but the perceived status of advisers as being lower than that of "proper scientists" working in universities and institutes means that some of the best people will not make a change of career to extension work. It is important that CEE governments and the consultants themselves seek to raise the status of advisers. (This is not only a problem for the CEE countries as many agricultural advisers in Western Europe also feel that they lack proper recognition for their skills).
A large number of advisers have their own small holdings. This enables them to "keep their boots dirty" but has implications for the spread of pests and disease in both animals and plants and means the adviser has divided loyalties. They may also be perceived as obtaining unfair advantage from their position. Certainly if the adviser receives government funds for his or her farming activities then every precaution must be taken to ensure that only the correct support is received and is seen to be received. There are also instances where advisers work part time for a food processor and part time as an independent consultant. This situation must cause farmers to question the independence of the adviser when working in his independent mode. Ideally the adviser should work only for the advisory service which is not realistic in the CEE countries at present but could be a long term aim.
Identification of user needs and involvement of users in management
Rural appraisal techniques have been used on occasions, e.g. as reported by Thompson and Jones (1997) in Estonia, but not widely. When used they tend to "result in a regurgitation of farmers problems rather than identifying solutions" (Zijp 1997). Questionnaires have also been used to try to assess what farmers want, at least in Estonia and Slovakia. Otherwise the approach has tended to be top down with extension service managers assessing the farmers needs and determining the service's approach to meeting them. In the UK, ADAS staff, prior to privatisation, felt they knew what the farmers wanted. Market research conducted in the pre-privatisation period found that they had, at best, incomplete knowledge. It is certain that it would be beneficial to pay more attention to what the farmer perceives as his/her needs if extension services are to be more effective.
Rural appraisal and market research techniques are very useful but time consuming. On a regular basis an advisory committee, as used by the Latvian Agricultural Advisory Service, comprising representatives of the various stakeholders is desirable for all publicly funded services. With the right membership both the service and the owner (the government) benefit. Management committees are more contentious, as they can remove authority and responsibility from the extension service management leading to lack of focus for the organisation and lack motivation for the staff.
Who are to be the clients and what services are to be provided?
With the exception of Slovakia, the Czech Republic and possibly Hungary, CEE countries have thousands of very small farmers (1.8 million in Bulgaria), relatively few larger family farms and a few very large farms. However, the proportion of land occupied is not proportionate to the number of farmers in each group with the larger farms managing a relatively high proportion of the land. This poses governments with a dilemma. Do they support advice for all or do they concentrate limited advisory resources on the larger farms where the return on investment is likely to be much greater. If they do ignore the small farmer (plotter or gardener) they may alienate a significant proportion of the electorate. For instance in Romania, 48 per cent of the population lives in rural areas.
Addressing this problem is not easy for governments. From a practical point of view it is clearly impractical to fund the provision of high quality one-to-one advice to more than a small proportion of the very small farmers. This means that a mass or group approach is essential. Larger farmers can justify more comprehensive and detailed advice and are more likely to be able to afford to pay for it. The implication of this analysis is that:
It is far from certain that many CEE country governments have adequately addressed the issue of where the extension effort should be directed.
Use of the mass media and information technology
It has been argued that insufficient use is made of both technologies. The mass media, and radio in particular, thanks to the increased skills of the journalists, are now a very effective means of communication. A case in point is the results of a survey in Romania. Radio was most often mentioned as the most credible source of information and not a single person was mentioned as a credible source; the respondents did not seem to trust any individual (Zijp 1997). A mass media approach is the only practical way of getting information to thousands of small farmers even though it has limited capabilities in the provision of advice which requires an assessment of an individual's situation. Radio is particularly valuable in creating awareness of situations, especially when urgent action may be needed. (e.g. a pest or disease requiring control in crops). Television seems to offer limited opportunity in extension due to the lack of buying power or relatively low proportion of the population involved in agriculture.
The information interactive technology will have profound implications for development. To date, the Internet has had little direct effect on the great majority of farmers although some advisers have ready access. (In Estonia where domestic and foreign investment in computers for extensionists has been substantial, and where there are relatively few advisers, possibly half the consultants are connected to the Internet). Telecottages and community communication centres such as those in Sweden and Hungary must have potential for providing direct access for farmers and for supplying locally based extension agents with information. Cost of equipment represents an obstacle to greater use of information technology and the standard of telecommunications in some countries also limits its development at present. However, this modern and powerful communication technology can be of great benefit to the rural population and probably much more thought should be given to its use and different approaches tried in the CEE countries.
The extension - research link
Effective and rapid transfer of research results to the farming industry is imperative for the industry to become and remain competitive. Extension agents obtain their information from many sources, research being one of the most important. The link between research and farms was relatively straightforward when both were owned by the state. Today the research institutes and the research departments of universities must respond to the needs of the industry. Governments cannot afford to spend money on unnecessary research. The extension services in the West act as a conduit for information between the farmers and researchers. These roles are poorly developed in CEE countries and the links are in urgent need of strengthening. The job descriptions and performance indicators for both applied research and extension staff must emphasise their duty to contribute to the research-extension link. The use of commercial farms to demonstrate and test new techniques is an effective extension tool that also establishes valuable links between farmers, extensionists and researchers.
Sources of advice
Apart from the advice provided by government services or private independent consultants, there are many other sources of advice available to farmers, particularly the supply industry (providers of animal feedstuffs, agrochemicals, seeds and machinery). These people can, and usually do, provide valuable help to farmers as they wish to develop and maintain a long term relationship with their clients. However, their first loyalty is to the company's owners.
The use of distance learning has considerable potential in the CEE countries. A UK supported project in Romania has successfully demonstrated that management techniques and skills can be imparted, in this case to managers of fish farms. The drop-out rate was very low and the benefits for their commercial approach seem substantial.
As farms in the CEE countries become competitive, the labour requirement will decrease, in most countries probably to less than half that of the current level. If the movement of labour to the towns is to be slowed and an acceptable rural population maintained then support will be needed not just for farmers but for other rural based entrepreneurs. The EU SAPARD programme focuses on this issue and requires each participating country to produce a national rural development plan. The agricultural extension services will therefore need to expand their activities and expertise into rural development or work very closely with agencies that provide rural development advice.
With the great variation between the different CEE countries, in their farming structures, and in their research and extension achievements and needs, it would be unwise and indeed not feasible to offer any kind of general prescription for progress in relation to future EU membership. The best option is to offer a set of key issues, which a country ought to consider in developing its own plans for future action. In certain countries some or even all of these items may have been considered and acted upon already. However, there is always room for re-checking, and for seeking improvement.
The items are not listed in any order of priority. However, the one aspect that should be stressed above all others, and which pervades many of the points below, is the need to ensure that all efforts in both research and extension are geared to meet the current and potential future requirements of agricultural producers and their customers.
Programmes and projects
The national research programme should be tailored to support the needs of the agricultural industry of the country. The portfolio of projects should be reviewed regularly, by a broad-based group that includes not only scientists but also farmers, advisers, food industry representatives, export marketers and other stake-holders. An overview group and specialised sub-groups will be needed.
The programme should be reviewable. Digestible, informative, up-to-date summaries of projects, suitably classified, should be available. Objectives, results to date, time required, costs, locations, and future plans should be available.
New proposals should be elicited from research and extension services, farmer and marketing organisations, and other bodies, and assessed alongside the existing programme. For longer-term projects, it is worth considering adoption of a firm replacement policy, for example terminating 10 per cent of existing projects each year, and introducing 10 per cent of new ones.
The key criteria for priority judgement should be:
The required number and size of research institutes and stations, and university departments should be assessed, in relation to national and regional needs, and to funds available. Preference should be given to doing a smaller amount of more effective research, with properly rewarded staff and good facilities, rather than maintaining a larger amount that could suit a wider range of conditions but may never receive sufficient support for good progress.
Communication with extension services must be encouraged and monitored. Researchers must feed extension units with information, and gain from them up-to-date information on practical agricultural issues.
All research centres should be accountable to a broad-based controlling body, which includes industry representatives.
Each institute and research station should have an advisory committee, with farmer and other industrial members, and formation of members' associations should be encouraged.
The total amount of public money to be invested in research must be assessed. It should be determined primarily by the importance of agricultural progress to the national economy and social well-being, rather than by past research effort and its cost. Current values from other countries should be obtained and kept in mind, e.g. research expenditure as a percentage of gross agricultural output.
Other sources of income should be maximised. Opportunities for EC funding will greatly increase, but the system is complex and individuals, at headquarters and institute level, should be trained as expert advisors on gaining EC funding. Funding from levy bodies, trade associations and companies can be substantial, and can increase science-industry collaboration. Consider also government-industry Link Schemes for joint project funding.
Appropriate norms for the ratio of staff payment to overheads should be established, in order to secure proper support for equipment, materials, journals, travel, communication, safety measures, etc. Whilst some flexibility may be necessary, research contracts should not depart too far from these norms.
Special attention should be given to the career paths of young scientists. Grants should be available for 1 to 2-year M.Sc. and should be given 3-year Ph.D. studies at universities and institutes, generally to be followed by a move to another research centre. If possible, post-Doctoral fellowships should be awarded to promising scientists to enable experience in other countries (perhaps with a condition of return to the home country for a minimum period).
A system of regular progress reviews should be outlined to monitor the performance and development of all research staff.
The farmers should be categorized and extension resources allocated to each group according to their respective priority and structure.
The perceived and real needs of different groups of farmers should be identified accurately and extension programmes should be designed to meet the requirements of the different groups.
The links between client groups and advisers should be strengthened to ensure that the advisers improve the degree to which they meet the farmers needs.
The two-way links between research and the farmers should be strengthened by effectively utilising the extension organisations.
A culture should be developed in the agricultural scientific community that accepts that advising is a profession which requires different, but equivalent, skills from a researcher.
The policy and co-ordination units in government charged with developing extension systems should be strengthened. The usual answer to a request for more people is the inability to finance the posts. Many Ministries of Agriculture have thousands of employees (the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Romania is reported in a PHARE project report as having 32,000 employees) including teachers, researchers and staff in regional offices. Relatively few may be employed in the central office leading to inadequate resources for policy work. From these thousands of posts it should be possible to identify some that are less important and to transfer the funds, not necessarily the people, into work for agricultural extension.
The opportunities to benefit from the incidental improvement in biodiversity resulting from the greatly reduced use of agrochemicals since transition need consideration.
The issue of rural development and its relationship with agricultural consultancy services, should be addressed.
It should be determined whether the widespread use of information technology is practical and, if so, a programme should be drawn to fully utilise this powerful tool.
The agricultural education system should be reviewed to ensure that it meets current and future requirements for the training of potential extension workers and those expected in the future.
Ministries of Agriculture should seek to ensure that Ministries of Finance appreciate the value of an extension service in achieving the goals of government policy.
International agencies, such as the EC, should investigate the possibility of establishing professional standing for agricultural consultants thus helping to ensure an improved status in the eyes of scientists and increased credibility in the eyes of the farmer.
The variety of approaches adopted by the different countries of Central and Eastern Europe make general conclusions difficult to draw. What is apparent is the need for governments to decide on clear, well-reasoned policies for agriculture, agricultural research and extension. To what extent, and how, will they support their agricultural industries? Are they prepared to consult with the agricultural industry and to make difficult decisions on changing the content of their agricultural research programmes? Most of the CEE countries cannot afford the numerous research facilities that exist at present, particularly as the level of commercially sponsored research is less in the CEE countries than in "The West". The large commercial production activities of many of the research centres in the CEE countries is probably not a function to be encouraged in the public sector.
Which groups of farmers are governments going to support with extension activities? Is the emphasis to be on the most economically productive sector or is the effort to be concentrated on the very small farmers, most of whom will never manage commercially competitive farms. The longer these decisions are postponed the longer it will take for the farmers to become competitive. But it is not easy - democratic government means the electorate must be persuaded that even more unpalatable changes are necessary before their country's agriculture becomes competitive on the European and World markets. The development of stronger social policies providing support and empowerment for rural communities will be essential in the remaining stages of transition.
At present the low price obtained for primary agricultural products is probably the main brake on farms becoming competitive. While government policies have a place, the main way to improve this is by better marketing, involving improved quality and continuity of supply. If the processing industry modernises then it will demand both and this will provide the necessary incentive for farmers to increase and improve their production. Investment in turn will be attracted by the prospect of improved profits. The research and extension sectors have a major role in ensuring that the appropriate technologies are known and promulgated to the industry and that farmers not only have the information but also the knowledge of how to judge what is in their best interests.
Researchers and extensionists must take more account of the needs of the farmers, take positive steps to identify these and ensure that strong permanent and effective links are forged between all parties. Frequently, within the CEE countries the concept of the stake-holder is difficult to grasp, Slovakia for instance has no direct translation for the word, and yet stake-holder analysis is crucial to the positive development of all sectors of the agricultural industry. The research and extension sectors must work with the education sector to ensure that the farmers are aware not only of the need and methods for improved quality and more efficient production but of the farmers' role in maintaining biodiversity and protecting the landscape. CEE countries have a potential competitive advantage in this area at present which should be guarded jealously. The full potential of the current level of information technology has yet to be identified and put into practice. Advisers need to work more closely with journalists to produce more effective mass media programmes.
It will take several years for most CEE countries to achieve an agricultural industry that is fully competitive with that of the EU but given the political will and the continuing support of the international community, there is no doubt that this can be attained. The farmers that survive into this era will have learnt their lessons the hard way and will prove very efficient competitors to the EU farmer used to a high level of protection.
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