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Chapter 2 - Alternative approaches to organizing extension

Uwe Jens Nagel

Uwe Jens Nagel is a Professor of Agricultural Extension and Communication Science, Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture, Humboldt-Universität of Berlin, Germany.

Extension goals
Alternative ways of organizing extension
Present and future role of extension staff

Extension, as the organized exchange of information and the purposive transfer of skills, is a rather recent phenomenon. Obviously, transfer of information and skills has existed since the emergence of permanent agriculture. Today's practice is different in that the process is dominated by organizations, and its scope has extended from disconnected local events to a complicated, large-scale, and even worldwide activity.

In this chapter, extension approaches are presented in terms of their most important organizational forms and their respective goals. The goal system reflects the power positions of various groups of actors. Therefore, without an understanding of the historical development and of the interest groups involved, present achievements and shortcomings of extension approaches cannot be evaluated. It is assumed that different forms of organizing extension are per se neither "good" nor "bad." Rather, extension services must be judged against their proper goals. The one universal yardstick, however, is their service function to the rural communities. Extension which is not in touch with and does not significantly contribute to improving the life situation of its clientele has lost its legitimization.

Extension goals

Goals lead the actions of individuals, groups, and organizations. While pointing towards a future state, they are influenced if not determined by past experiences. They reflect the interests of their stakeholders and differ, therefore, according to specific life situations, power positions, and development philosophies. The prominent features of a system, such as its organizational structure, the choice of clientele, its operational design, and the methods used, are directly influenced by its set of goals and must be evaluated in terms of their contribution to goal achievement.

Main actors within the extension system are the members of rural communities, extension and other development personnel, researchers, and staff of commercial or public service and support organizations. Empirical evidence shows a variety of forms in which interaction among these groups is institutionalized. The variety of forms suggests a similar variety of goals, and either could be used to classify extension approaches. In practice, however, one finds an almost inseparable mixture of goals inhibiting a clear-cut classification. It seems more appropriate, then, to use a broader category, namely, selectivity with regard to clientele, and treat the respective goals as a continuum. The two end points of this continuum would be marked as technology transfer and human resource development, suggesting either a rather narrow technical or a broader socioeconomic view of development.

Technology Transfer

Until the end of the eighteenth century, farming techniques developed gradually and steadily over centuries with few qualitative leaps. Colonialism and imperial expansion introduced innovations - the spread of maize, tobacco, potatoes are striking examples - but experimentation and dissemination of knowledge were basically at the local farm level. The rise of agricultural sciences has induced dramatic changes in this respect. Increasingly, new technology has been created outside the actual farming sector by public sector research organizations. More recently, private firms in industrialized economies find agricultural technology research and development a highly profitable business.

For decades the research-extension-farmer linkage, especially in developing countries, was based on a rather simple model. In order to achieve development, "modem" research results had to be transferred to the "traditional" farmer, and extension seemed to be the appropriate means to do so. The general faith in science and the commitment to modernization led to discrediting indigenous knowledge. Although this view is still held by many administrators, researchers, and extension agents, it is now being seriously questioned. Farming systems research and the "rediscovery" of farmers' knowledge (Chambers, Pacey, & Thrupp, 1989) have shown that "improved technology is a package of inputs and practices that usually comes from many sources" (UNDP, 1991, p. 2). The reexamination of the conventional view on agricultural knowledge cannot, however, result in questioning the important role of research as the source of new technology. For developing countries, one observes that the accelerated growth and spread of problems - such as the degradation of marginal land - surpass the problem-solving capacities of the local population. What is called for is a setting of new priorities and the building of knowledge systems based on problem solving rather than on information transfer.

Human Resource Development

The concept of human resource development is much broader than that of technology transfer, though both are closely interrelated. Increasing complexity not only of technology but also of the life situation of farmers even in remote areas demands new skills. With the help of these skills, rural women and men "acquire a better insight into the network of problems and recognize the alternative solutions available" (Albrecht et al., 1989, p. 34). Traditionally, teaching the basic skills of literacy and numeracy has not been an extension activity. The limited success of literacy programmes in poor countries has drawn attention to nonformal education in which extension has an important part to play (Coombs and Ahmed, 1974). Whereas in most cases this would require a coordinated effort of different organizations of which extension is but one, human resource development may also be regarded as a genuine extension content.

Extension may substitute over a certain period activities such as vocational education that are not yet in place, but more important will be the teaching of managerial and organizational skills that will enable farmers to increasingly solve their own problems. Human resource development thus aims at what may be called "critical competence." Extension clients know what to ask for, they can evaluate the appropriateness of technical information, they are responsible decision makers. Persons with this qualification exist in every rural community, and they will be the ones who actively seek further assistance. One important task of any extension system will therefore be to extend human resource development to underprivileged groups with less access to formal or vocational education - women farmers, rural youth, and generally small farmers in remote areas.

Alternative ways of organizing extension

The goals of extension may vary, as was shown, within the overall system as well as between different extension organizations. In addition, specific objectives may sometimes contradict each other. While smaller systems may come close to pursuing a consistent set of objectives or reconciling conflicting interests, large-scale organizations must work on a compromise basis. In this respect, Axinn's principal observation is of particular importance: "The success of an agricultural extension programme tends to be directly related to the extent to which its approach fits the programme goals for which it was established" (Axinn, 1988, p. 135).

The alternatives to organizing extension demand choices on various levels:

· Public versus private
· Government versus nongovernment
· Top-down (bureaucratic) versus bottom-up (participatory)
· Profit versus nonprofit
· Free versus cost-recovery
· General versus sector
· Multipurpose versus single purpose
· Technology driven versus need oriented

In practice, extension organizations everywhere pursue the overall goals of technology transfer and human resource development, though the emphasis will differ. Within each organization there is a mix of objectives, and within countries there is often a mix of organizational patterns. When presenting an overview on the most important patterns, we will be using a well-established terminology (Axinn, 1988; UNDP, 1991), though the grouping is different. We will differentiate between approaches that, at least in principle, target all persons in rural areas engaged in farming and those that purposely select clientele according to specific criteria.

General Clientele Approaches

Ministry-Based General Extension. Shortly before or after independence, organizing agricultural extension work under the wings of the ministry of agriculture seemed to be an ideal solution for many African and Asian governments. All options for reaching large numbers of clients and serving their needs in terms of quality information and assistance appeared to be open. The original colonial model combined research and extension within the same organization. All important aspects of small-holder agriculture - plant production, animal husbandry, home economics - could be attended to as the ministry established respective sections under its jurisdiction. The fact that the ministerial hierarchy followed the country's territorial subdivision allowed the systematic expansion of the system "down" to the village. The generalist nature of field extension staff functions corresponded to the set of problems faced by noncommercial growers. To cater to specific needs - in terms of technology or in terms of target groups - specialists could be employed. Thus clientele included in principle all persons engaged in agriculture. Commercial service and support organizations lacking, village-level extension staff could be expected to supplement information by rendering services necessary to apply it productively. A uniform and nationwide organizational pattern seemed to facilitate information flow - including the infusion of expatriate expertise - and corrective measures whenever weaknesses were identified. Public interest was to guide goal setting, programme formulation, and the implementation of fieldwork.

A review of the last thirty years of extension work in Africa and Asia shows that reality is quite far for failure are complex and manifold and cannot be removed from this vision (Moris, 1991). The reasons for failure are complex and manifold and cannot be reduced simply to incompetence or the ill-will of national governments.

One reason is the contradictory nature of goals. Public interest implies serving farmers and the urban population, securing subsistence production and promoting cash crops for export, reaching the masses of rural households and serving the needs of specific groups, extending assistance to high-potential and disadvantaged producers. In short, priorities will have to be set, and these are all too often pro urban in terms of price policy, favouring innovative individuals within the modem sector, neglecting poorer strata, and forgetting about women farmers.

In many ways, the hierarchical and highly bureaucratic way in which the services are organized hampers a full realization of their potential. Priority setting for research is rarely based on extension field evaluations because the system does not foster critical upward communication.

The way in which technical (and other) knowledge is transformed into field messages frequently leads to distorted and outdated information.

In the eyes of the ministry, extension has never been a purely educational activity. This is a legitimate view as long as the different functions to be performed by extension personnel are compatible and basically client oriented (such as helping to organize input supply). Noneducational activities may include anything from statistical data collection to attending to foreign visitors. Incompatible with and clearly detrimental to regular extension work are such activities as supervising credit repayment, policing disease control measures, organizing "voluntary" community work, and electioneering.

Ministry-based extension has been unable to reach a majority of its potential clientele for economic, sociopsychological, and technical reasons. Even dramatic quantitative increases in personnel - more staff closer to the farmer - have not produced manageable client-to-agent ratios. In recent years, the trend has even been negative. Financial constraints have produced a strong pressure to reduce staff, and the field level has been hit hardest. Those remaining have little if any material resources left to maintain mobility.

In addition, many extension workers select the more responsive section of their clientele. They may have to fulfil production plans, they may want to improve job satisfaction or status, or they may simply be prejudiced against certain target groups. Lastly, extension often has little to offer in terms of messages to large sections of the rural population. Adequate and location-specific answers to a farmer's problem are often not available because it has not been a research concern or the solution has simply not reached the field.

Today's situation is aggravated by two additional aspects which refer to the internal structure of the service: management problems and lack of control from below. Ministry extension employs thousands of persons working under a wide variety of circumstances. Decision making and management are highly centralized and formalized. Extension fieldwork, on the other hand, demands location-specific, flexible, and often quick decisions and actions. Managing the "invisible" man or woman (Chambers, 1974) must be highly ineffective as long as he or she is expected to receive and execute orders.

All these problems are well known, and criticism has come both from within and outside the ministry. What has been lacking is organized feedback from clientele. Farmers may show their discontent by refusing to cooperate with extension, but they have virtually no way of influencing institutional reforms.

Training and Visit Extension (T&V). In the strict sense of the word, T&V is not a separate approach but one way to organize ministry-based extension. The controversial debate on the merits of T&V tends to obscure the fact that it was originally meant to solve some very specific problems of conventional extension services.

Benor and Harrison's original paper - one of the most influential extension publications ever - critically evaluates the ministry-based extension system of the 1970s (Benor & Harrison, 1977, p. 6-9). They found:

· An inadequate internal organizational structure
· Inefficiency of extension personnel
· Inappropriateness or irrelevance of extension content
· Dilution of extension impact

Whichever impact is reached serves "only a few favored farmers in favored areas rather than the bulk of the farming community" (p. 9).

When first being introduced, T&V seemed to be strikingly original and promising because it combined a set of rather convincing simple elements in a plausible way. Rather than trying to reach all farmers directly and thus preprogramming constant failure, the system concentrates on contact farmers expected to pass information on to fellow farmers with similar problems. To ensure regular field contacts, facilitate supervision and communication, and set clear and attainable objectives, fixed visits at regular intervals are prescribed. Similarly, regular sessions for extension workers to receive training and discuss administrative matters are held. Thus costly refresher courses are avoided, knowledge may be enhanced step-by-step, and up-to-date information can be fed into the system.

In addition, T&V operates under the assumption that its extension workers are exclusively engaged in educational activities and that a unified extension service exists. Agricultural research must not only be effective but also work in close collaboration with extension. Both external and internal evaluations are to be used to constantly modify and adapt the system to changing conditions.

Simple as the prescriptions seemed, implementation proved to be difficult. First, the contact farmer concept - implying a two-step flow of information from the extension worker to the contact, farmer and from there to other farmers - has frequently failed. Extension workers have been blamed for "wrong selection," but the root of the problem lies within the purely technical philosophy of T&V. Other aspects such as communication skills, leadership, and organizational capacities are neglected. In practice, T&V has been a top-down approach leaving little possibility for participation and initiative, both for farmers and village extension workers. Too little emphasis has been put on critical feedback based on self-evaluation. As a result, rigidity rather than flexibility characterizes local fieldwork.

Secondly, Benor's fear that extension services may "rapidly run out of anything to extend" (Benor & Harrison, 1977, p. 8) characterizes many T&V field situations. The standardized messages passed on are often of little relevance to local conditions. Once T&V was extended to less favoured regions, it soon became clear that technology of the green revolution type showing quick and visible results is not available. Still, training sessions were held and visits made according to schedule, leaving behind disinterested farmers and demotivated extension workers.

The limited success of T&V in its present form as a nationwide extension system should not discredit the quality and appropriateness of many of its elements. Applied less rigidly and combined with the tools of human resource development as well as with the concept of participation, these elements may constitute a valuable base for reforming extension organizations, large or small (Nagel et al., 1992).

The Integrated (Project) Approach. Integrated approaches aim at influencing the entire rural development process. Extension is only one though often crucial element in this strategy which targets the entire population in a given area but emphasizes work with disadvantaged groups. Integrated approaches are generally implemented in the form of large-scale and foreign-funded projects aiming at alleviating mass poverty in rural areas on the basis of "a simultaneous improvement in the utilization of natural resources and of human potential" (Rauch, 1993, p. 6). Measures to promote production are coupled with a strong emphasis on self-help. The underlying concept is typically multisectoral.

Evaluations of more than a decade of integrated rural development (IRD) projects have revealed serious shortcomings in reaching the goal of mass poverty alleviation (IBRD, 1987; BMZ, 1990). Sizeable numbers of the poor were not reached by project activities, nor were positive effects consolidated on a sustainable basis. Project deficiencies were in part management related and very often due to a serious underestimation of the great complexity of multisectoral programmes with ambitious goals. The disregard of the target group principle and of due consideration for framework conditions (economic and institutional) played an even more important role, as did the lack of compatible technical solutions.

Recent efforts to improve regional rural development (RRD) projects and enhance chances for a broad and sustainable impact (Rauch, 1993) are relevant for all general extension approaches. The key concept is the availability of locally adapted solutions established on a common basis. This requires not only participatory technology identification, test, and dissemination, but also an active role by the change agency in mediating between different institutions involved and their interests. A particular emphasis is laid on dealing with adverse framework conditions, explicitly taking them into account and attempting to influence them in favour of clients. Finally, in order to achieve these improvements, new efforts must be made to specify and operationalize (extension) objectives and concepts (sustainability, participation, gender-specific target-group approach, and poverty alleviation).

University-Based Extension. While the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) of the United States is still the only system in which the main extension function remains within the university, some developing countries, notably India, have integrated educational institutions into practical extension work. Within the United States of America, state universities have traditionally cooperated with local counties and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in doing extension besides education and research. Within the last 130 years, extension goals of the land-grant colleges have shifted from practical education to technology transfer and, more recently, to a much broader concept of human resource development.

With the emergence of strong private and other public sector research and development organizations and dramatic changes within the agricultural production sector, CES is facing new challenges with regard to coordination and cooperation. Apart from its traditional roles, networking will become a primary role (Bennet, 1990, p. 16). In this model, industry as well as intermediate and end users of knowledge become part of the extension system.

While in most countries, the main contribution of educational institutions to extension will be the training of qualified, dedicated, and responsible personnel, some Indian agricultural universities have come close to the U.S. model without taking over the full load of extension work. In the field, they have taken over functions which are only inadequately performed by the ministry, thus supporting general extension work. Remarkable features are direct assessment of clients' needs, user-oriented research, quality training for state personnel, and a strong linkage between academic education and field practice. Models vary from state to state. The Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) has its own multidisciplinary extension team in each district, engaged in adaptive research, training, and consultancy. Backed up by extension specialists on campus, they are transmitters and receivers of experiences from researchers, farmers, and state extension workers. At PAU, a unique system of processing these experiences is practised. Regular workshops are held which unite university and department staff from research and extension together with outstanding farmers. New findings and feedback are presented, evaluated, and published as a "Package of Practices" to be used by all extension staff for the next season (Nagel, 1980).

In the Philippines, which works with ministry-operated extension, university field contacts have been combined with practical development work. The University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB) has its own "social laboratory" in rural areas. Transfer of ideas is not limited to production technology, but includes the testing of communication strategies as well as helping farmers to organize themselves. Experiences are channelled back into UPLB teaching and research (Axinn, 1988, p. 102-103).

Animation Rurale. For a historically rather short period, the concept of Animation Rurale (AR) gained importance in francophone African countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Madagascar (de Wilde, 1967, p. 391-414; Joerges, 1967). Though the original approach is no longer pursued, some of its elements are now being reintroduced into rural development programmes.

Animation Rurale was an answer to the authoritarian and often repressive nature of intervention before independence. Developed originally by the French Institut de Recherches et d'Application des Méthodes de Développement (IRAM), it shows many parallels to the Brazilian experiments of Paolo Freire.

Integration of rural areas into the national system was to be achieved by initiating a dialogue between rural communities (collectivites) and the state. In a dialectical way, increasing competence of villagers to express their own needs was to liberate them from colonial dependence. In order to initiate and perpetuate this process, AR relied on a large number of voluntary collaborators, so-called animateurs. Selected by the villagers themselves these animateurs had to be experienced and well-respected farmers but not traditional leaders. Training, supervision, and support of animateurs were organized by the Ministry of Rural Development. Their task was to initiate discussions within the community on local needs and objectives, thus empowering rural people for a dialogue with the state. At the same time they were to "interpret" government plans to the villagers and acquaint them with services available. The long-term perspective was a replacement of traditional institutions and the creation of "development cells" able to negotiate contracts with the state bureaucracy.

Sülzer and Payr (1990, p. 34) maintain that AR "did not fail as a philosophy of extension... [although]... it did not achieve a large-scale breakthrough on a national level." Lack of sustainable impact was due to internal as well as external factors. The objectives of AR were extremely difficult to operationalize and, as a result, the role of animateurs remained unclear. In addition, lack of rewards and selection mistakes contributed to the fact that many animateurs soon lost interest in their work. Farmers, as it turned out, were more interested in receiving qualified technical assistance, and even if animateurs had successfully initiated village projects, it was the "technicians" who reaped the benefits. Lastly, it is highly questionable whether the administration was seriously committed to creating a system which would curtail its own power.

What has remained is the philosophy of empowerment and many of the practical experiences. Many NGOs use the ideas of Animation Rurale often without realizing their roots. The present discussion on participatory extension shows its lasting influence.

Extension to Selected Clientele

Commodity Based Extension. Next to the ministry-operated general approach, commodity-based extension run by government, parastatals, or private firms is the most frequent extension organization. Clients may be dispersed over a large area or closely connected, as in the case of large, centrally operated irrigation projects. Commodity-based extension is the predominant feature in many francophone countries of Africa (Schulz, 1973), but is also strong in other countries with commercial or export crops.

The original rationale was the generation of revenue as well as the assured supply of tropical products for the colonial powers. Today, goals are still clearly and intentionally production and profit oriented. All aspects of producing and marketing a particular crop are vertically integrated, spanning the whole range from research, advice, and material support given to farmers, to organizing marketing and even exports. Proponents of the approach argue that, by infusing modern technologies and monetary incentives into traditional farming, a cumulative chain of effects is triggered, thus contributing to overall development.

Advantages in terms of organizing the extension function seem obvious. One generally works with well-tested technologies. Objectives and targets can be clearly defined and the organizational structure kept simple. The focus on only one or two crops facilitates training of extension workers who are agents of the society or board concerned. Control of agents and farmers is easy, because they are judged in terms of defined targets.

A closer look at these advantages reveals that they are largely defined from the perspective of the commodity organization. This poses no problem as long as organizational and clients' goals are identical, as was the case for coffee, tea, or sisal boards in the private plantation sector. For small farmers, the situation may be quite different. The rigidity of the system leaves little room for incorporating farmers' needs. The border between control and coercion is often crossed, for example, when farmers are forced to plant commercial crops at the expense of traditional subsistence crops. Extension workers are regarded as successful once they have brought farmers to producing "what and how" the organization wants. The obvious advantage of guaranteed marketing does not automatically entail security for the agricultural producer. Farmers cannot react quickly to price fluctuations, and in some cases quality standards are arbitrarily set in order to increase personal or organizational profits. Many governments have used the approach to excessively extract revenue by dictating low farm-gate prices.

Strengths as well as limitations of the commodity approach lie in its narrow focus. It is useful in terms of technology transfer but leaves out important public interestissues (such as environmental protection), as well as target groups (such as noncommercial producers). A successful combination of general and commodity-based extension at the national level, as practised in East Africa, demands clear policy goals and highly efficient management.

Extension as a Commercial Service. Commercial extension is a rather recent phenomenon and typical of either industrialized forms of agriculture or the most modem sector of an otherwise traditional agriculture. It may be either part of the sales strategy of input supply firms or a specialized consultancy service demanded by an agricultural producer. In both cases, the goal of the organization or the individual is profit earning, which in turn is tied very closely to customer satisfaction. Most directly this is the case for private consultants who will be retired only if their clients feel that expenses made have been profitable. Large input supply firms or rural banks that use their own extension workers as sales personnel must also have a long-term perspective with regard to the competitiveness of their products and services. Negative effects of incorrect application or use will be attributed to the product itself. The clients of commercial extension will also be profit oriented. Their objective is the optimal utilization of purchased inputs or contracted expertise.

The emergence of commercial extension has influenced the debate on who should bear the costs of extension. With escalating budget deficits, the idea of extension as a free public service is no longer being generally accepted. It is argued that those who can afford it should actually pay for advisory services. In the case of commercial input suppliers, the solution is very simple: the costs of extension are included in the product price, as are the costs for research or advertisement. Private consultancy, on the other hand, is costly and affordable only to either large-scale or highly specialized producers.

As a general trend, one observes that public extension in industrialized countries has been under pressure to introduce cost sharing or altogether commercialize advisory work. An approach which combines commercial and public elements is at present being introduced in some of the eastern states of Germany. For example, the Ministry of Agriculture in Brandenburg subsidizes consultancies once they have actually taken place. Farmers have the option either to organize themselves in "extension rings" and employ their own extension workers or to choose an extension consultant who is officially accredited by the ministry once he or she organizes at least twenty clients in an "extension association." In both cases, up to 80 per cent of extension costs within a certain limit are reimbursed to the farmer.

Privatization and cost sharing are propagated in the name of greater effectiveness and efficiency, but are largely motivated by financial constraints. It is obvious that the private sector will be active only in case of reasonable returns, and they will not be concerned with public interest issues:

Because of the selective participation of the private sector, the provision of public good types of information will have to remain a public sector responsibility... public and non-profit organizations... will have to work together to satisfy the needs of those in "orphan" areas. (Umali & Schwartz, 1994)

Client-Based and Client-Controlled Extension. One way of dealing with the shortcomings of large extension systems has been to localize extension and utilize the self-help potential of rural groups. Often organized by outsiders, these decentralized approaches are in a better position to serve the needs of specific target groups, notably those in disadvantaged positions. Close contact with their clients and intimate knowledge of their life situations are essential for the planning of problem-oriented extension activities. Local personalities are identified who take over leader functions once the external (nongovernmental) organization withdraws. The principles of these organizations (awareness, empowerment, participation, self-help) are close to the philosophy of Animation Rurale without the national dimension.

The impact of client-based approaches must be seen on two levels. Directly, they provide benefits to their clients. The diversity and large number of small projects forbid a general statement on their effectiveness in terms of human resource development. It appears, however, that their weakness lies more in the technical field (UNDP, 1991, p. 22). Besides, they can reach only a very limited number of people. Apart from this, they perform an important role as organizational innovators. They have proved that participation can work in practice and that many farmers are highly competent partners in technology development. Government extension services have been forced to rethink their top-down approach, to accept human resource development as an equally important extension goal, and to address the problems of rural women.

A rather unique approach has been practised in Taiwan, where a large share of extension work is done through farmers' associations (Lionberger & Chang, 1970; Axinn & Thorat, 1972). Organized at provincial, county, and township levels, membership totaled 90 per cent of Taiwanese farmers. Extension education is done by agents employed by the farmers' associations at the township level and financed largely by the farmers themselves.

Unlike the small self-help groups discussed above, there are strong and institutionalized linkages with research and other services. The overall extension policy is defined by the government. On the other hand, the clientele is quite different: farms are highly modernized and extension advice is demand driven.

Present and future role of extension staff

Person-to-person communication has traditionally been the most important form of information transfer. Print media as well as radio and television were of a supplementary nature because they frequently lacked a target group or location specificity and information was not up-to-date. Revolutionary changes in communication technology have dramatically increased the speed and quality of information transfer and changed the role of extension workers in industrialized countries. Electronic communications systems may in part replace personal visits, and one of the major tasks of any agent will be to link her or his clients with other suppliers of information.

Notwithstanding the fact that their use is not restricted to industrialized countries, the fascination with modem communication means tends to obscure the fact that most extension personnel - 90 per cent of which are located in developing countries (FAO, 1990) - are working under extremely difficult and disadvantageous conditions. In fact, little has changed during the last two decades to remedy the basic ills, and the field agent is still the weakest link within the system.

There is a wide discrepancy between organizational goals and the potential of even well-trained and dedicated field staff. Early Indian community development activities covered close to fifty areas (from reclamation of wasteland to improved rural housing on a self-help basis), all to be administered by the local village-level worker (Dube, 1958, p. 19-21). Fieldwork in most developing countries is characterized by conditions that foster low morale: lack of mobility, virtually no equipment, and extremely low salaries. For many extension workers, tapping additional income sources is a question of physical survival. Quality performance is further impeded by low educational qualifications and lack of advancement possibilities (Swanson, Farner, & Bahal, 1990, p. 55-64).

While working conditions of extension personnel have deteriorated, expectations with regard to their role are increasing. They are no longer to be simply transmitters of technical knowledge. They are to practise participatory methods, recognize and respect gender issues, identify indigenous needs and problem solutions, and serve as a link to the world outside the village, to name but a few of the present topics. The emerging role is closer to that of a "socio-economic community worker" (Blackburn & Flaherty, 1994, p. 16) than a technical expert, but their training is insufficient for either.

The situation sketched above is well known and documented. The sheer dimension of the problem surpasses, however, the capacities of poorer countries, notably in Africa. Foreign-funded projects have addressed the issue in a piecemeal fashion and have often drained nonproject areas of personnel. Staff reductions on a national level have not even secured the status quo. Neither approach has solved the basic dilemma: insufficiency of material and human resources to reach universally accepted societal goals. Having to count on their own resources for extension, many countries will not be in a position to implement technology transfer, much less the more demanding strategy of human resource development. Regardless of specific extension approaches, there is no alternative to a strong international commitment to strengthening and revitalizing extension personnel resources.


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