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Chapter 8 - Selecting appropriate content and methods in programme delivery

Dunstan A. Campbell and St. Clair Barker

Dunstan A. Campbell and St. Clair Barker are outreach lecturers of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.

Developing appropriate content
Extension's clientele
Incorporating needs into programmes
Program delivery and implementation

The issue of developing appropriate content is critical to the extension process; the performance of an extension system depends, in large part, on the appropriateness of its message. The more appropriate the message, the better will be the extension-clientele relationship and the more likely extension's programme will be supported.

Developing appropriate content

Appropriateness of content is situation driven: what is appropriate for one farm family may not be appropriate for another, even though both families operate within the same agroecological zone; or what is appropriate for one country may not be appropriate for another. Even at the national level, it has been shown that agricultural development can be facilitated by the development of appropriate technologies. Hayami and Ruttan (1985) pointed out that in Japan, where land is scarce, technology development was oriented towards biological technologies, for example to improve varieties. In the United States, however, where land is abundant, technology development was mainly in the form of mechanical innovations such as tractors. In the case of developing countries, their commercial relationship with the developed world predisposes them to accept or develop technologies that are not always appropriate for their farmers. For example, the research organization for banana production in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean because of market pressures and trade agreements have consistently produced technologies which require additional labour, although labour cost and availability are the biggest constraint to banana production in that subregion.

Given the arguments above, appropriateness should be defined within the scope of what is

1. Technically feasible
2. Economically feasible
3. Socially acceptable
4. Environmentally safe and sustainable

Technical Feasibility

Technical feasibility should be examined from two perspectives, the first being the ability of farmers to produce a commodity within their environment, and the second being what the farm family can achieve, not what can be achieved on research stations. In the first case, certain commodities do not fit into the production system of small farmers, while others do, for example scaleneutral technologies for crops like maize, rice, and bananas. In the second case, a distinction must be made between technological potential and technical feasibility. The technological potential is the tested output of a given technology and is dependent on controlled agronomic factors. Technical feasibility is what can be achieved within the holistic environment of a farm family; this is not limited to technical factors only, but also to social, economic, and political factors that affect the farm family. Small farmers, because they operate under less favourable conditions than those under which the technologies are developed, usually produce under the technological potential. Given this situation, what becomes important to farmers is whether or not that commodity can fit into their farming system. If the technology can fit, then it is technologically feasible.

Economic Feasibility

The ability of farmers to incorporate a technology or technological package into a farming system has economic implications. The farmers' resource base, both human and financial, must be considered. Do farmers have the financial resources to purchase the inputs to derive the benefits from the technology? Will this technology require the hiring of additional labour, and if so, is it available and affordable? Some Green Revolution technology failed to be adopted because some anticipated users of the technology could not purchase the fertilizer and other inputs which formed part of the package.

Economic feasibility can also be examined from the point of view of function within the farming system. Some small banana farmers in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean continue to grow bananas, although they have been advised against it. The rationale for this advice is that, among other things, soil erosion on the very steep slopes where most small farmers cultivate bananas and the resulting low yields make the cultivation of bananas economically unprofitable to them. However, they contend that banana cultivation allows them to have access to inputs which they can use to increase the profitability of other crops within their farming system, thus making the total farming system economically profitable. As such, banana cultivation within the system is seen by these marginal small farmers as a "facilitator" crop and not primarily for economic profitability. To these farmers, banana production is economically feasible within their farming system.

Social Acceptability

Innovations can be technically sound, but may conflict with the social norms of the end users or even cause societal disequilibrium. For instance, in Zaire, efforts to increase cassava production were constrained by the inability of the women to handle the increased yield. At the time the new varieties were introduced, the women in the targeted communities were already fully occupied. The task of processing cassava was their responsibility, but with the increase in yield, the women's workload increased correspondingly, thus making it physically impossible for them to handle. As a result, the farm families reverted to cultivating the local variety, which was lower yielding.

With regards to social disequilibrium, in some cases the adoption of technologies by small groups of individuals has resulted in a shift in power relationship within the society. For example, Campbell (1982) found that in the upland plateau of Ardeche, France, individuals from among the group of farmers who adopted tractors and mechanical harvesters were those who challenged the existing family-linked mayoral structure.

Within the social context, there is also what can be termed situational appropriateness, that is, what is most likely to be accepted or rejected by a group at any given time. For instance, it would be unwise to introduce programmes with a crop or livestock component which had recently experienced market failures. Farm families remember such failures and tend to be hostile to such programmes.

Environmental Safety

An extension programme must be cognizant of the effects it will have on the environment. The commercialization of agriculture results in farmers using increasing quantities of fertilizers and agrochemicals. These chemicals for the most part have negative effects on the environment because they contaminate groundwater and may disrupt food chains. For example, birds which feed on insects exposed to chemicals may become contaminated and may die.

Extension's clientele

Extension's clientele has to be defined within the context of an agricultural policy framework. This framework should provide the boundaries for selecting, from among the broader user categories, the specific groups which are to be targeted. Given today's scope of agricultural development, that framework should not speak of generic small farmers, but should specifically state the groups - women, youth, landless farmers, or other categories that are specific to the situation under consideration. Swanson, Roling, and Jiggins (1984) have cited four major factors which seek to provide a framework for the development of appropriate technology among targeted groups of extension clientele. These factors are agroecological zones, access to resources, gender, and age. Ethnic groups can be added to this list.

Agroecological Zones

The first step in identifying appropriate technology for extension's clientele is to map the area into agroecological zones. Farming systems research (FSR) provides useful methodologies for this exercise (see Hilderbrand, 1986; Shaner, Philipp, & Schmehl, 1982). Mapping allows for the identification of agronomic variables such as soil type, rainfall, slope, and altitude, which will influence the development of location-specific technologies.

Access to Resources

Within each zone, there will be a wide variety of farmers because of socioeconomic factors. These factors explain the differences which exist in terms of access to the factors which facilitate production - land, labour, capital, markets, inputs, tenure, and information. These factors predispose farmers to adopt certain types of innovations. Swanson et al. (1984) provide a useful summary of these facilitating and impeding factors which should be considered in developing appropriate technology for extension's clientele:

1. Land. Size of holding: small, medium, large; type of tenure: owner operated, family land, renter-share-cropper

2. Water. Irrigated, nonirrigated

3. Labour. Family, hired (cost and availability), communal, or customary

4. Inputs. Availability of improved seeds, agricultural chemicals, fertilizers

5. Markets. Location, availability of storage and transport

6. Capital. Sources and cost of credit, type of collateral needed, and ease of obtaining credit

7. Information. Availability of extension service (worker to farmer ratio), appropriateness of technology

8. Influence. Ability to affect technology development, transfer to be appropriate to user needs such as user control, claim-making capacity


The role of women in agricultural production is now a topical issue. Several studies have documented women's contribution to both the economic and noneconomic sectors. However, there is need to move from this realization to its practical application in terms of the development and inclusion of appropriate technologies for women in extension programmes. In so doing, it must be taken into consideration that their access to resources and effective technologies is often constrained by gender barriers or blindness (Feldstein & Poats, 1989).

Recognition must also be given to the particular functions women perform within the farming system and their work schedule in the farm-household environment. Generally, women play a much greater role in the production of food crops than of export-oriented crops, and within cropping systems they perform certain tasks, for instance, weeding, fertilizing, and harvesting. These factors must be considered in developing appropriate technologies to address this group of players in the agricultural environment. These and other genderrelated issues are explored in more detail in chapter 9.


In most developing countries, agriculture is an important sector, if not the most important sector, and a significant proportion of the agricultural activities takes place in rural areas where 20 to 80 per cent of the country's population may live. This resource is usually characterized by a low level of education, few skills, limited employment opportunities, and a strong desire of young people to leave the area.

Extension should consider age as an important characteristic for targeting not only from the point of view of youth but of other age categories. Agriculture usually has a low status because of the low level of technology it employs and low income-earning capacity. Extension programmes should aim at increasing both the level of technology used and income-earning capacity. If this can be done, then there is a good chance that the young people will remain. Other ways of achieving the above should also be explored. For instance, educational programmes which provide the skills to be self-employed may be a solution to the outmigration problem. This in turn might encourage the heads of households to invest more in agriculture, which will then tend to encourage the youth to remain. Campbell (1982), working among rural villagers in France, found that the adoption of new technologies by heads of household was a means of motivating the youth to remain in the villages. On farms where succession was guaranteed, there was almost always a higher level of technology adoption.

Ethnic Groups

In multiracial societies, ethnic groups should be separately targeted because of their different sociocultural characteristics. Language, food preferences, and religion are some of these characteristics. In cases where ethnic groups are found within the same extension district or zone, extension's programme should reflect these differences.

Incorporating needs into programmes

Rapid rural appraisal (RRA; see chapter 6) can be used by research and extension to provide agroecological, biological, and socioeconomic data for identifying problems and opportunities for extension's clientele. For effective utilization, these needs should then be categorized on the basis of type of needs; that is, whether they are material needs, knowledge-based needs, or infrastructural support needs (see chapter 5). Then the importance of the needs should be ascertained to prioritize them before incorporating them into extension programmes (see chapter 7).

Transferring appropriate technologies is not enough to ensure adoption. Incorporating them into the targeted farming systems may be constrained by other variables which needs assessment ought to identify. For instance, the use of nematicide can increase the yield of a commodity by destroying the harmful nematodes, thus increasing nutrient uptake and yield. However, because nematodes are microscopic organisms, their presence in the soil may not be so obvious to the farmers who have not had the education to understand microorganisms. Consequently, an education component will need to be added to the technology to increase its chances of being adopted.

There are also cases where appropriate material technologies are not accepted because inputs are unavailable. This underscores the importance of addressing the users' wide-ranging needs - knowledge, attitude, skills, economic needs, and institutional support - in order to achieve the adoption of material technology.

Program delivery and implementation

As noted in chapter 2, a number of different approaches can be used to organize and deliver extension programmes. The approach selected by a national extension organization should reflect its prescribed mission as articulated by policy makers, but it may also be influenced by donor agencies. In the final analysis, the type of approach being used will depend primarily on policy considerations, including the clientele to be served, the mission of extension, and financial considerations. In addition, the type of approach being followed will directly affect how programmes are delivered at the field level. Therefore, the reader is reminded that the process of implementing extension programmes is carried out in the context of and affected by the particular extension approach pursued by the national extension organization.

With regard to appropriateness of content used in these different approaches, Albrecht et al. (1989) provide a useful typology. They contend that all extension approaches can be classified as either production technology approaches or problem-solving approaches. Production technology approaches tend to emphasize the production targets more than the clientele; technologies used in these approaches are more concerned with addressing production issues than clientele-related problems. Timmer (1982) said that these approaches are geared to produce technoeconomic information and favour the larger, more commercial farmers. The small farmers because of their disadvantaged situation do not receive the full benefits from these approaches. The commodity-focussed approach and the technology-centred approach are examples of production technology approaches.

In problem-solving approaches, the clientele participate in defining their problem. Although these approaches use technoeconomic information, the socioeconomic considerations of the clientele stand out as important issues. For small farmers, this allows for the development of more appropriate content. The training and visit, community development-cum-extension, and animation rurale approaches fall into this category.

As stated earlier, extension's clientele is a heterogeneous group of people differentiated by resources, gender, age, and ethnicity. Communication theories indicate that the trickle-down effect of agricultural innovations rarely takes place among heterogeneous groups, and when it occurs, it does so at an extremely slow pace. Given this under-standing, it is therefore imperative to identify homogeneous categories within those groups of clientele in order to facilitate the effective transfer of technology.

The strategy is therefore to develop homogeneous groups of clientele to target extension programmes. The targeting of these groups should be done within the broader groups already defined, namely, agroecological zone, access to resources, women, youth, ethnicity, access to information, and age. Extension programmes should then be developed for each of the targeted categories (Swanson et al., 1984). For instance, special programmes should be developed for women which recognize their importance in the agricultural sector, take account of their informal communication network, and analyse their farm-home work schedule. In the case of programmes directed at ethnic groups, efforts should be targeted to the sociocultural factors which distinguish the group. Language, food preferences, and religious beliefs are among the important points that should be taken into consideration. In addition, extension officers in developing extension programmes should be guided by principles of learning and a knowledge of the diffusion process.

The Learning Process

Extensionists must be reminded that above all they are educators, and in pursuit of that function, they need to grasp the basic principles of learning and to understand the effectiveness of some teaching methods.

Learning is facilitated by the use of the senses. The more senses that are used, the more accelerated will be the learning. Use of this principle will assist extensionists in selecting methods which will provide an educational experience for their clientele. This will be achieved through setting up an environment and structuring the situation so as to stimulate the desired type of reaction.

Learning is also conditioned by the motivation and the abilities of the learner; thus it is important to create an environment conducive to learning, one in which the learners become more responsible for the outcome of their experience. This can be achieved through the selection of teaching methods and supporting material. The less abstract these methods, the more the learner will participate, and the more effective will be the educational experience. For example, if farmers are not performing a task effectively, then it will be much more effective to organize a method demonstration than a lecture or group meeting.

The Adoption Process

The other important consideration in selecting methods for the delivery of appropriate content is an understanding of the adoption process. Lionberger (1968) contended that the adoption process consisted of five distinct stages: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption. According to Lionberger, the individual in the process goes through each stage within a definable time period. Later works by Lionberger and others have shown that these stages are not as distinct as he first proposed and that some of the stages may become condensed within the individual cognitive processes, thus making them unrecognizable as a behaviour which can be measured over time.

Although, in some instances, the steps in the adoption process may not be recognizable, yet the model provides a useful guideline for selecting extension methods in programme delivery. For instance, in the awareness stage, knowledge of the innovation is critical to the individual. Mass media and popular theatre are the preferred methods because they can reach many people at the same time. In using the mass media, extensionists must pay attention to the characteristics of the audience targeted. For instance, in multiracial societies, an ethnic group with a special language may require programming in that language. The other method, popular theatre, although reaching only smaller audiences, is a very effective means of building awareness because it uses the popular language and rhythms of the people in presenting content to its audiences.

In the interest stage of the adoption process, knowledge continues to be important, but building a positive attitude towards the innovation becomes the critical issue. For this reason, the desired methods should include information strengthening and attitude building as their goal. These methods should use the senses of hearing and sight, either individually or collectively. Group meetings, group discussions, and radio forums are recommended for strengthening knowledge, while field days and farm visits will allow individuals to see what they have been hearing, thus providing the opportunity for building the desired attitude towards the innovation.

Evaluation is the most critical stage in the adoption process, because the outcome usually determines whether or not individuals proceed to the trial and adoption stages. At this stage, people need to match knowledge against facts. Farmers need to be assured that what they heard and saw are indeed workable. Result demonstration, farmer exchange, and field days are recommended because they allow individuals to reinforce their interest by viewing tangible evidence. Within this group of methods, farmer exchange is an important method. Farmers selected for the exchange should be further advanced in the adoption process and within the same reference group as the visiting farmers. These types of experiences allow for the removal of doubts. Some skill training may be necessary at this stage to facilitate the individual's progression to the trial stage.

At the trial stage, the farmer's technical and management skill should be the main area to be targeted. The individual visit becomes the most preferred method at this stage, and the needs of individual farmers must be taken into consideration. This means that the extension officer will have to develop a plan for each individual farmer or group of farmers in similar situations. The extensionist has to remember that, although similar farmers are adopting similar techniques, the problems experienced are not always the same. At this stage, methods for reinforcing the farmers' interest by the use of farmer exchange and skill training can be useful in helping individuals to continue adopting.

Once the farmers start adopting, extension should continue to support their efforts. Recognition programmes and farmers' competition can be used to encourage farmers to continue adopting. The goals and criteria for these methods should be carefully developed so as not to bring out any negative effects because of poor planning and implementation.

Figure 1. Recommended extension methods for use at different stages of adoption.

The recommended methods for the different stages of adoption are summarized in Figure 1. To achieve the maximum results from the methods selected at the different stages, extension officers must bring to bear their understanding of the learning process. For instance, in group meetings the extension officer can use a lecture format, supported with a video, and followed with group discussions.

In the final analysis, the method chosen will depend on the goal, resources, clientele relationship, and skills of the extension officers on the one hand, and on the size and educational level of the target group on the other hand. For instance, if extension officers lack the skills to organize and facilitate group meetings, then they will shy away from their use. Or if extension officers do not have vehicles, then they may not be able to conduct farm visits as frequently as might be desired or needed. Also, if the extension officer's constituency is very large, then it may become impractical to depend too much on individual visits.

As a guide in the selection of extension methods, Van Den Ban and Hawkins (1985) provide us with a useful set of criteria to judge whether the method is well chosen:

1. Is the chosen method adapted to whether we wish to change knowledge, skills, attitude, or behaviour?

2. Are the educational activities clearly specified so that we know what the farmer will see, hear, discuss, and carry out?

3. Are the different methods integrated in such a way that they reinforce each other?

4. Does the planned time scale make it possible to carry out all of these activities well?

5. When choosing learning activities, has the extensionist adequately considered the needs, skills, and means of the target group?


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