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Agricultural extension is taking a new dimension because of a global movement for reforming the national extension systems in developing countries that started late in the twentieth century. New learning needs of farming communities are emerging as the world enters into an era of globalization, democracy, privatization and decentralization, affecting the farmers of both developed and developing countries – albeit in different ways. There is a fresh and firm resolve worldwide to fight the menaces of hunger and rural poverty. Extension workers, no matter whether they belong to government departments, NGOs, private institutions or farmers’ associations, could constitute a formidable force in this fight. Extension in the developing countries indeed has a very new role to play and needs the serious attention of policy-makers for its meaningful reform and modernization.

One can find quite a bit of recent literature on extension reforms. FAO’s Research, Extension and Training Division also published “Agricultural and rural extension worldwide: Options for institutional reform in the developing countries” in 2001. There has been, however, an increasing demand for practical, action-oriented guidelines which policy-makers could use in reforming extension systems. This particular publication has been prepared to meet that demand.

This paper clarifies the key concept of extension in its opening pages. It is followed by global developments that are posing challenges to the traditional form and methods of the extension organizations. Then a simple framework has been presented for the convenience of policy-makers in determining whether there exists a real need to reform the extension systems. A set of guidelines along with the required key actions has been suggested, which if followed properly, could transform the traditional agricultural extension services into a viable modern force capable of meeting new challenges. As some of the countries have already entered into the reform process, another normative framework has been included in the paper which could be used for assessing the extent of reforms in any extension system. At the end, a list of useful references has been given for those who would like to read more on certain aspect of extension.

The guidelines are neither theoretical nor academic in character, as they have been drawn from years of experience and observations in real-life situations. The real field conditions kept in view throughout the preparation of this document is what gives this publication its great value. Agricultural extension is a vast field, and the coverage of all its aspects is beyond the scope of a brief paper. Increasing advocacy for broadening the technical mandate of extension beyond traditional technology transfer renders such coverage even more problematic.

I trust this publication will be of help to the policy-makers who not only realize the key role of extension in national rural and agricultural development, but are also eager to reform traditional extension systems. FAO stands ready to provide assistance if requested.

Dietrich Leihner
Research, Extension and Training Division
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2005

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