Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Executive summary


For those policy-makers who would like to refresh their knowledge of the concept of extension, this is a function of providing need- and demand-based knowledge and skills to rural men, women and youth in a non-formal, participatory manner, with the objective of improving their quality of life. The function of extension may be applied to several subjects, both agricultural and non-agricultural, such as health; when it is applied to agriculture, it is called agricultural extension.


Extension is an essential pillar for research and development. However, unfortunately, a somewhat unhealthy perception of extension prevails in many developing countries, caused by a weak extension lobby, faulty initial organizational set-up, an inherent lack of trust in extension by most of the research organizations, and traditionally poor career development conditions in the profession of extension. Agricultural research agendas remain largely academic unless extension workers provide input in terms of the identified and as yet unsolved field problems of the farmers. Research focuses on the technical aspects for generating useful technologies, while extension focuses on the acceptance and adoption of those technologies by users. Applied research institutions need strong extension services to work in a field problems-oriented mode, and the extension services need the backstopping of strong applied agricultural research institutions to effectively serve the farming communities. Countries like the United States of America, Canada, Australia and Denmark, which have very advanced agriculture, have always enjoyed strong extension services, first public, and now public and/or private.


Like many other important functions in daily life such as education and health, the extension function is also important for the welfare of farmers, no matter who performs it as long as it is done satisfactorily. The players in the extension function, besides government extension departments could be private extension service companies, private extension advisors, NGOs, universities, farmers’ associations, research institutes, and possibly others as we have seen in recent years. Extension organization, on the other hand, means how the agency or department which is responsible for extension function organizes itself for performing this task. This is what differentiates the term “extension function” from “extension organization”. If an extension service shows poor performance because of its poor organization, it should never lead to the wrong conclusion that the function of extension is not important.


The main global developments include globalization, market liberalization, privatization, pluralism, decentralization and devolution, client participation in decision-making, natural and man-made disasters, rural poverty, food insecurity, HIV/AIDS epidemic, and emphasis on integrated, multi-disciplinary, holistic and sustainable development. These developments are creating new learning requirements for both subsistence and commercial farmers in developing countries. These requirements, especially when seen within the context of the revolution in information technology, are challenging decades’-old mandates and operations within traditional extension systems.

The time is indeed ripe for policy-makers in developing countries to challenge and revisit the discipline of extension within a global context, so as to let the extension function be performed with excellence in line with the global challenges to their economies and especially to their agriculture sector. Cosmetic changes to the existing national extension systems will be of little benefit, as will be the repeated training of staff in stereotyped agricultural subjects. Just as well beat a dead horse.


The modernization and reform of national agricultural extension systems is a major undertaking requiring careful analysis of the situation, comprehension of national policy on rural and agricultural development and food security, the leadership’s vision of development for the country over the next 20 years or so, and finally taking bold policy decisions – some of which may have political implications, cost considerable amounts in terms of time, money and energy, and require effective monitoring of progress. It is therefore of paramount importance that the policy-makers first have a look at the existing national agricultural extension system to determine whether the system needs to be reformed or not. This paper presents a simple framework for reviewing the aspects of policy and organizational structure, financing, staffing and field operations of the present extension services.


The following guidelines are presented along with necessary key actions:


The paper presents a normative framework for the convenience of policy-makers. This framework has been developed for one main purpose: to review the present rural and agricultural extension systems of developing countries, with the main objective to reform them on the basis of the many normative principles, interventions and lessons that have been drawn from worldwide extension experiences and observations. These normative principles and interventions cut across all regions, but their application must be done according to the “situational context”, which asks for consideration of prevailing political, institutional, economic, social, cultural, religious, agricultural, geographical, infrastructure and technological conditions. Such considerations are necessary for a realistic application of the principles and interventions, but without making too many concessions and compromises.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page