In recent years, the national public extension systems have been increasingly criticized for being not that effective for all the investment that has gone into maintaining organization and staff. They have been called a burden on public funds and, as such, have been targeted either for total abolishment or for drastic reforms. Certain extension services have been said to be so large that they are unable to move efficiently because of their own weight. Some of this criticism is genuine and some is not, when the financial, logistical and career development constraints under which extension workers are forced to operate are examined objectively, and when these services are compared to other disciplines such as agricultural research with far better service conditions (including an operational budget). The fact remains, however, that as explained in an earlier chapter modernization and reforms are needed in the existing national extension systems as a result of the many global forces that are changing socio-economic and political conditions in the world, creating new challenges and learning needs for farmers in developing countries.
If, after assessing the status of national extension system against the framework presented in the preceding chapter, it becomes clear that the existing extension system has indeed become relatively obsolete, then the guidelines presented in this chapter could help with the process of modernization. In summary, the objective of modernization is to make the national extension system demand-driven, gender sensitive, participatory, bottom-up, and a relatively lean organization, which could efficiently respond to farmers extension and training needs emerging as a result of globalization, market liberalization, decentralization, and democratization, making use of information technology tools as far as possible.
Assess the existing extension organization against farmers needs and determine whether to strengthen or restructure it
All organizations are built and filled with human resources to serve specific purpose within the context of a policy and mission. Public institutions are funded with the public funds and as such are supposed to serve the public. In case of agricultural extension, the organization is meant for serving the extension, education and training needs of men and women farmers. If it is established that the organization is not delivering effectively and efficiently what it was built to deliver, then it should be reviewed. A quick way will be to assess it on the basis of extension and training needs of the farming communities.
Assessment of extension and training needs of farmers:
- Preparation of a survey tool, such as detailed structured questionnaire
- Preparing data-collectors through brief training
- Selection of survey sample areas
- Selection of men and women farmer categories sample comprising subsistence, commercial, special interest, landless, etc.
- Survey for data collection on farmers responses to the questions through individual and/or group interviews
- Analysis of data, identification of extension and training needs of different categories of farmers, and their prioritization in light of government policies and goals of rural and agricultural development
Keeping in view the prioritized extension and training needs of farmers, an assessment of the following with the objective of identifying specific areas in the existing arrangements which need to be revised, strengthened or restructured for meeting the farmers needs satisfactorily:
- Existing organizational structure
- Operational linkages with relevant institutions
- Present mission and technical mandate (whether too narrow or broad enough)
- Human resources (total number, number of female staff vs. male staff, specializations, qualifications, experience and location of professional and general services staff)
- Physical facilities (such as offices, equipment, stationery, audio-visual aids, communication facilities, transport, etc.)
- Operational budget (realistically adequate or not)
- The presence or absence of competent or relatively competent non-public institutions including NGOs, farmers associations, rural community organizations and private companies with adequate staff, interested in delivering extension services under contract with the government
Keeping in view the gaps identified as a result of the assessment of the above components, as well as the results of farmers extension needs survey, make a decision whether it will be more cost- and result-effective:
- to continue the public extension organization as it is;
- or to modify it as necessitated by the field survey results;
- or to create a mixture of the existing organization and non-public institutions
Based on the decision on the preceding point, preparation of an action plan, financing and schedule for overall organizational modification, or strengthening or restructuring of the specific organizational components including revision of terms of reference, with participation of the key staff. If there is evident gap between the technical specialists present in the existing organization and the technical specializations needed on the basis of the farmers needs identified, assuming that adequate funding is available, then outsourcing option, i.e. contracting out relevant extension work to the non-public sector, should be considered rather than hiring new technical staff. This strategy will save time, money and effort.
Implementation of the plan.
Decentralize extension but not before capacity-building of the staff and orientation of relevant elected officials
While decentralization is a step in the right direction, it has proved, at least so far, to be disastrous for agricultural extension in several countries. The issue of the temptation of each autonomous district or municipality to go in its own direction without any regard for national policy and priorities is serious, but what has damaged extension most is the unwarranted influence and interference of local politicians and the mentality of local decision-makers and legislators, who cannot appreciate the importance of extension in rural and agricultural development. This has resulted in the diversion of extension budget to other activities, assigning of extension staff to non-extension tasks, use of its few beaten-down equipment and vehicles for personal purposes, and hiring of non-agriculture graduates for agricultural extension positions.
As the local decision-makers mostly depend on central government for their financial needs, their preference is ruled by a strong temptation to earn revenue in shortest possible time in order to reduce this dependency. Agricultural extension, being educational in nature, is understandably a slow process as it aims at changing human behaviour and generally does not show quick and tangible benefits. The local decision-makers, who are elected for two to three years term, prefer to select activities like livestock and estate crops, which give sizable, tangible and relatively quick returns, or to build roads and shopping centres, which could win voters appreciation and guarantee votes for the next election. This tendency of local decision-makers, most of whom have limited education, needs to be changed through their orientation to national policy and priorities, proper education, sensitization and orientation to the importance and eventual benefits of extension. Unless this important group is converted, agricultural extension will remain marginalized, or might altogether disappear, under decentralized administration.
The countries like Nepal and Pakistan, which have recently embarked upon decentralization/devolution, can make the process smooth by taking capacity-building measures for decentralized units, and can also draw other lessons from the experiences of countries like Chile, Colombia, Uganda, Philippines, Indonesia, United Republic of Tanzania and Ghana where decentralization came into effect many years ago. This will help in avoiding the pitfalls of decentralization experienced by the senior countries.
Prepare extension staff in advance of the decentralization through the following measures:
- Provide the staff with revised terms of reference
- Explain to the staff the new organizational and administrative arrangements, including topics such as relationship with the local government officials and the Ministry of Agriculture, relationship with other decentralized units, budget allocation, any major effects on staff employment conditions during transition to decentralization, physical relocation in new offices at district or lower levels, institutional linkages at decentralized level, etc.
- Provide training in the following technical subjects: philosophy of decentralization; participatory extension approach; demand-driven extension; grassroots, bottom-up programme planning; organization of men and women farmers groups; integration of village extension plans into district development plans; participatory socio-economic impact assessment of extension activities.
Either include a module on extension in the existing training programme for the elected officials of the local government, or organize special orientation sessions on extension. The orientation should focus on the importance of extension in bringing positive behavioural change among farmers for sustainable rural and agricultural development, even though it takes longer time than short-term investments into cash crops which give quick returns. Other topics could include importance of recruiting well qualified candidates for extension positions, terms of reference of the extension staff which show that they are not responsible for non-extension tasks, transport facilities for extension staff to perform satisfactorily, the importance of the emphasis of extension workers on small farmers as opposed to favouring big farmers, importance of gender consideration in provision of extension services, respect for decisions made by technical subject-matter specialists, avoiding shifting of extension budget to non-extension activities, non-politicization of technical matters, and importance of career development opportunities for the extension staff.
Consider decentralizing agricultural research at the same time when agricultural extension is being decentralized, because it has been observed that the institutional linkage problems were more prominent in those countries where only extension was decentralized and research was left centralized.
If there has been no formal decentralization, but the bulk of technical subject-matter specialists and the extension staff are based at national and provincial levels, then exercise de-concentration and move bulk of the staff to district and lower levels so that the staff, being physically close to the farmers, could plan and implement the extension activities in collaboration with the farmers. The re-location of the subject-matter specialists should be done in line with the technical needs of respective districts. For example, if a district lies next to sea or river then a fishery expert will be needed, and if the livestock activity dominates in a district then a livestock specialist should be posted.
Broaden the technical mandate of extension to aim at broader development of rural human resources
Extension is basically non-formal education that targets rural adults outside the formal school system with the aim of helping them improve the quality of their lives by gaining useful knowledge and skills. Agricultural extension focuses on the non-formal education of rural adults, in particular farmers, in improved agricultural know-how and skills for increasing farm production, which is meant to result in enhanced income for farmers, leading to improvement in their lives. Sustainable rural and agricultural development, however, goes far beyond improved agricultural technology to enhance production, because it involves not only crops, livestock and fishery but also the protection of environment, management of natural resources, maintenance of appropriate population growth rate, and above all, development of rural human resources.
No other ministry in most developing countries enjoys the presence of such a large number of workers in the field, i.e. extension workers, as does the Ministry of Agriculture. However, the present technical mandate of this precious field staff is extremely narrow, limited to the transfer of improved agricultural technology to farmers. As improved technologies are not generated by agricultural research institutes so frequently that the extension workers can pass on something new to farmers on a daily or weekly basis, this narrow mandate keeps this valuable stock of field workers underemployed. It is also true that no government workers come in contact with the villagers and farmers as often as do the extension workers. Thus, the presence of this field work force provides an excellent opportunity for non-formally educating the rural residents in the knowledge and skills which could promote the concept and practices of sustainable rural and agricultural development. This, however, will require broadening of the technical mandate of extension staff and training of the staff in the concepts and technical components of sustainable rural and agricultural development. It may also require certain changes in the way various technical departments work for developing rural areas.
Immediate preparation of the existing extension staff for non-formal education of farmers in the concept and practices of sustainable rural and agricultural development through provision of in-service training. The following actions will be needed:
- Preparation of short-term training modules and materials on the following topics: concept of sustainable rural and agricultural development; interrelationship among environment, population and agricultural production; wise management of natural resources; the impact of any major epidemic, such as HIV/AIDS, on farmers and farming practices and how to mitigate it; how to farm under market liberalization conditions; problem-solving and decision-making; managing farm as business; farmers group dynamics for lobbying; rural leadership for development; participatory decision-making; gender sensitivity in the planning and delivery of extension services; rural youth development for healthy future; self-help initiative and use of revolving fund for development activities; basics of information technology; food security and how to ensure it throughout the year; off-farm income generation activities during slack period amidst cropping seasons; socio-economic impact of extension activities; grassroots, bottom-up planning of extension programmes; post-disaster rehabilitation of agriculture; rural poverty; food security.
- Preparation of a training plan for provision of in-service training to extension workers, based on the prepared training modules and materials, on as many topics as practically possible, and implementation of the plan.
Broadening of teaching programme at agricultural colleges and universities in agricultural extension through revision of curricula, books, materials, and teaching methods.
Short-term training of men and women farmers by the extension services in the subjects of problem-solving, decision-making, management, accounting, group dynamics, leadership, participation, gender sensitivity, rural youth development, good governance, citizenship, initiative and self help, nutrition, programme planning, monitoring and evaluation, information technology, importance of education for children especially for girls, networking with other village organizations and farmer associations, etc.
Establishment of operational linkages between the Ministry of Agriculture and those ministries and line departments, which are responsible for the technical components, which were never before handled by the extension workers, such as population, environment, HIV/AIDS, with the objective of coordinating the field work for the benefit of farmers.
Consider changing the name of agricultural extension to agricultural and rural extension, or extension for rural and agricultural development
Formulate national policy on extension in order to ensure political and financial commitment
So far, only a few countries, like Bangladesh, Nepal and Philippines, have formulated a national extension policy. The existence of policy is of great importance because it ensures political commitment, which ascertains financial allocation. The dismally low salaries and operational budgets, and a lack of attractive career development path have been the fate of extension profession for decades affecting the performance of otherwise very experienced and committed professionals. The situation for extension is particularly bleak where decentralization or devolution has occurred. Appropriate policy is indeed needed for protection of extension from immediate negative effects of decentralization to allow it to function normally. It is high time to strengthen the place and role of extension for national development through formulation of extension policy within the framework of broader national agricultural and rural development policies.
The formulation of extension policy should be a collaborative effort, involving all stakeholders, and should take into consideration not only technical issues but also professional development concerns with an aim to provide motivation and morale to extension workers. It should also include the operational linkages and partnerships between extension and other relevant service institutions such as related to research, marketing, environment, commodities, farm inputs, rural credit, agricultural education and training, farmer associations, and information technology.
Organization of a meeting of key stakeholders, and distribution of copies of the national policy on rural and agricultural development. The meeting should be gender-sensitive and the participants should be drawn both from the centre and provinces, and from public and non-public institutions, including small and commercial farmers representatives. The agenda of the meeting should be:
- Discussion on participatory drafting of an extension policy within the context of the national policy on rural and agricultural development
- Formation of a small committee to draft the extension policy by a certain date
Circulation of the draft policy document, when ready, among the participants of the first meeting for review and comments
Organization of another meeting of the stakeholders for discussion of the draft extension policy and feedback
Finalization of the policy document by the policy draft committee members in light of the feedback and comments received
Approval of the extension policy through necessary government procedure
Printing of the approved extension policy document
Distribution of the extension policy document among the relevant public and non-public institutions related to extension work including the academic institutions where extension is taught as a subject, and representatives of farmers and other stakeholders
Give extension profession a long overdue status similar to other agricultural disciplines
For more than a century, agricultural extension has played a vital role in bringing about meaningful agricultural and rural development in countries like the United States of America, Australia, Japan, and the countries of Western Europe. Unfortunately, even though most extension organizations in the developing countries were established over half century ago, the profession of extension has never received the proper status it deserves, that is, in comparison to other agricultural professions.
There should be no doubt that agricultural extension is a tough and demanding profession, both physically and intellectually, yet even today, extension workers in most developing countries suffer from low salaries, meagre benefits, and negligible opportunities for development of their professional career. A look at any major project related to research and extension, such as those financed by major donors like the World Bank, will show that most of the overseas training opportunities are grabbed by the researchers or other agricultural specialists, leaving very few, if any, for the extension staff. No surprise that few young men and women are keen to make extension their career profession after graduating from high school. Suitable candidates will never be attracted to this profession until its service conditions are brought in line with other agricultural disciplines, and the present extension organizations are given adequate operational budget, career development opportunities, recognition, and mobility means, something essential for proper field work. Without this long overdue reform, agricultural extension in developing countries will remain a second-class profession, in spite of its demonstrated importance in bringing about rural and agricultural development in highly developed countries.
The importance of extension in bringing about sustainable development and livelihoods is being recognized all over again as the fight against hunger and poverty expands worldwide. Most of the worlds poor and hungry live in rural areas. The extension workers, being relatively frequent visitors to the rural areas, if provided with appropriate service conditions, could constitute a formidable force in combating against the menaces of hunger, poverty, epidemics, and the adverse conditions resulting from natural as well as man-made disasters. However, little action has been taken so far towards improving its working conditions.
Review of the conditions of agricultural extension service in comparison to other agricultural services, and policy action to rectify the situation in case any serious gaps found affecting morale of the employees.
Meaningful involvement of key extension staff from the very beginning of any major rural and agricultural development programme of the government, such as on food security, sustainable livelihoods, desertification, alleviation of rural poverty, etc.
Allocation of specific overseas and in-country training opportunities, scholarships for degree-seeking academic programmes and study-tours for extension discipline, and careful monitoring to ensure that they are indeed availed by the extension staff and not taken away by other disciplines.
Frequent public recognition of extension professionals for their achievements
A fool-proof mechanism in place to ensure that the few vehicles meant for extension field work are not taken away by non-extension government officials or politicians for personal use
Appointment of experienced senior extension officials on policy level, decision-making positions related to rural and agricultural development, such as head of any relevant institution
Bring pre-service education in agricultural extension in line with the modernizing of the national extension system
It is a well-known fact that higher education systems in most developing countries need substantial improvement. This is particularly true for the academic programmes in agricultural extension. The pre-service education in agricultural extension at under-graduate level is no more than lip service both in terms of time and content. The curricula are outdated, audio-visual aids are rarely used, suitable educational methodologies are unknown, and above all, the students of extension are given heavy doses of theory, without any exposure to real-life extension work involving rural conditions, farms and farmers. The situation at graduate level is hardly satisfactory. First of all, there are not many students who would like to select agricultural extension as their major in view of partly tough nature of extension work and partly unsatisfactory service conditions and professional development opportunities in the extension service. There is a psychological barrier against accepting the fact that extension is not inferior to any other agricultural discipline by any means and its role is as important in nation-building programmes as of other disciplines. The poor academic programmes in extension churn out new graduates who have no technical competence and professional confidence while facing farmers, some of them for the very first time in their life. Farmers, embarrassingly for the young recruits in extension, happen to know far more of the subject these new employees are supposed to advise on. This is true that not many extension workers have aptitude of living in rural conditions, a result of both faulty selections of students for agricultural extension major as well as almost total disregard for practical training.
A worldwide movement is currently on for reforming the traditional and, by and large, obsolete agricultural and rural extension systems due to the fresh recognition that extension is bound to play a very significant role in meeting the emerging learning needs of farming communities as a result of several global developments. However, only re-orientation or in-service training of the existing extension staff will not be sufficient. The reform and modernization of national extension systems will remain a dream if measures are not taken for reforming pre-service education in extension. Any serious effort at reforming the national agricultural extension systems should logically start with the reform in extension education at agricultural academic institutions, which currently produce ill-prepared graduates for working in a modern extension service.
Creation of a committee for review of pre-service education in agricultural and rural extension, comprising representatives from the national and provincial planning bodies, academic institutions, most relevant key government departments, non-public institutions related to rural and agricultural development, experienced and senior extension professionals, small and commercial farmers, etc., and distribution of the latest literature on extension reforms and modernization as well as on national policy on rural and agricultural development, and terms of reference for the review
Critical review of both under-graduate and graduate education in agricultural extension at relevant academic institutions by the review committee in order to assess the present quality and scope of the programmes against the national policy on rural and agricultural development, national development goals, and a vision of how extension services be made most useful in practical terms to face the challenge of meeting new learning needs of men and women farmers, in line with world developments. At least following aspects should be covered and recommendations for improvement made on:
- Teaching methodologies
- Text books and other learning materials
- Types and extent of audio-visual aids to facilitate learning
- Training of faculty of extension in innovative pedagogy
- Amount of practical vis-à-vis theory emphasis, especially the period to be spent in rural areas on farms with the farmers
- Internships under real-life conditions in the field
- Financial assistance to extension majors
- Linkages of academic institution with the agricultural extension department and other institutions engaged in real-life extension work
- In-country and overseas opportunities in advanced education in extension
- Linkages with agricultural research institutions
- Linkages with farmers associations
- Realization, recognition, and emphasis on gender importance in farming and extension work
- Gender balance in the selection of students for extension major
- Quality and number of extension faculty and their working conditions for satisfactory teaching
- Follow-up of the graduates after a few years in service
Preparation of an action plan for translating the committees recommendations into action over a specific period of time, seeking technical or financial assistance from bilateral and multi-lateral agencies, if needed.
Promote pluralism in extension by involving public, private and civil society institutions
In early days when agricultural extension was introduced in developing countries, there was hardly any private company or meaningful non-public institution that was keen to engage in delivering extension services. That is why extension remained monopoly of the government agricultural extension departments for a long time. The situation has changed now, and one finds several public and non-public actors as well as civil society institutions, which are actively engaged in extension or extension-like activities. These actors are eager to join any formal mechanism or project through which they can make development contributions, sometimes on voluntary basis and sometimes at a fee. Today, this is not only the government agricultural extension field worker who meets farmers to give advice, but salesmen from various commercial companies dealing in farm inputs who not only sell their products but also give advice on their use. Then, there could be several field workers belonging to charity organizations and NGOs, who are involved in extension type activities in rural areas. If extension services have been privatized in a country then individual advisors or the agents of private advisory companies keep in touch with farmers. Some researchers who conduct research outreach activities, such as on-farm trials, also engage farmers in conversations during which quite a bit of extension advice is delivered. The same is true for university faculty and students, who come in contact with farmers for data collection purposes. Thus many countries are enjoying a pluralistic pattern of extension, but in a sporadic and haphazard manner. Most of the time, there is no well-organized system that makes possible the active collaboration of stakeholders in both planning and implementation of extension programmes.
A well-structured, pluralistic mechanism of extension planning and delivery will alleviate much of the personnel and financial pressure on the government. In addition, the farmers could benefit from a variety of human information sources, that is, in addition to the media. However, a clearly defined role of government is needed, which could comprise policy guidance, coordination, quality control, technical support to weak private organizations and NGOs, and settlement of disputes, in order to safeguard the interests of farmers.
Preparation of a list of the public and non-public institutions and organizations (other than government agricultural extension department) such as private companies, NGOs, farmers associations, rural community organizations, agricultural academic institutions, agricultural research institutes and stations, etc., in every province and/or district, which are delivering or are interested in delivering agricultural extension advice to farmers. The main aspects to be covered for each institution should be as follows:
- The year of establishment
- Technical specializations
- Men and women professional and general services staff, with academic qualifications and field experience, whether on temporary contracts or permanent, etc.
- Motive behind doing extension work
- Physical facilities such as transportation, office equipment, communication facilities, audio-visual aids
- Operational linkages with relevant institutions
- Financial aspects such as total annual staff and programme budget, expenditure in previous year, sources of funding and their sustainability (to be kept confidential)
- Any major current programmes or those completed in recent years
- Does the organization work on volunteer basis or some fee is charged? If latter, details of fee.
- Is the organization willing to provide extension services on contract basis?
- Does the organization need any specialized training before it accepts contract for substantive extension work?
- Any reports and brochures about the organization
- Geographical area of programme coverage
- Type and number of people served
- Type of extension work the organization is interested in such as for small farmers, commercial farmers, women only, rural youth, etc.
- Any other important information that could not be covered through above questions
Assessment of extension and training needs of farmers in various districts and decision whether the existing government agricultural extension service is able to meet those needs. If not, the option of outsourcing be considered under which funding of extension and delivery of extension are considered as separate functions, and as such contracts for delivering specific extension services are given by the government to the relevant public and non-public institutions, other than the government extension department.
Preparation of documents for outsourcing and public-private partnership, and training of the district extension staff in outsourcing the extension work to other institutions, forging public-private partnerships, and in monitoring the quality of the work done
Periodic review and updating of the list of public and private providers of extension services
Arrangements by the government to play its role effectively in pluralistic extension pattern in order to safeguard the interests of farmers, including responsibilities such as provision of policy guidance, ensuring coordination and quality control, provision of technical support to weak private organizations and NGOs, and settlement of disputes
Privatize extension partially or fully only where it is socially and economically feasible
In developed countries, the private sector is well developed and takes responsibility for provision of several key services, which in the developing countries are still handled by the government. The public sector is definitely dominant in less-developed countries. However, the trend towards privatization in several developing countries is quite active these days.
Agricultural extension services have been fully privatized in several European and Latin American countries. There have been calls from certain donors and economists for privatizing extension in developing countries and in fact some countries like Uganda are engaged in privatizing their extension services. However, in recent years certain developments such as the disbanding of public extension services in some Latin American countries but at the same time dissatisfaction of farmers with the alternate extension services, government taking back certain components for helping farmers from the privatized advisory services in some developed countries like the United Kingdom, and uncertainty about the ultimate success of privatization in countries where majority of farmers are subsistence, are indeed important warning signals against blind plunge into privatization of extension in developing countries. This should, however, not be interpreted as failure of privatization, but as underlining the need to carefully study the feasibility of privatizing extension, keeping in view the differences between the agriculture and farmers of developed countries and those of less-developed countries.
The challenge is not to privatize entire extension services for all farmers, but to privatize extension where it makes sense. Under the present conditions, hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers are neither able nor willing to pay for extension advice, the quality of which in most cases does not make a convincing case for cash payment. If the extension advice is worth paying for because it enhances farmers income, then commercial farmers, cooperatives and producer associations will be inclined to pay. In case partial privatization of extension is opted, proper rules, regulations and procedures will be needed both for private extension advisers and their client farmers to protect the interests and rights of all parties. In addition, the government will have to take measures for quality control of extension advice to protect farmers from being exploited. It will be prudent for developing countries to try various methods which have been tried elsewhere in the world to lessen the burden on public budget and encourage non-public parties interested in delivering extension services.
Some of the pre-requisites for proper privatization of extension services include: the existence of competent private extension companies and individual extension advisors, strong farmers associations with legal status which could not only effectively demand extension services but also evaluate their quality and be willing and able to pay for the advice, and a suitable government mechanism for supervision and quality control of extension services to be provided by the private sector.
A survey to find out the type and number of commercial farmers, large cooperatives, and agri-businesses, which are willing and able to either hire private extension advisors or use private extension advisory services on fee basis; the larger number of willing farmers means a strong case for privatization of extension for these particular groups and vice versa.
A survey to find out whether a reasonable large pool of active or potential competent private extension advice providers exists or not; retired extension professionals may also be considered as potential service providers.
A study to assess the willingness and ability of farmers organizations, in case they exist, to pay for extension advice; the larger the number of willing farmers associations the stronger the case for privatization
Assuming that the results of the surveys and the study show that the country does indeed have a strong case for fully or partially privatizing agricultural extension services, the preparation of required rules and regulations and documents thereof such as contract preparation, remuneration rates, payment methods, negotiation and conflict resolution, a booklet containing a list of all private extension services providers in the area, with their qualifications and experience, technical areas of specialization and how to contact them, governments role in supervision, quality control and conflict management, etc.
Capacity building of individual farmers and their associations in topics such as demanding extension services, book keeping, assessing the quality of extension advice, etc.
Retaining of an appropriate public extension force by the government for provision of free extension advice to those farmers who are either unable or not willing to pay for extension advice, and for those residing in marginal areas.
Develop and apply information technology tools to facilitate the work of extension workers
As organizations benefit from the development of various kinds of technologies, extension organization could also benefit from the information technology advances. The extension offices located where electricity is available could use Internet, e-mail and various advanced audio-visual equipment in their daily work. In the field, however, the benefit will be limited because of the fact that most rural areas in developing countries have neither electricity nor regular telephone facilities apart from cellular telephones.
There have been some voices calling for replacement of extension workers with information technology centres in the villages. This technology- and hardware-driven approach is not healthy, because the information and communication technology should be used for developing necessary tools that could be used by extension workers. It is well known that, in some countries, when technical recommendations were made on radio, some farmers misinterpreted the advice and damaged their crops. This was particularly true in case of recommended doses of chemical pesticides and insecticides. Later, research showed that those radio programmes for farmers which were backed up by extension workers personally, such as through radio listeners groups, truly benefited from the extension programmes on radio.
It is difficult to prescribe any specific application of information technology for any specific country because conditions differ from place to place. However, the following is suggested in a generic way, which may be adapted to particular situations. As a rule of thumb, the efforts to apply information technology should be started at locations which have necessary infrastructure and pre-requisites. The other areas, obviously, will have to wait.
A study to be conducted by a team comprising two specialists, one in electronic communication technology and the other in extension and training, in order to:
- identify specific activities in extension work where modern information and communication technology may be realistically applied;
- identify the extension work related locations in the country which have necessary infrastructure for installation and use of electronic technology tools;
- prepare a plan for developing and installing necessary tools;
- prepare a plan for training of the staff that will use those tools;
- prepare cost estimates for the entire work
Interactive electronic linkages may be established between extension and relevant institutions. An example is VERCON (Virtual Extension Research Communication Network), a tool developed by FAO for facilitating operational linkages between research and extension, which remain unsatisfactory in most developing countries due to physical distances and poor conventional communication means, among other factors.
Extension data bases may be created, containing information on last few years prices of various commodities and projections for the near future, records of climate for the last few years and any expected unusual weather conditions in the near future, proven useful agricultural technologies, contact mailing and e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of subject-matter specialists and agricultural produce buyers, demand for grains and vegetables, etc. This database may be used by the extension workers in their work.
A variety of attractive extension and training materials may be prepared with the help of computer, using creative techniques.
Telecentres may be established in the areas, which are not normally covered by extension workers for reasons like remote location and inadequate staff, ensuring that periodic human follow-up is available.
Develop original, location-specific, participatory, gender-sensitive and inexpensive extension methodologies and materials instead of applying those methodologies which are promoted as universally suitable
By and large, most developing countries have been following top-down extension methodologies for years. The Training and Visit (T & V) system of extension, which was introduced by the World Bank in 1970s and dominated extension work in a large number of countries for over two decades, was also a top-down extension model, which later came under criticism on several grounds. Another major, popular methodology has been Farmer Field School (FFS), which was initially used for FAO-supported projects on integrated pest management (IPM) in the Philippines and Indonesia and became best practice for this purpose. The FFS was favoured over the T & V system due to its emphasis on learners participation. Basically, both of these extension methodologies were not really developed locally, and in spite of some good features, reportedly suffer from common weakness of being too costly especially for up-scaling, hence their questionable sustainability.
Unfortunately, apart from some small but well appreciated efforts in experimenting with new extension methods under some projects such as those funded by certain bi-lateral West European donors, there has been little zeal for developing any situation-specific methodologies as developing countries do not seem to have gone beyond the two main extension methods mentioned above. Presently, T & V system is out of favour and most countries have either dropped it altogether or have modified it to the extent that only some resemblance has been left to the original model. The FFS method is still expanding in some countries under the patronage of certain donors although it has been subject of criticism on various grounds. It is feared that although the FFS is a good methodology for educating farmers in IPM like technical subjects, the forceful push by its sponsors for its universal application for all technical subjects and geographical regions, just as was done in case of the T & V system, may eventually end up with the same fate as the T & V model. There is indeed a strong case for developing location-specific extension methodologies.
To make efforts for universal application of any single extension methodology is neither logical nor technically sound. One fact, established through field observations and experience over so many years in many countries, is that no single extension methodology, no matter how successful it proved to be in certain situation, could be suitable for all situations, irrespective of donors insistence on its adoption. The situation comprises people and their characteristics, farming patterns, geographical terrain, climate, population density, type and diversity of extension service providers, political environment, institutions, infrastructure, local customs, and possibly some other factors, which must be taken into consideration while developing an appropriate extension methodology. Therefore, a country like Nepal, which has plains, high mountains, irrigated areas, and rain-fed areas, could rightly end up with several extension methodologies to cover each unique set of circumstances. In fact, the T & V system of extension, which was applied throughout Nepal under the World Bank-financed projects, worked very well in the irrigated plains which had the benefits of improved technologies of rice and wheat cultivation as well as good infrastructure for extension workers to move around, less than satisfactory in the western rain-fed region where the technology available was grossly inadequate, and was almost a failure in high mountainous areas where mobility of farmers and extension workers was extremely limited due to unfriendly terrain, in addition to extreme weather conditions. Similarly, the extension methods will be different for people who farm in the islands, or under desert conditions. The type of farmers will also count in designing appropriate extension methodology, that is, whether the farmers are subsistence, commercial, male or female, and physically fit or disabled due to, for example, HIV/AIDS or some other reason.
Formation of a small team of field-level experienced extension staff to undertake the following tasks for developing original, situation-specific extension methodologies:
- Through active and long consultations with men and women farmers, identification of various traditional and contemporary cost-free or low-cost non-formal educational methods for various technical and non-technical subjects and skills, prevalent in rural areas of various regions in the country, including those evolved over centuries which have been passed on from generation to generation, meant for mainly illiterate men and women and do not use the criteria of the formal education system, with emphasis on those methods which pass the learners through practical real-life experiences, as far as possible
- Keeping in view the situational factors of each location (people and their characteristics, farming patterns, geographical terrain, climate, population density, type and diversity of extension service providers, political environment, institutions, infrastructure, local culture and customs), application of the principles of client participation, gender-sensitivity, bottom-up programme planning and decision-making, and client-focus to the identified major non-formal education methods
- Re-writing of various principles-based non-formal education methods in the format of well structured extension methodologies and preparation of relevant audio-visual materials which could enhance learning
- Field-testing of each extension methodology and relevant training audio-visual materials over a period of several months, involving men and women farmers of various agricultural interest categories at different locations, followed by the assessment of the extent to which the learned farmers are applying the new knowledge and skills in real life
- Giving each extension methodology an original suitable local name
- Determination of simple, culture-based patterns for organizing various categories of farmers into gender-sensitive groups at different specific locations for learning purposes through application of most applicable location-specific extension methodologies
- Preparation of a manual on various original location-specific extension methodologies, including the audio-visual materials, for various categories of farmers, for use by the extension workers in different locations
- Preparation of a training plan and implementation schedule for the training of extension workers in using extension methodologies in real-life situations and adapting the methodologies to the specific prevailing situation
Orient extension staff to major food security related global developments that could eventually affect rural livelihoods
So far, in most developing countries, no real need has been felt for educating the farmers in developing countries in the issues related to globalization, liberalization of markets, genetic engineering and biotechnology which are sooner or later going to affect their communities. This is due to general opinion that these global level developments are of no direct concern to farmers, and in any case, are too sophisticated to be understood by them. This opinion may be right at present but it is only matter of time when these developments will start affecting the rural livelihoods.
For example, China has recently been admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), and this is bound to result in significant reconsideration of existing national policies and procedures of agricultural production, agro-processing, storage, marketing, export and quality control. That is why Chinas national extension system must be equipped with necessary knowledge and skills in order to start educating farmers in possible effects and expectations resulting from the countrys entry into WTO.
Farmers will also confront the issue of farm subsidies within the context of liberalization of markets. In fact, it is already happening. For example, small farmers in Mali who have been growing cotton for years are in serious trouble because they are unable to compete with the very low price of the imported cotton, which the overseas farmers produced at very low cost due to heavy farm subsidies received from their respective governments.
The environmental aspects of agricultural technologies have received so far little attention both from researchers and extension workers in less-developed countries. The mandate of almost all the national agricultural extension services remains quite narrow, that is, limited to the transfer of agricultural technology. As long as a new technology can raise yields, the extension agents will fervently promote it, without any thoughts to its environmental friendliness. During 1960s, most of the credit for the Green Revolution, besides good extension support, went to the breeding and cultivation of high yielding varieties, proper irrigation, and application of high doses of fertilizers and pesticides. That recipe for gaining high yields is, however, currently under criticism due to its unfriendliness towards conservation of environment and natural resources. This is the reason that the technologies like IPM have received favourable attention.
Rapid growth in population also needs to be given serious consideration as it offsets any gains in agricultural production. For example, between 1970 and 1995, in spite of the fact that human fertility declined in most parts of the world, Asia's population increased by 60%, i.e. an addition of over one billion people. Although a very close relationship exists between population, farm production and food security, very few extension services have paid attention to educating farmers in this very important aspect.
It may seem a bit premature at this moment, but the time is not too far when farmers will be asking extension agents the questions about biotechnology and genetic engineering. Extension services should start developing simple training materials and capacity-building programmes in these areas.
As short-term measure, develop short orientation and training programmes in market liberalization, farm-market-chain-links, quality production and market of exportable commodities and the type of strong extension support to be provided to the producers, environment sustainability, natural resources management, genetically modified crops and vegetables, and organic farming for the training of extension staff at all levels.
Develop and use extension methodologies like APEX (Agriculture Population Environment Extension) developed by FAO, which integrate population and environment educational messages into ongoing agricultural extension programmes, after providing necessary training to the stakeholders involved.
As a long-term measure, update various aspects of pre-service education, taking steps as explained under the guideline "Bring pre-service education in agricultural extension in line with the modernizing of the national extension system".
Encourage the extension services to empower farmers through organizing them into legal associations to constitute a strong lobby for themselves and for extension
The trend to transform farming into agri-business or a commercial enterprise is visible throughout the world. The continuation of subsistence farming is being questioned on economic grounds. In many developing countries, farming has been left to old people because the new generation does not see much future in this profession. Other global developments, such as mentioned earlier in this paper, are also hinting that the farmers cannot depend just on farm income but must diversify their income-generation habits.
There is no doubt that the farmers, if operating individually rather than collectively, will never be able to run their small farms as agri-business or commercial enterprise nor will they be able to create a strong lobby for themselves for safeguarding their interests. They must organize themselves initially in small, informal groups then gradually in special interest groups and then into larger groups, which should be registered with the government as legal entities.
A strong lobby of farmers will not only work for farmers' rights but also for demanding effective agricultural extension services from the government, especially in those countries where decentralization or devolution has happened, thus ascertaining more budget and staff needs for the extension services. Farmers' grouping will also facilitate the application of participatory extension approaches. In summary, all these benefits will expedite the process of agricultural and rural development.
Provide refresher training courses to extension workers in organizing special-interest groups of men and women farmers.
Direct extension services to organize farmers in groups and associations and have them registered with the government to enjoy legal status.
Provide training to farmers' associations so that they could possess necessary knowledge and skills for exercising their influence in requesting specific services (such as extension advice from public and private institutions and assessing their quality when delivered, credit, farm inputs, marketing matters, etc.) as well as for converting their farms into agri-business and commercial enterprise.
Encourage bottom-up, grassroots extension programme planning by farmers in order to make extension demand-driven, but also exercise supply-driven, top-down modality for promoting common public good practices such as conservation of natural resources and environment protection
Men and women farmers need to be encouraged to form groups and prepare demand-based extension services plans with the assistance of extension workers. These services may be provided in their entirety by public extension services, entirely by private sector, or by a mixture of public and private institutions. However, the absolute demand-driven approach for services will not make much sense if used for promoting the public good practices as the farmers may consider these services as low priority. This is because farmers, in general, are not aware of or pay little attention to common public good practices such as preservation of natural resources and environmental protection. The government approach for these common public goods, therefore, should be top-down and supply-driven in the best interests of sustainable development.
An example of the common public good is a common pasture used by many rural people to graze their cattle - without, however, anyone caring about the maintenance and replenishment of the pasture's fertility. When excessive grazing depletes the pasture, the herders simply move to other fertile grazing grounds. The government should consider introducing certain legislation for proper use and replenishment of such common grazing areas with full involvement of its users, and its maintenance should be an essential part of any extension programme in the area.
Training of extension workers in playing the role of facilitator in helping farmers' groups in preparing demand-for-services extension programme plans, with the support on complex technical issues drawn from subject-matter specialists
Training of rural community leaders in bottom-up grassroots planning for preparing demand-for-services plans of extension with facilitation by the extension workers
Merger of several groups' demand-for-service plans into village plans, and merger of several villages' demand-for-services plans into cluster demand-for-services plans
Integration of cluster demand-for-services plans into government's district development plans, making sure that the implementation measures for government instructions on the use of common public goods are also incorporated in the district extension programme
Delivery of the services either by government line departments and/or by non-public institutions under outsourcing contracts based on the demand-for-services plans
Monitoring of the timeliness and quality of the delivery of services, and impact assessment jointly by farmers' groups and extension workers with the assistance of subject-matter specialists
If the extension function is to be performed with relatively small number of extension staff, follow appropriate strategies for getting maximum output
In several developing countries, the structural adjustment programmes caused severe downsizing of the human resources in the public extension departments. Some public extension services have been criticized for having huge human resources but still ineffective. It is not possible to have just one single formula for calculating an ideal number of extension staff as it will differ from place to place depending on many factors such as geographical terrain, density of farming population, infrastructure, transport means, availability of electronic media, and possibly some others. The old concept of covering a certain number of farm families by each extension agent should now be changed as the information technology revolution presents new opportunities to extension organizations for contacting farmers and other institutions.
Each of the following approaches or a combination of them will help in overcoming the staff shortage in delivering extension services. Some of them have been explained elsewhere in this paper:
If funding is not a big constraint, exercise the option of "outsourcing".
Make use of information technology tools and media but with adequate human backstopping
Review and revise the terms of reference of various categories of staff and merge those staff positions which have overlapping or closely similar terms of reference.
Following the "pluralism" modality, divide extension services delivery responsibilities among public and non-public, civil society actors such as NGOs, making sure that the delivery is properly supervised for quality control.
Consider hiring short-term staff on contracts or on when-actually-employed contract rather than hiring only against permanent positions.
Identify progressive farmers and those who could work as facilitators in extension activities along with extension staff.
Move bulk of extension staff from provincial level to sub-district level and village level, reducing the staff at the central level, if the country is not exercising devolution, and provincial level if devolution is in progress, limiting the upper most staff strength to a small secretariat.
Treat extension financing and extension delivery as two separate functions.
Follow group extension approach to eliminate individual farmer contact as far as possible.
Ensure effective operational linkages between extension and research and other key relevant institutions
Extension is a service devised for the benefit of farmers, with a traditional mandate of transfer of improved agricultural technology, now being broadened in the interest of sustainable agricultural and rural development. The most important operational linkage that has been emphasized for extension since its formal introduction in the developing countries is with research. This linkage is indeed important in view of the fact that agricultural research institutes are the main source of technology for extension organizations. This is painful fact, however, that this particular linkage has been persistently and notoriously weak hence a topic of much academic and practical interest to relevant professionals for many years.
Several modalities have been tried to enhance coordination between research and extension during the last five or so decades. Some of them are mentioned below:
One strategy followed by some countries was to put the two disciplines organizationally under the same administration. The intentions were good, but unfortunately, no matter which developing country took this route, extension was grossly overshadowed and undermined by research. Research almost always ended up with the lion's share of the budget allocated. Even in major donor-financed projects, it was commonly observed that a very high percentage of overseas fellowships were taken away by research even though the project design emphasized on a fair distribution between extension and research.
Another strategy to bring research and extension closer in some countries was to create small extension units in research institutes. Such units, however, did not go beyond publishing brochures and booklets on research done by those particular institutes, which was more for publicity and served as a source of pride for the researchers. In some exceptional cases, these units made research outreach efforts. The only extension (in some cases media) specialist running the unit found himself isolated from his professional colleagues with almost zero chances of professional growth and promotion amongst all researchers. This strategy did not work.
Yet another strategy started under the World Bank-financed projects that followed the Training and Visit model of extension, was the pattern of compulsory meetings between researchers and extension workers that took place just before the start of main cropping seasons. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss the expected field problems, identification of key messages to be passed on to "contact farmers" by the field extension agents, and other issues related to the approaching cropping season. This modality was found to be useful, providing a productive platform for the specialists from research and extension to discuss farmers' concerns and problems. However, like the Training and Visit model, these meetings, although useful, also did not prove to be sustainable and died down with the end of particular projects.
A very promising research-extension coordination mechanism has been developed during the last few years in Indonesia under the World Bank-financed Applied Research Management II Project. Under the project, Agricultural Technology Assessment Institutes have been established in several provinces. Their staff comprises both researchers and extension specialists who have been obtained after disbanding dozens of small research stations and extension information centres. All the staff have the same job description, and under a ministerial decree, same employment benefits. The institute are headed either by senior researchers or by senior extension specialists. The institutes field-test, in collaboration with farmers, those technologies which are sent to them by central commodity research institutes, on 50-hectare plots. If the technologies tested are found to be promising, they are further tested on 500-hectare-plots on cost-sharing basis with farmers, with involvement of the district extension officers, and if the technologies still perform good, then extension service starts up-scaling them. These institutes do not only collaborate with the public research institutes, but also with the research faculties of universities as well as private companies under "competitive research grant" modality. This model is so far the best hope for research and extension to work not only hand in hand but also with full involvement of farmers, extension service and other stakeholders.
Lately, the efforts to bring research and extension closer have started taking advantage of advances in information and communication technology and virtual linkages are being established between relevant institutions.
Do not repeat the old practice of putting research and extension under the same administration, as this has undermined extension. Instead, put research and extension under separate administration and take the following measures for coordination between the two disciplines:
- Form a joint committee comprising senior officers from research and extension at the central or provincial level, depending on whether these services have been decentralized or not, for the purposes of policy advice and promotion of coordination at all levels.
- Appoint researchers as subject-matter specialists at district level to technically backstop extension workers. If research has not been decentralized, such appointments should be for a period of about three years, during which the researchers (subject-matter specialists) should work under overall supervision of the district extension officer. Each researcher should spend about 30% of his time in working for his parent research institution and 70% time on supporting the extension activities in the field. The liaison between these researchers and their parent institutions is of great importance, as it not only helps the researchers to maintain technical links, but also allows their seniority to be counted, and opportunities for promotion in their respective institution will not be lost. These researchers, upon returning to their parent institutions will be considered as resource persons due to their first hand field experience leading to exchange of professional ideas with their colleagues. Working on rotation basis, these researchers should be replaced by other researchers. As most researchers do not like to be assigned at district level, special field allowance should be considered for such placements for motivation purposes.
- Initiate a process at field level for drawing research agenda through consultation among researchers, extension workers and farmers with the objective of making the agenda field problem-oriented.
- Making use of modern information and communication technology, establish virtual interactive linkages among research and extension institutes.
- Make sure that there is no bias in the allocation of operational funds, establishment of service conditions, gender considerations and provision of career development opportunities to both disciplines.