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V. Normative framework for extension review and reform (NFERR)


There are certain facts about the discipline of agricultural extension which really do not require any further investigative studies. First, most public extension systems in developing countries have proved to be expensive and less efficient than intended during their launching, for several well-known reasons. Second, during the last ten plus years, extension has been subjected to vigorous and untested reform measures, which in many cases were better termed "experiments". The hasty alternate solutions in many instances did more damage than benefit. In certain parts of the world, such as in Latin America, there is a growing and somewhat bitter realization that many of those experiments have indeed failed, and with the disappearance of public extension services some time ago, the farmers are left with no one to satisfy their knowledge, information, skills and institutional needs. Surprisingly enough, some of those experiments are still continuing in some countries, and there is understandable pressure from donors on the governments to take extension reform measures. This pressure on the governments, without having viable extension alternates, has sadly resulted in further downgrading of extension services. The importance of extension is, however, once again being recognized in view of recent worldwide developments. Most of the governments in developing countries are keen to reform their extension systems, and would prefer to carry out this reform sooner than later.

While substantial resources have gone into reform experiments, one positive outcome of the exercise is that many useful lessons have been learnt. Many countries, which started some of these major reform measures many years ago, had to face several pitfalls due to lack of sufficient field-testing and validation of reform measures. They learned by doing over a period of several years. The many lessons learnt from these "senior" countries should be seriously examined by those countries, which are just embarking on some of these reforms and want to avoid unnecessary pitfalls.

A normative framework, such as this one, was needed for reviewing the national extension systems to assess the application of reform principles and interventions, and to determine how those principles and interventions may be realistically applied to all relevant aspects of any extension system. Some of these aspects are in fact prerequisites for certain reform measures which must be met before reforms can be meaningfully introduced. The main logical assumption behind the normative framework is that while reform principles and interventions remain unchanged, situations within a country and between countries are different from one another, and that therefore, the application of the principles and interventions will take on varying intensities, forms and procedures at different locations.

Rationale and purpose of NFERR

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. The application of all or some of these principles and interventions to various aspects of an extension system, within the context of specific country situation, has shown promising results. These normative principles and interventions cut across all regions, but their application must be done according to the "situational context" (SC), 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.

The NFERR, which was developed by the author of this paper and used in 2005 to conduct studies on extension covering several countries in Central America and in Burkina Faso, will help in close review of the existing rural and agricultural extension systems for the following purposes:

The NFERR is optimistic, forward-looking and action-oriented in character. As such, it is not meant for in-depth studies of traditional extension systems and some obviously failed experiments in extension in order to identify their weaknesses and reasons for failures. Too much literature already exists on this subject. Valuable sources should not be used for reaching the same expected and known conclusions time and again but for the enforcement of ongoing positive efforts. In addition, several countries are already trying to apply many of the principles and interventions to their extension systems or services, and the purpose of the NFERR is to further encourage and strengthen their efforts.

The NFERR, however, should not be considered as a finished product. Because, as the process of extension reform continues and lessons continue being learnt, the NFERR will likewise be enriched through periodic updates for maximum benefit to its users. This is a continuously evolving tool.

Basics of extension

Extension Reform Principles and Interventions and their Application

Extension reform principles and interventions

Aspects of extension systems to which particular principle or intervention may be applied


Grassroots extension programme planning; National extension policy formulation; Improvement of extension organizational structure for more effectiveness; Organization of farmers for empowerment and group extension approach; Methodologies for training extension staff and farmers; Development of gender, age, culture and religion sensitive extension and training materials; Monitoring and evaluation of extension activities; Economic and social impact assessment of extension interventions; Use of indigenous communication methods, media and modern information technology tools; Preparation of research agenda by researchers; Original extension approaches and methodologies to be developed within specific situation context; Establishment of farm-to-market-chain-links


All the aspects, mentioned above under “participation”.


Identification of types of farmers whose extension needs are to be addressed with tailor-made extension strategies, methodologies and materials (examples: subsistence farmers, commercial farmers, farmers in HIV/AIDS-affected areas, mountain farmers, desert farmers, small islands farmers, farmers with physical disabilities, women farmers, part-time farmers, rural youth, special interest groups of growers, rural land-less poor, etc.): Grassroots extension programme planning.


Grassroots extension programme planning; Cost-sharing agreements between farmers and extension; Organization of special interest groups in villages; Capacity-enhancement of farmers in making demands for services; Establishment of farm-to-market-chain-links; Evaluation of extension services delivery; Accountability of extension service providers; Extension services quality control; Impact assessment of extension interventions; Government’s role in covering those technical subjects, which are of public interest, such as protection of environment and natural resources.


Grassroots extension programme planning; Inventory of competent, experienced and willing public and private extension service providers including farmers’ associations, community organizations, and NGOs; Separation between extension financing and extension service delivery functions; Governments’ active role in co-ordination among extension service providers, control of quality of extension services, capacity-enhancement of non-public extension service providers, and impact assessment of services provided; National pluralistic extension policy formulation; Combining several communication methods; Development of several situation- and purpose-specific extension methodologies.


Organization of farmers groups and a strong lobby; Grassroots extension programme planning; Verification of the type and number of farmers willing and able to pay for extension services; Verification of the existence of a pool comprising private extension providers who are experienced, competent, well-staffed and with the mentality of not just profit-making but serving the farmers; Government’s role in separating extension financing from extension service delivery, protecting farmers’ interests, quality control of extension services, capacity-enhancement of non-public service providers, provision of free extension advice to resource-poor farmers, extension coverage of subjects of public interest such as protection of environment and natural resources, and co-ordination among various extension services providers; Capacity-enhancement of farmers in making service demand, negotiation skills, contract preparation, monitoring of services delivery, book-keeping, legal options in case of damage from private extension advice; Establishment of farm-to-market-chain-links.


Organization of farmers’ groups; Meeting pre-requisites of decentralization for smooth transition (includes orientation to extension staff and subject-matter specialists on decentralization philosophy and transition measures, new role definition for extension and other subject-matter specialists vis-à-vis elected officials of local government, capacity-enhancement of extension staff in grassroots planning by farmers’ groups, pre-service training of elected local officials in the importance of bringing positive behavioural change among farmers through investment in extension); National government’s role in the provision of general policy direction to decentralized units and in taking measures against possible politicization and marginalization of extension under decentralization through practices such as recruitment of non-agricultural candidates for extension positions, lack of attention to career development of extension staff, and shifting of extension budget to non-extension activities.

Location- and purpose-specific, original extension methodologies

Development and field-testing of the extension methodologies originally developed (not imported or imitated), based on the situational context, and which are participatory, gender-sensitive, client-focused, in-expensive, with low-cost replication and up-scaling potential, flexible enough to absorb changes in extension environment, simple to follow, emphasizing user-friendly, innovative, practical learning-by-doing educational methods, whose results could be verified, sustainability, and supported by audio-visual aids, study tours and demonstrations.

Staff motivation for effective performance

Formulation of national extension policy; Salary, status, benefits and in- country and overseas career development opportunities for extension staff at least at par with other professional staff in agricultural disciplines; Sufficient operational budget; Physical facilities for field work such as mobility, equipment and access to data especially on marketing, needed for advising farmers.

Broader technical mandate of extension in line with global developments

Formulation of national extension policy; Change from agricultural extension to rural and agricultural extension; Revision of pre-service education in extension; In-service training of existing staff in sustainable rural and agricultural development, post-disaster rehabilitation of farming population, alleviation of food insecurity and rural poverty, addressing special extension needs of farming population in HIV/AIDS-affected areas, sustainable rural and agricultural development, human resources development in terms of decision-making, leadership, problem-solving, effects of globalization and market liberalization on farmers.

Development and application of information technology (IT) tools

Assessment of indigenous, traditional communication methods, applicable media within situational context to be combined with modern IT; Development and field-testing of IT tools in support of extension activities; Feasibility assessment of infrastructure for installation of IT tools; Capacity-enhancement of extension staff in IT; Creation of a small group of literate farmers trained in IT equipment operation and maintenance; Back-up of the use of IT tools by human resources with the objectives of getting optimum benefit without replacing extension workers; Linking to existing websites of farmers’ interest such as price information of different commodities.

Monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment

Formulation of national extension policy; Grassroots extension programme planning; Organization of farmers; Establishment of farm-to-market-chain-links; Capacity-enhancement of farmers in monitoring, evaluation and socio-economic impact assessment of extension interventions; Development of necessary tools to be used by extension staff and farmers.

Institutional linkages

Formulation of national extension policy; Grassroots extension programme planning; Organization of farmers; Establishment of farm-to-market-chain-links; Platform for collaboration and periodic meetings of all stakeholders including farmers, subject-matter specialists, extension, agricultural research, farm inputs agencies, marketing, agri-business, agro-processing, storage, climate institutes, transportation.

Others, as identified during the continued extension reform process and lessons being learnt

To be identified as appropriate.

How to use NFERR

  1. Study a national agricultural and rural extension or advisory system carefully in order to identify various policy-related, organizational, strategic and operational aspects.

  2. Hold discussions with relevant government officials, farmers, specialists at public departments and non-public institutions including NGOs, and professional staff of donor-financed rural and agricultural development projects and programmes, review literature, and make field observations, for the purpose of identifying the ongoing or pipeline extension reforms.

  3. Examine the identified reforms and determine to what extent specific reform principles and interventions have been applied to various policy, organizational, strategic and operational aspects, identified earlier under Step No.1.

  4. Take note of the full or partial gaps in application and find out reasons for the same and if the government is willing to fill in those gaps.

  5. Keeping in view the situational context, make realistic, practical, inexpensive, and doable recommendations to fill in the gaps, which may be implemented in short, medium and long term.

  6. Be creative as all situations are different and generally demand unique extension solutions.

Normative Terms of Reference (TOR) for conducting studies

The following normative TOR may be used for conducting studies on assessing extension reform situation. Slight adjustments may be needed in the TOR in line with prevailing conditions in the country of the study. The study may be conducted by an institution or by individual consultant.

Extension problems during initial decentralization

Several organizational, technical, financial and attitude problems and issues have surfaced during the process of decentralizing the extension service in the country. The budget for district extension offices has been sent to the District Development Fund, and within the District Development Committee (DDC), the Local Government Officer has been made the leader. However, the DDC is ill prepared for its supervisory role. Moreover, there is an overlap between the role of the Local Development Officer and the Regional Director of Agriculture. After the full integration of the extension service, there is the possibility that the role of the mid-level agricultural technicians might change from conventional extension work to a more market-oriented and politically influenced activities; however, the professionals do not seem to be prepared for this change at the moment.

FAO. 2003. Nepal: A study on issues and problems arising from decentralization of agricultural extension services, unpublished report of a study conducted by M.K. Qamar and K.N. Pyakuryal. Rome.

APEX: An extension strategy for educating farmers in population and environment issues within the context of farming practices

Preparatory activities:

  • Identification of the recipient population for APEX messages

  • Organization of the target population for participation purposes

  • Composition of the APEX field teams

  • Technical preparation of the APEX field teams

  • Preparation of training curricula

  • Creative, innovative training techniques and materials

  • Multiplier effect and cost-effective training strategy

  • Extension, education and communication materials

Field activities:

  • Strategic message-blending

  • Group contacts

  • Rural household visits

  • APEX knowledge contests

  • APEX rural theatre and play contests

  • Targeting decision-makers

  • Intensive APEX campaigns

  • Post-awareness educational demonstration and advice

  • Impact assessment

FAO. 2004. APEX: An extension strategy for educating farmers in population and environment issues within the context of farming practices (brochure), by M.K. Qamar. Rome.

Suggested duration

Two months, including report preparation.

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