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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) contributes considerably to the advancement of agricultural and rural extension as evidenced by its worldwide conferences, information exchanges, field programmes and projects.

There are, however, certain global developments that demand a fresh vision if the agricultural and rural extension institutions in the developing countries are to be revitalized and made more effective and efficient. This vision encompasses institutional reforms towards both market-oriented privatizing innovations and non-market decentralizing reforms, and constitutes the backdrop against which a new vision can be applied.

This paper reviews and draws on a broad range of existing reform options, and on the basis of this review proposes a number of initiatives for institutional reform in the developing countries. These strategies are intended to help FAO staff to provide guidance to the developing countries for the reform of their agricultural and rural extension systems. The paper begins with definitions that distinguish between (a) extension as a function, (b) agricultural extension as part of a larger knowledge triangle, and (c) agricultural and rural extension as an expanded concept of knowledge and information systems. In many low-income developing countries, agricultural and rural extension is in disarray, which bodes ill for countries that should now accommodate the new paradigm which is increasingly being shaped by global trends towards market-driven and highly competitive agribusiness enterprises. Indeed, these trends highlight the tension that exists between the modern force of globalization and the traditional forces of culture, geography, and community (Friedman 2000).

The initiatives proposed in this paper draw on recent agricultural extension reform measures introduced in several high-income, middle-income and low-income countries. The focus, however, is on reform measures that promote food security and poverty alleviation among small-holders in low-income countries. The initiatives are broadly envisaged as applications of the principles set out in the FAO/World Bank document on Strategic Vision and Guiding Principles (2000) for promoting Agricultural Knowledge and Information Systems for Rural Development (AKIS/RD), and other frameworks emphasizing the changing extension environment (Neuchâtel 1999).

The AKIS/RD vision calls for institutional reforms involving pluralism, cost recovery, privatization, decentralization and subsidiarity, with an emphasis on participatory approaches. These reforms constitute the main menu of options discussed in this paper. They include both market and non-market reforms. The FAO Extension, Education and Communication Service (SDRE) has begun exploring these initiatives to reform extension in the Philippines, Iran, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Eritrea, Mozambique, Uganda, Yemen, and other countries, some of them in collaboration with the FAO Investment Centre Division (TCI) and the World Bank. The results of these efforts highlight the interest of policymakers in the developing countries to pursue extension institutional reform.

Ester Zulberti
Exension, Education and Communication Service

[1] This paper adopts a broad rural focus as opposed to a narrow agricultural focus, in line with the rural development strategy for reducing poverty and eliminating hunger adopted in the World Bank’s paper on Rural Development: From Vision to Action (1997) and the FAO/World Bank’s paper Agricultural Knowledge and Information Systems for Rural Development: Strategic Vision and Guiding Principles (2000).

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