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1. Agricultural and rural extension: definitions

1.1 Extension: a function

Extension, in general terms, is a function that can be applied to various areas of society. It operates in the industrial, health and education sectors, as well as agricultural and rural development. Originally derived from «university extension» (Mosher 1976), the term «extension» is therefore applicable to various areas of development.

Figure 1: Extension as a function in various sectors of society











As Figure 1 illustrates, extension functions in various sectors of society. In earlier discussions on the World Bank-sponsored Training and Visit (T&V) extension system, Israel (1982) stressed the fact that T&V principles could be applied to other sectoral systems involved in the delivery of nonformal education. It also warned, however, that T&V was based on classical management principles that were unlikely to be viable in the developing countries - a lesson that was only fully appreciated in the 1990s and that has since led in part to the current emphasis on participatory management principles.

1.2 Agricultural extension: a knowledge system

Agricultural extension operates within a broader knowledge system that includes research and agricultural education. FAO and the World Bank refer to this larger system as AKIS/RD (Agricultural Knowledge and Information Systems for Rural Development). The OECD countries refer to it simply as the Agricultural Knowledge System (AKS). Others describe the three pillars of this system - research, extension and agricultural higher education - as «the agricultural knowledge triangle» and suggest that since the three pillars involve complementary investments they should be planned and sequenced as a system rather than as separate entities (Eicher 2001). Linking the triangle’s institutions with their common clientèle, namely the farmers, and with each other, also requires systematic planning.

At the second OECD AKS conference in January 2001, the representatives of agricultural research, education and extension institutions, and government officials with AKS policy responsibilities stressed the opportunities for AKS to address the wider societal issues associated with agriculture. The participants confirmed that AKS could play a central role in developing research, education and extension/development programmes oriented towards these wider society issues, which can be expected to expand (OECD 2001). In this scenario, the planning and sequencing of AKS as a single system, as Eicher (2001) suggests, becomes even more imperative. However, much has been written on implementing AKIS linkages, especially in research and extension (Pray & Echeverría 1990; Kaimowitz 1990; Crowder & Anderson 1997) without any significant results. In this age of change, one promising idea appears to be the promotion of linkages through funding grants requiring cross-institutional activity between AKIS systems and their clientèle.

Figure 2. Agricultural extension as part of AKS/AKIS

As Figure 2 illustrates, agricultural information systems for rural development link people and institutions to promote learning and to generate, share and use agriculture- related technology, knowledge and information. According to the AKIS/RD Strategic vision and guiding principles (FAO/World Bank 2000) the system integrates farmers, agricultural educators, researchers and extensionists, enabling them to harness knowledge and information from various sources to improve farming and livelihoods. Maguire (2000) suggests that the concept and practice of agricultural education should be redesigned in the developing countries as education for rural development and food security. Indeed, many needs are rapidly emerging such as trade-related education on agro-health (plant and animal health and food safety), value-added agro-processing, and agro-market competitiveness. These needs arise from the obligations that countries take on as members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the increasing urgency to build competitive advantages aimed at global agricultural market niche opportunities.

In principle, agricultural extension receives relevant information from the agricultural education system and feeds back field observations to this system. Extension is also professionally linked to the agricultural vocational and higher education systems in the sense that these systems also produce the agents who work in extension. The relationship between agricultural extension and agricultural research is even closer, because the knowledge that agricultural extension transfers is usually generated by agricultural research through applied and adaptive agricultural research development.

Within the agricultural sector, however, agricultural extension may be interpreted narrowly or broadly, which complicates the debate (Rivera 1987). In a strict interpretation, the only purpose of agricultural extension is to disseminate information to raise the production and profitability of the farmers (agricultural production performance).

In a broader interpretation, the purpose of agricultural extension is to advance not alone production knowledge but the whole range of agricultural development tasks, such as credit, supplies, marketing and markets (agricultural process development).

In the broadest interpretation, agricultural extension provides nonformal - agriculturally related continuing adult education - for multiple audiences: farmers, spouses, youth, community, urban horticulturalists (continuing agricultural education and community development) and for various purposes (including agricultural development, community resource development, group promotion and cooperative organizational development). In some countries all three of the above orientations operate, e.g. the U.S. Cooperative Extension System. Such extension systems encourage the empowerment of farmers in various ways, including participation in programme planning and decision-making. By contrast, in many countries (e.g. India, Tunisia, Zimbabwe and Zambia) agricultural extension is linked to agricultural production services.

1.3 Agricultural and rural extension: an expanded concept

When agricultural extension is combined with rural extension goals, the extension function ranges even more widely in its purposes. Rural extension, for instance, includes non-agricultural activities such as microenterprise development (Echeverría 1998), a priority which is being advanced by the Inter-American Development Bank.

Non-farm rural microenterprise development. Most rural people depend upon multiple sources of income, such as petty trade, primary production, remittances, and casual employment. In short, rural people are not dependent solely on agriculture or natural resources for their livelihoods. As Carney (1998) points out, «these might provide the basis for their survival but it may well be that the best prospects for significant livelihood improvement lie outside the natural resources sector in the generation of off-farm income». In addition to microenterprise development there is also the option of reaching the poor through rural public employment, i.e., labour-intensive rural public works projects (Ravallion 1990).

Since the AKIS/RD document combines rural with agricultural goals, and since rural development involves both farm-related and non-farm-related activities, it seems appropriate for certain extension programmes to be engaged in activities beyond those already mentioned. FAO could promote the development of agriculture- related micro-enterprises in rural areas where such a priority would make sense for extension programmes, and in this regard it might launch a special alliance with relevant organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank.

Technical extension. Agricultural and rural extension is the responsibility of various technical and service units, and serves many purposes. The various technical units within FAO indicate that agricultural extension is a function pursuing many different purposes: livestock development, forest use and conservation, fisheries engineering and capture, food and nutrition education, as well as well as crop development. Even in programmes designed to foster agricultural crop production, extension may be concerned with providing information on other crucial issues such as food storage development, processing, farm management, and marketing. FAO has advocated and pursued all the above purposes of agricultural and rural extension at some time or another.

Marketing extension. Other purposes of agricultural and rural extension include marketing extension. Marketing extension (Abbott 1984; FAO 1987, and Narayanan 1991) provides information on the post-harvest treatment of speciality crops and provides an important service in countries trading in food crops, including such fragile products such as bananas and cacao. Other, different types of marketing information services referred to as «market extension» also exist; these services provide information on variations in commodity prices; knowledge about where to sell some products; information on problems to do with the quality, availability and prices of inputs, and on the actual level of competition in the markets (Crowder 1997; Shepherd 1997). These market information services should not be confused with marketing extension services that aim at improving the preparation and process of moving agricultural goods to market.

Farmers’ associations. Agricultural and rural extension services can also help farmers and produce processors to organize themselves to meet their mutual agricultural interests. A long tradition in extension is group promotion and group organization, and FAO’s commitment to these purposes is well known. Indeed, one of the Organization’s many ways of promoting people’s participation in development is through independent agricultural and rural development group associations (FAO 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000; Van Heck 1990). Financing economic selfreliance and the participation of the members in their organization’s activities is of central importance in such efforts to promote farmers’ organizations (FAO 1995; Rouse 1999).

Some argue that extension can most effectively carry out its mandate, not by working directly with individual farmers but by working indirectly with and through farmers’ groups or organizations (Byrnes 2001). In «Cotton, democracy and development in Mali» Bingen (1998) recounts the emergence of the National Union of Cotton and Food Crop Producers (Syndicat des Producteurs de Coton de Vivriers, SYCOV), and highlights the connection between small farmer organization, democracy and development.

Emerging purposes. As populations grow and rural peoples flock to the cities, extension may (and already does in some countries) have to deal with urban and suburban clients (FAO 2000). What is currently considered «agricultural and rural extension» may eventually become «food and agriculture, rural and urban extension ». In fact, extension in high-income countries is already providing information and education services in urban areas, extending beyond technical agriculture and rural development alone.

Urban extension is a potential growth area for information transfer. As such, it addresses new audiences and new programmes, and reflects the world’s rapid urbanization. In Latin America, for instance, urbanization (74% in 1998) will affect 83 percent of the population by the year 2020 (Sanchez-Griñan 1998). This process will involve socio-economic and demographic changes that will affect food and nutrition, as well as epidemiological, institutional and socio-demographic changes. The same process is apparent in Asia and Africa, as well as in North America and Western Europe. Food security, the employability of youth in the food industry, environmentally sound practices by small urban businesses, and other food and agriculture-related programmes are likely to demand the attention of governments which are currently dismantling extension programmes. Conceiving of extension purely as an agricultural production, rather than an educational service is short-sighted and limited.

1.4 Alternative extension approaches

The Extension, Education and Communication Service (SDRE) issued a valuable overview of extension approaches and methodologies in 1988 authored by George Axinn and entitled Guide on Alternative Extension Approaches. This overview is still a valid reference work and provides a basic examination of the various extension approaches current at that time. The guide distinguishes between eight different approaches. The terms «approach» and «methodology» when referring to extension are often used interchangeably, and it would be pedantic to try to separate them and their respective conceptual meanings in this paper. Suffice it to say that while the terms may be used interchangeably, they must be differentiated from the term «options» used in this paper to refer to reform strategies involving institutional arrangements.

Most of the approaches to which Axinn refers have been supported by FAO at various times. These eight main approaches are simply listed below, for sake of brevity, together with their respective success criteria.


The general agricultural extension approach. Success is measured in terms of the rate of take-up of the recommendations, and increases in national production.


The commodity specialized approach. The measure of success is usually the total production of the particular crop.


The training and visit approach. Success is measured in terms of production increases of the particular crops covered by the programme.


The agricultural extension participatory approach. Success is measured by the numbers of farmers actively participating and benefiting, and the continuity of local extension organizations.


The project approach. Short-run change is the measure of success.


The farming systems development approach. Success is measured by the extent to which farming people adopt the technologies developed by the programme and continue using them over time.


The cost sharing approach. Success is measured in terms of farm people’s willingness and ability to share some of the cost, either individually or through their local government units.


The educational institution approach. The measure of success is the farming people’s attendance at and participation in the school’s agricultural extension activities.

This is certainly not intended to be an exhaustive type listing. More importantly, Axinn’s characterization of the different approaches in terms of their success tends to distort some of them. It nevertheless helps to distinguish certain basic approaches.

Why is there such a plethora of extension approaches? Some ideas change; paradigms shift; and purposes vary. But lessons are also learned, and then shared. It becomes clearer why one or other approach has succeeded or failed, and which aspects of a particular programme are useful and which are not. Even a cursory review of FAO’s agricultural and rural extension approaches indicates the diversity of its involvement.

Clearly, agricultural extension involves many different approaches and methodologies. It is also directed towards very distinct content areas. And it is managed and delivered through a variety of institutional arrangements. It can therefore reasonably be argued that no single approach best suits extension development in all circumstances, just as there is no one single approach that best suits development. Otherwise the problems of extension and, for that matter, of development, would have been solved long ago.

1.5 Government’s role in agricultural and rural extension reform

Government plays an important role in agricultural and rural development, although its relationship to extension funding and delivery is changing. Even when agricultural extension is farmer-led, government - at whatever level - must be concerned with production, the impact of agricultural practices on the environment, regulations governing quality standards, food safety, and in general the well-being of the people. There has arisen a myth about «the powerless state». However, it is no myth that government extension has in many cases become irrelevant and has been by-passed by NGOs and private commercial extension. In the final analysis, though, it is government that decides whether or not to become directly involved in agricultural and rural extension.

Governments are facing new extension challenges: meeting the need to provide food for all, raising rural incomes and reducing poverty, and sustainably managing natural resources. These critical challenges exist in a rapidly changing world. Globalization, new technologies, the new relationships developing between the public and private sectors, the multi-disciplinary nature of agriculture, heterogeneity between and within countries, the geographic dispersion of rural people - all these realities are putting new pressure on the developing countries in their efforts to develop. This being so, the state must take on a central role in financing advisory services which are important, but not financially rewarding for the private sector. In addition to providing advice on the management of natural resources, integrated pest management and advisory services to the very poor, the state has a critical role to play in establishing markets for commercial and farmer-to-farmer extension services, providing rural communication infrastructure, and developing human resources. The advancement of pluralistic partnerships is crucial, given the multiplicity of tasks confronting developing countries.

For those governments that have not yet done so, the advantages and disadvantages of institutional reform deserve consideration. In this regard, governments as well as international organizations need to benchmark the pros and cons of newly reformed institutional arrangements for agricultural and rural extension systems, and learn from each other. Institutional reforms appear to have been successfully carried through in various countries and may be of value to governments when considering the possibility of reforming their own agricultural and rural extension. However, no single reform measure can be considered a panacea. All are «work in progress» and depend on the commitment, resources, capacity, attitudes and motivations of the stakeholders at various levels.

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