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The Extension, Education and Communication Service and the Research and Technology Development Service of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) conducted ten case studies on Agricultural Knowledge and Information Systems for Rural Development (AKIS/RD) in different countries with a view to gaining insights into the operations of these systems, the countries’ efforts at integrating their AKIS systems, and the lessons learned. The present study reviews and analyses these case studies, comparing them against a number of indicators, including the nine principles set forth in the seminal text published by FAO and the World Bank in 2000: AKIS/RD: Strategic vision and guiding principles. An AKIS/RD is the entire complex of agencies and institutions that provide rural people with the knowledge and information necessary for promoting innovation in their diversified livelihoods. It can be considered equivalent to an "enhanced AKIS" in that it incorporates both agricultural and nonagricultural knowledge and information services.

An AKIS/RD exists in some form in all areas, as rural people have traditional - as well as modern - sources of information relevant to their livelihood strategies. In practice, government technical agencies play an important role in promoting innovation and modernization and providing services to rural producers. Agricultural production systems are at the heart of most rural economies and rural livelihood systems, but non-agricultural income and social services are also critically important in many cases. Public sector investment is typically channelled through independent agricultural research, extension and education agencies - AKIS/RD agencies. These together form the core of public sector AKIS/RD investment and influence the development and efficiency of all public and private sector efforts to promote innovation and enhanced competitiveness in the agriculture sector.

The present study is organized into seven main sections. The introduction, Section 1, sets out the purpose of the study, discusses AKIS/RD vision and principles, defines the agricultural knowledge and information components of an AKIS/RD as a set of (sub)systems that, ideally, are effectively linked and purposely integrated, defines agricultural development as an aspect of rural development, and reviews selected literature and events that refer to AKIS/RD. Section 2 provides an overview of the ten case studies, ranking them against 24 indicators (covering nine basic and 15 additional principles) organized within five broad priority areas: 1) AKIS policy environment; 2) institutional structure for the support of innovation; 3) conditions that support the expression of demand for innovation; 4) partnerships and networks that contribute to the effectiveness of an AKIS/RD; and 5) the finances available to support systems of innovation. Section 3 examines the common strengths and weaknesses relevant to AKIS/RD in the ten country case studies and highlights the innovative features of various case studies. Section 4 reviews the lessons learned, as outlined by the national consultants who prepared the case studies. Section 5 establishes guidelines for strengthening AKIS/RD; and Section 6 draws brief conclusions.

The country case studies

The ten country case studies were written by national consultants who reviewed documents and other secondary data, undertook rapid appraisals, developed questionnaires, carried out group and individual interviews with key informants and, in some cases, held workshops and seminars to gather data on their countries’ AKIS institutions and the status of these in terms of the AKIS/RD strategic vision and guiding principles. The case studies were produced between 2000 and 2003, and both quantitative and qualitative data were utilized. (See Annex 2 for an example of the consultants’ terms of reference [TOR]).

The countries studied differ with respect to economic status, type of government, institutional structure, organizations’ management approaches, and the relationship between public AKIS/RD institutions and private sector entities, including agricultural producers and their organizations. Case studies generally provide data on agriculture; agriculture’s relation to national gross domestic product (GDP); the government structure as it relates to public sector agricultural research, education and extension institutions; the operation of public sector institutions; and the role of private sector companies, NGOs and agricultural producers and their organizations.

The concept and practice of AKIS/RD

The AKIS/RD concept and practice hold significant promise for the advancement of agricultural and rural development and, more generally, national economies. The case studies underline the importance of formulating an AKIS/RD policy that promotes the development and interaction of the agricultural knowledge triangle of AKIS (sub)systems and the idea that several main actors (agricultural educators, extensionists, researchers, the private sector, and farmers) can interact with each other for their mutual benefit in advancing agricultural and rural development. In short, while an AKIS/RD policy sets the stage for institutional practice, the concept of AKIS/RD needs to be understood, nurtured and expounded.

Once an AKIS/RD policy has been established, the next step is to draw up a strategic plan for the best direction and approaches to developing an integrated AKIS/RD. In order to realize the value and importance of the AKIS/RD concept, agricultural institutions need actively to promote linkages, technology transfer, knowledge sharing and the exchange of relevant information. And such an impetus to the development of pluralistic innovation systems must be supported by adequate financial commitment. Fundamental to the development of an AKIS/RD is recognition of the role of a plethora of private sector actors (seed and input supply companies, produce buyers, chemical companies, radio and television, etc.) playing different roles within the system.

As the case studies point out, there are various funding sources other than the State. For example, funds for AKIS/RD may be acquired from the local communities that benefit from agricultural knowledge and information, public and semi-public corporations, private estate farms and trade organizations, sundry cess arrangements for exportable goods, rural producer organizations and individual producers. Research, extension and education must stop competing with each other for limited government resources and begin to strengthen linkage mechanisms that will improve the flow of technology to agricultural producers.

Only governments can create the conditions necessary for developing AKIS/RD. Investment in market development and support to input providers, especially credit and supply institutions, can stimulate the agricultural community, and rural physical infrastructure makes the environment attractive and safe. Agricultural producers, including women and poor farmers, require education and training to bring them into the modern world of labour-saving technologies and more productive practices. Joint planning between producers and institutional operators can provide the platform for advancing a demand-driven system of technological innovation for agricultural development.

System managers require training to improve their understanding of the dynamic nature of both national and international technology systems, and to identify better those areas where the public system has a comparative advantage over private sector research and development (R&D) firms. First, the publicly funded technology system needs to focus more attention on sustainable development activities that will maintain the natural resource base of each nation, as well as on R&D activities that are not likely to be undertaken by the private sector. The public sector needs to give greater attention to intensifying and diversifying the farming systems of small-scale farmers, in order to increase the productivity and incomes of farm households, slow rural-urban migration and conserve the natural resource base. Additionally, public research and extension systems must develop more active partnerships with farmers’ organizations, private sector firms and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) so that technology assessment and transfer can be undertaken in a coordinated and effective manner. Partnerships require that each institution concentrates on those activities where it has a comparative advantage, while jointly planning and implementing activities where the goal requires concerted action.

Effective networks, including organizational mechanisms and communication technologies, foster partnerships. Computer technology, online and interactive mechanisms have a huge potential to expand AKIS/RD. Investments are needed to support the enabling of the private sector and, in particular, to encourage rural producer organizations. The commodification of agricultural knowledge has gradually become a reality, which means that agricultural producers must begin to recognize the value of information and share in paying for it.

Ultimately, the adoption of AKIS/RD as a nationwide concept and general practice depends on each government’s interest and determination to foster agricultural knowledge and information for the contribution that it can make to the national economy and, more particularly, to growth and equity in the rural sector.

The guidelines

Section 5 puts forward 25 guidelines for strengthening and advancing AKIS/RD. These guidelines can be summarized as follows:

1. Policy environment

1.a Formulate a national AKIS policy, plan or formal agreement.

1.b Direct AKIS policy toward public goods issues.

1.c Assess the economic efficiency of the agriculture sector, given AKIS.

2. Institutional structure for supporting innovation

2.a Establish AKIS/RD units.

2.b Institute central and branch supervision of AKIS activities.

2.c Take initiatives to build the capacity of each AKIS institution.

2.d Decentralize decision-making to lower levels of government and relevant local organizations, while training people at these levels in the processes of management and administration.

2.e Augment the functional performance of AKIS entities.

2.f Institute systems for monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment.

2.g Ensure coordination and joint planning among AKIS institutions.

3. Conditions for expressing demand for innovation

3.a Promote demand-driven orientation in relevant public programmes.

3.b Invest in agricultural market development.

3.c Improve the availability of and access to agricultural inputs.

3.d Invest in rural physical infrastructure.

3.e Mandate joint planning among AKIS agencies.

3.f Invest in the education and training of agricultural producers to enable them to demand services effectively.

3.g Promote gender equality and vulnerable groups’ access to services.

4. Partnerships and networks

4.a Design structures for effective institutional cooperation.

4.b Promote public-private partnerships (and institutional pluralism).

4.c Insist on programme participation by agricultural producers and rural producer organizations.

4.d Promote effective use of traditional communication technologies.

4.e Invest in computer/Internet and other modern information technologies.

5. Financing systems for innovation

5.a Ensure adequate funding for AKIS/RD.

5.b Promote repartition of costs.

5.c Explore various types of investments to develop stakeholder capacities.

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