Synthesis of New Approaches to Agricultural Extension

While the pervasive fiscal crises of recent years in developing countries are one of the causes of weaknesses in extension systems, there also have been fundamental concerns about the management and structure of the extension systems, including incentives for performance and recruitment criteria. In light of the demands on extension, it is clear that the earlier, centralized systems are no longer viable and new approaches are needed.

Recent experiences in many countries, and the ideas expressed in the literature on agricultural extension, are converging in a consensus about new modalities of extension. By now, the deficiencies of past approaches are very evident and have given rise to efforts to develop new orienta

tions in many countries. As illustrated by the material presented in this chapter, the new approaches are diverse and can be characterized from various perspectives: a client orientation, participatory approaches, gender awareness, pluralism of providers, cost sharing, facilitation of producer linkages to markets and input suppliers, and other new orientations. In the final analysis, the structure and operating modalities of extension services will vary by country and by region within countries, but nevertheless there are common threads of thinking that inform the new approaches. Many of these threads derive from a few basic ideas that are gaining increasing acceptance. The main ideas and their corollaries can be presented in more structured form, as shown in the following. Core Propositions for Re-orienting Agricultural Extension

The common threads in the new approaches to extension can be derived from a few core propositions, which are the following:

(1) Farmers often can identify and characterize their problems better than advisors, can prioritize them, and possess at least some knowledge that is relevant to finding solutions. The more heterogeneous the farming conditions, then the more applicable is this proposition.

From this basic realization, two other important ideas have taken root:

(2) Extension programs should emphasize human resource development; strengthening the inherent capacities of farmers to solve their own problems and make appropriate farming decisions is the key to promoting agricultural and rural development.

This fundamental proposition also follows from the basic aims of sustainable rural development which are to develop the capacity of rural families and communities to raise their standard of living through their own efforts. This capacity has several dimensions, including human capital, social capital, on-farm physical capital and local infrastructure.

Human resource development embraces both the human capital and the social capital aspects.

(3) Governments alone are not able to provide fully adequate extension services, in part because of proposition (1) above, which implies that farmers need to be participants in formulating solutions, and in part because of organizational and financial limitations in government agencies throughout the developing world. The centralization of many government services and processes of decision-making themselves impose severe limits on governments' abilities to interact with agricultural producers.

These three basic ideas, or core propositions, may be called the axioms of the new approaches to agricultural extension. Although they are related to one another, each one derives from an independent or partially independent basis. They may be called the axiom on farmer knowledge, the axiom on capacity building for development, and the axiom on government limitations. Additional Propositions for Agricultural Extension

A number of other key facets of the new approaches to extension follow from the three core propositions or axioms. In abbreviated form, those other facets (or additional propositions for extension) are as follows:

A Policy implications of the axiom on farmer knowledge -

(4) Extension services need more of a client orientation, and primary accountability to the client, who is the farmer. Farmers are not passive recipients of a benefit from extension programs but rather they are stakeholders in the process. The messages that extension agents currently bring to the field do not always respond adequately to the needs of their clients.

(5) Extension is a process of facilitation of the acquisition of knowledge and skills, more than a process of technology transfer. It facilitates direct contacts with other farmers, with researchers, with service providers and marketing agents, and with other economic and social agents in the rural milieu. This proposition reflects the reality that extension agents alone do not possess all of the experience and knowledge that is relevant to solving farmers' problems.141

(6) Participatory approaches to extension are effective. These are approaches that use local knowledge as much as possible, that use farmers as extension agents (and also researchers to an extent), and that work with groups of farmers rather than individual contact farmers for each area. They involve producers in problem identification, setting priorities among issues to be tackled, solving problems through analysis, and making choices. The participatory approach is a direct and logical consequence of accepting the axiom of farmer knowledge, and it is the surest way to guarantee the relevance of new technologies.

(7) Incentives for extension workers need to be structured in a way that encourages them to emphasize satisfying their producer clients, rather than their superiors in an institutional hierarchy. Even if individual extension agents are committed to working closely with their clients in order to understand and address their concerns, the institutional incentives they work under may not push them in that direction.

(8) Decentralization of public extension services is likely to improve their effectiveness, since it brings them closer to the clients, i.e. the producers. The more local is decision making on the provision of services, then the more capable it is of responding to clients' needs. This is an example of the principle of subsidiarity.

B Policy implications of the axiom on capacity building for development -

(9) Extension services need to develop approaches that are suitable for rural women, who have been largely ignored by most extension work to date. Development cannot occur to a meaningful extent for rural families if the potential of one of their main resources, women, is left untapped. Worldwide, only about 5 % of the extension effort is directed toward women, and the percentage of farmers in developing countries who are women is very much higher.

(10) Basic education makes extension much more productive. Education is the single most important factor in economic development, and the benefits of educating women are especially strong.

(11) Extension shouldfacilitate not only the acquisition of crop cultivation skills, but also skills in farm management and accounting, marketing, dealing with credit institutions and input suppliers, community organization, and responding to the threat of HIV/AIDS. In a globalizing world, in which agricultural production increasingly responds to consumer preferences, export possibilities and agro-processors' requirements, knowledge of cultivation techniques alone is insufficient for success as a producer.

C Policy implications of the axiom on government limitations -

(12) Government funding of extension does not necessarily mean government provision of it. It is desirable to have multiple extension providers, competition among them should be encouraged, and producers should be in a position to evaluate them and choose among them. Without steps to ensure competition, a public monopoly of extension might be replaced with a private monopoly. Providers can include NGOs, private extension agencies, input suppliers, export agents, agro-processors and universities, in addition to public sector agencies.

141. This proposition is central to the recommendations of the Neuchatel Group of donor agencies (see Neuchatel Group, 1999).

(13) Mechanisms of support are needed so that poor producers may have access to extension services. Different forms of support have been explored, including vouchers for the purchase of extension services, reimbursement of producers by governments for part of the cost of extension services, direct government payment to private providers after the delivery of the service has been verified, etc. The important point to recognize is that poor producers are unlikely to be able to pay for extension services in the foreseeable future, and that the public-good character of much of agricultural technology obliges governments to share extension costs with farmers.

(14) Different forms of financing of extension need to be explored, including cost-sharing with producers who can afford it. A financial contribution by producers puts them in a better position to judge the quality of the service and direct the service toward their own priorities. In addition, payment by the better-off producers reduces the element of a regressive subsidy that has been present in free public extension services.

(15) A multiplicity of extension services requires mechanisms of co-ordination, especially among NGOs, without putting hindrances on their efforts. Too often, each NGO goes its own way, unaware of what other NGOs and public agencies have been doing in the field of extension, and with what results.

(16) An important role for government is the establishment of quality standards for extension providers and rules governing their provision of services. Extension providers in effect have to be licensed to carry out their work.

D An additional implication of proposition (6) on participatory approaches -

(17) Farmer and community organization play an important role in determining the effectiveness of extension services, and they should be encouraged by the extension effort itself. This is especially true for women farmers. NGOs are particularly effective in promoting local organization.

Extension services throughout the world are moving in many of these directions. It bears reiterating that no single formula is appropriate for all or even most circumstances. The appropriate variants for each country and region have to be defined by the participants in the process in each case. Nevertheless, the foregoing propositions, or at least a sub-set of them, have been found to be relevant in virtually every case.

It should be reiterated, as remarked by the Neuchatel Group, that a sound overall agricultural policy framework, one that encourages agricultural growth, is a prerequisite for the success of agricultural extension efforts.

Finally, the importance of better education for rural populations cannot be emphasized too strongly, especially in light of the trends toward devolving responsibility for acquiring new knowledge to the farmers themselves. The receptivity of rural populations to new information, and their ability to assimilate and apply it, increases markedly with levels of education.

Education is the most important determinant of the ability of rural populations to improve their well-being. When there is a choice at the margin between allocating resources, for a given rural population, to agricultural extension and allocating them to basic literacy training, the decision inevitably has to be made in favor of the latter. Basic literacy opens the doors to many kinds of development that are otherwise impossible.

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