Discussion Points For Chapter

• Three-quarters of poor people in the developing world live in rural areas, but increasing agricultural productivity is becoming more difficult because agriculture is encroaching upon more marginal lands and existing areas are suffering loss of productivity owing to soil and water degradation.

• In many cases, agricultural productivity in developing countries actually has declined, in spite of the high returns to investments in agricultural research. In part, this may be attributable to a sector-wide crop composition that does not coincide with a country's comparative advantage, but in part it also may reflect problems of soil and pest management at the farm level. Research also suggests that generally unfavorable agricultural price polices (including macroeconomic policies that affect prices) may be responsible for part of this trend.

• Funding for agricultural research in developing countries has declined in real terms, and there is a consensus that investment in this area is far below what it should be in light of the returns to these kinds of expenditures.

• The central challenge for agricultural research is developing results that are appropriate to farmers' needs. Collaboration with farmers in formulating research priorities helps meet this challenge.

• Agricultural technology is not neutral with respect to gender, but in practice usually the needs of women farmers are ignored in technology development and dissemination.

• Women and entire households can benefit not only from development of appropriate cultivation technologies but also from development of household technologies that lead to savings of women's time.

• Both the private and public sectors have important roles to play in agricultural research. The public-good nature of many research results limit the potential interest of the private sector in developing them, although biotechnology is opening more avenues for private sector participation. Clearly defined intellectual property rights help encourage the private sector to invest in agricultural research.

• It is estimated that between one-third and one-half of all of the crops in the world are lost to pest damage, and the proportion is higher in developing countries. In light of this finding, some experts recommend giving a higher priority in agricultural research programs to creating pest resistance.

• Chemical treatment of pests often is uneconomic as well as being damaging to the environment.

• The FAO's Farm Field Schools have proven to be an effective means through which farmers themselves participate in developing techniques of integrated pest management.

• Agricultural extension in developing countries was initiated with an aim of delivering technological messages from researchers to farmers, with little provision for feedback or for farmer participation in identifying the problems to be analyzed by researchers.

• The Training and Visit (T & V) system reformed the management of many extension systems but retained an essentially top-down approach to the relation between researchers and farmers.

• Farming technology sometimes is embodied in improved inputs but often it takes the form of pure information. Such information spans a continuum from a pure public good to a completely private good. The nature of a public good is that others cannot be denied access to it and the 'consumption' or use of it by one person does not reduce the quantity available for others. The public-good character, partially or totally, of much agricultural technology is the basic rationale for a public extension service, since the private sector cannot appropriate the benefits of its diffusion in those cases.

• However, even when information has some public good qualities, farmers may be willing to purchase it when there is a premium on timeliness of information, or when acting on that information (as in penetrating a market) can effectively exclude others from the same opportunity, or simply to reduce uncertainty about cropping risks.

• The public-good nature of much agricultural information constitutes an argument for subsidizing extension services, and the poverty of many farmers in the developing world also constitutes an argument for such a policy. The provision of technological information that has positive environmental externalities is another justification for subsidizing extension services. Nevertheless, many better-off farmers in developing countries can afford to pay for extension and are willing to when it is a private-good in nature or when one or more of the caveats in the preceding paragraph apply. Providing fully subsidized extension to all farmers constitutes a regressive subsidy.

• In many developing countries, the performance of agricultural extension services has been disappointing. There is a growing consensus that better performance can come about only by creating a greater client orientation in extension services, fostered by appropriate changes in incentive structures.

• Extension services also have been very slow in responding to the needs of women farmers. Worldwide, only 5% of extension resources are allocated to programs for women farmers, although they constitute a considerably higher proportion of all farmers and directing extension efforts to them has been shown to have significant benefits.

• The HIV/AIDS epidemic is devastating rural areas in many countries and also is depleting and demoralizing some extension services. In these cases, extension services need to disseminate agricultural technologies that are more appropriate for persons who are weak, very old and very young. They also are called upon to respond to pleas for information and guidance in dealing with the epidemic, and in general to assist communities in coping with the crisis.

• Extension services around the world are undergoing a re-evaluation and new modes of providing extension are being explored. The basic reasons for this change are government budget limitations, perceived deficiencies in existing extension services, the evolution of more specialized agricultural technology requiring different kinds of extension, the increasing importance of poverty alleviation as a policy objective, and the increasing importance for farmers of market linkages and sound farm management.

• International trade in seeds and inputs is an important means of improving a country's stock of agricultural technology. Some countries restrict the import of all such items until they are certified as safe and effective. However, this conservative approach runs the risk of slowing down the rate of technological progress in the country. A more liberal approach has been proposed in which testing of products is carried out ex post and test results are dissemi nated for purposes of information and not for control.

• As in the case of extension, agricultural research systems around the world also are undergoing a process of re-thinking. The reasons for this include disappointing rates of yield increase, budgetary cutbacks for research, evident declines of the quality of research staff in some cases, and lack of sufficient research on the main problems perceived by some farmers in each country, especially the poorer ones.

• A major issue for agricultural research is how to set the research agenda. Traditionally, research scientists have established it, but that approach runs the risk of missing the most important problems for many farmers. The issue is how to make research more relevant to real farming needs.

• Different approaches have been used to make research more relevant to farmers, including putting them on boards of directors of (local) research institutions, requiring financial contributions from them for research, involving them in multi-disciplinary research teams, and giving them a leading role in some phases of the research process.

• Farmers possess a considerable reservoir of knowledge about agro-climatic conditions and cropping systems in their areas, and they also usually have a tradition of experimenting with varietal development and cultivation techniques. Research methods that involve farmers in the process of scientific inquiry have been shown to be effective in producing results tailored to farmers' needs and in raising the incomes of poor farmers.

• Participatory processes often generate ancillary economic activities, such as seed marketing enterprises for small farmers. When participatory research is successful, the farmers themselves become agents of dissemination of the findings.

• Participatory research needs to be managed sensitively, and the role of facilitators is important. In addition, it requires small amounts of funds at the local level, under farmer control, to finance inputs into their research process.

• Other areas in which it is important to strengthen national agricultural research systems include the adaptation of research results from other countries and from international institutions, capacities for conducting local laboratory analyses of soils, research on post-harvest management techniques and methods of crop processing and handling, and the environmental sustainability of agricultural technologies.

• National agricultural research systems increasingly are taking an entrepreneurial approach to their management. Recruitment of good staff and provision of adequate incentives are central aspects of management of these systems.

• Agricultural research is carried out by a more diversified array of institutions than it used to be, including NGOs, producer associations, universities and private firms. One approach to involving them is to allocate research funds through a competitive bidding process in which research proposals compete annually against specified amounts of funding.

• The financing of agricultural research also is becoming more diversified. Principal sources of finance now include generating revenues by marketing research products, encouraging financial contributions from producers, and creating endowments to support research foundations.

• It has been debated whether agricultural research largely benefits the more commercial farmers, because these farmers tend to be located in agronomically more favored areas and because of the ways in which research priorities are set and the ways in which research is carried out.

• Poor farmers can benefit from research that emphasizes varieties that are not intensive in purchased inputs, farming systems and improved natural research management, and also from participatory methods of conducting research that focus the efforts on their main problems and tap into their own accumulated knowledge. Participatory methods of research constitute perhaps the main avenue for bringing the benefits of technological advances to poor farm families.

• Participatory research can be more effective if it gives special emphasis to involving women in the process. To do so requires a sustained commitment on gender issues on the part of research and facilitating institutions.

• It is sometimes observed that women farmers are slower to adopt technological innovations than men are, but a study of technology adoption in Ghana shows that this phenomenon is attributable to the fact that women farmers usually have less access to factors of production, and not to an inherent unwillingness to adopt new methods.

• Agricultural extension systems are undergoing significant change throughout the world, with emphasis on the role of extension agents as facilitators and the promotion of a two-way dialog between farmers and scientists on agricultural technology. Many extension systems are trying to implement the view that farmers are clients rather than beneficiaries of extension.

• The responsibilities of extension agents include, in addition to delivering technological advice, helping diagnose farm problems jointly with farmers, providing feedback to researchers, developing capacities for better farm enterprise administration, and developing linkages between farmers and NGOs, farm organizations, input suppliers and marketing channels.

• While there are solid arguments for public funding of part of extension services, that does not necessarily imply that public agencies always should carry it out. In public agencies, the performance incentives tend to lie on the side of satisfying institutional superiors, who may not always have reliable feedback from farmers. In contrast, in privatized extension systems, the incentives lie on the side of satisfying the clients. For this reason, some countries have developed ways to share extension costs between private and public sectors while leaving the delivery of the services in private hands. One of the extension principles developed by the Neuchatel Group of donors for Africa is that farmers should be in a position to choose from an array of extension providers.

• Good farmer organization is a prerequisite for small farmers to participate in many kinds of programs, including research and extension. Often, NGOs can play a valuable role in promoting better farmer organization.

• Extension systems need to make stronger efforts to meet the needs of women farmers, and take a number of specific steps in that direction, including hiring more women agents, promoting more female enrolment in agricultural tertiary education, schedule extension visits at times that do not conflict with rural women's household chores, broaden the range of crops and livestock products that extension activities are provided for in order to include those most relevant to women, and promote the formation of women's groups for interacting with extension services.

• A re-orientation of extension systems is required in places where the HIV/AIDS crisis has reached a significant scale. Better preparation of extension agents is needed for dealing with this, and national policies for extension in relation to the disease are required. The reorientation should include the development of technological messages more appropriate to elderly persons, youths, widows and sick people, because the crisis has had a heavy impact on the age structure of rural populations in many areas. Extension agents also need to be better prepared to respond to community questions about coping with the crisis and reducing its rate of spread.

• The new approaches to extension attempt to put the farmer first, and public-sector extension systems are being downsized in most countries in favor of greater participation of the private sector, NGOs and farmers themselves. On pp. 418-420, this chapter presents a summary of the new orientations in the form of seventeen basic propositions for agricultural extension, and the basic assumptions, or axioms, from which they are derived.

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