Illustrations of New Trends in Agricultural Extension

In short, a wide range of approaches to extension, characterized by a greater role for non-governmental entities and greater emphasis on farmer participation, has proven to be effective in developing countries. In the case of Thailand, as another example, the private sector has been credited with the successful dissemination of new varieties of cassava. A microcosm of these new trends is found in the case of Bangladesh, as presented by Antholt, citing work by Chowdhury and Gilbert:138

Bangladesh's experience with extension is of general interest. .. because the government has moved beyond T & V and developed a new national extension strategy that is less costly, more demand-driven, more decentralized, and relies heavily on NGOs... . The T & V approach was . . . consistent with the development thinking of the 1970s, in which the state played a central role in development and little attention was given to the possible contribution of NGOs in extension activities or to private firms in input delivery and marketing. ... the T & V system had several major weaknesses, including its emphasis on delivering routine messages to farmers and failing to take farmers' constraints and priorities into account. Also, the use of contact farmers proved to be ineffective, and the program proved to be costly and was not

138. Mrinal K. Chowdhury and Elon H. Gilbert, 'Reforming Agricultural Extension in Bangladesh: Blending Greater Participation and Sustainability with Institutional Strengthening', Agricultural Research and Extension Network, Paper No. 61, Overseas Development Institute, London, 1996.

financially sustainable. Finally, the impact of T & V on agricultural production in Bangladesh was mixed. ...

Bangladesh's new extension strategy includes the following reforms and institutional innovations: greater decentralization of authority and accountability from the center to the districts; use of groups of farmers rather than contact farmers; demand-driven extension methods and recommendations; broader participation of the private sector, including NGOs; a sharper focus on the disadvantaged, including women; and greater emphasis on financial sustainability.139

Antholt has provided a cogent summary of the new trends in approaches to agricultural extension, in the following words:

thinking about agricultural extension services needs to have conceptual horizons broader than the conventional public sector. It also follows that more attention needs to be given to financing.

The time for change is now, given the long gestation periods for institutional modernization. Below are some general parameters for the future that will provide useful guidance for contemporary policy changes and investment initiatives.

• Farmers need to come first. This means placing real ownership of, and accountability for, public extension organizations into the hands of the client community, particularly farmers (but agribusiness as well).

• Competition in the provision of extension services needs to be fostered through pluralism in the provision of extension services.

• Pluralism means redefining the roles of the public and private sectors in extension and, in particular, enhancing the role of the private sector through privatization, particularly of frontline extension.

• Mechanisms for public support - for example, vouchers, cost sharing, local taxes -need to be developed whereby farmers, farm organizations, and farming communities can draw on public resources to be used by them for extension services of their choice (public or private).

• Current public extension systems need to be downsized.140

As public extension systems are retrenched, emphasis needs to be placed on better recruitment standards, including a requirement for experience in farming. Similar criteria can be applied to the qualification of private extension firms for participation in publicly funded programs. A glaring management weakness of most extension systems in the past has been the lack of attention given to the need for women agents. Women play an important role in farming in all developing countries, they can be catalysts in community organization, and they can function effectively as agents of change. This weakness needs to be remedied as an urgent matter.

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