New Approaches To Agricultural Extension

Although bright and dedicated extension agents can be found in every agricultural area, the weaknesses of existing extension systems are all too familiar throughout the developing world: extension messages that have little relevance, insufficient farming experience on the part of extension agents for them to be credible to farmers, lack of mechanisms for transmission of farmers' chief concerns to agricultural researchers, weak linkages between research and extension, poorly paid and poorly motivated extension agents, and insufficient supporting budgets with agents frequently sitting in offices in cities for lack of transport. Farrington puts it more generously:

Numerous examples can be cited of successful public sector extension. . . . Yet, in many circumstances the picture is one of resources spread too thinly to be effective, inflexibility and inability to respond to the changing infra-structural and institutional contexts.111

While the pervasive fiscal crises of recent years in developing countries figure prominently among the causes of these problems, there are fundamental issues of management and structure of the extension systems, including incentives for performance and recruitment criteria. At this stage, it is clear that the earlier, centralized systems are no longer viable and that new approaches are needed.

In Section 8.3 above, it was noted that the environment for agricultural extension has changed drastically in recent years. Principal factors mentioned by various observers, in addition to the observed poor performance of many systems, include fiscal restrictions, the increasing involvement of the private sector, farmers' associations, community groups and NGOs, the effects of globalization on agriculture, changing priorities of donors, and, in some cases, the devastation wrought in farming communities by HIV/AIDS.

For these reasons, extension systems have been subject to intensive review and reform throughout the world. In addition, increasing attention is being paid to alternative means of enriching and transmitting knowledge about agricultural technologies.

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