Promoting a Client Orientation in Extension Services

The frequent lack of a client orientation in extension services was remarked on earlier in this chapter. It is essential to improve the accountability of extension agents to farmers, so that their primary mission becomes one of understanding and addressing the needs of farmers, including women farmers. The responsibility of understanding the needs of farmers takes extension agents well beyond the realm of delivering extension 'messages' designed in the system's central office. Often, it requires that agents understand not only the agronomic conditions on a farm but also the farmer's constraints in terms of access to inputs and markets, and also the role of gender and community factors in shaping a farmer's decisions. The task of addressing farmers' needs also requires that agents provide feedback to agricultural researchers and maintain links with them to receive responses.

For this orientation to be effective, the performance of extension agents needs to be evaluated by farmers themselves, and not only by higher levels of a centralized organization. Putting farmers 'in the driver's seat' in this sense is necessary for achieving accountability to them. In the best extension systems, performance evaluations are based at least in part on feedback from farmers, but this element of the system often is weak. Such a requirement is the heart of the argument in favor of private extension services for which farmers pay at least part of the cost, sometimes with the aid of transfers made by the government to farmers for that purpose. Payment by users creates powerful incentives for extension agents to satisfy them rather than their superiors in a bureaucratic hierarchy. Along with payment goes the farmers' right to select extension agents, and to change them if their performance is found to be unsatisfactory, to fulfill the Neuchatel Group principle mentioned above that farmers be able to 'make choices from an array of service providers'.

Antholt has discussed the importance of incentives of this nature and the responsibility of the clients for helping create them:

The opposite side of the accountability coin is expecting the beneficiaries of extension to be responsible for some of the support, even if it is only a proportion of total costs. This is important for three reasons. First, it gives beneficiaries ownership and drawing rights on the services. Second, it takes some of the financial pressure off the central government and therefore gets at the issue of financial sustainability. Lastly, if ownership and responsibility rest with clients, the basis for more demand-driven, responsive service is established. . . .11S

In Estonia, the government funds farmers to hire private extension agents, and it also finances the role of farmers' associations for technology transfer, and the latter in turn contract with private extension firms. However, it retains a public extension service for poor farmers.119 Private agricultural extension also is used in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.120 It is being developed in Azerbaijan.121 In El Salvador, the national association of dairy farmers (APROLECHE) has, with funding from its members, contracted with a leading international extension expert in dairy management, and as a result members' milk yields increased very significantly in the 1990s.

120. Geoffrey Adams, 'Extension advisory services in Central and Eastern Europe', in M. K. Qamar (Ed.), Human Resources in Agricultural and Rural Development, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2000, p. 12. Adams also points out that fully public extension services still are used in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland and Romania.

121. John Lamers, Georg Dürr and Petra Feil, 'Developing a client-oriented, agricultural advisory system in Azerbaijan', in M. K. Qamar (Ed.), Human Resources in Agricultural and Rural Development, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2000, pp. 105-117.

Another scenario using this approach might be for extension departments to develop cooperative or contractual agreements with local bodies, as in China. Under such arrangements local organizations might take responsibility for provision of their own extension services, but the center would reimburse the local entities for some percentage of their costs. Alternatively, as in some areas of China or in Ecuador... an arrangement to share in the output of the farming enterprise can be developed.

Another alternative is seen in Chile: contracting with private firms or NGOs for the provision of extension services. The government's role is to lay out the ground rules for service, select consultant firms through competitive bidding, evaluate performance, and subsidize the cost of the services. Consultants carry out the technical extension services, and farmers contract with the firm of their choice. .. . there is cost-sharing between the government and farmers, the proportion of which is dependent on the amount of land owned by the farmer.122

In addition to strengthening the effectiveness of extension work in general, good farmer organization is a prerequisite for participation in schemes of providing vouchers to small farmers for the payment of part of the cost of extension services. Such schemes have been implemented in Costa Rica,123 and in Nicaragua on a trial basis, and proposed formally for consideration in Honduras. They represent a way to bring small farmers into the market for extension services, and at the same time they help guarantee that a market exists for extension agents who might otherwise be fearful of the consequences of privatization of an extension system. (It is worth bearing in mind the circumstances under which farmers would be willing to pay for extension information, as reviewed in Section 8.3.2 above.)

A cautionary note needs to be sounded regarding the ability of low-income farmers to pay for

The importance of farmer organization comes up again in the context of payment for extension services:

Provided farmers can overcome the difficulties of organizing into a group, farmers' associations can allow small farmers to pool their resources to purchase extension information that individual farmers may not be able to afford on their own (D. Umali-Deininger, 1997, p. 217).

extension services. The principle that they should pay for part of the services is a valid one, but sometimes unrealistic expectations are created regarding how much they can pay. For example, a typical World Bank formula has been to ratchet up the percentage of extension costs paid by farmers, regardless of their income levels, in equal increments over five years, so that farmers pay 20% the first year, then 40%, etc., until they support 100% of the cost in the fifth year of the program. Although it has arithmetic neatness and beneficial effects for the fiscal budget, this formula has proven to be quite unrealistic for low-income farmers. It should be understood from the outset that poor farmers will be unable to pay the full cost of extension services for very many years, if ever.

At the same time, fiscal savings can be realized by targeting the subsidy for extension services, eliminating the regressive aspect of that subsidy that usually occurs under public extension services and which was mentioned earlier in this chapter. In this way, the cost of extension to the government can be reduced without requiring that poor farmers pay the full cost for it. When subsidized and targeted extension services are introduced, governments must decide to whom and how to target them.

Umali-Deininger (1997, pp. 213-214) provides other examples of farmer associations providing or contracting for extension services, in Argentina, the Central African Republic and

Zimbabwe. She also stresses the role of agribusiness enterprises as extension providers:

During the 1970s dairy farmers in Argentina faced serious obstacles. Livestock there was unproductive; the milk supply was unstable and often of poor quality. These problems were mainly the result of poor animal nutrition and inadequate farm hygiene. The two largest dairy processors, Santa Fe-Córdoba United Cooperatives (SANCOR) and La Serenísima, whose own growth was jeopardized by the plight of the dairy farmers, launched extension programs to overcome these constraints. SANCOR created an extension department with eight regional offices, each managed by an agronomist assisted by middle-level technicians. Each office provided extension services to almost forty cooperatives and assisted small groups of farmers (usually six to fifteen) who met monthly to discuss a visited farm's progress and problems. SANCOR initially financed technical assistance for these small groups, but after thirty months, each group took on the cost of the professional agronomist. By 1990 SANCOR had 120 farmer groups participating in the program.124

In the end, the approach adopted must fit the circumstances, and different ways of combining private and public sector efforts can be developed. In the German State of Thuringia, for example, the government provides extension services in relation to public goods, i.e. on environmental issues and plant protection, and also to promote national goals, as in furthering the development of women farmers. Farm-related extension services are provided by private agents in both Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, but they are partially subsidized by the government in the latter.

In 2000, Thuringia decided to introduce partial reimbursement to farmers also; before that the vast majority of farms employing private extension advisors were large farms.125 The Agricultural Advisory Service in Norway provides three categories of services: 'some services fully financed by government, some partially financed by government and another that receives no funds from government'.126

As illustrated by the Argentine experience, the agricultural marketing chain itself is a source of extension services. Increasingly, farmers both large and small are obliged to understand market requirements and to generally adopt more commercial modes of operation, including keeping records of production costs and cash flow. In this regard, another element that has been missing from most agricultural extension services is training in simple bookkeeping and principles of farm management. The goal of agricultural development is to make farmers more successful entrepreneurs, and without training in the basic tools of entrepreneurship it is difficult for them to advance. There is a growing consensus that extension work should include not only agronomic considerations but also basic principles of cost accounting and farm management. For example:

Potential advisors must first learn to think and act in terms of farming systems and enterprises rather than activities. .. . Their technical ways of thinking need to be complemented by effective communication (listening is a key) and social skills.127

As noted above, the Neuchatel Group has endorsed the concept that agricultural extension services need to help farmers improve their linkages with input and output markets.

125. Jochen Currle and Paul Schütz, 'Privatizing agricultural extension services in two new German federal states: necessary conditions emerging from experience', in M. K. Qamar (Ed.), Human Resources in Agricultural and Rural Development, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2000, pp. 131-140.

127. J. Lamers, G. Dürr and P. Feil, 2000, pp. 110-111.

Umali-Deininger also has stated that the basic roles of extension include marketing advice and work on community development (see Section 8.3 above). Extension cannot be confined to technical issues of plant cultivation if it is to help develop rural sectors economically. This role requires further training of extension agents. In the context of Central and Eastern Europe, it has been observed that:

The only practical way to provide advice to small mixed farms is through generalist advisors who can appreciate the needs of the whole family unit. Training specialists to become gen-eralists has proved difficult, but has been successfully achieved in some countries (Estonia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia).128

One of the most effective ways to promote a client orientation in extension work is through the use of participatory approaches. The basis of the Zimbabwean experience with a participatory extension approach (PEA) was described as follows:

The concept [of] participatory innovation . . . and extension is based on communication [through dialogue], farmer experimentation and strengthening of self-organizational capacities of rural communities. Encouragement of active participation and dialogue . . . among all actors on the local level, for example, farmers and their institutions, extensionists and researchers, [is] the mainstay.

Dialogue and farmer experimentation is being encouraged in an environment where a very powerful top-down extension service has considered farmers' knowledge to be backward and of no importance for nearly three generations, and where farmers have been conditioned to accept externally developed standardized technologies. . .. the knowledge and under standing gained through this process strengthens farmers' confidence in their own solutions and increases their ability to choose options and to develop solutions appropriate for their specific ecological, economical and social-cultural conditions. .. .129

Evison Moyo and Jürgen Hagmann have summarized the lessons for participatory extension from the Zimbabwean experience. Participatory extension necessarily involves participatory technology development as well. Their synthesis is as follows:

In many countries, public sector extension services have been accepting that there is a need for participatory approaches to agricultural service delivery ever since the potential of such approaches was demonstrated by nongovernmental organizations. The acceptance and promotion of these approaches ... in hierarchical government bureaucracies, where they are often implemented by low-paid extension agents with low-level qualifications, has proved to be difficult. Many existing organizations will have to transform their approaches to extension from ones that are based on top-down teaching and a narrow orientation on production to ones that are people-centered, learning-oriented and participatory.. . .

Community-based extension, full community ownership of the process and joint learning are central to PEA. The characteristics of PEA include:

• a focus on strengthening rural people's problem solving, planning and individual, as well as collective, management abilities. . . .

• equal partnership among farmers, researchers and extension agents who can all learn from each other and contribute their knowledge and skills;

129. J. Hagmann, E. Chuma and K. Murwira, 'Improving the output of agricultural extension and research through participatory innovation development and extension; experiences from Zimbabwe', Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, 2(3), 1996, p. 16.

• promotion of farmers' capacity to adapt and develop new and appropriate technologies/ innovations by encouraging them to learn through experimentation, building on their own knowledge and practices and blending these with new ideas in an action learning mode. . ..

• recognition that communities are not homogeneous but consist of various social groups with different and conflicting interests, powers and capabilities. The goal is to achieve equitable and sustainable development through the negotiation of interests among these groups and by providing space for the poor and marginalized in collective decision-making. . ..

PEA is far more than a participatory methodology and is distinctly different from [participatory rural appraisal], which is essentially a tool-box. PEA is a comprehensive, iterative learning process approach to rural innovation and problem solving that enhances governance and civil society in rural areas.130

In sum, when carried out in its fullest spirit, PEA effectively merges with the participatory agricultural research approach. It is more demanding to implement than traditional top-down extension systems at the outset, but it appears to provide an effective way to ignite processes of technical change in rural areas that have been bypassed by existing systems of technology delivery. It would appear to be particularly appropriate in communities of small farmers characterized by heterogeneity in farming conditions. Its implementation requires substantial institutional changes and therefore can proceed only with a strong commitment from higher levels of governmental institutions responsible for agricultural policy and services, and with an overriding focus on facilitation rather than delivering technological messages.

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