Towards a New Paradigm for Agricultural Extension

A process of developing new methods of agricultural extension is underway in all regions of the world. In addition to concerns about gender bias, dissatisfaction with the past ways of carrying out extension is widespread, and it has given rise to a quest for a better approach. The reasons for this search for a 'new paradigm' have been summarized by Umali-Deininger in the following way:

Three major developments have brought about a rethinking of the appropriate channel for delivering agricultural extension. First and most important, fiscal crises and economy-wide budget cutbacks, often associated with structural adjustment programs, have forced governments to make sharp reductions in the budgets of public extension programs. Fiscal sustainability and cost-effectiveness have become the priority concerns.

Second, the poor performance of some public extension programs, as reflected in the slow adoption of extension messages, has spurred the search for alternative approaches to improve extension services. . ..

Third, agriculture's dependence on more specialized knowledge and technologies has changed the economic character of the services delivered by the extension system. The institutionaliza-tion of mechanisms that permit the seller to appropriate the returns from new inventions and new species of plants .. . has improved the private for-profit sector's incentives to provide extension services. The growing commercialization of agriculture and increased competition in domestic and international markets have further strengthened the economic incentives for farmers and other rural entrepreneurs to treat extension as another purchased input. . . .

In the search for a new paradigm of the agricultural extension system, developing countries are wrestling with several questions: What are the appropriate roles for the public and private sectors? Can the private sector deliver services more efficiently? What are the welfare implications for small-scale farmers and the rural poor?79

In the context of sub-Saharan Africa, the Neuchatel Group has observed that the environment for agricultural extension is changing in the following ways:

The aims of official development assistance are becoming more focused [on] reducing poverty and social inequalities, the sustainable use of natural resources, and participatory development. .. .

Many developing countries are at various stages in the process of economic liberalization, decentralization and privatization. . ..

New actors are becoming involved in extension activities. There are today four types of actors in agricultural extension: public agencies, private service providers, producer organizations . .. and non-governmental organizations. . ..

Public spending on extension is shrinking. Policies to bring down public deficits in most

79. D. Umali-Deininger, 1997, pp. 204 and 206 [emphasis added].

developing countries have led to expenditure ceilings on agricultural extension and the introduction of fee-based schemes.80

In summarizing the challenges that require new approaches for agricultural extension, Picciotto and Anderson stressed administrative constraints in managing a large system in addition to fiscal limitations. They add that:

the perception of agriculture's potential and constraints has changed. In many situations the dissemination of standard packages of inputs and practices is no longer relevant, if indeed it ever was. . .. What is increasingly required is an approach that can generate custom-made, environmentally friendly solutions based on the farmers' involvement. . .

the spread of education and modern communications and the rise of commercial farming have created opportunities for alliances among the public, private and voluntary sectors. More open and liberalized agricultural markets are bringing the knowledge and skills and private agribusiness to farmers without involving public-sector intermediaries. In both more- and less-developed countries, farmer-led approaches to extension are spreading, while farmers' associations, cooperatives and self-help agencies are contributing handsomely to the diffusion of modern technology.

According to Tendler (1997),81 informal performance contracts between Brazilian farmers and extension agents have increased the commitment of extension workers, improved the customization of advice, and increased productivity. In Indonesia integrated pest management programs and the FAO's Farmer Field Schools show the value of turning farmers into extension agents and extension agents into farmers.. . .82

To this list of issues should be added the concern that rural poverty continues to be widespread in developing countries and that effective modalities of agricultural extension for reaching the poorer farmers need to be developed and, where they already exist, supported and reinforced.

Rivera has commented that 'there will have to be diverse extension systems to meet disparate needs' and that the new extension approaches 'will become more purpose-specific, target-specific, and need-specific'

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