Privatization of extension and emergence of private agricultural consultants

Many countries are experimenting in privatizing some of the services that public sector agricultural extension has provided.5 These reforms reflect both increased scarcity in public funds and the new reality where agriculture becomes more knowledge intensive, and farmers operating in the commercial sector are looking for more detailed and specialized knowledge and are ready to pay for it. In the United States and other industrialized countries (Wolf, 1998), dealers of input manufacturers (irrigation equipment and seed and chemical companies) have increased the amount of management information that they provide to farmers. The complexity of pest control decisions and the need to comply with environmental regulations have led to the emergence of independent pest control consultants. In specialty crops where contracting is prevalent, the buyers may dictate some production practices and provide technical assistance to the contractors. As farms grow in size, they may hire their own specialists in pest control and other aspects of production and design their own production systems.

In many regions, state extension specialists now provide advice and training to independent consultants, provide general retraining to farmers and farm workers, address some of the needs of smaller farms, specialize in treating regional problems (conflict resolution among farmers, environmentalists, and the urban sector), and provide information on the requirements and means to meet environmental regulations. Extension centers are also used to adapt and test new technologies under local conditions. With a decrease in the role of the public sector in providing information to farmers, a need for an overall increase in the resources allocated to education and the transfer of information has arisen. In developed countries there has been some response to this need, but in many developing countries there is still a considerable lack of resources devoted to education and information transfer with a consequent negative impact on the ability of farmers to assess and adopt new technologies.

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