Agricultural extension - where next?
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CTA. 1994. Agricultural extension - where next?. Spore 51. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Extension services established since independence have generally failed to live up to expectations. Increases in agricultural production in ACP countries have been achieved largely through the expansion of the cultivated land area and increased...
Extension services established since independence have generally failed to live up to expectations. Increases in agricultural production in ACP countries have been achieved largely through the expansion of the cultivated land area and increased stock numbers rather than inherent increases in productivity. With a declining resource base, increases of this kind are clearly not sustainable. Alternative approaches to providing meaningful advice to farmers must be explored, if more efficient and productive farming systems are to be developed. One approach is to foster partnerships between NGOs and government services. The public sector must take the initiative. If food production in the developing world is to keep pace with population growth, more efficient farming practices must be introduced. These new practices should not be introduced at the expense of the environment or the resource base, but must be based on persuading conservative, risk-avoiding, resource-poor farmers to become more innovative. This must be achieved within a framework of fluctuating commodity prices, erratic policy making and increasing financial constraints. Functional, efficient and cost-effective advisory and distribution services to farmers are a major prerequisite to achieving longer-term sustainable food production. The post-independence period saw major investments in institutional strengthening, including the establishment of extension services, which were primarily crop orientated, and technical training. Agricultural extension was generally conceived as a 'good thing' that should be provided as a matter of course. Large and complex organizations evolved, often initiated with donor support, whose demands eventually exceeded the resources that the local economy could provide. Sadly, it is now all too common to find government services crippled through lack of resources; most recurrent funding may be committed to staff salaries alone. Yet without allowances, fuel, transport and equipment these staff remain office-bound and unable to fulfill any meaningful function. Various extension models have evolved and it is usual to find more than one model being used within a country. Most common are the multi-functional, broad-based services provided by ministries of agriculture. These are large hierarchical institutions with resident, village-based extension agents who cover all crops, and often livestock as well, and who are supported by subject-matter specialists at district and provincial levels. Field staff often have different and sometimes contradictory roles, including regulatory control and data collection in addition to general extension. In many countries, specific integrated development projects, usually financed through international loans, have developed parallel extension services, the numerous state Integrated Agricultural Development Projects (IAPDs) in Nigeria being an example. More specialized, commodity-based advisory services are commonly found throughout the ACP countries. Traditionally they focus on cash crops, usually for export, such as tea, coffee and tobacco and also on meat products. Such services usually operate outside the civil service regulations as independent, self-supporting legal entities. They can usually afford to offer better terms of service than government departments and are thus able to attract better-qualified staff. A degree of vertical integration is also common, with the provision of a range of specific activities including adaptive research, credit and input supply, advice and marketing. Examples of such organizations include Kenya's Tea Development Authority and the Compagnie Fran\E7aise pour le D\E9veloppement des Fibres Textiles (CFDT) in West Africa. Many of these commodity-based parastatals take an active marketing role and are less involved with extension aspects; for example, the Grain Marketing and Dairy Marketing Boards in Zimbabwe. However, with a few notable exceptions, the achievements of parastatals have not been good. Poor management, political interference and the drop in commodity prices have been partly responsible for their demise. Most African parastatals are now insolvent and largely ineffective. Where the markets exist, both national and multi-national companies compete to supply fertilizers and agro-chemicals, or to buy primary produce. Either to increase their market share or to improve the quality of the product, private sector companies often provide a comprehensive and valuable advisory service to their clients. Some of the more effective cooperatives provide similar advisory services paid for by their members. The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) in Zimbabwe offers a highly effective service to its members including input supply, research, advice and marketing. These commercial cooperatives should not be confused with the numerous producer cooperatives that have largely failed in Africa. There is now increasing interest in privatizing, initially through introducing cost-recovery mechanisms, and a wide range of services to the smallholder sector, notably veterinary services. The United States' model, where universities link not only research and teaching but also provide an advisory service, is not generally found in ACP countries. Instead, most of these countries are well endow' with training institutions at all levels: universities, technical institutes and training centers. In many ways the investment in these institutions, again usually provide through donor support, has outstripped the local capacity to use them. In francophone countries the ministries agriculture have a more strategic role while fewer implementation responsibilities, a devolved to specialized agencies. Agricultural extension is often incorporated into community development programmes which may include credit provision, cooperative development and literacy campaigns, such as the animation rurale programmes in Senegal. Benefits that never materialized Given the investment that has gone into the provision of extension services, why ha the benefits not been more tangible? In attempt to overcome the economic crisis facing many ACP countries, 'structural adjustment' programmes have been introduced. Central to such policies is the perceived wisdom that public-sector spend must be reduced, currency rates reassessed and exports expanded, with cost-recovery or privatization being more appropriate than government subsidized services. The result is the now all-too-familiar picture of government services severely constrained by the lack of resources, extremely low staff morale and a virtual cessation of field activities. Many of the 'technical packages' that were to have transformed agricultural production have performed so poorly that benefits rarely materialized - the African 'Green Revolution' has never occurred. Dependence on irrigation and high levels of inputs, which were the prerequisites of increased production in Asia, combined with the poorer soils of Africa, meant that the transfer of 'Green Revolution' technology has not been appropriate for African conditions. Local crop varieties often perform as well as, or better than, many of the 'improved' varieties under local conditions both in terms of yield and socio-cultural acceptance. The classic example was the introduction of softer yellow maize, which is easier to mill than local white 'flint' varieties. Alas the uptake of the new varieties was poor since, unlike the yellow varieties, the hardness of local varieties enabled them to withstand weevil attack during storage. Furthermore, many of the new lines were hybrid varieties requiring new seed every season and a high level of inputs. The introduction of swamp rice in Sierra Leone using improved varieties had the potential to greatly increase yields. What was not taken into account was that such practices require a high initial labour input, for a product that is less acceptable to the local market and where producers face working in difficult conditions in the swamps, with greater exposure to disease. The introduction of exotic breeds of animals has long been a favorite of agricultural planners, despite the fact that in the majority of cases indigenous breeds, which have evolved and adapted to local conditions, outperform them. A farming systems approach Clearly orthodox extension approaches have largely failed to address the major problems facing resource-poor, risk avoiding peasant farmers. Historically, planners have failed to appreciate the wider context of food production in developing countries. Support services, research and extension have predominantly taken a paternalistic 'top down' approach to development - the last person to be consulted being the farmer! Under the existing constraints (social, economic and financial) facing smallholder production, it is often difficult to improve significantly on existing practices. This would indicate that technology transfer alone will not be the solution. Recognizing these problems has lead to greater interest in the 'farming systems' approach to agricultural development. Farming systems research (FSR) assumes a holistic view of the 'farm' and that to adequately address problems requires a multi-disciplinary approach, in particular the inclusion of the social sciences. An initial descriptive and diagnostic phase, usually undertaken through rapid rural appraisals (RRAs), leads consecutively into the design and field testing of appropriate interventions. The key is that farmers are involved at all stages, and only those interventions that work under village conditions are included in extension packages in similar situations. FSR clearly has merits over the more isolated discipline-based research, notably the commitment to farmer participation. In reality, FSR too has had its problems and, in practice, achieving true farmer participation can be fraught with difficulties. Nor does it do anything to overcome the institutional constraints facing most governments. All too often formalized, complex experimentation that would normally be undertaken under station conditions has just been transferred to village situations. Under such conditions the results have rarely been satisfactory. NGO involvement The realization that greater participation by the producer at all stages is the key to successful development partly explains the increasing role played by non-government organizations (NGOs) in agricultural development. The term NGO describes a wide range of organizations that differ in ideologies, scale of operation and objectives. Many of the large international development NGOs, such as Action Aid, Christian Aid and Oxfam, are capable of mobilizing considerable resources. As such they can, and do, implement successful agricultural and rural development programmes in many ACP countries. The number of specialized NGOs is also increasing; many are ideologically orientated or address specific issues: women in development, intermediate technologies and agroforestry for example. At the other end of the scale there are numerous small, national NGOs working effectively with local communities. The Swaziland Farmers Foundation (SFF) is just one example of many that has successfully mobilized local and international funds which, under its supervision, it has channeled through local communities. As with most NGOs the SFF responds to the requests of the community - mostly concerning small-scale irrigation and watershed management - who are expected to contribute not just labour but cash and inputs as well. NGOs have succeeded in achieving a far greater level of community participation in their programmes compared with those run by government organizations. As a result, donor aid is increasingly being channeled through NGOs, with the emphasis on structural adjustment and increasing donor disenchantment with the performance of the public sector. There is, however, growing concern as more funds are being passed through NGOs. Evidence is emerging of less than scrupulous NGOs being established (in many countries there are few restrictions to establishing a NGO) to exploit such funding. A comprehensive review which examines the role of NGOs has recently been undertaken by the Overseas Development Institute (see box). If sustainable development is to be achieved in the longer-term, then greater responsibility for the delivery of inputs and advisory services must fall increasingly upon the producers themselves. National institutions will need to take on a more strategic role. The provision of core services, such as diagnostic facilities, research and the provision of technical expertise will largely remain the mandate of the public sector, as will regulatory controls, public health and the use of macro-economic mechanisms to support national industries. However, in most ACP countries, farmers' organizations have not yet developed to the stage where they can become self-sufficient and government institutions are becoming increasingly ineffective in operating at farm level. Probably the most important development role that NGOs can play is to facilitate the transition of certain services away from the public sector to the private and communal sectors. This could be achieved through identifying local needs, screening for appropriate technology options, testing, disseminating and providing feedback, and lobbying governments on behalf of the rural poor, whilst at the same time promoting the development of appropriate producer organizations. Partners for development Indeed, the strengths and weaknesses of both NGOs and government services would indicate considerable compatibility between the two. In agricultural development, government strength lies with their specialized facilities, technical expertise and links with the wider scientific community; whereas NGOs are capable of taking a holistic approach based on participatory methods determine and address the actual needs farming communities. Government met oafs and programmes are largely inappropriate to small-scale producers, non-participatory approaches are common and poor coordination exits between various departments. Likewise, NGOs have limited capacity for research and weak links with the scientific community and may not be effective at micro-economic level. For instance local NGOs will for sometime, still have rely on the public sector for resources in such areas as training. Clearly, NGOs and government are potential partners - not adversaries - in development. Alas, in many countries the level of mistrust and suspicion between the two remains disappointingly high. If greater complementarily between the state sector and NGOs is to be achieved, then a number of largely institutional issues have to be addressed. A strategic shift in resource allocation between a country's varying sources of innovation (farmers, NGOs, government organizations, development projects and commercial sectors) may required. National agricultural institutions would move away from their traditional research-orientated programmes towards a coordinating role which stimulates the movement of ideas between the various elements of the development process. It is unlikely that any one NGO would possess the resources that are available to the state, and no NGO is likely to be accepted by others as either the representative of the rural poor or of other NGOs; therefore responsibility for any overall strategy for institutional collaboration in agricultural development will fall to the public sector. Donors can help to bring these changes about, but if NGOs and the public sector are to become effective partners in stimulating agricultural development, both will need to show flexibility and commitment.
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