A wider perspective on agricultural extension
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CTA. 1994. A wider perspective on agricultural extension. Spore 51. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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The practical difficulties associated with achieving effective and affordable agricultural extension are being widely discussed at the present time. (see pages 1-4). This may therefore be an appropriate opportunity to stand back from the debate on...
The practical difficulties associated with achieving effective and affordable agricultural extension are being widely discussed at the present time. (see pages 1-4). This may therefore be an appropriate opportunity to stand back from the debate on managing extension and to bring a wider perspective to the debate on how to encourage innovative agricultural technology and agricultural development. A wider perspective brings more sharply into focus people and situations that were previously not considered at all, or perhaps were perceived only in a peripheral manner and then quickly dismissed as insignificant or irrelevant. Too narrow a view limits vision and leads to wasted opportunities for achieving improvements. Many have recognized that technology transfer in a top-down, one-way, government-promoted direction from scientific research institutions to farmers can only be partially effective. It ignores farmers' own knowledge and their innovative abilities as experimenters and researchers within their own farming systems. Centralized research institutes cannot be managed in a way which allows them to take account of wide-ranging local differences in agronomic, social and economic conditions. As a result technologies were not adapted to farmers' conditions; for example minor crops have been neglected, emphasis has been placed on productivity instead of on household food security and the major role that women play in food production has often been ignored. A timely debate In order to provide a forum for debate on these and other issues, CTA organized and sponsored a workshop in Yaound\E9, Cameroon, from 24-28 January 1994 in collaboration with ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States), the Agricultural University of Wageningen and the Ministry of Agriculture, Cameroon. Eighty participants from 16 African countries, six European countries and a number of international and regional organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, were able to debate the changing role of extension within the framework of the difficult economic climate that many countries are currently experiencing. Participants recognized that the role of centralized research institutes will continue to be that of fundamental research but agreed that in future the role of extension should be more focused on the performance of the knowledge systems. How can those knowledge systems be identified and once identified, how can they be put to good use? The Department of Communication and Innovation Studies at Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands has developed a perspective which has become known as AKIS (Agricultural Knowledge and Information System). AKIS, and its practical application tool RAAKS (Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Knowledge Systems), was put forward as an idea to be explored at the workshop. The AKIS perspective identifies the many different actors, individuals or organizations, which either already interact, or should interact, in any given domain of human activity in which the pursuit or support of innovation is the target. Those actors will include farmers, traders, extension workers, researchers, specialists, farmers' organizations, processing factories, marketing organizations, credit institutions and others, depending on the situation. The judgement about which actors need to be considered is based on the assessment of the potential role of each actor in creating the conditions which can lead to sustainable innovation. There is no fixed boundary or limit to the number of actors within the knowledge system under consideration. Integration, linkage and coordination Having identified the actors it is then possible to assess whether and in what ways the contribution of each adds to the contribution of the others. The aim is to create a system which works synergistically towards innovation. This requires integration, linkage and coordination. AKIS is a perspective which highlights links which may not otherwise have been perceived but it also floodlights those gaps where integration, linkage and coordination should be in place but where none exist. In many cases actors who could make a contribution to innovation fail to do so because they are engaged in bureaucratic battles or because they simply fail to understand each other. This broader way of looking at a situation sheds a different light on problems. It can reveal unexpected shortcomings in communication amongst actors and it can bring into focus areas where intervention could be made to establish or strengthen cooperation. An important condition for the success of agricultural extension in future will be the active participation of all actors involved. Farmers, women as well as men, must be included as sources of relevant knowledge and information. Agricultural extension has, for many people, come to mean the work of government village level extension workers and the institutions which employ them. Extension can also mean the communication interventions required for agricultural development. Extension thus shifts from intervention to facilitating working and learning together in solving problems with respect to sustainable development This wider perspective could bring new insight and understanding to constraints and conflict within agricultural information systems and stimulate new ways of overcoming them.
- CTA Spore (English)