Global Good Practices
Extension (also known as rural advisory services) has risen and fallen on the global development agenda. The focus on extension increased during the green revolution era. Today, due to factors such as food price crises and climate change, extension is increasingly recognised as critical for rural development. This note aims to introduce programme managers to extension philosophies and methods over the past decades. It demonstrates that each approach originated in specific circumstances, and has both merits and demerits.
By virtue of their power and privilege, men are in a prime position to tackle malnutrition in their own homes and in the broader community. In many households and communities, men make key decisions about what to grow and which animals to raise. They often decide what to sell, how much to store, and what foods to buy. However, many initiatives target women and girls, and ignore men. Women may learn a lot from courses on good nutrition, but excluding men means that women may not be able to act on their improved knowledge.
Low income, poor eating habits, lack of knowledge about good nutrition practices, and limited access to diverse food items are other important determinants of food insecurity and malnutrition. This is why EAS need to identify and address the nutritional needs of rural households and mainstream nutrition-sensitive messages in their service provision. This note reviews selected instruments that EAS can use for this purpose.
An extension campaign is a coordinated effort to inform many farmers in a relatively short period of time about an agricultural topic of widespread concern or interest. The aim is to achieve quick, large-scale change in farmer behaviour and practices through carefully choreographed efforts by different organisations, using a variety of communication channels.
Farmers and extension workers face a constant challenge in managing plant health problems. Diagnosis is made difficult by a diversity of causes and symptoms with multiple possible origins. Choosing the best management options needs careful consideration. Technical support services are often weak and extension providers struggle to reach all farmers. Plant health clinics (PHCs) are a practical way of enabling plant health specialists to work closely with extension workers in offering farmers advice on how to manage all types of plant health problems.
The rapid spread of television (TV) channels offers a unique opportunity to disseminate knowledge via private and public information systems to millions of farmers within a short period of time. When agricultural themes and messages are woven into entertaining shows that use popular actors, comedians, and cartoon characters, information reaches out to a much wider audience who might not necessarily be interested in agriculture.
The rapidly changing economic, climatic, and social environment for agriculture worldwide is causing farms to become increasingly diverse in terms of size, resources, production patterns, access to markets, and household characteristics.1 So there is a strong need for more diverse and specialised agricultural advisory services (AAS) that are relevant to farmers. This requires rethinking ways of organising and financing AAS towards systems that are led and tailored by demand from farmers.
The overall purpose of farmer study circles (FSCs) is to create learning, capacity, and empowerment among small-scale farmers. FSCs are part of a multitude of approaches to agricultural extension for groups of farmers that are based on adult learning principles. Such approaches are self-directed/autonomour, based on existing knowledge and life experiences, goal-oriented, relevant, practical, and collaborative.
Markets for agricultural products with special quality, environmental, and social attributes can provide a profitable outlet for poor farmers in developing countries. However, participation in high value markets requires that farmers commit to deliver pre-identified volumes on time and in the required form and quality – a tall order in many cases. Agri-cooperatives play an important role in linking farmers to these markets; they forge business relations with distant buyers, realise economies of scale in processing and marketing, and provide advisory and other services to help their members respond to buyer demands.
Radio is considered one of the oldest information technologies, and is one of the most popular in the developing world, partly due to its accessibility and affordability. While many rural people own a radio, those who do not may access programming through family, friends, or neighbours. Traditionally, radio has been seen as a one-way communication tool, providing information, news, and entertainment to listeners. However, when integrated with other communication tools (such as mobile phones) it can serve as a two-way platform for dialogue, to further discussions about topics that interest listeners, and to create entertaining and interactive programmes. For farmers, radio has the potential to help connect them to technical specialists, policy-makers, other farmers, suppliers, or buyers. Radio, and particularly participatory, demand-driven radio programming as a tool for extension, complements existing agricultural information systems that emphasise interaction among stakeholders (farmers, public and private knowledge brokers, market actors, researchers, policy-makers, the financial sector, etc.) where no single actor is the expert. More so, radio programmes in vernacular languages provide new communication channels and space for dialogue for communities in more remote areas, or of varying literacy levels.
Agriculture is the largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for the majority of the world’s poorest people. As the backbone of many developing country economies, agricultural development becomes synonymous with global development. Research and development efforts to improve agriculture have been ongoing for nearly a century, but with new and ever-changing global challenges, agriculturists need to be equipped with the right information to tackle those challenges. Through advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs), most of the information needed is available on the internet. But the sheer volume and uncertainty about accuracy makes getting correct and credible information very difficult. Web portals aim to resolve this situation. They are specially designed single access points to information collected from diverse sources.
Social media refers to the web-based tools and media that allow users to personally and informally interact, create, share, retrieve, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Social media includes social networking sites, blogs and microblogs, online forums, discussion boards and groups, wikis, socially integrated text messaging services, videos and podcasts, and many more. Rural advisory services (RAS) have seen enormous changes in the 21st Century that require interaction among multiple stakeholders ‒ public, private, and non-profit – and learning to take collective action. These services have been called upon to be less ‘top-down’ and more interactive, and social media can be a potentially powerful tool in this regard. With increasing reach among rural people, especially the youth, through increasing mobile phone subscriptions and decreasing data tariffs, social media can help RAS to reach farmers more efficiently.
Many see rural advisory services (RAS), also called ‘extension’, as indispensable in efforts to improve agricultural production in smallholder farms in developing countries. However, development specialists have lamented that, bogged by infrastructural and logistical challenges, traditional RAS, such as the old ‘training and visit’ systems, have mostly failed to reach rural smallholder farmers. In these traditional systems, the extension agent–farmer ratio is typically very low. Higher agent–farmer ratios are critical, especially given the renewed global focus on sustainable, climate smart agriculture. Effective RAS could enhance the resilience of smallholder farmers, who are most vulnerable to production shocks resulting from socioeconomic, climate, and environmental catastrophes.
Generating and applying new knowledge is important for all enterprises, including farming. But, quite often, new knowledge that can enhance productivity, competitiveness, and sustainability in farming is not widely adopted at scale. This lack of innovation in agriculture has led to the search for new frameworks such as ‘innovation systems’ that help in understanding how the process of agricultural innovation takes place and how its relevance and quality can be enhanced. An innovation system is nothing more than a metaphor to help understand the process of innovation, and to help consider how capacities for innovation can be developed.1 Though originally developed to understand industrial innovation, this framework has been increasingly used to understand the process of knowledge generation and use in agriculture. Recent research has resulted in new and better understanding of the structure and functions of the agricultural innovation system (AIS), which is defined as “a network of organisations, enterprises, and individuals focused on bringing new products, new processes, and new forms of organisations into social and economic use, together with the institutions and policies that affect their innovative behaviour and performance”.2 This interactive system is made of individuals and organisations that demand and supply knowledge, as well as the policies and mechanisms that affect the way different agents interact to share, access, and exchange knowledge.
Producer organisations (POs) form the interface between farmers and their economic, social, and institutional environments (Box 1). The involvement of POs in the provision of rural advisory services (RAS) has been identifi ed as a solution to the limitations of both the hierarchical public sector extension system and market- driven private sector extension systems. POs can make a positive contribution by articulating the demands and needs of their members for RAS, and directly or indirectly ensuring that these services are supplied in an effi cient and sustainable way. However, not all POs have the required capacities to carry out all these functions. Depending on their aims, resources, vision, or institutional environment, POs have a wide diversity of RAS roles.
Improved availability of, and access to, information and communication technologies (ICTs) – especially mobile phones, computers, radio, internet, and social media – has provided many more opportunities for collection, processing, storage, retrieval, managing, and sharing of information in multiple formats. Some of these applications, such as tele-centres, web-portals, call centres, mobile apps, community radio, digital videos, audio and video conferencing, and e-learning platforms, have the potential to provide a wide range of services (information, awareness, promotional, advisory, knowledge, technology transfer, training, education, and much more) to farmers and other agricultural innovation system (AIS) actors in a timely, comprehensive, cost-effective, and interactive manner. However, the high number and rapidly changing availability of ICTs may leave extension managers confused as to which methods are available and when to use them. This note explains how to navigate the many types and gives tips on when to use them.
Videos, especially digital ones, are a relatively new technology. Videos may help to meet the challenges of disseminating information to farmers and reaching the poor, marginalised, women, and young people. Some uses of video in agriculture include raising awareness, stimulating demand for support, farmer-to-farmer extension, training on agricultural innovations, stimulating creativity, and as a tool for documenting and monitoring and evaluation (M&E).
In the last few decades, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have provided immense opportunities for the social and economic development of rural people, and some technologies have surpassed others. Mobile telephony is one such technology that has developed significantly in the past few years, and the subscription rate in developing countries has gone up from 22 per 100 inhabitants in 2005 to 91.8 per 100 inhabitants in 2015. Mobile technology goes beyond geographic, socio-economic, and cultural barriers and this large increase in mobile subscriptions, along with the recent roll out of 3G and 4G technology, can play a big role in the development of rural people.
Rural women’s roles and contributions to agriculture remain undervalued and neglected by the sector’s policy- making and implementation processes. Women typically are involved in many aspects of the agricultural value chain, often contributing anywhere from 25 to 75% of the productive labour. However, they generally have less access to rural advisory services (RAS) than men. They also have less access to agricultural inputs, such as fertilisers, technologies, and veterinary services, which reduces their overall productivity. This is particularly a problem in countries in Africa, where women’s agricultural involvement varies from about 30% in the Gambia to 60–80% in Cameroon.(1) Despite the evidence accumulated over several decades on women’s multi-faceted roles in farm-based livelihoods, and the need to support them, men are frequently still considered as the ‘lead’ farmer in a household, and RAS focus on their market-oriented interests.
There is a heightened awareness globally and within development institutions and governments of the need to better understand the links between agriculture and nutrition, and to decipher the ways in which the agriculture sector can contribute to improved nutrition. The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of effectively delivering ‘nutritionsensitive agriculture’(1) services to rural households remain even less understood.
Extension workers (through public, private, and nongovernment organisation (NGO) channels) are often thought of as a promising platform or vehicle for the delivery of nutrition knowledge and practices to improve the nutritional health of rural communities because they reach and interact closely with farmers in different settings. They act as significant service providers of crop, livestock, and forestry aspects of food security, consumption, and production.