Extension services in a changing climate

p1000233jpgClimate change is projected to affect global agriculture on which millions of small holder farmers especially in developing countries, depend on their livelihoods, yet the sector features less prominently on the global agenda to find solutions.

Decision makers must talk to extension advisory service providers who interact more closely with farmers in implementing local actions, which are not recognised in the global agenda, a development researcher has urged.

"There is a lot of talk about wonderful good practises and best practises that everyone should do but I have not figured out who is going to do it," says Ian Christoplos, a researcher and Project Director with the Swedish organisation, indevelop. "Extension services can do a lot in responding to the issue of climate change but they are never asked yet these are the people working on the ground with farmers who experience climate change."

Concerned about the missing issue of climate change on the agenda of extension services, Christoplos is conducting a research looking at how climate change is impacting on people at the local level and how they are coping with it. The research being done through the Danish Institute for International Studies is focusing on Uganda, Zambia, Nepal and Vietnam,

Why the focus on these four countries?
It was a pragmatic decision, partly because that is researchers already have contacts and partly because we need to get some contrasting views from different countries with different kinds of decentralisation. We will be contrasting countries with different levels of national commitment to climate change and also countries with different historical traditions on how strong states drive a new agenda like climate change. There is a tendency to ignore the context when people are coming up with advice for climate change. You see some of the longest lists of things that local government should do, when people are talking about the fragile states, well the government has the least capacity to do anything.

At what stage is the research now?
We are pretty much getting started. The project started this year and we have had inception workshop and now are starting background research in each country to get an overall orientation to what the structures are like such as extension and the structures for responding to climate change. This is a social science research project and we realised that so many of the factors are found to be very different in different countries so we are a bit sceptical as to whether one can come up with very useful quantitative figures one could compare between Nepal and Vietnam or between Uganda and Zambia as they are very different countries.

What does climate change mean for extension?
I can give some examples from Vietnam where we were talking with the people at province and district level and about what they are doing. One very interesting thing that came out there is that extension is very much involved in helping farmers reduce their exposure to floods above all else. They are engaged in that because it is part of their clear responsibility to deal with the natural hazards that Vietnam is facing today. On the other hand if you talk about climate change in general that is a topic that is being handled through a lot of meetings, conferences and vague rumours that there is a lot of investment coming. There is no clear accountability for extension agents to act on it because this is just a woolly agenda.

We get these big plans coming from the central government, 200 page plans of things and we do not understand what they are talking about. These gigantic plans coming up are inspired a lot by the international climate change discourse where people are saying oh it is a crisis we have to do a million things tomorrow to save the world but this does not translate into useful advice to an extension agent or anybody at that level. We need to talk about what extension is doing and should be doing.

What should extension be doing?
There are lot of things that extension should and could do. In Vietnam for example, Vietnam flooding is not disaster but if it comes too early before they have harvested the rice, it is. But through extension support farmers are coming with new recommendation to change the cropping calendar and new varieties that are shorter duration so that people can harvest earlier.

When it gets to that localised a level you are talking about concrete issues and extensionists probably know what to do and they talk to farmers and come up with an appropriate agenda for how to adapt to climate change. I have a high level of confidence in what extension can do.

Should action be more at the local than global level then?
To me, the real action is at local level, the question is whether they are getting the support they need at the global level is another issue. I was in a workshop in Cambodia recently and heard the shocking figure that of all the climate change money going into Cambodia three percent is spent at local level and 97 percent gets spent in meeting and in coming up with national action plans. Most things that count have to at the local level.

Is there hope then for the Green climate change Fund?
Not a whole lot to be honest at least not in the coming few years but I do think there are a lot of people at global level who recognise that they have missed something. People are starting to recognised that they missed the central role of extension of local government and institutions and still do not know what to do about it. It is dawning on people that something is missing in the climate agenda.

Busani Bafana