Extension service policies needed to consolidate food security in Africa

Effective extension advisory services policies can harmonize the agriculture sector and spur the productivity of small scale farmers who form the major growers of food in Africa, delegates to the 2012 GFRAS annual meeting in Manila, Philippines heard.

Agricultural advisory services are crucial to enhancing the productivity of farmers through information sharing, training and market advice. Convinced of the power of extension services, Kenya last year enacted a specific policy on agriculture extension services which could serve as a model for other African countries.

"We wanted to give effective and efficient extension to the farmers because of the many extension providers who are operating in Kenya and we saw if fit to harmonise all operations of all players because farmers are one and we should give them the same message," said Mary Kamau, the Director of Extension and Training in Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture, who gave a presentation on Kenya's route to crafting a policy on extension services.

Kamau said the ministry of agriculture established a task force in 2004 to initiate the crafting of a national extension services policy and oversaw multi stakeholder consultations. This resulted in the National Agriculture extension policy guidelines which were succeed by the National Agriculture Sector Extension policy (NASEP) enacted in 2011.

"Though a challenging process to get the buy in of all stakeholders, we succeeded in getting a policy in place which has translated into efficiency in our service delivery because we have eliminated duplication of services and saved resources," said Kamau who advised that African countries need policies in place in order to ensure efficient and effective extension service delivery.

"We have seen a difference since the policy was effected, for example, in areas like the coastline which used to be worse off depending on food aid are now food secure because we are planning together and using the resources properly for the benefit of our farmers," she said.

While the commercialization of extension services was not possible overnight, Kamau said farmers in certain enterprises were willing to pay for extension services.

"In the flower growing and horticulture sectors farmers are ready to pay say Ks200 ($2) for extension advise. This is little money compared to the gross margins they would realize but in many areas farmers are not able to pay and these are the areas where extension is a public good and offered for food security."

Kamau said the Kenyan government is soon to appoint a Board provided for under the policy, to monitor issues of quality assurance in the extension service delivery. Kenya hosts the country fora of the African Forum for Agriculture Advisory Services (AFAAS).

AFAAS chair, Adolphus Johnson, commended Kenya for crafting the policy, a move he said his forum was keen to accelerate throughout Africa. Already Malawi is one of the countries with an extension policy in place while South Africa and Sierra Leone are among countries in the process of crafting policies on extension advisory services.

"Agriculture extension in Africa is old in its formation and implementation; however most of the sub Saharan African countries have been plagued by low productivity, weak extension systems and uncoordinated networks. There is need to re-orient these systems across the African continent through appropriate policies," said Johnson.

Johnson said AFAAS is responsible for dissemination of technology, an essential function of extension.

"We are working with countries to develop viable pro poor policies and programmes that address the needs of the majority small holder farmers," he said remarking that the consolidation of extension services was linked the 2004 Maputo Declaration aimed at increasing growth and food productivity on the African continent.

Egypt, one of the youngest members of AFAAS working toward the creation of the North Africa network of extension advisory services incorporating Arab nations.

Hala Yousry, Head of the Rural Sociology Department at the Desert Research Centre in Egypt, said the delivery of extension services in her country was hindered by administrative and financial limitations. She said there are efforts to consolidate all extension advisory services under one umbrella for greater impact.

Busani Bafana