Global Good Practices
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.