David Dolly speaks about the formation of a network for rural advisory services in the Caribbean
Its key objectives were to:
- obtain an update of Extension activity within the English speaking Caribbean;
- build capacity to develop a regional network of extension leadership and advocacy;
- understand the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS); and
- launch a regional advisory network which can be affiliated to GFRAS and serve to strengthen advisory services in the Caribbean.
GFRAS’ role as facilitator at the meeting was specifically focused in the area of strengthening of networking in the region by assisting participants to identify what is required, the types of issues that exist, and additionally, helping them to clearly define how the process can move forward. Among its existing networks, it is possible to observe differences with respect to membership, decision making and strategic leadership, implementation of activities, legal form, exchange and communication, and funding. As it relates to GFRAS’ support to its regions, this is in the form of access to information and material, experience exchange with other regions, online presence, backstopping on networking, start-up money, support to fundraising, and participation in working groups and discussions.
The country presentations served to provide participants with an overview of the organisational structure of the Extension Service, the clientele serviced, staffing (including staff numbers, gender, ratio of Extension Officers to clients), methods used, modes of communication type of services offered, interactions with other agencies, activities of the units, major issues affecting the Service, and the way forward. With specific reference to the issues impacting the service, these included among other things, inadequate budgetary support, weak policy framework, low staff morale, high farmer to officer ratio, inadequate research support, inadequate extension education at the tertiary level, competition from other information providers, low perception of extension held by decision-makers and political interference. To address these concerns a number of suggestions were made including increased financial support to extension, in-service training, stronger policies, increased use of modern technology, reintroduction of programmes to raise staff morale such as the “Officer in Excellence Award”, revisiting extension training at the tertiary level, stronger policies and more relevant research.
In the process of developing the networking plan of action, participants engaged in group discussions to examine issues such as the major constraints to be identified, professional development of extension agents, funding, local and regional promotion and extension responsibilities. The outputs of these discussions then fed into the plenary and synthesis session of the meeting, which involved the naming of the organisation, defining its objectives, selection of a steering committee, and identifying the next steps. Although the discussions generated several fruitful ideas, because of the critical importance of issues there was consensus that these items needed to be more extensively deliberated on. However, in the interim the DAEE will serve as the provisional secretariat until the matter of the steering committee has been finalised. Immediate next steps include the preparation and dissemination of the meeting report, sensitising national and regional stakeholders about the network, establishing a communications base, consolidation of network priorities, development of terms of reference, establishment of the network and formation of a steering committee.
Caribbean Regional Extension Meeting proceedings (pdf 515KB)