In most developing countries, agricultural extension services are managed by the public sector or state. The public sector in Namibia is represented by the government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF). The role of non-state agents including private sector firms, NGOs and other Donors is limited in scope and the bulk of extension service is provided by public sector (Kumba, 2003). According to Thomas et al. (2011), the Namibian agricultural sector has, broadly, a dual system comprising a well-developed, capital intensive and export oriented commercial sub-sector and subsistence based communal farming sub-sector, low in technology and external inputs and highly labor intensive. Both sectors contribute to the achievement of the country's national agricultural development goals that include: The long term Vision 2030, the Millennium Challenge Account (or Millennium goals) and the short term National Development Plan (NDP). Agricultural development hinges on the proper use of information and agricultural extension services (a vital component of rural development) are at the center of cooperation amongst farmers, researchers, farmer organizations and community developers (Kaurivi, 2008). The government agricultural extension services mainly provide subsidized agricultural services and the administration of government programs such as drought relief and credit schemes.
A Brief History of Public Extension Policies, Resources and Advisory Activities in Namibia
The primary goal of Namibia agricultural extension services is to help farmers develop and adopt improved farming technologies and practices, organize themselves in cooperatives as well as have access to information (i.e. markets and policies) and infrastructure. To achieve this goal, MAWF created the Directorate of Extension and Engineering Services (DEES) to provide agricultural extension services to farmers, agro-based industries and other stakeholders in the form of information communication, advisory and training services. The government attempt to implement a policy of decentralization aiming at bringing services closer to the farmers has encountered a series of difficulties since in many remote areas, extension offices are the only government offices the people can go to. Many farmers live and farm far away from the Agriculture Development Centers (ADC) making it difficult to be reached by extension agents or for farmers themselves to travel to the ADC for assistance with agricultural advice and services.
MAWF is organized such that research and extension activities are under two separate directorates; The Directorate of Extension and Engineering Services (DEES) and the Directorate of Agricultural Research and Training (DART). These offices are managed by different directors or managers making the research-extension linkage less evident and coordination of programs more difficult (Thomas et al., 2011). The urgent need to connect research and extension to farmers prompted the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Fisheries to develop a strategy to facilitate the flow of information in both directions between research, extension and farmers. In 1997, the Farming System Research and Extension (FSRE) characterized by a holistic, participatory, demand driven, multidisciplinary and problem solving approach was officially adopted as a development strategy. While it is unclear whether the FSRE approach actually lived up to its mandate of bringing researchers, extension specialists and farmers together in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of agricultural programs, new strategies have emerged recently to improve collaboration among all actors in the agricultural extension system.
The government commitment to developing an agricultural extension system starts with the development of human capital to deliver agricultural extension services to farmers. Staff development including in-service training is essential for the health of agricultural extension. In-service training for existing staff aims at improving professionalism leading to the greater effectiveness of the service. According to Dolberg (2000), many extension agents who operate at the grass-root levels in Namibia are nonprofessionals with little knowledge about extension work, leave alone participatory approaches. UNAM, Polytechnic of Namibia and other agricultural colleges play an important role in capacity building by offering degrees and diplomas courses in agriculture and other related disciplines.