The agricultural sector has always been very important in Guatemala. Initially research and extension functions were retained within the Ministry of Agriculture in the Directorate General of Agricultural Services (DIGESA), a centralized agency, and official agricultural extension institution; and the Directorate General of Animal Services (DGESEPE), the official extension agency for animal producers (Stewart, 1985). This form of extension was active in the 1970s at the time the Generation and Transfer of Agricultural Technology and Seed Production Project (PROGETTAPS) was designed in response to policies directed at increasing food production and income of small farmers. But with thirty years of internal conflict, Guatemala extension system began to be dismantled and by the time the Guatemala Peace Accords was signed in 1996, the extension system had ceased to exist. Government efforts to reestablish a national agricultural extension service as a component of the department of agriculture, MAGA (Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganaderia y Alimentacion) was noticeable in 2008 and the formal initiation of the extension service (Sistema Nacional de Extension Agricola – SNEA) was in April 2010 (Smith, 2011).
A Brief History of Public Extension Policies, Resources and Advisory Activities in Guatemala
According to Smith (2011) “SNEA consists of the National Council, the Technical Committee and the National Coordination for the Extension System. On a departmental level, agricultural extension system programs are delivered through MAGA’s Departmental Coordination for Agricultural Extension, Agricultural Extension Agents, and Local Extension Promoters. The agricultural extension service is active in 19 of Guatemala’s 22 departments, in a total of 92 municipalities, and MAGA estimates that 50% of the country’s municipalities have extension coverage.” To deliver extension programs to farmers, agricultural extension service utilizes three types of extension agent namely the agricultural extension agent (extensionista Agricola), the educator for the home (educatora para el hogar), and the youth promoter (promotor juvenile). Agricultural extension agents promote projects related to food security and resource conservation, and work with local promoters, members of the community who presently serve as volunteers, home educators are female agents who work with low resource rural women and girls on aspects of food security, nutrition, and health, and youth promoters work with young people in rural communities on projects related to agriculture, citizenship, and self-esteem.
The new agricultural extension system been put in place by the government of Guatemala will need to count on a team of trained professionals to deliver agricultural extension and advisory services. Presently, it is estimated that ninety six of each type of extension agent exist for a national total of less than three hundred extension agents (Smith, 2011). The limited number of agricultural extension professional staff and the perceived high turn-over of personnel in MAGA are likely to undermine the continuity of agricultural projects resulting in loss of expertise from the agency. There is an urgent need to involve Guatemalan universities and agricultural colleges as well as research institutions in extension projects through staff training at all levels.