Ag Sector Council Recap: Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services with Diverse Partners and ICT
This Ag Sector Council webinar highlighted and recommended ways modern extension services can better serve and understand the diverse needs of smallholder farmers. The discussion was grounded in ways extension services can be designed more selectively to meet the needs of specific farmer segments and how extension can take on more business functions along the value chain. The event followed the October 22 seminar, “From Smallholder to Shareholders: Optimizing Private Sector Engagement for Smallholder Impact,” which emphasized context-appropriate and inclusive business models to effectively engage the smallholder. Building upon that, participants were encouraged to ask: How can we transform extension to be context-appropriate and business-minded?
Several key themes emerged during the presentation and are presented below:
Diversity: There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Extension envelops many different actors and farmers. The farmers are diverse in terms of land area, geography, infrastructure and needs.
Understanding Needs: A diversity of farmers means there is a diversity of information needed. Shaun Ferris of Catholic Relief Services identified common questions encountered across diverse farming situations and discussed the increased focus on assessing farm performance, comparing production with market averages, understanding market conditions, and analyzing the return on investment of farm interventions. Those who provide extension services should be very close to their clients in terms of both geography and relationships so they can really understand where the needs and opportunities are and tailor their services accordingly.
Business-Minded Interventions: There is increased understanding that extension needs to be market-oriented. Farming should be seen as a business and production should be geared towards markets.
Strength in Numbers: Cooperative development models may serve to integrate smallholder farmers into functional value chains with active private sector partners. Alone, a smallholder farmer may not be able to access the credit needed to make investments, but financing institutions are more likely to work with a cooperative because the members’ combined assets can act as a guarantee. In terms of inputs and outputs, cooperative groups are able to buy fertilizers and seed in bulk, and market produce in greater volumes.
The Role of the Private Sector: In the future, extension services will rely much more on the private sector to provide advisory-type services. Currently the number of private sector actors is small, but growing.
Extension Services for a Fee: Extension support can only reach so far with project-funded support. In order to strengthen extension capacity and improve the extension agent to farmer ratio (ratios average 1:2,500 in many countries), the concept of shifting from free to fees was introduced. Increasing evidence suggests that farmers are willing to pay for services they view as beneficial to their bottom line. Having farmers pay for extension may contribute to the long-term sustainability of a program—especially programs with funding limited by a short-term project cycle.
Bridging the Gap in Extension Services: The presentation concluded with a call for greater collaboration and communication among the different types of extension services. Organizations, governments and universities must think more systematically about how they share and disseminate information among themselves and use a more coordinated approach to outreach. More importantly, these diverse groups must be held together with the glue of local actors—people who are on the ground and working within the community.
To watch the webinar recording or to download post-event resources, click here.