Catalyzing the Adoption of Ag Innovations Through Extension and Advisory Services
Research institutions are a hotbed of agricultural innovation. But how do these good ideas transform from small research pilots to the market at large? The November Ag Sector Council sought to answer this question through an exploration of the role of Extension and Advisory Services in scaling agricultural technology. Suzanne Poland of USAID's Bureau for Food Security gave a brief introduction to the topic. She noted that there are many donors who are making decisions on how to best to eliminate hunger, but that these decisions need to be evidence-based. One of the many tasks under the Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) Project is to do just that – align extension services and advisory services with evidence-based best practices in promoting agricultural development and food security.
Brent Simpson of Michigan State University and Deputy Director of MEAS began the seminar by asking some of the big questions: “how do we define scale?” “how do we design for scaling to happen?” and “how do we sustain the momentum of scaling?” He later discussed many of the theoretical underpinnings of innovation in agriculture and how these innovations are adopted on a larger scale. His slides depicted the dissemination of innovations and how to spread adoption from the “early adopters” on through to the “late majority” and finally the “laggards.”
Paul McNamara, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Director of MEAS, continued the seminar with an example of a historical spread of ag innovation – the farm tractor in U.S. agriculture. He noted that the process was iterative; technological advancement happened over time and was accompanied by greater and greater adoption. He also went on to describe the Green Revolution in Asia. Extension delivered the technology (fertilizer, irrigation, improved varieties), but also acted as a link between farmers and researchers to allow feedback on which technologies worked. McNamara concluded with a call for a stronger focus on the quality of extension services and the use of a finance perspective to sharpen extension system performance.
Scaling up innovative agricultural technology is a priority for USAID and has been a theme of many recent Ag Sector Councils over the past few months. Research and Extension services are an important link in the chain of research to market adoption, and many of our previous Ag Sector Council seminars have addressed different links in this chain. For more on this topic, check out the event page for the seminars on Public Private Partnerships, and an overview of the idea of “Scaling.” We look forward to bringing in more thought leaders on this topic, as it continues to be of great interest to our global Agrilinks audience. Stay tuned!