Six-year Farmer Extension Advisory Project Wraps Up with Key Recommendations
The Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services Project—which launched in September 2010 in partnership with USAID and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign—was in effect until March 2016. The project focused on increasing farm incomes and enhancing the livelihoods of the rural poor through a “TEACH-LEARN-APPLY” model to transform and strengthen extension systems and services. USAID missions were able to partner with the MEAS project team by funding Associate Awards which allowed for the creation of the Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENAES) global project, the Farmer Advisory Services in Tajikistan (FAST) Program, the Strengthening Extension and Advisory Services (SEAS) activity in Georgia, and the Strengthening Agricultural and Nutrition Extension (SANE) Services Activity in Malawi. The project worked with stakeholders in more than 50 countries globally and produced training modules and manuals made accessible through meas.illinois.edu. MEAS’ stakeholders and collaborators included private enterprises, universities, NGOs, and policy makers, allowing it to reach a wide audience of development and agriculture practitioners. The ambitious project reflects on its 5-year learning and teaching process, and has highlighted some major conclusions within its final report to USAID:
1) At the inception of MEAS the knowledge base in extension was extremely low among the development community and within countries and Ministries.
2) A direct focus on and long-term commitment to extension is required if extension systems are to be modernized and strengthened in ways that produce sustainable change and impact.
3) Moving beyond disjointed approaches to a model of more pluralistic extension systems requires taking on the challenges of coordination.
4) Documentation of good extension programs and impacts is key to mobilizing broader support for extension systems and services.
5) Trends towards devolution and decentralization of decision-making and budgeting in many countries requires rethinking how extension systems and services operate.
Working with a diverse set of stakeholders and practitioners across localities also gave the project team insight into the steps essential in improving extension and advisory services in the future. In its summaries, the report lists key recommendations for further extension strengthening. These recommendations include increasing investments on long-term extension services to match the rise of agricultural spending, as well as building the capacity of more rigorous and effective M&E systems to collect evidence on which practices within extension are effective. The report also emphasizes the importance of targeting priority extension strengthening areas such as policy, governance, and smart utilization of ICTs along with working towards better coordination among extension stakeholders to avoid a failure in leveraging learning with the potential to influence change at the systems-level.