Adaptation Under the “New Normal” of Climate Change: The Future of Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services
Since the domestication of crops and the emergence of sedentary societies, our species has never faced a more serious challenge than that which we will confront in adapting to climate change. The scale is global, the potential magnitude of impacts catastrophic, the time frame of onset largely unknown, and the threat of delayed action real (IPCC, 2013). Problem recognition, response formulation and preparation are the first steps, and will be iterative as our knowledge continues to expand and new interactions and effects of climate change emerge. Extension and advisory service (EAS) providers have an immensely important role to play in serving as a critical link between farmers and sources of new information and tools, and in aiding behavior change toward adapted practices among farming populations.
Perceptions of public extension systems as unimportant and outdated institutions will need to change, as will the performance of public systems themselves. Private sector interests will need to adjust and respond to shifting opportunities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and donors will need to reinforce and coordinate their actions with the actions of others to achieve impacts of meaningful scale. As the scramble to adapt to the “new normal” intensifies, persistent problems, past failures and new challenges have the potential to converge in a perfect storm. In response, all involved in agricultural adaptation will need to elevate the level and quality of their efforts. This paper outlines the nature of the adaptation challenge, identifies past and present points of EAS engagement, and proposes future responses. The paper focuses on the constraints and conditions of smallholder farmers in the tropics, as well as the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends. The ideas presented, which are by no means exhaustive, are intended to focus attention, stimulate thinking and urge action at the scale and pace demanded.
The Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) Discussion Paper series is designed to further the comparative analysis and learning from international extension efforts. The papers contain a review of extension and advisory service best practices drawn from the global body of experience in successfully reaching resource-limited farmers. The papers identify the underlying principles associated with high levels of success in reaching women and men farmers and how, in differing contexts, these core principles have been successfully adapted to fit local conditions in establishing productive, profitable and sustainable relationships with individual producers, producer groups, the private sector and associated research and education institutions. The series, and the companion MEAS Working Papers, include papers on a wide range of topics, such as the realities of pluralistic extension provisioning, sustainable financing, human resource development, the role of farmer organizations, linking farmers to markets, the importance of gender, health and nutrition, use of information and communication technologies and climate change adaptation. The papers target policy makers, donor agency and project staff, researchers, teachers and international development practitioners. All papers are available for download from the MEAS project website, www.meas-extension.org.
Brent M. Simpson, Michigan State University, and Paul McNamara, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign