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MEAS Case study # 9: The Capacity of Farmer Organizations to Provide Extension and Advisory Services

Date Published: 
March 17, 2014

The Capacity of Farmer Organizations to Provide Extension and Advisory Services
– Case Study of Cotton Producer Organizations in Burkina Faso –


The involvement of farmer organizations (FOs) in the provision of extension and advisory services (EAS) has been identified as a solution to the limitations of the hierarchical public sector extension system and market-driven private sector extension systems (Mercoiret et al., 1997; Stockbridge, 2003). Previous studies have noted that producer organiza­tions (POs) are major actors in EAS systems, and that this leads to better orientation of the services (Swanson, 2006). However, although producer organizations are active in nume­rous industrialized and developing countries, studies examining the role of these organizations in the provision of EAS remain scarce. The conditions under which FOs provide well-suited, accessible and sustainable EAS to smallholder farmers still need to be identified (Faure et al., 2011).

This case study explores and compares two experimental projects conducted with cotton inter-professional associations (UNPCB, UPPC and UDPC)<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[1]<!--[endif]--> in Burkina Faso: one project in association with the major cotton firm (Sofitex) in the region and financed by Agence Française de Développement (AFD), and the other promoted by SNV World (a Dutch development organization), independent of the cotton sub-sector. Both projects focused on testing an advisory approach called management advice to family farms, which has been designed with the support of researchers (Faure & Kleene, 2004).

MAFF pilot projects have been instructive in demonstrating that, in a context where FOs are weak, the first benefit of the approach is to strengthen the FOs’ own capacities, before achieving meaningful and sustainable results at the farm level. Where there are weaknesses in the FOs, funding and operating partners can assist and thus significantly influence the design (content, objectives and governance) of EAS. But FOs then encounter difficulties in appropriating, adapting and scaling-up this new approach by themselves.

In the case presented in this study, the scheme to co-manage EAS between Sofitex (the cotton firm) and UNPCB (the National Union of Cotton Growers of Burkina) led the latter to disconnect from its own membership and turn away from its original goals. In the end, the absence of tangible gains for Sofitex and emergent contradictions within UNPCB drove these two entities to split up and each establish their own EAS services. While Sofitex managed easily to redesign a “best fit” approach adapted to its own needs, UNPCB struggled with how to design advisory services to serve the divergent objectives of its members. On the one hand, EAS have to facilitate farmers’ development in the context of the commercialization of cotton and, on the other hand, they have to unlock a household system based on cotton production in order to increase farmers’ incomes and broaden development opportunities. Within the SNV project, whereas MAFF services meshed well with FOs’ skills and objectives, the internal financial resources available were insufficient to maintain and scale-up these services beyond the duration and initial set of farmers participating in the project.

These experiences raise questions about the paths that need to be taken to simultaneously improve FOs’ capacities (so that they can fully undertake their roles) and expand their activities to include advisory services, while also designing innovative governance and funding schemes that allow for scaling-up and financial sustainability.

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<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[1]<!--[endif]--> These are respectively the national, provincial and department­al cotton producers’ unions (s). “Departmental” here refers to the smallest geographic and administrative territory, equivalent to a municipality.

MEAS Case Study # 9, March 2014