Extension systems, be they public or private, have helped smallholder farmers adapt to ever-changing production, socioeconomic, and environmental conditions. For the most part, governments have traditionally provided extension services to smallholder farmers in developing countries. Nonetheless, public support to fund extension programs has dwindled over the past decades. Meanwhile, rapid changes in global food markets in recent years have prompted private companies (for-profit and non-for-profit) to take a more active role in the provision of extension services. In the past, a buyers-market allowed private traders and retailers the luxury to begin thinking about the food value chains at aggregate points of purchase. Today, traders and retailers have expanded their supply chain responsibilities, investing and engaging with smallholder farmers around a number of quality and productivity goals, and responding to pressure from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), consumers, regulatory agencies and governments to expand supply chain transparency from farm to final consumer product.
Private extension initiatives (including public-private partnerships led by food companies and NGOs) are rapidly expanding worldwide. However, little is known regarding appropriate approaches for the private provision of extension services to smallholder farmers in developing countries. To fill this knowledge gap, we conducted a detailed study to characterize emerging extension models led by private organizations worldwide. The findings are valuable for donors and private/public decision makers interested in increasing the profitable participation of smallholder farmers in food value chains.
We offer a conceptual framework to explain how 1) contextual factors, 2) organizational characteristics, 3) partnership arrangements and 4) extension activities influence the performance of private sector extension models. In any given situation, the general context establishes a unique set of opportunities and challenges. We focus on three contextual factors that help to explain extension performance: the characteristics of the commodity and associated processing industry; the policies, infrastructure and political relations in a given country; and the degree to which the information required by farmers can be characterized as a public good. Organizational characteristics refer to identifying traits of the private sector entities that engage in extension activities. Key indicators include organizational type (private company, social enterprise, NGO, FBO); scope of extension programs (sub-national, national, international); role within the value chain (supplier, buyer, supporter); and years in operation. Partnership arrangements address how collaborations among multiple organizations are structured. Specifically, key indicators in this category identify which organizations are responsible for what tasks. We focus on which organization - or combination of organizations - undertakes extension program implementation and funding, respectively. We also consider whether or not extension activities are part of a public-private partnership (PPP). Extension activities refer to the mechanisms for delivering extension and advisory services. Within this category we include a range of general extension approaches as key indicators, and we examine their relative importance within an organization's overall extension strategy. Other key indicators include specific extension tactics, communication technologies and extension educator training, among others.