MEAS (Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services – a USAID funded project) conducted a scoping mission to examine the pluralistic extension system in Liberia and to develop recommendations for strengthening this extension system. The assessment work in the field occurred from March 6-18, 2011 and included in-depth interviews with Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) staff, agricultural extension officers and workers, international and national non-governmental organization (NGO) directors, lead farmers, university faculty, agricultural researchers and private sector representatives. The MEAS team also visited farms, County extension offices, as well as universities and training centers. The mission aimed to identify the key issues within the pluralistic extension system in Liberia that will need to be addressed in order to develop a sustainable, farmer-led and market driven system of extension and advisory services. In addition, the mission identified specific recommended actions for consideration by the MOA and for possible future funding by USAID.
Summary of Findings
Extension in Liberia finds itself in a transition period as Liberia moves from the period of post-war relief and rehabilitation to an environment of development and growth. This has led to a number of issues, such as differing approaches for the distribution of inputs (i.e., free distribution versus development of input markets). The MOA is in the process of building County Extension Centers (CECs) consisting of offices, training centers, guest quarters, and an active demonstration farm in all 15 counties, though progress on establishing these CECs has been very limited, due to financial constraints. In the future, the MOA might consider developing smaller, district level extension centers (office/demonstration farms).
In terms of the public extension staff, the MOA faces the situation where well over half of the district agricultural officers (DAOs) are over 50 years old. Many of them require additional training in up-to-date technical and process (extension) skills if they are going to function effectively in an increasingly decentralized, farmer-led, market-driven extension system. MOA staff reported they had very limited resources available for the development and delivery of extension programs, including very limited funds for vehicles and motorcycles and provision of monthly fuel allowances. Free seeds are being provided for example through a European Union financed FAO project. But once project funding ends, such services will probably no longer be a available since the government cannot sustain them on their own.
Additionally, while MOA staff use the terms “farmer led” and “farmer driven” about the public extension system, the extension leaders at the county and national levels within the MOA will need further assistance if they are to move toward implementing a more “farmer-driven” extension system. Presently, to the MEAS team’s knowledge, no “formal” County Extension Advisory or Steering Committees have been established to help shape and provide substantial input on extension programming. Additionally, the “market” orientation of extension workers at the current time is inadequate and steps must be taken to shift extension’s program focus and the delivery of extension services to become more “market driven,” especially for high-value crop, livestock, aquaculture and other products (e.g., mushrooms, honey). In terms of methodology, the MOA extension system would benefit from explicit utilization of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and related approaches in its move towards more farmer-led extension programming.