The Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE)
Of sub-Saharan Africa’s estimated 150,000 extension officers in the early 1990s, perhaps only one in six had completed a bachelor’s or higher degree. About 70 percent held a certificate issued by an agricultural college of the Ministry of Agriculture; another 15 percent tended to hold a higher diploma degree in agriculture, usually issued by a university. Thus about 85 percent of the extension workers of the era tended to begin their careers with a weak grasp of agricultural science and limited skills in extension communication. Other problems also hindered the motivation of agricultural extension officers. For example, even if they achieved success at the field level through their firsthand experience with farmers and farming, they were seldom able to rise to supervisory positions because they lacked the minimum of a bachelor’s degree, which could push them into the “professional” rank.
The need to ensure that agricultural knowledge and technology from research is effectively disseminated to farmers and end users in sub-Saharan Africa to improve profits and livelihoods cannot be overemphasized. As key actors of development tackled a myriad of agricultural production and postproduction issues, it became apparent that the extension system, especially the frontline extension agents, needed to be equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and competencies to effectively disseminate crucial agricultural information and technology needed for sustainable agricultural development. Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education (SAFE, www.safe-africa.org, www.saa-safe.org/) has taken the lead in developing responsive, custom-made agricultural extension education and rural leadership programs that reach out to development professionals that work directly with rural people to improve their livelihoods.