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Can We Improve Public Extension Services Using Corporate Social Responsibility Funds?

In October 2018, I gave a presentation on Seizing and Scaling Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for Improving Public Extension Services at the 9th Annual Meeting of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) at Jeonju in the Republic of Korea. I wish to share some of what I said there.

Many of you will agree with me that public extension services are increasingly being criticized for being inefficient and ineffective in many countries. Public extension services are often inadequate to meet the needs of diverse stakeholders in the agricultural sector mostly due to a lack of funding and associated problems. No matter how pluralism is spreading in matters of rural advisory services (RAS), public extension services still matter a lot to many farmers in poor developing countries. If this is the case, should we not look for innovative options to make these services impactful?

In April 2014, the Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs revised the Companies Act of 2013, incorporating provisions pertaining to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies. This Act makes it mandatory for a certain class of enterprises in India to spend at least two percent of their profit on social development activities. Over the past four years, Indian companies spent US$51.6 million on CSR. Tapping into CSR funds to implement extension activities including farmer trainings could provide a means to strengthen public extension services through collaboration and establishing public-private partnerships. Already, some Indian companies are engaged in enhancing the capacities of farmers under their CSR initiatives and looking forward to forging partnership with public institutions  with technical expertise and logistics for extension activities. We have seen appreciable CSR activities in the agricultural sector, including CSR interventions in India’s livestock sector.

My institute, the ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute, organized Farmers’ Awareness cum Animal Health camps in partnership with Tata Chemicals and Reliance Foundation, as well as trainings for farmers on improved animal husbandry in collaboration with BAIF Institute for Sustainable Livelihoods and Development, with sponsorship from Dalmia Bharat Foundation under CSR. The farmer training and extension wing of our institute also successfully collaborated with Mrida Renergy and Development Pvt. Ltd. for empowerment of rural youth and practicing farmers. 

CSR is beneficial for corporate organizations, too, through improving their image and reputation and enhancing the livelihood of communities by incorporating them into the supply chains relevant to the company, building trust among their target communities, etc. Using CSR funds for strengthening agricultural extension services can somewhat mitigate funding shortfalls. Extension and Advisory Services (EAS) should actively forge partnerships with private sector companies to channel funds into targeted programs. EAS and the private sector can complement each other; where one has staff and organizational infrastructure but too little funding, companies have funds but no staff, infrastructure or technical expertise for extension work. We can do better together, combining private funds with expertise and infrastructure of public extension services toward achieving sustainable development goals.

While inaugurating a high level workshop on CSR and Agriculture Development, Mrs V. Usha Rani, Director General, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad, India remarked that the CSR funds can make huge difference at agriculture. The Indian government has recently constituted a committee to review the existing framework and formulate the roadmap for a coherent policy on CSR.

I strongly believe that public EAS should make a good case for why companies should invest CSR funds with them, not just on education, health, nature conservation, wildlife protection, etc., on which they are mostly spending currently. Can we formulate evidence-based policy or draw a roadmap which motivates companies to support and collaborate with public extension services?

We have to meet the value proposition that the companies have for the use of their CSR funds, so they are keen to invest in this domain. I suggest working out the modalities and developing implementable frameworks to make the best possible use of CSR funds for achieving SDGs via better investments in EAS.      

I do see bright prospects for strengthening public extension services by making good use of CSR funds. How do you see this?

Dr Mahesh Chander (mchanderivri@gmail.com) is the Head, Division of Extension Education, ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute. The views expressed are personal and cannot be attributed to ICAR or Agrilinks.