Performance Incentives for Development Agents in Ethiopia: Policy Direction for Rural Transformation Efforts
As part of the larger Ethiopian transformation efforts, development agents (DAs) training and educations and expansion of learning centers (farmer's training centers) were given priority. Through a combined effort from different actors, so far Ethiopia has more than 8,489 farmer's training centers (FTCs) and about 62,764 DAs. The efficiency and effectiveness of extensions work and advisory services has, however, been limited by many factors.
The main limiting factors for the proper operation of FTCs have been identified as limited availability of resources including the provision of basic infrastructure, running funds, and resources at the FTC and woreda level. Most importantly, the design and provision of FTCs is not sufficient for the demand and needs of farmers. It lacks the basics motive to make it an infrastructure that is farmer-driven and market-oriented. Many of the FTCs have now either closed or failed to bring the desired outcome.
With regard to DAs, studies from various countries have identified key factors lowering the motivation and hence performance of employees in agricultural extension services. KIT, in its Sustainable Economic Development and Gender series, has summarized a list of limiting factors that contribute to lowering motivation and performance of development agents (DAs). These include lower remuneration, lack of promotion, low status and recognition, lack of professional advancement, lack of recognition and performance measurement, and many other factors. As a result, despite becoming a pillar in the rural transformation and food security efforts of Ethiopia, the resulted DAs are far from expected. There is a significant lack of motivation, and many of them are trapped by “business as usual” syndrome.
In order to break the vicious cycle of rural poverty, it is essential to create a motivated, passionate, and visionary DA. In this piece, I argue on the implication of performance-based incentives that require minimal to no budget consideration within the agricultural department. Under a meager resource scarcity, a regional or zonal agricultural office can at least design a performance based incentive packages with small or no budget consideration.
The literature on employees incentives and performance suggests that performance-based incentives can be either personal or companywide. These include bonuses, merit pay, sales communion, awards, gainsharing, profit sharing, and stock options. Hence, to improve DAs performance, a reasonable incentive and motivational package should be in place. A motivated DA can change the farmers' behavior and shows enthusiasm and passion to his job.
Learning is contagious; an enthusiasm and passion towards one’s profession can positively influence learners’ attitude and possibly improve the learning outcome. A well trained, motivated, and passionate DA can easily changes and convince his clients (farmers). An incentive package designed to benefit development agents can fasten the long-awaited rural transformation and food security objectives of the country. Ethiopia has so far implemented different development related policies with goal of attaining sustainable development and rural transformation.
Figure 1. Demonstration sites. Photo Credit: CIMMYT (2013)
The Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) (2005/06 – 2009/10) and PASDEP II (2011 – 2014) had set a goal to ensure overall economic development via setting sustainable and broad economic base, thereby moving Ethiopia out from abject poverty. With a specific focus to agriculture, PASDEP has put forward to build a modern and productive agricultural sector with enhanced technology. However, life has remained static for most smallholder farmers in Ethiopia, and more effort is still demanding.
Climate change has already posed greater risk on smallholder farmers. Due to their little or no resilience, and adaptive capacity to shocks like climate change, farmers remained vulnerable to weather and climate change. Agricultural related climate change adaptation, technology innovation, and adoption efforts are being made at different scales. However, the success of such efforts are trapped by many constraints. Efforts being made by DAs also lack goal orientation and passion at changing the lives of poor smallholder farmers. Lack of performance incentives and motivation set the DA on the business as usual syndrome.
An incentive package that has little to non-budget considerations makes it easier to happen and implement new ideas. In this piece, we argue that DAs can perform better, efficiently, and accelerate the rural transformation efforts if incentivized and provided a kind of accommodating environment.
Why incentives to DA?
In the Ethiopian rural development program, DAs are part of the critical workforce. Unlike other agricultural and rural development experts, development agents are detached from urban lifestyle and forced to work under harsh environment. They are working in an infrastructure deprived of locality — traveling miles with foot every day, lacking the basic office facility, and pursuing minimal educational opportunities. More and more, the business as usual syndrome built up for millennia in the civil administration has left them with little incentive to aspire and work towards a better future through changing the livelihood of the smallholder farmers. The kind of incentives that need to be experimented for effectiveness are explained below.
Farmland incentive to the DA
Farmland in today’s Ethiopia is a very scarce resource. Average landholding size in Ethiopia is about 1.2 ha. Farmland is a great provision and fortune if made available to anyone in today’s Ethiopia. As a result, the DA having a farmland would give him a better incentive and status to earn additional income. It would also put them in a better position to build asset base. The farmland beyond its incentive objectives would also use as pilot site for the different farm related trails and experiments. This makes the incentive a double sword. In lieu of this, we need to put certain restraints on the provisions of incentives to make sure that the incentive is performance based. The privileges (farmland and house may be), should be subject to certain performance indicators.
Crop extension workers
Possible performance indicators for crop related extension workers include: i) enrolling at least 50% of the farmers in adoption of new crop varieties or any new technologies during a given harvest season; and ii) identify a local based innovation (institutional or technological) that would put the village in a better comparative advantage. For instance, agro-ecosystem based rural transformation can be an innovative farming strategy that enables to utilize peculiar resources potentials. By doing so, it is possible to make the village having a “flagship” crop variety. The DA, therefore, should come up with such type of transformative innovative ideas after one year of employment. Upon successful accomplishment, he will in-turn get a farmland incentive, and a reasonable accommodation that compensates his hard work, effort and commitment. To learn more about the outcome of such type of incentives, we are now in close contact with regional offices of Ethiopia and developing field experiments.
Water and irrigation extension workers
In Ethiopia, despite having abundant water resources, the majority of farmers are dependent on seasonal rained agriculture. The total estimated area of irrigated agriculture in the country in 2014 was only 6%. Building on the innovative capacity and performance of DAs working on the water and irrigation extension services is believed to change the situation. The possible performance indicators for the water and irrigation related DAs include the following:
- They need to do research and document the available water potentials in the localities. Quantifying the underground, small streams, rivers, and water harvesting potential of each village or cluster of villages helps to design a better coordinated irrigation intervention;
- Having documented the water related potentials of a given locality, the DA has to show at least 45% of his clients (farmers) enrolled in irrigation farming. With the same fashion, to learn more about the outcome of such performance based incentive packages, we are now in close contact with regional offices of Ethiopia and developing field level experiments.
Creating a competition platform among DAs
Barry and Stiglitz explained these compensation schemes as desirable when environmental uncertainty is large, and have shown to be preferable to individualistic reward structures. In addition, evidence from behavioral studies, like envy and dictator games, shows that there is a growing evidence indicating that people tend to act better when exposed to a situation where there is competition over resources. The DAs can also be given a chance to compete with their fellow extension workers. The competition can be designed based on: i) the rate of adoption under the DA’s premises, ii) new ways of irrigation farming methods introduced through his efforts, and iii) marginal productivity at local level due to irrigation practices. The competition can be a further education or training.
Learning and experience sharing platform
FTCs are a near past in the Ethiopian agricultural transformation history. However, it failed to achieve the desired goal of rural transformation. FTCs had experienced multifaceted problems from the outset and were established without considering the needs and demands of farmers. They hardly have the basic resources to function properly. They simply were “ideal but useless”. A new approach that would rather grounded on evidence-based intervention is setting out a pilot lab that is owned and run by the DA. Farmers are being defined as risk-averse to new way of thinking and technology adoption. As a result, we need to work hard and provide them with the information and practical evidence that helped them to change their behavior. Farmers have shown a change in behavior when exposed to peers and share experiences. Farmers need a tangible and practical evidence to learn and then change their behavior. Beyond, the practical efforts being made to motivate the DA, different pilot sites should be introduced. The pilot sites should not necessary be at local level. Arranging villages on agro-ecosystems bases, and establishing a pilot site for practical evidence base learning center would have paramount importance to facilitate rural transformation. This policy alternative is also under consideration in our larger experimental study.
In conclusion, to create a resilient farm household having a strong adaptive capacity to unforeseen events, DAs are pivotal and play key role in facilitating the rural transformation process. However, under the current set up and arrangement, rural transformation is far from our reach. A package that enables the creation of a motivated and willful DA should be a high time agenda. Learning platforms are critical for an effective group coordination, participatory learning, and enabling the feedback loop between theory and practice. Therefore, an evidence based pilot lab should be established under the lead, ownership, and management of the DA.