This September, Agrilinks Examines Trends and Challenges in Agricultural Extension
Agricultural extension and advisory services (EAS) provide essential support to smallholder farmers to break the cycle of low productivity, vulnerability and poverty. This September, Feed the Future is teaming up with Agrilinks to highlight investments and programs that are working to build a stronger, global community of practice around EAS. By providing farmers with knowledge and tools about modern agricultural practices, facilitating co-learning, linking to new technologies and increasing access to finance and market solutions, EAS can be a critical force for change.
However, there is no standardized approach to strengthen EAS in developing countries, and efforts to improve its delivery are uneven and at times remain the purview of one-off demonstrations or studies. Agricultural extension strategies in developing countries have been built on traditional, top-down approaches that rely on “transfer of technology” models, inflexible packages of recommended inputs and practices and learning methods that lack a nuanced understanding of how farmers learn and innovate.
While these approaches may provide important technical support to some smallholders, they often lack a context-specific approach to solving problems that can only be addressed through empowerment, genuine participation, two-way communication and responsiveness to local needs (Bernard et al, 2014). Often, linkages between formal extension services and farmers are tenuous, as are linkages between extension agents, farmers, other generators of knowledge and organizations that can capture and analyze data to improve EAS.
Optimizing EAS sustainability, scalability, relevance and replicability requires strengthening linkages among actors in the agricultural innovation system. These actors include research institutions, universities and other national agricultural research system actors; rural civil society organizations; public-sector agencies; farmer associations; input distributors; and other value chain actors. In this pluralistic view, mobilizing the potential of extension is about enabling actors to share useful, accurate, timely and adaptable information and advice with and among farmers that will result in sustainable, poverty-reducing growth in agricultural productivity and rural economic activity (FAO, 2014). Strengthening EAS requires improving the innovative capacity of traditional public extension agents while also broadening the set of actors engaged in EAS knowledge generation, distribution, data capture and feedback.
Feed the Future has made strategic investments in supporting EAS at the country, regional and global scales. This includes the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) Project, Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENAES) Project and Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC) Project. For example, MEAS collaborated with public systems and governments, donor-funded projects, non-governmental organizations, public-sector entities, farmers’ unions and civil society organizations to reach more than 11 million farmers over the life of the project. See the sidebar to the right to explore some posts and resources generated by these projects and others of their kind.
We look forward to hearing from you about your own experiences with agricultural extension, whether successes, challenges or both. Please join us by sharing your own posts and commenting on the ones we’ll be sharing throughout the month, and make sure you’re subscribed to Agrilinks to learn about additional activities we’ll be holding this month, such as a webinar and “ask the expert.”