Success Factors in Private Agricultural Extension
This post was written by Juliet Macdowell, SCOPEinsight, and Margaret Anderson, CNFA
In the 1970s up until recently, most developing countries had agricultural sectors with extensive public oversight; this state control often extended into regulating the supply of physical inputs, extending credit, conducting research, and providing extension services. In the past decade, however, there has been a growing interest in, and a movement towards, more pluralistic approaches to providing services and oversight to the agricultural sector. One factor propelling a widening of approaches (and actors) is the growing recognition that public sector-dominated agriculture is not entirely sustainable in developing countries as populations continue to grow alongside outstretched government budgets. Certain agricultural value chain functions, such as extension services, may be more effectively delivered by private sector actors.
Major obstacles to agricultural productivity include limited access to quality agricultural inputs and limited access to relevant extension services. Consequently, private agro-input retailers are uniquely positioned to address these challenges and support farmers (FOs, agribusinesses, producers) through the provision of quality inputs as well as extension and advisory services. Farmer-facing input retailers, in particular, are well situated and incentivized to provide extension services. The success of the input retailer is directly connected to the success of their farmer customers.
For extension services to be of a higher level of quality, market actors need to possess certain skillsets to enable the transfer of knowledge and services. Furthermore, retailer-supplied extension services are only sustainable if the businesses of the retailers themselves are viable and thriving. Unfortunately, the reality is that many agribusinesses and agro-input retailers continue to struggle. For agro-input retailers, their challenges often include (but are not limited to) a lack of business acumen, access to finance, and technical knowledge.
The gaps in business acumen and the desire to help agro-input retailers provided the motivation for SCOPEinsight to work with the IFC, CNFA, Bayer, and Syngenta on developing a diagnostic tool to measure the level of professionalism of agro-input retailers in developing countries. Improving the professionalism of agro-input retailers, in combination with the right market incentives, will support them in optimizing their viability and performance in the market. Improving professionalism starts with assessing the strengths and weaknesses of an input retailer. The Input Retailer Assessment Tool measures five key performance areas: internal management, operations, sustainability, market, and financial management.
Over the past year, the Input Retailer Assessment Tool was piloted among agro-input retailers in three countries: Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Honduras. Preliminary results from this pilot demonstrate similarities in weaknesses across a wide range of agro-input retailers. For example, internal management is a significant weakness for input suppliers across all three countries. Importantly, the results from these pilots have informed the development of a curriculum (by CNFA and the IFC) to help agro-input retailers improve their level of professionalism, thereby enabling them to operate at a higher level and provide better services to their farmer customers, including direct extension services through formal and informal trainings, product advice and demonstration of new technologies and practices. The improved professionalism of agro-input retailers provides additional outlets for global agribusiness suppliers to expand their retail networks. With tailored advice that is aligned with market incentives, agro-input retailers offer an excellent route to partner with the private sector for sustainable and scalable improvement of agricultural extension services.
 The scores which are calculated once an assessment is completed ranges from one (being very immature) to five (very professional) and demonstrates how professional an agro-input retailer is by highlighting their strengths and weaknesses per performance area.