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Agriculture, Research Summary

Changes in Agricultural Extension and Implications for Farmer Adoption of New Practices

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Agricultural extension means giving farmers knowledge about the scientific researches and new technologies so that they can apply them in their agronomic techniques to improve their food security, productivity and livelihood. Agricultural extension spreads information from local and global research to farmers.

Traditional extension services such as face-to-face advisory services, group meetings, printed extension reports have now shifted to new information and communication technologies (ICT) such as cell-phone apps and distance learning. They inclusively address topics such as marketing, environmental sustainability, pest diagnostics and risk management. Shift in services is due to a. ineffective existing models b. development of better tools for delivery.

Extension service now relies on multiple delivery mechanisms and alternative funding sources, public and private. Farmers and farming conditions vary within small regions requiring heterogeneous technologies and option to pick and choose among alternatives. Rigid recommendations of models without the possibility of substitution are likely to be rejected. Teaching models developed with insufficient understanding of how farmers learn efficiently do not build farmer’s capacity.

Agricultural extension changes

Extension is partly public and partly private good, and as the boundaries shift between the two types of goods, pressures build to reform agricultural extension to save scarce resources. Changes in extension are primarily driven by:

1. Structural changes

Commercialization of farms increases the demand for client-specific extension information regarding improved productivity and profitability. This information may come from private advisory services and input suppliers. Public extension services can redirect towards needs of smaller – scale, non-commercial farmers or addressing natural resource/ environmental problems.

2. Changes in information and communication technologies

Increased cell phone access has resulted low-cost extension and advisory systems with timely messages. However, such messages are simpler than those transmitted through face-to-face instruction. ICT based extension services has functioned with gender balance reaching out to male and female decision makers.

3. Funding support

Governments and international donors financing for agricultural extension were strong in the 1970s and 1980s. However, systems such as Training and Visit (T&V) were cost ineffective and suffered reduced funding due to public debt crisis in several countries. Investments in public assets such as roads, irrigation systems made cutbacks to extension services.

4. Government decentralization

Decentralization facilitates production and delivery of site-specific information. Extension agents report to local public officials than higher-level ministry and extension agency administrators. However, extension programs face challenges of inadequate local funding, dependence on unreliable and conditional central governmental grants, difficulty in attracting and retaining staff, corruption and capture by local elites.

Effects of agricultural extension changes

As the agricultural sector shrinks, fewer people are familiar with needs of farmers but due to increased income, countries can more easily support extension services. Due to changes in extension systems public resources are spread thin in extension. Adoption of complex knowledge intensive technologies remain limited. However, diffusion of agricultural innovations and growth in agricultural productivity continue in most countries. The difficulty in attributing the economic impacts of extension efforts due to limited data and statistical identification has led to small extension budgets for the immense task. Donor support in extension sector has hindered support by domestic agricultural ministries.

Extension servicesDelivery mechanismsFinancing mechanisms
Face-to-face advisory services for individual farmersPublic and privatePublic and private (by farmers)
Group meetings with farmers/ demonstrations/ field days/ workshopsMostly publicPublic and private
Season-long farmer field schools/ trainingPublic and private (NGOs)Public
Printed extension reports and pamphletsPublicPublic
Radio and TV programs targeted at farmersPublic and privatePublic and private
Phone and computer messaging for farmers (mass media)Public and privatePublic and private
Pest diagnostic servicesPublic and privatePublic and private (by farmers)
Product quality certificationPublic and privatePublic and private (by farmers)
Table 1. Typology of Typical Extension Services

Suggestions for policy makers and public agricultural extension agencies

The pluralism of public and private sector financing and implementing extension activities relieves part of financial burden on the public sector. It facilitates flexibility, accountability and inclusiveness. Differing roles of multiple extension service providers must be considered for the coordination. Extension services emphasize monitoring over evaluation on what works, which approaches are most cost-effective. Decentralizing programs should not be political enough to be captured by those in power. The linkage between extension and farmer groups through periodic meetings along with use of electronic media, farmer federations, community business facilitators should be encouraged.

Citation to original paper

Norton, G. & Alwang, J. (2020). Changes in Agricultural Extension and Implications for Farmer Adoption of New Practices. Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, 42(1), 8-20. doi: 10.1002/aepp.13008

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Manisha Koirala

Manisha Koirala

Manisha Koirala is Jennifer Headley Memorial Scholar at WWF, Nepal. She is now pursuing Bachelor in Agriculture in Lamjung. Getting surrounded by creative minds and bringing out the innovations to solve problems aspires her to grow every day.

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