farmers meeting - by Ruud Ludemann


Rural extension services on their way forward

With agriculture at the heart of the poverty reduction discussion, CDI undertook a strategic review of current trends in agricultural extension services identifying successes and making recommendations for the wider field.

Renewed focus on agriculture and rural development

According to the World Development Report of 2008, poverty is more effectively reduced by growth in the agricultural sector than by growth outside the sector.  Agriculture thus needs to get more prominence, at global level as well as local level. Especially in countries where the majority of the rural population depends on agriculture for their subsistence and income, the development of the agricultural sector is a top priority.

In the effort to reduce poverty, it is important to improve the capacity of the rural poor to generate income. Extension Advisory Services can be very instrumental in this respect. Through extension education and training such services assist farmer groups in their decision-making and daily practices in the aim of making a living through efficient use of the resources they can access and may use.

Understanding the diverse world of rural extension services …

How and to what extent do extension advisory services contribute to agricultural and rural development, improving the livelihoods of smallholders and increasing agricultural productivity? The way these services are provided is conditioned by the local and institutional setting in which the providers are operating. Accordingly, there is a wide diversity of extension advisory services in different countries, and over time these services have to evolve and adapt to changes in the macro-economic conditions and the political context.

To understand the current world of rural extension services, and to identify the do’s and don’ts, the Centre for Development Innovation (CDI), Wageningen UR conducted a review study of the trends in these services. We analysed recent experiences and best practices in the field of agricultural advisory services for smallholders in developing countries. Three case-studies, examples of good-practices, were selected from different geographical, economic and social contexts and subjected to a detailed analysis of their critical features in order to formulate a set of realistic recommendations.

… and strengthening this world

To be effective, extension support should be situation and context specific, attuned to the particular features and capacities of the people it is working with. This goes beyond technical instructions, skills training and demonstrations. It requires a holistic, comprehensive and differentiating approach, paying attention to how innovations can be adapted into existing practices, knowing the conditions to be complied with. Most providers are not equipped to provide this ideal type of service, because they are lacking know-how, resources, skilled staff, clear guidance, or political back-up. Extension advisory services themselves therefore need support to strengthen their own capacities.

After a baseline study to understand the specific characteristics and needs of the extension services of a country, interventions on different domains can be considered, such as strengthening the capacity for the development of extension policies, building knowledge and skills for an integrated and systemic approach, and exploring the possibilities of mixed public-private funding.