Commentary: Putting Agricultural Extension Back on the Development Agenda
Agricultural extension (also known as agricultural or rural advisory services) plays a crucial role in promoting productivity, increasing food security, improving rural livelihoods, and promoting agriculture as an engine of pro-poor economic growth. Though it fell off the development agenda for a number of years, a recent confluence of factors—such as rising food prices, renewed government and donor interest in agriculture and advisory services, and a broad commitment to restructure global agricultural development institutions—has led to a resurgence of interest. This interest was solidified through the Assisi Statement released by the Neuchâtel Initiative in September 2009 (www.neuchatelinitiative.net).
Now that extension is back on the agenda, it needs to be strengthened, improved, and revitalized in order to help meet the new challenges facing agriculture, such as changes in the global food system, growth in non-farm rural employment and agribusiness, health challenges affecting rural livelihoods, the deterioration of the natural resource base, and climate change. There are four key ways to do this:
1. Provide a voice for extension within global policy dialogs
Until recently, there was no forum to speak for and support extension, in contrast to the large and well-developed international structures in agricultural research. Stakeholders have recognized that a more formal, dynamic, and proactive structure is needed. This will enhance understanding of the important role extension has to play in global food security, climate change, environmental protection, and other critical global issues.
2. Support the development and synthesis of evidence-based approaches and policies for improving extension
Policymakers, planners, and implementers need to know what types of extension approaches and methods are appropriate to use. But because it is difficult to show impact of extension, there is insufficient convincing knowledge and evidence about what constitutes effective approaches and methods. Better evaluation tools are needed, along with appropriate advice for those who want to plan and implement extension programs.
3. Facilitate interaction and networking for institutional and individual capacity strengthening in extension
Extension practitioners and managers typically do not have much chance peer exchange. This kind of interaction allows for experience sharing that can strengthen capacity of extension staff and their organizations. Strengthening the human resources and institutions in extension will greatly enhance their effectiveness.
4. Promote the creation of an enabling environment for improved investment in extension
The focus on extension has fluctuated widely on the agendas of governments, program planners, and donors in the past. Today, it is back on the agenda, but there is no clear information about where or how to invest in extension. Nor is it always clear what the role of extension is within the broader rural development agenda. There is a need to provide information on why it is important to invest, how to invest, and what the critical role of extension is within the broader rural development framework.
The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services was formed in early 2010 to address these issues. The Forum provides a space for advocacy and leadership on extension at the global and regional levels. At the global level, it provides a voice, enables dialog, and promotes an enabling environment within the global agricultural and rural development arena. At the regional level, the Forum enables interaction and networking to strengthen individual, organizational, and institutional capabilities and to backstop regional extension.
At a time when interest in the agricultural sector as an engine for growth is high, initiatives like the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services will help enhance the role of the sector in achieving important goals for pro-poor economic development. Policymakers who learn from case studies where extension services have been successfully revived and who utilize this effective tool in accordance with the conditions and needs of their own countries may achieve high returns on their investment.
For more information, please see www.g-fras.org.