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Does “extension” address the needs of inclusive agricultural development?

Does “extension” address the needs of inclusive agricultural development?

Publicado el: 13 - octubre - 2016

“Extension and Rural Advisory Services” – diverging worlds?”

Recently I was sitting in a discussion of “professionalization of rural advisory services”, as part of the 7th Annual Meeting of The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), when (admittedly not paying sufficient attention) I got an email. It turned out to be from Scope Insight, an organization based in the Netherlands, with information about the “Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance” (AMEA). The theme of the GFRAS conference was on “The Role of Rural Advisory Services for Inclusive Agripreneurship”. AMEA is seeking to introduce “a new holistic approach to help professionalize farmers and create opportunities for them in the marketplace”. So you would think there would be overlap between the GFRAS and AMEA networks and their organizations. But seemingly not so.

The name of GFRAS (The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services) implies that “pluralistic advisory services” better describes current and future reality and service needs of farmers than the term “extension” - with its implications of a monolithic government supplied service, focussing only or mainly on production issues. At least, I take “plurality” to imply not only different types of organization supplying advice to farmers – such as NGOs, private sector, farmers’ organizations, in addition to public sector extensionists – but also the different types of services that small-holder farmers require (technical services, organizational services, financial services, business development services, etc.).

Somewhat as a devil’s advocate, I suggested to colleagues at the meeting that we should now abandon the term “extension”. However, there are many professionals whose job description includes the word, or who argued that “conventional extension” is still needed to reach the majority of farmers who are not yet producing mainly for the market. Related to this is the feeling by some that linking farmers to private companies is either difficult – or will inevitably lead to their exploitation. It seems to me that many professionals still see themselves as “extensionists”, rather than as providers of rural advisory services.

The key word of the GFRAS conference was “agripreneurship”. This was understood by many of those present as developing innovative ideas by individual farmers (leading, inevitably, to issues of “going to scale”). The strategy being promoted by many programmes in value chain development (such as those in the 2SCALE project, and other private-public-partnership mechanisms) is often more oriented towards working backwards from the needs of agribusiness, and organizing, linking groups of farmers to supply the raw materials needed by this agribusiness. These programmes are fast developing their own array of farmer services, often not in terms of “extension”, and the networks around these services.

Are we seeing different and diverging networks that, at first glance, seem to be talking about the same subject but that see the world through the different perspectives of the private and public sector? Is there a risk of “extension” being seen as increasingly outdated or irrelevant to programmes of “inclusive agribusiness development”? Should we be content to let this happen, or should we try to bridge the gap between these different worlds?

I would appreciate to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to use the comment section below to share your views.

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