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Making agricultural extension services work for smallholder farmers

Inclusion, coordination, and accountability: challenging buzzwords in agricultural extension

“We no longer hear the sound of the extension officer’s Yamaha motorbike. Nowadays they don’t come to the field. They remain in the offices. If you have an urgent issue, you will have to pay for the officer’s transport to come and visit your farm. Many of us cannot afford this.”

These sentiments by a farmer in western Kenya are common amongst farmers, many of whom are referred to as smallholder farmers because they farm on land that is less than two and a half times the size of a football pitch. Often, the space only provides enough food for the family. Provision of agricultural extension services, comprising among other, information, knowledge and skills, are core to farmers if they are to effectively improve food production and implement sustainable land management (SLM) practices. Yet, as demonstrated by the multi-stakeholder dialogues conducted under TMG-led accompanying research, farmers are not adequately receiving these services due to a range of obstacles (see Fig. 1 below). In particular, farmers and agricultural sector stakeholders prioritised inclusion, coordination and accountability as the main challenges in extension service provision.

A peer review process for improving public extension services provision

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Based on the mutually identified priority challenges, TMG and the county governments of Siaya, Kakamega and Bungoma designed a peer review process to improve the current extension service delivery systems in their respective counties.

INCLUSION: Poor and food-insecure farmers cannot be left alone to shoulder the financial burden of extension services provision
Called “demand-driven extension policy” in technical documents providing public agricultural extension services based on what farmers ask for negates the spirit of inclusiveness – of “leaving no-one behind” as espoused by Sustainable Development Goals. The problem is that this policy puts the responsibility of bearing the costs of extension services on farmers. While this arrangement works well for commercial farmers, subsistence farmers – many of them poor and without school education – hardly understand how the demand-driven extension approach works.

A rare picture: women extension agent with men farmers, Bouéré, Burkina Faso. © L. Stiem-Bhatia

Under the banner of “farming as a business” the public policy shift towards commercialisation has also resulted in a concentration of extension services on a few prioritised agricultural value chains, most of which are based on non-food cash crops like sugarcane and cotton. Subsistence farmers like those in the cotton growing areas of Benin are systematically excluded from receiving extension services. In the Indian region of Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, millets and maize – the main food crops of indigenous communities – are excluded from agricultural extension services, which focus on rice-wheat production systems.

COORDINATION: Pluralism of extension services provision must be accompanied by structures of coordination and regulation
With decreasing budgets, many governments, especially in developing countries, have opened the field of extension service provision to a variety of private service providers. But coordination remains a key challenge to pluralistic extension services provision. In India and Kenya, coordination across sectors such as crops, livestock, fisheries, and forestry is largely lacking, as is the sharing of resources – both within and between governmental departments as well as among private sector extension service providers working with smallholder farmers. There is little coordination and harmonisation of extension information packages, resulting in conflicting messages to farmers. Without harmonised roles, different extension provision actors work in different locations and times based on their financial resources and interests, resulting in unpredictable service provision.

TMG Research and institutional stakeholders of the agricultural sector in western Kenya adopted a peer review process as a platform where stakeholders critically examined options for providing effective agricultural extension services.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Accountability towards farmers must go beyond policy framework to action
Our research in Benin, Burkina Faso, India and Kenya noted the unidirectional, upward accountability of extension towards bureaucratic hierarchies, and with little reference to users of extension services – the farmers. Accountability and complaint mechanisms are rarely accessible to farmers. As a result, field agents are not accountable to farmers for the quality of their extension work and the quality of service provision is usually measured by activities, spending or quantitative indicators at best; results-based indicators are rare.

Consequently, farmers and civil society actors in these countries demanded effective feedback loops with extension service providers. During multi-stakeholder meetings in Benin, farmers and institutional actors suggested performance-based mechanisms to ensure quality control of field agents’ work, for instance based on their terms of service (“cahier des charges”, adoption rates, presence at work).

Governor’s Day with Farmers

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Stakeholders in Western Kenya proposed lobbying for institutionalisation of a Governor’s Day with Farmers as a first policy step to entrenching accountability of public agricultural investments to farmers. It is envisioned to be an annual round-table with the local government’s top policymakers and farmers. It aims at providing a direct feedback platform on farmers’ concerns. Kakamega County Farmers Association (KACOFA), an apex body representing farmer groups in Kakamega County, is in process of mobilising the relevant stakeholders for the implementation of this proposal.

Publications

Study Extension Services 2017

Making extension services work for food security and sustainable land management

Strategic recommendations for targeting smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and India.

Theo Rauch, David Kersting

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