AgEx: EWB’s Agricultural Extension Team
What is agricultural extension?
Agricultural extension is the provision and facilitation of agricultural information. Extension usually refers to the link between research, or those generating new information, and farmers, who can harness the information to maximize productivity and profitability. Extension often uses behaviour change techniques to “sell” new ideas to farmers. It can also involve sharing existing knowledge among farmers about indigenous farming practices.
Delivering high-quality extension services does not just involve field work. Where can we add quality to extension services?
Key components of Extension
Mode of extension – how the information reaches the farmers who need it (ie. internet, radio, SMS, extension agent, peer farmers, farm institutes, knowledge fairs)
Approach to extension – how the information is presented to farmers (ie. participatory approaches, behaviour change approaches, group training workshops, training & visit, marketing techniques)
Content of extension – information that is being transmitted to farmers (ie. good agric practices, business skills, commodity-specific information, environmental conservation techniques, healthy & safety practices, new research, info on products, markets and services)
Why are we working in agricultural extension services?
- Extension is the primary way that farmers can gain information about how to farm better. This includes growing a higher quality and quantity of food, thereby increasing incomes. It can also mean adopting environmental preservation techniques and diversifying livelihoods to reduce vulnerability to shocks.
- The extension system in Ghana impacts millions of people. Over 60% of Ghanaians are farmers, most of them smallholders. They rely on extension services and other information sources to gain information about good agricultural practices, new research and technology.
- Small changes in the system can have a wide-reaching effect. Extension is a cross-cutting function that is incorporated into almost every agricultural project and organization. Making one small change to an approach or policy can therefore have a significant effect.
- We are uniquely positioned to address this problem. Despite the fact that many organizations are performing extension services, most do not focus explicitly on their approach to extension.
What is the problem with the current system?
- Access to services. Government is the primary extension service provider in Ghana, but lacks the resources (people and money) to effectively serve all farmers. NGOs, projects and private companies fill some of the gaps, but many farmers remain without access to extension.
- Demand for services. Because extension services have been freely provided for decades by Ghanaian government and civil society, farmers are reticent to pay. The cultural norm of “free extension” has made it difficult for companies to find customers who are willing to pay for high-quality extension services.
- Quality of services. Effective extension requires more than simple information provision to farmers. Extension must incorporate complex behaviour change approaches to promote good agricultural practices. Projects and service providers must innovate to find more effective extension methods and stop wasting resources where they are unsuccessful.
- Lack of profit-driven decision-making by farmers. Many farmers make decisions using a wider set of criteria than just profit, and many others do not have the business skills to perform this analysis and make business-minded decisions. Extension information that assumes the “rational business-minded farmer” is often ineffective or irrelevant.
- Coordination of services. There is a lot of repetition in the sector. Sometimes one farmer is working with five similar projects/service providers, while other farmers are left out. Service providers fail to gain efficiencies by working together. They also fail to learn about best practices and new techniques that can help them all to improve their services.
- Top-down incentives. Farmers have few mechanisms to hold service providers accountable. Most projects and providers are accountable up, to donors, rather than down, to farmers.
A coordinated, competitive and innovative agricultural extension services sector
Why Coordinated? All Ghanaians should have access to services, so no areas are missed and there is no duplication of efforts. Best practices are shared and scaled by multiple service providers.
Why Competitive? Healthy competition where farmers are seen as clients will empower all farmers, even the poorest, to ask for what they need. This results in a strong customer-service orientation and higher quality extension services by service providers.
Why Innovative? Innovation in means and approaches to extension will continuously drive the sector toward more efficient and effective service delivery.