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Extension Opinion No. 22: Institutional dimensions of extension policy


SUBMISSION: NATIONAL EXTENSION POLICY (NEP)
(1) Form of extension policy: Legislated Extension Policy (regulated by an Act of Parliament).
Extension policies embodied by the country's highest law-making authority (e.g., congress or parliament) are common in many developing countries. Countries that have enacted extension policy through legislative action tend to have well-organized, financially stable extension systems that have sustained effectiveness and a cumulative impact.  

(2) Organisational Issues: Pluralistic forms of a national extension system. 
This is an emerging form of extension organization in many countries, but it is not yet reflected in national extension policy. This structure appears to occur in those countries where the need for extension services is widespread and/or where the public agricultural extension organization can no longer satisfy its clientele because of resource and management problems. As a consequence, many publicly and/or privately funded organizations, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are beginning to conduct agricultural extension programmes. Publicly funded extension organizations may include the crop, livestock, and horticulture departments of the ministry of agriculture, state-funded agricultural colleges and universities, and commodity boards. 

Privately funded organizations may include rural development-oriented NGOs, agribusiness firms (contract extension), and farmer organizations, including cooperatives and commodity associations. Generally, the geographical, subject-matter, and clientele coverage and the standard of work for each of these different organizations are not known. Also, these separate efforts are generally not well coordinated. For contemporary policy making in extension, it would be advisable that a roster or 'map' of all the publicly and privately funded extension programmes be established and a national extension policy formulated that would recognize this multiplicity of extension funding and programmes, and then to study the feasibility of a policy that would promote integration of the agricultural extension system.

(3) Extension Staffing Issues                                                                                         By the nature of the mission and work that an extension system carries out, its worth to society is largely reflected by the quality and number of the technical and professional staff in the organization. For a national programme of extension, the human resource question that policy makers and extension managers are confronted with is: Given the mission, scope of the work, and available resources, what type of qualifications and how many extension staff should be employed by the extension system? Part of this staffing matrix includes other questions: What should be the proportion of subject-matter specialists to field extension workers? What should be the proportion of field extension personnel to the number of farmers, farm households, or other target groups? How should extension staff be deployed, how often should they be transferred, and what incentives should be provided in order to ensure that they work closely with all categories of farmers? 

(4) Extension Funding 
The most difficult and challenging policy issue facing extension today is to secure a stable source of funding. With the widespread trend to cut government budgets, including structural adjustment programmes, many policy makers have the impression that public extension is both expensive and a drain on the government's limited resources. At the same time, studies carried out in both developed and developing countries indicate that the returns to extension expenditures are high. Therefore, policy makers should examine this issue carefully in deciding what level of public funding is necessary to support extension in relation to the needs of farmers in the country. 

While extension managers should look for ways to improve the efficiency and to reduce the cost of public extension (Wilson in Rivera & Gustafson, 1991, p. 13, and Gustafson in Rivera & Gustafson, 1991, p. 89), at the same time policy makers should look for ways to increase extension funding to adequate levels of support. In most developing countries, particularly the low-income, food-deficit countries, absolute levels of extension funding are very low. The Global Consultation on Agricultural Extension noted that 'the current level of funding for extension in most developing countries is insufficient to provide adequate coverage for all categories of farmers, especially those who are resource poor and at the subsistence level. With a few notable exceptions, the needs of women and young farmers are largely neglected' (Swanson, 1990, p. 25). In countries where funding support to extension is low, the funding for extension should be increased to levels that reflect the anticipated economic rates of return and the social benefits when public funds are properly invested and managed (Alexandratos, 1995, p. 344; Evenson in Jones, 1987, p. 76-86; Pavelia in FES, 1974, p. 2). 

The issue of funding extension continues to be the most difficult policy issue faced by extension. This issue is complicated by the increased demand for more extension services on the part of increasing numbers of farm households who have fewer land and water resources. Furthermore, extension is being called to integrate sustain-able development messages into its extension programmes. This results in 'working with less to do more.' 

(5) Stability 
A good extension policy promotes extension system stability, yet allows sufficient flexibility to reflect the dynamic nature of the agricultural sector. Extension should not be rigid; rather, 'It should be responsive to all major groups of farm people and sufficiently inclusive to allow public, private, and non-governmental organizations to contribute fully to the agricultural development goals of the country' (Swanson, 1990, p. 11). Frequent organizational changes within extension, such as being transferred from one government agency to another, directly impact the organization's effectiveness. Such instability is costly in that trained staff is poorly utilized and opportunities for improved productivity are forgone. Extension policies in some countries have been successful in preventing disruptive and destabilizing change. For more than 80 years, the U.S. has followed, with some flexibility, the 1914 Cooperative Extension Service law. For almost 50 years, Japan has followed its extension policy, and Thailand has successfully followed its extension policy for the past 40 years. In these countries, agricultural extension is recognized as having contributed significantly to increased agricultural productivity and development. 

Bonginkosi Zondo is a Senior Agricultural Advisor in the Department of Agriculture (KZN) with 25 years experience in agricultural extension and has presented at numerous symposia and conferences on extension.



Posted: 10/18/2012 (3:42:22 AM)


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