National Extension Policy
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Extension Opinion No 1: What a useful extension programme would look like

In participatory rural appraisals and semi-structured interviews conducted with small holder farmers in Mpumalanga, it is often distressing to see the results of stakeholder analysis. In most cases, the government extension services don’t feature in the stakeholder analysis and when questioned about the role played by extension the reactions tend to be negative: 
  • “The whole system is a problem, the services are non-existent, the extension officers don’t visit us and they don’t know what’s going on”, 
  • “There is no supervision of the extension officers, so they just do whatever they like, if I don’t supervise my workers on the farm they also will not do what they are supposed to, so actually I blame their managers”, 
  • “The extension officers are not equipped, they know less than the farmers, that’s why they don’t come because they have nothing to say”, 
  • “It used to be that if you have a problem and you call them then they come, but now they don’t”.
When asking farmers what a useful extension programme would look like, the first reaction was to say that it should first seek the opinions of farmers and find out what they need, not just do something that they don’t need. Other things needed include institutional support and governance training to farmers associations and cooperatives, access inputs for farming, access to markets, technical assistance such identifying and providing solutions for pests and diseases. Training is most often identified in the areas of bookkeeping, record keeping and budgeting. This type of training is generally not available from government extension but has been provided by organisations such as Mpumalanga Agri-Skills Development Trust (MASDT), GiZ’s Mpumalanga Rural Development Programme, Lima Rural Development Foundation and SEDA.

While it is impossible to please everybody all of the time and such negative reactions are also found in private sector extension services, we can and we should be continually looking at how we can improve our approaches and outputs to farmer support. Some approaches essential to a transformational farmer support service are:
  • A client oriented approach. The farmer is our client and we are there to provide a service, for which we are paid either by the farmer, the government, a donor or the private sector. Emphasis should be shifted from activities to outputs reflecting delivery. A client oriented approach seeks first the opinion and needs of the client and ends with assessing the achievement of that need, while always being accountable to the client. 
  • A livelihoods framework approach encourages participatory planning and will assist the extension officer to take a holistic view of assets and capabilities as well as vulnerabilities of a community, association or individual farmer.
  • Social facilitation and organisational skills are essential for extension officers to develop and utilise. Such skills are valuable to conduct meetings, determine farmer needs and priorities, evaluating impact and assisting farmers to develop collective social capital. 
  • Effective management systems, targets and reviews are necessary to provide guidance and support to extensioners in the field. 
  • Toolkits for extensioners, such as planning charts, planting tables, participatory planning guidelines, budget templates, constitution development guidelines. Many of these tools are already available on the internet but are not known.
  • Incorporate a broad spectrum of farmer support organisations; the job is far too big to do alone. Partnering with NGO’s and private sector allows for counterpart competencies and innovation. 
  • Utilise “master farmers” to complement extension. Lima implements this system whereby proven successful farmers can provide advice and mentorship support to 6-8 neighbouring farmers for a small monthly stipend.
  • Develop regional strategies in consultation with regional stakeholders who have good understanding of the communities, conditions and climate of the region.

Click the image for a view of: Open mike: Share your views on extension
Open mike: Share your views on extension
Posted: 8/30/2012 (2:07:19 AM)


 "Interesting perspectives from the ground which highlight serious problems in the current system. I would be interested to hear more about the Master Farmer concept. This does not have a good press in the international extension literature"
Practitioner Posted: 8/30/2012 9:02:11 AM

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