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EXTENSION CHALLENGES FOR THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY

by

Rufus Leandre
Chief Extension Officer
Department of Agriculture
Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries
Saint Lucia

Introduction
Agricultural Extension is defined as a system of trained Human Resource input which
serves to support, facilitate and encourage agricultural growth in a qualitative and
quantitative manner within an organized national Regional international framework,
provision of technical support and advice, which enhances management techniques,
agricultural production / marketing and relates to the reality of the farmers / farm
families.

Or simply defined as a non formal or out of school education for rural people. It is a
form of community development with an Agricultural bids and an educational approach
to the problems of rural communities.

The extension worker is regarded as a teacher, for he is constantly endeavors to teach his
people so as to increase their knowledge, to improve their minds and outlook, to make the
best use of their facilities and skills, and to develop their capacity for work.

Overview

Agricultural Extension, worldwide face great challenges and opportunities as it strives to


remain a major force for Agricultural Transformation in the dynamic era of the 21st
Century. Roughly 80 percent of the world’s extension is publicly funded and delivered
by civil servants, providing a range of services to the farming population, commercial
producers, and disadvantaged target groups. Budgeting constraints and concerns about
performance create pressure to slow the payoff on investment on Extension and to
explore alternatives.

In order to remain sustainable extension will have to deal with emerging issues such as
globalization unprecedented technological advances in information and biotechnology,
major structural change in the agricultural industry, the persistence of food shortages and
yield gaps in the less developed countries, and the global trend towards privatization.
Agricultural Extension, like other major institutions, is facing one of its most challenging
times as it strives to redefine its mission structure service delivery methodologies and its
stake holder in the most dynamic and turbulent policy and Technological Environment
of the 21st Century. While Extension in many developed countries have played a major
role in achieving agricultural transformation in their respective countries.

However as we begin the 21st Century, agricultural extension both in the developed
countries and less developed countries for totally different reasons, faces an uncertain
future.

In the developed countries the challenges to the future of public sector extension
including the impact of information and Biotechnology, a shrinking farm population and
the increasing vertical integration of the agricultural industry.

However, the threats to the extension survival on many less developed countries include
among others, inefficient bureaucracies and the inability of government to bear the cost
of financing networks of Extension Services to meet the targeted needs of subsistence
farmers.

Apart from issues endogenous to the agricultural industry, the organizational environment
in the 21st century is one characterized by rapid technology change, demanding consumer
base, extreme competition and constantly changing management paradigms.

Public institutions have recently come under pressure to justify their existence. The
organizational trends in the 21st Century are towards greater accountability and
privatization. In the face of pervasive public cynicism against government and
government programmes, past records of performance is no longer a sufficient guarantee
of institutional survival. This is the 21st Century challenge confronting Extension.

The major debate for agricultural Extension in the 21st Century is not only maintaining
the Status Quo, but the nature and scope of institutional restructuring needed to keep
agricultural Extension vibrant and relevant to farming communities in Saint Lucia.
Another issue critical to the future of Extension is the impact of globalization. The
global paradigm shift from Government led to a private sector led economy model, and
the ongoing revolution on the International Financial system, creates an incredibly large
global market for agricultural products. Advances in communication technologies such
as internet and satellite communication are already revolutionizing social and consumer
behavior. Hamilton (2000) reported, that by the end of 2000, more than $36 billon
dollars worth of E-Commerce related to agriculture would have been conducted. Total
agriculture – related E-Commerce projected totalling $125 billion dollars by the year
2008, representing more than 80% of entire online economy – communications
technologies hold the potential to widen extension clientele base over a wider
geographical space.

The hierarchical organizational structure, characteristic of most National Extension


Services, especially, of the bureaucratic Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
model must be flattened to enhance organizational learning.

Transformation is made possible by collaboration. One of the dominant characteristics


of the Info-Biotechnology age is the dispersion of Agriculture through knowledge centers
from Universities, Research Centers, NGOs etc. These new alliances and collaborations
imply the adoption of systems & think tanks, which transcends extensions traditional
focus on Agricultural problems, to encompass other societal needs, such as Micro
Enterprise Development, Community Development and Environmental
preservations. To be successful in the 21st Century and turn the challenges of the Info-
Biotechnology era into opportunities, agricultural extension must become a true
learning organization that is continually expanding its ability & capacity to create and
re-create the very pattern and structures by which it operates.

The Extension Services in St. Lucia has a certain capacity and some of its present
demands seem largely fire fighting, because everyone seems to draw on their scarce
resources to achieve their programme objectives at the expense of our planned national
programmes. There is an urgent need to address these concerns. During the early years,
Extension Services had been in a transient state because of the numerous programs it
begins to implement and has not been afforded the opportunity to measure impact. There
is a level of behavioral change taking place, which is going on unchecked.

As we move quickly through an age increasingly dependant on technology and since the
challenges surrounding agriculture has never been greater, so that they can adapt through
time as technology advances and agricultural needs begin to evolve rapidly.

Our team of extensionist is dedicated to serving the diverse and specialized needs of our
farmers. There has always been a great disparity with the level of resources allocated
for agricultural extension programmes, as compared to all other agencies use of
working capital for programme implementation. The Extension Unit still continues to
perform with a less than 1% budget for programme implementation. We have over the
years been in a very unfair disposition.

Present Challenges Facing the Extension and Advisory Services:


1. Globalization, Trade Liberalization CSME, WTO and other Emerging Trade Agendas.
– We have to respond to changes in the type and nature of the new agriculture and
technology thrust. Moving from a Mono Crop Economy to a more diversified
agricultural sector – These will bring along new competition, threats and also
opportunities for developing countries like Saint Lucia.

2. Changing Clientele – we have recognized three types of clients

a) Dominant – this type is a better educated / entrepreneurs and more


informed and sensitized. They are usually more exposed to Information
Technology and other media. The dominant type needs information but
do not need to physically interact with extension.

b) Dependant – always want to see an Extension Officer.

c) Detached – Those farmers who do not want to see extension, criticize and
make trouble.

d) In the future the Extension Service will have to deal with the dominant
Type, because at present we spend more time dealing with the Dependant
and Dominant types.

3. Changes in food production and consumption patterns – Consumer


preference has become more demanding, preferences that have increased fast
foods should be localized at all levels of the production system.

4. Technological, business and investment information not readily available.

5. Emerging and new rural development challenges:-


• Poverty is largely rural

• Food needs are big and growing

• The environment is under threat

• National food security challenged by climate change.

6. Climate Change will also affect hundreds of small scale farmers, fishers and
forest dependant people who are already vulnerable to the food crisis. By
affecting the land, water and biodiversity, and the price of food, the rising
demand for bio-fuels produced form crops has a further impact on the poor.

7. International support for agriculture has been halfed


• Complacency about food security

• Agriculture is becoming more complex

8. Food security and sovereignty Issues

9. Farmers challenge to balance conflicting objectives.


• More productive

• More profitable

• More sustainable

10. GMO, SPSS, Biodiversity, AIDS, Bioterrorism, Bio-energy and other


sustainable and environmental issues.

11. Changing and emerging ICT systems and processes. This will result in
increased access to economic and social opportunities provided by the
emerging technologies

12. Negative criticism of Extension in a more over dramatized manner by those


who probably never understood the relevance of time in measuring the impact
of extension.

13. Continued little or no investment by governments for programme


implementation.

14. Inadequate support of extension by policy makers in their inability to derive


political capital that can be gained from expenditures that have unclear cause
effect results.
15. Health and wellness environment – propensity of our country’s record for a
high incidence of non communicable disease and other health threats – eg
diabetes, hypertension, obesity etc.

Future of Extension Services


In keeping with our national, Regional and International goals and objectives, The
Extension Services has had to go through simultaneous styles of transformation and
repositioning to keep up with the dynamics of this vibrant agricultural sector. Apart from
the more global challenges outlined, there were other concerns and issues impacting on
the Extension Services and the agricultural sector in general – These are as follows:-

• Increase competition – Domestic/Regional & other.


• Increase impacts of low cost and highly subsidized goods.
• Displacement of domestic farmers through increased pressure on preferential
treatment and due to farmers becoming less competitive on the market.
• Protection and less subsidized agriculture
• Challenges and restriction of exports to traditional and non traditional markets
and commodities.
• Increase pest and disease threats to agriculture.
• Literacy, culture, morality, policies, socio-economic status and poverty levels of
our farmers.

The Extension Services given its mandate and in an effort to support farm families in
adjusting to changes in farm families circumstances, the Extension Services should
continually adapt to the changing environment.

In order to remain relevant the Extension Services must metamorphasize an entity


which is better to respond to these changes.

A new agriculture is emerging with great implications for the Extension Services.
Farmers are growing value enhanced crops, exploring new ways of cooperating,
searching out contracts and making investments in business opportunities which utilize
their commodities. New biological and information technologies, more efficient means
of transport and distribution and the elimination of trade barriers are resulting in a
dramatic transformation of the agricultural economy. As a result, commodity prices have
decreased in both developed and developing countries.

In addition, the business model of being the low cost commodity producer has been
seriously challenged. Worldwide farmers are facing a difficult choice; either to adopt
new business models or exit the industry (Goldsmith & Gow 2001). For example,
during the 1990’s it was estimated that 92,000 American farmers were forced out or left
farming (agri census 2000). As a result, increasing numbers of those remaining in
farming are turning to more differentiated, value added products and moving away from
the production of bulk commodities. In addition, many are moving up the value chain by
investing in value added processing plants, focusing on manufactured products not
commodities; integration of the supply chain. Not intermediaries and participating in
networks, rather than acting solely as independent producers (Flora 1996).

The participation of farmers in those new economic relationships demands new skills and
knowledge, new communication networks among like-minded producers and the ability
to identify and take advantage of emerging marketing and agro-processing opportunities.
This has taken place against the backdrop of declining public resources increasing
corporate control over key agricultural sector components from abroad, and new
relationships among producers and between end user markets. Many of these trends are
referred to as “the new agriculture” (Swanson et al).

These changes have profoundly influenced how knowledge and information are produced
and disseminated. As a consequence, extension organizations if they are to remain viable
institutions, need to plan and strategically deliver extension programs that can help
farmers take advantage of these new opportunities to increase their income within the
new agricultural economy. The Extension Services would have to provide rural farm
families with the necessary information, technology, skills and social infrastructure to
successfully produce for these new differentiated markets and there by, capture
additional value from their farm products.

The challenge, therefore, would be to identify the type of farmers who are more or less
oriented towards the new agricultural economy and their emerging knowledge and
technology needs.