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From Agricultural Extension to Farmer Advisory Services:

Agricultural extension Reorienting a Keyservices’

or ‘farmer advisory Development
can play aSector
key role in enabling
smallholder farmers to become more productive and to participate more profitably in
agricultural markets and value chains. To achieve that goal, farmer advisory services must be
reoriented and restructured. Realizing farmers’ development aspirations – and addressing the
social, economic and logistical constraints in reaching them – will require that participatory,
local decision-making and capacity building approaches become a basic reference point for
extension systems. The traditional extension worldview, in which production solutions
identified by research scientists and other technical experts are promoted to farmers, should be
reformulated. In particular, advisory services must do a better job of listening to and learning
from poor farmers, most of whom are women, and working with them to solve problems and
improve their livelihoods.

Recommendations for Extension Program Priorities and Design:

• Increase support to an expanded variety of agricultural extension and farmer

advisory services that provide greater reach, capability, improved approaches and
lower costs.
> Reduce reliance on high-cost, limited return investments in extension models
drawn from developed country experience. These often face severe institutional
capacity and sustainability challenges in developing countries.
> Promote ‘embedded service’ models of information and advice to farmers
through private sector input suppliers.
> Promote flexible combinations of services, knowledge areas and technical
capabilities based on multi-stakeholder assessments of local needs.
• Revise advisory service training curricula to focus on community-led, multi-
stakeholder problem assessment and response.
> Focus technical curricula on farm enterprise management, agro-ecological
approaches, post-harvest processing, community mobilization, information
management, and market and value chain development.
• Train farmer advisory services to help smallholders adapt to climate change;
> Promote farm management techniques such as carbon sequestration that boost climate
resilience, increase productivity, and prepare farmers for carbon markets.
• In all aspects of the above, design services based on an analysis of the pivotal role of
women in agriculture. Support women in responding to the specific social and
economic problems they face.
> Prioritize women as advisory service providers, participants in defining and
addressing problems, and as recipients of information and training.
Working Paper 7.02.09
InterAction Food Security & Agriculture Working Group
Revitalizing Agricultural Extension

Current Status of Extension Services: Reliable information and advice remains as

important to the success of small farm production as basic equipment, seeds and water.
Agricultural extension systems in low-income countries have nearly disappeared as a result of
high costs, limited effectiveness and a tendency to focus narrowly on promoting technology
adoption for production increases. Over the past 25 years, state extension services housed in
agriculture ministries and universities have suffered from continually declining Government
investment in the agricultural sector. Consequently, centralized government extension systems
have been unable to adapt and upgrade their outdated approaches to community engagement. Few
extension services have had the resources to evolve with new technologies or to coordinate with
either research institutes or the private sector to establish multi-stakeholder strategies and services.

Rather than reviving and expanding those outdated models with a new surge in resources, the
existing approaches need a major rethink to identify critical constraints and to set up services that
avoid the weaknesses evident in traditional extension services, including:

• Weak Performance Incentives and Accountability: Outside the commercial sector,

most extension agents are not rewarded based on field results such as improved farm
profitability or yields. Nor are most advisory agents accountable to the communities they

• Lack of Market Orientation: Few traditional extension agents understand market trends
or drivers. Rapid market and farm system analysis are essential skills in resolving
bottlenecks and accessing new opportunities, but have often been secondary to technical
scientific preparation.

• Low Priority for Sustainability: The integration of agro-ecological and sustainable

production systems into smallholder services has been a low priority in extension
education, and have been subordinated to high-cost, high external input technical
approaches. Agro-ecological approaches can offer a powerful complement to more
conventional technical packages in boosting productivity, reducing poverty among
smallholders, improving the nutritional quality of food and protecting productive
ecosystems. New systems such as low/no till, watershed management, basic crop rotation
and biomass composting are both beneficial and profitable in many circumstances.

• Gender Bias: Although women contribute much of the labor and management to
smallholder farms across the world, the majority of extension agents have been men who
focused on providing services – mostly promoting the adoption of new technologies – to
men. While male extension workers often face challenges in interacting with women
farmers, women have faced daunting challenges in entering extension services and
establishing viable career paths.

• Institutional and Ethical Conflicts: Public extension agencies have frequently burdened
field agents with non-advisory functions such as tax collection or input procurement (e.g.
Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria). These activities create perceived conflicts of interest and

Working Paper 7.02.09
InterAction Food Security & Agriculture Working Group
Revitalizing Agricultural Extension

compromise community credibility and access, as well as limiting the potential for
recruiting appropriate participation by the private sector.

• Key Gaps in Decentralized Services: Though advisory services are vested in agencies
ranging from the national and state through local levels, the capacity to plan and
implement services has been fragmented and incomplete in many areas. Extension efforts
are typically hamstrung by an uneven distribution of service provider competencies across
districts and unbalanced numbers of service agents, coupled with weak coordination across

• Low Levels of Training and Competence: Preparation and capability of field agents is
often significantly below the required standard. Many agents are counterproductively
equipped with a ‘supply-push’ mentality in which they are part of a message delivery
system rather than advisory and support agents. Inappropriate approaches to training leave
many agents with technical backgrounds but lacking other complementary knowledge. A
majority of service providers in Ethiopia, Uganda and Mali, for example, have training in
crop management, but almost completely lack familiarity with the social sciences critical
to effective outreach and training (sociology, economics, marketing, participatory
approaches and communication skills). Levels of awareness and training in new and
emerging roles/functions of extension agents such as farmer organization, networking,
negotiation and conflict management are low or non-existent. Curricula in and awareness
of cross-cutting issues such as HIV/AIDS, gender, and environment are often weak.
Training and experiential learning for advisory services should incorporate and much more
actively promote these techniques.

• Institutional Deficits: Funding constraints are chronic and debilitating for many centrally
organized extension systems. A lack of funds for field operations prevents agents from
visiting communities, implementing demonstrations and monitoring local conditions.
Budgets rarely provide for in-service training, inputs or salary increases, leading to low
morale and a lack of professionalism. Weak central management, inadequate staffing and
outdated approaches preclude extension agencies from pursuing donor funding in a more
entrepreneurial model. Challenging conditions in government extension settings have in
some cases led to staff exodus to NGO field programs. Until training and capacity
building can offset this imbalance, inter-sectoral collaboration can help to compensate. A
mentality of top down approaches – from ‘lab research to farmers fields’ – reduce adoption
rates and the relevance for farmers of extension information. Academic departments in
extension education within African agricultural universities, for example, are generally
small in size and oriented toward research or degree programs rather than community
development objectives.

• Weak Collaboration and Coordination of Roles and Services: Though extension services
typically lack field capability, few initiate or are involved in collaborative service provision
efforts. State agencies, research institutes, agricultural universities, NGOs, CSOs and
community-level organizations all have potential roles to play in organizing effective
advisory services. Too often, however, they have attempted these roles in relative

Working Paper 7.02.09
InterAction Food Security & Agriculture Working Group
Revitalizing Agricultural Extension

isolation. The traditional strength of NGOs in bottom-up approaches, community

activation, attention to gender roles and a focus on benefits for farmers, has often been
disconnected from the vital technical skills of trained advisory agents. Because of the
traditional operating style of extension systems, some NGOs have been disinclined for
ideological reasons to work with State agencies or with the private sector. As a result, the
process and outcome most service providers claim to seek – of mobilizing and organizing
farmers and of creating more dynamic local and regional markets – has too often been

Principles for Success in Revitalizing Agricultural Advisory Services:

The strategy for success in next-generation advisory services must begin with institutional
capacity building and then build on networks and collaborations between service providers. A
decisive move toward multi-stakeholder decision making, along with leveraging of expertise,
resources, knowledge and skills, offers a way for top-down, centralized systems to reorient
themselves to remain relevant.

• A Focus on Community-based, Multi-stakeholder Problem Assessment and Response:

Extension strategies have generally emphasized technological solutions rather than analytic
thinking, value chain dynamics, or participatory approaches. While many production
constraints can be ameliorated with appropriate technology, community problems are more
complex and require a more holistic view. A shift to community perspectives can lead to a
much clearer definition of problems and the pathways by which they can be addressed.
Local social and economic relationships, educational status, legal arrangements, land
management and ownership, as well as attitudes and expectations for change all contribute
as significantly as technology to the prospects for positive change. For example, since
most low income farmers produce for home consumption, that priority should be accorded
attention in making recommendations about transitions or shifts toward market production.
Helping communities mobilize effectively to demand services and information is as
important as supply side responses that seek to make advisory services available.

• Market-Focused Decision Making and Services: Consultation and participatory planning

with beneficiary communities and agricultural value chains should be the starting point for
research and extension. The assumption that research agendas and academic technical
backgrounds constitute the basis for decisions about extension ‘packages’ should be
revised. Government agencies, farmer organizations, input supply companies, agro-
processing firms, market agents, NGOs and local communities have varying roles that
should be brought together in combinations tailored to specific circumstances. Workshops,
community events and in-field demonstrations are examples of venues that advisory
service providers can co-implement to learn from one another and to demonstrate shared

Consistent with this vision, smallholder agriculture needs to be viewed as farm enterprises
connected to and acting in synergy with other enterprises. Agribusinesses, though
sometimes viewed in the image of powerful international conglomerates, at the local level

Working Paper 7.02.09
InterAction Food Security & Agriculture Working Group
Revitalizing Agricultural Extension

are typically small, struggling enterprises. Advisory services should take as their objective
building the capacity of these small businesses to create jobs and boost incomes for
farmers and other participants in agricultural value chains. Embedded service approaches
to delivering information to farmers through input suppliers are well demonstrated and
effective in many settings. Public-private-NGO partnerships will be essential in promoting
the emergence of market networks that realize this objective. Helping small producers
connect to ‘out-grower’ or contract farming opportunities such as for supermarket chains,
for example, are an important way in which advisory service providers can create
economic links that are critical to the spread of more productive, remunerative agriculture.

• Resource Mobilization from Implementing Partners and Beneficiaries: The full spectrum
of organizations and institutions present in rural communities need to be consulted,
mobilized and invested in order for most development initiatives to succeed. Program
implementers can learn from the decisions of local businesses about the opportunities,
constraints and risks affecting production, markets and partnership opportunities.
Technical institutions such as research facilities and universities often bring expertise that
can inform decisions about technologies, crop management and environmental protection.
NGOs often have the ability to bring significant resources to program efforts. Too
frequently, however, those resources and interests are not strongly linked to or invested in
local communities. Regional initiatives such as CAADP can help to mobilize training
capacity and resources lacking at local levels. When those interests and perspectives are
linked to community needs through participatory decision-making, they can be used as
‘buy-in’ to support agenda setting and program management.

• Skilled, Well Supervised, Appropriately Compensated and Equipped Staff: New roles
for extension services will require investment in training, equipment (e.g. bicycles and
computers), recruitment and compensation of staff, and in more closely monitoring their
performance. Standards for performance need to be revised to reflect progress toward a
rural, community and agricultural development agenda. Too often, these remain linked to
justification for budgets within research institutions or ministries of agriculture. With
accountability increasingly important to legitimacy and credibility, NGO and private sector
service and information providers must be similarly well prepared for their missions.
Qualifying skills for advisory service agents need to reflect the importance of areas such as
financial management of small enterprises, management of saving & loan programs,
marketing services, basic nutrition, home garden production and post-harvest processing.
These can be as important to household income and farm enterprises as production

Women, must be recruited, trained and promoted in much higher numbers to reach
other women, who are so under-served yet contribute so pivotally to agricultural
production worldwide.

• A Variety of Advisory Service Providers, Information Pathways and Approaches: A

range of alternative service providers can compensate for under-resourced, weak or absent
state-run systems. Training and advisory functions should be expanded through non-

Working Paper 7.02.09
InterAction Food Security & Agriculture Working Group
Revitalizing Agricultural Extension

traditional service providers in CSOs, NGOs, farmer cooperatives and the private sector to
increase effectiveness and outreach to rural communities. The content of traditional
extension services needs to be refocused on enterprise and value chain development to
amplify the effectiveness and credibility of advisory services. Extension services need to
be equipped to help farming communities understand and manage soil quality and erosion,
water depletion and biodiversity loss. Alternative service delivery models using mini-
computers, mobile phones, internet-linked information platforms can help overcome
infrastructure deficits and the insularity of remote locations. All information systems
should be fully integrated into existing and new extension institutions.

This is not to suggest that individual farmer advisory service agents should somehow be
prepared or expected to command all of these competencies. Instead, advisory services
skills should be viewed as encompassing a wider range, and individual providers as having
the ability to match local needs with a suite of skills provided by various organizations and
institutions. Careful, participatory assessment of local constraints would then result in to
the assignment of appropriately prepared and complementary service providers to address
the complex circumstances in any specific setting.

Working Paper 7.02.09
InterAction Food Security & Agriculture Working Group
Revitalizing Agricultural Extension

Examples of Effective Extension Program Approaches:

• Sasakawa Africa Association: In 2008, the Sasakawa Africa Foundation for Agricultural
Education (SAFE) works to strengthen mid-career training programs for agricultural
extension professionals and advisory services providers. SAA programs seek to shift the
emphasis in university training programs toward development outcomes, while also
significantly improving the quality of training and field experiences. The SAA approach is
to network with research institutions, other government extension agencies, input supply
and output agro-enterprises, farmers’ cooperatives and unions, CBOs and established
NGOs to identify optimal roles and comparative advantages. This greatly increases
efficiency, reduces costs, builds relationships between organizations and communities and
fosters collaboration. A recent multi-country assessment of the status of extension
institutions included the identification of potential cost sharing and/or revenue generating
opportunities that can help ensure longer-term sustainability of extension service provision.
The report provides detailed country reviews of advisory service institutions as well as
analysis of the effectiveness of a range of service delivery options. Findings from those
country experiences inform the analysis and recommendations offered in this review.
(Sasakawa Africa Association field survey report, 2008)

• ITC is a diversified Indian conglomerate that partners with Indian farmers in developing
more remunerative options for cash cropping, and that helps link farmers to markets. The
ITC focus is on both high-value crops and on value addition through processing. ITC’s
widely acclaimed information and communication technology initiative for agriculture –
eChoupal – helps address information constraints and market bottlenecks by linking
commodity producers and service providers with buyers. The ICT approach is an
expression of ITC’s strategy of improving the efficiency of value chains to bring benefits
to farmers, communities and enterprises. ITC’s network of 6500 internet kiosks operated
on a for-profit basis by ‘change agents’ (sanchalaks) reaches four million farmers spread
across forty thousand villages, providing technical information, input & output linkages,
and information familiar to more traditional models of extension service.

• The Mission de Development de la Province du Nord-Ouest (MIDENO) was initiated in

1980 in the North West Province of Cameroon, one of the country's poorest.
(Though generating one-seventh of Cameroon's production, the province received only one
percent of government investment in agricultural development.) Financial support for
MIDENO came from a coalition of donors -- IFAD, the European Development Fund and
the German aid organization Kreditanstalt fur Wiedeaufbua and the Cameroonian
government. MIDENO’s decentralized management and 'executing agencies' included
existing NGOs and other local organizations. Survey work in the Nord-Ouest Province
confirmed the prominent contribution of women to food production, to which the program
strategy responded by requiring that 25% of the 200 new extension agents be
women. Initially, extension services through this program were organized by gender.

Working Paper 7.02.09
InterAction Food Security & Agriculture Working Group
Revitalizing Agricultural Extension

When the credibility and effectiveness of the project had been established, gender specific
extension groups were phased out. This approach to mainstreaming extension to women
resulted in impressive productivity gains, high participation rates by women, and shifts in
approaches to extension by the government and implementing organizations." See
Walker, Tjip. 1990. Innovative Agricultural Extension for Women. Working Paper WPS
403. The World Bank. http://www-

• Farmer-to-Farmer: The F-t-F program represents an alternative approach to providing high

quality, limited duration technical assistance to agricultural value chains. Recruiting
volunteers from the US with backgrounds in areas ranging from production, agricultural
education, agronomy, post-harvest processing, small enterprise development, and supply
chain development to marketing and certified specialty crops, F-t-F matches short-term
assistance to specific constraints in agricultural value chains. The program has a record of
effectiveness particularly in helping commercial value chains expand and to reach new
markets, especially where farmers' organizations make it possible to reach large numbers
of beneficiaries in a relatively short time frame.
See: (

o Volunteer Technical Assistance: Other programs that match volunteers with specific
needs for technical assistance in field settings represent low-cost, short duration
alternative approaches to advisory services. US G-funded programs such as Peace
Corps, Peace Corps Response and private organizations such as Encore offer
opportunities for returned Peace Corps volunteers to find placement in areas of
their field experience. When volunteer capabilities are well-matched to recipient
needs, these programs can boost the skills of host country nationals as well we
direct beneficiaries.

• The Hunger Project’s Epicenter strategy reflects an approach relying on alternative service
providers known as ‘agricultural animators’. The THP effort in 8 African countries
mobilizes clusters of rural villages for self-reliant action, and trains highly motivated local
volunteer ‘animators’, as well as providing a central community farm at which everyone in
the area can learn new techniques appropriate and successful in that locale.

• The Albanian Fertilizer Dealers Association (AFADA) represents a successful private input
dealer-based approach to extension, under the guidance of the International Fertilizer
Development Center (IFDC). It began in the immediate post-communist period with the
realization that with the collapse of the state organs, there was no means of getting
production inputs to farmers. USAID agreed to provide fertilizer, but rather than simply
distribute the fertilizer to farmers, the fertilizer was auctioned to local businesses for
onward sale to farmers, with the proceeds from the initial sale going to fund the

Working Paper 7.02.09
InterAction Food Security & Agriculture Working Group
Revitalizing Agricultural Extension

development of an input dealers network. Now, some 15 years later, AFADA has realized
significant accomplishments:

o Agricultural input supply has been fully privatized, and import duties reduced from
15% to 5%;
o AFADA consists of more than 100 input dealers throughout the country, with total
sales in 2007 (of seed, fertilizer, pumps, animal feed, greenhouse construction
materials) of $22 million;
o Creation of a credit union where members can put savings and obtain loans at lower
interest rates than those offered by commercial banks.

Most significantly, AFADA offers a range of services to members and the country’s
farmers. These include market assessment and business planning support, liaison with the
Ministry of Agriculture and Food, a monthly newsletter, farm management studies and
supervision of demonstration plots using dealers’ products. Over this period, Albanian
agriculture has exhibited a healthy, 3 percent average annual growth rate. Cereal yields
(kg./ha.) have increased at 2.7 percent per year.


InterAction’s Food Security and Agriculture Working Group contributed to the

creation of this document.

For questions or feedback please contact:

Brian Greenberg
Director of Sustainable Development


Vanessa Dick
Senior Legislative Associate for International Development