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Module 3 - Investments in Agricultural Extension and Information Services

Updates were made to this Module on 12/01/2006.

This module summarizes principles and good practice for investments in building effective and sustainable extension systems. Approximately one million people continue to work in agricultural extension worldwide (B. Swanson, personal communication),1but the structure and function of national extension systems continue to change. In the past, extension services, largely public, were equated with the transfer of agricultural production technology in predetermined “packages.” Extension systems are now understood to be much broader and more diverse, including public and private sector and civil society institutions that provide a broad range of services (advisory, technology transfer, training, promotional, and information) on a wide variety of subjects (such as agriculture, marketing, social organization, health, and education) that rural people require to better manage their agricultural systems and livelihoods. Trends in extension are reviewed in box 3.1.

Box 3.1 Global trends in agricultural extension

Public extension systems in some European countries have been substantially downsized or phased out altogether. In North America and Western Europe, technical support to farmers is largely provided by highly qualified agricultural specialists who work for private firms, especially input supply companies. At the same time, some Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Hungary, still maintain large public agricultural extension systems. Other European and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries are attempting to privatize their extension systems, with mixed results. In general, farmers are unwilling to pay for agricultural extension services on a continuing basis unless these services are integrated with the sale of inputs or with other technical and/or marketing services.

The total number of workers in extension systems in most developing countries appears to be stable, but these systems are also being transformed to become more effective and cost efficient. For example, China continues to have the largest extension system in the world (371,350 extension workers in crop-related extension, and a comparable number in livestock extension), but it has moved rapidly to shift the cost of extension to farmers. It now recovers most of the cost of extension through the sale of inputs and services to farmers at the county and township levels.

India, which has the second largest number of extension workers in the world (110,000), is undergoing a different type of transformation, decentralizing its extension system and making it more “market driven.” Under this new decentralized approach, farmers are beginning to set extension priorities at the district and block levels, but at the same time they are being asked to pay for some extension services, particularly those related to the production and marketing of high-value products.

Less information is available about national extension systems in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, but based on current data from selected countries, it appears that the number of extension workers in most countries remains relatively stable. For example, Indonesia continues to have the third largest public extension system, with 30,000 staff members;

Iran has 10,372 public extension workers across all subject matter areas; South Africa has 3,034 public extension workers; and Tanzania has 7,290 public extension workers. Mozambique, on the other hand, has a total of 1,838 extension staff, including 777 public extension workers, 840 extension agents working for NGOs, and 228 private extension workers. During the coming decade, it is expected that many national extension systems will shift their efforts toward organizing farmers into groups (building social capital) and then helping these groups increase farm income and contribute to increased rural employment by focusing on high-value commodities and products.

Source: B. Swanson


1 Based on figures received from regional extension associations, January 2006.


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