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Module 3 - Decentralizing Agricultural Extension and Information Services

Decentralization reforms that are implemented as part of wider public sector reforms offer opportunities for fundamental changes in how rural extension services are provided. Transferring program governance, administration, and management to the local level facilitates user participation and cofinancing, enhances the ability to respond to local problems and opportunities, increases accountability to clients, and increases program efficiency. These reforms are not easy. A comprehensive strategy for decentralizing extension services must ensure service quality, develop capacities needed at all levels in the system, and provide a clear definition of the respective roles and responsibilities of local and national governments and user groups.

National extension agencies were organized to transfer standard technologies to farmers throughout the country. Over time, this mode of operation often proved inefficient and made it difficult for programs to be responsive to clients. Extension increasingly has been required to provide location-specific services to improve the management and efficiency of input use, conserve natural resources, support diversification and value-added production, respond to community- or farmer-specific interests, and provide nonfarm information services relating to poverty reduction. Decentralizing extension services helps to address many problems of extension by facilitating greater interaction with clients and improving the focus on local needs and opportunities.

Global Trend Toward Decentralization

Even as national extension systems involve more groups or bodies, state and local governments have become more important with the transfer of responsibility for government services from the national to the local level. Decentralization reforms became widespread during the 1980s and 1990s, when governments pursued decentralization because centralized approaches to economic management and service provision had failed. Effective decentralization requires a combination of administrative, political, and financial decentralization (box 3.10).

Box 3.10 Defining decentralization

Decentralization generally involves a mix of three reform strategies:

  • Administrative decentralization is the transfer of authority over regional staff from the central government to regional or local governments.
  • Political decentralization (or democratic decentralization) is the selection of local government officials by local election rather than by central government appointment.
  • Fiscal decentralization is the transfer of responsibility for raising and spending program funds to lower-level government units.

Three additional reform strategies that are related to but distinct from decentralization are:

  • Deconcentration: the central government dispersing staff responsibilities to regional offices without changing the basis for authority and control. This is not true decentralization and can actually increase central control and influence.
  • Delegation: the transfer of responsibility for public functions to lower levels of government or to other organizations, which implement programs on behalf of the central government.
  • Privatization: government transfer to the private sector of managerial, fiscal, and decision-making control, while retaining regulatory authority.

Source: Authors


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