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Module 3 - Client Groups as Key Intermediaries in Extension


Client groups of various types make extension services more accessible to small-scale farmers by providing economies of scale in service delivery and a mechanism for producers to express their demands for services. Working with client groups may enable extension programs to reach more farmers and rural households (increasing efficiency), facilitate participation in extension activities (increasing effectiveness), and develop human resources and social capital (increasing equity). The client group role may entail receiving services for organizational strengthening (client), facilitating delivery of services (partner), providing services to members (executing agency), or financing services (financier). Roles and potential differ markedly between small, informal extension contact groups and formal commercial organizations. Producer organizations are a main focus for agricultural extension, but women’s and other community groups are also important partners. Investments are needed to strengthen client group capacities and develop mechanisms for their effective involvement in extension and advisory services.

Past development programs seeking to work through producer or community groups have achieved varying levels of success. In the 1960s and 1970s, donor programs supported cooperatives, many of which failed (often spectacularly) for varying reasons, especially because of excessive governmental control. Rural development programs organized community groups to undertake a wide variety of activities, and agricultural extension services organized contact groups for technology transfer. Such local groups were often effective in facilitating service delivery and increasing client participation in programs, but many were “groups” in name only, with little organizational identity or cohesion and little independence. A study in India found that community user groups rarely perform as expected, and, although most group members felt group objectives had been achieved, participation was poor, little information was available to members on group activities, and sustainability relied heavily on project staff (World Bank 2002). Despite past efforts, few producer organizations in developing countries have developed as effective organizations with sustainable programs.

Producer Groups and Organizations

In pluralistic extension systems, various client groups help to formulate client demands for services. Producer groups are the major focus for agricultural extension services, though other organizations, based on community membership, specific social or developmental objectives, or specialized client groups, such as youth clubs or women’s organizations, can be equally important to extension programs. Rural producer groups fall generally into two categories with differing objectives and potentials, as well as differing extension needs (Rondot and Collion 2001).

Community-based, resource-oriented groups. These are generally small informal groups of farmers and rural people with diversified production systems. They require extension assistance for community organization, marketing, and collaborative management of natural resources. One such farmer grouping is the extension contact group organized for the convenience of extension service delivery. Other informal groups may be semipermanent, coming together for a specific purpose and dissolving when this has been achieved, such as managing natural resources. These groups seldom evolve into formal organizations and, although they can assume varied roles in extension and information service delivery, their major strength is in serving as a contact point for extension.

 

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