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Module 3 - Venezuela: Contracting Decentralized Extension Services


What’s innovative? Decentralization and contracting of private extension services to improve accountability, flexibility, and responsiveness to farmers’ needs.

In Venezuela, the existence of chronic rural poverty, despite abundant natural resource wealth, has created a sense of urgency for improving the productivity and competitiveness of agriculture. By the mid-1990s, it was clear that agricultural extension services were not capable of modernizing agriculture and promoting rural development. The government did not know how many extension agents it had or how much it was spending on extension. Several agencies provided extension services, but extension agents were rarely in the field. Small-scale farmers claimed that services never reached them, and larger-scale farmers felt the extension agents had nothing to offer. Research programs claimed to have many new technologies available, but farmers were not adopting them.

Project Objectives and Description

A fundamental premise for the Agricultural Extension Project was to ensure that extension services were accountable to clients, and this requirement is incorporated in its institutional structure. The decentralized program, focused at the municipal (district) level, relies on extension agents contracted through private firms and NGOs. This system provides flexibility and responsiveness to clients. Client participation is encouraged through establishment of Civil Associations for Extension (ACEs) at the municipal level. The ACEs, consisting of representatives of the municipal government and beneficiaries of extension services, coordinate the implementation of extension activities. Cofinancing by clients and municipal and state governments ensures that recipients value the services being provided.

The project specifically targets poor farmers and their families with small but viable farming operations and finances four component activities:

  • Establishment of institutional structures to coordinate and administer the decentralized agriculture extension system. Among other expenditures, the project funded the development of national and state-level subject matter specialists.

  • Extension services contracted out to private firms or NGOs for 180 municipalities.

  • Training for private extension agents, members of ACEs and local government, and national and regional extension staff.

  • Technical assistance and analytical studies to improve extension service planning and implementation.

Municipal agricultural extension services are provided in each participating municipality through contracted services of executing bodies (private firms, universities, and NGOs). Each municipal agricultural extension office prepares an annual municipal project outlining the objectives and the proposed activities to achieve each objective. This plan is submitted to the Board of the ACE for approval, after which participating municipalities submit plans to the implementing agency—the Foundation for Training and Innovation for Rural Development—for approval of matching funds to cofinance the project. The foundation negotiates agreements with municipalities, relevant state governments, and ACEs in the municipalities for cofinancing contracted extension services and then employs competitive procedures to contract services from NGOs or private firms.

 

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