What makes the difference in Extension Programs? Lessons from India

This summary is based on the blog story by Suresh Babu originally written for FARMD (Forum for Agricultural Risk Management in Development).   

Suresh Babu is Leader for the PIM Cluster on ‘Capacity strengthening’ (Cluster 8.3), and represents PIM in the Consortium Capacity Working Group. 

Are there good models of agricultural extension services that could be successfully replicated in a new context? This is a question that policy makers often ask when seeking to improve their extension systems to reach smallholders more effectively. This involves meeting the real informational needs of farmers, delivering the services more efficiently, and measuring the impact of the new knowledge on productivity.

Those involved in extension face the fundamental factors that affect success of development programs generally, as well as some specific to extension.

In our recent paper (Babu et al, 2013), we explore these issues by comparing how the national extension policy is implemented differently in four states in India, and the reasons for this variation.

The research indicates the following:

  1. Leadership at the state level matters: we find that where the leaders of the state have taken a keen interest in promoting agricultural development, the extension systems function better. In states such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where the Chief Minister (Head of the State) has been involved in the decision making and following up on implementation, there is improved delivery of the extension and advisory services.
  2. Better monitoring and evaluation systems promote learning: In states where extension services are delivered better, the monitoring and evaluation systems are used not only for recording the number of visits to the fields and training sessions conducted for farmers, but also as a learning device that helps to provide corrective actions on the ground. This has been fundamental in helping extension workers see themselves as the change agents of the farming community and in empowering them to develop constant communication with the farmers. States that have implemented monitoring systems in an effective manner have managed to improve their extension services.
  3. Strong links to research improve extension: Communication of researchers with the extension service workers plays a critical role at all stages of the agricultural season. A legacy of the previous extension system in India, the bi-monthly workshops between extension functionaries and research leaders in each of the crop zones, remains the main opportunity for information exchange between farmers and researchers. In states where such workshops are still held, the research has higher relevance to farmers. States that maintain mechanisms for regular communication between researchers and farmers using the extension system as a “knowledge broker” tend to reach farmers more effectively.
  4. Decentralization can boost education and training:  Opportunities for farmers to observe new technologies in use are important for translating research results into practice. The demonstration of high yielding varieties on the roadsides of Indian national highways proved highly successful during the era of the Green Revolution. Such “believing by seeing” models are still effective.  Farmer Science Centers (Krishi Vigyan Kendras, or KVK) that conduct adaptive research, field demonstrations, and farmer training sessions in different regions of India have been critical for knowledge transfer. Integration of extension services with KVKs proved very useful for the performance of extension in the observed states. Again, such integration depends on strong leadership at the district level.
  5. Civil Society Organizations can help by exerting pressure and promoting collaboration: The role of Civil Society Organizations in extension is increasing. In states where civil society has been actively engaged in extension, there is an increased awareness of the farmers’ needs. The CSOs also play an important role in decisions about priorities for extension services and how they are delivered.
  6. Private extension systems are increasing in several states of India. Private extension systems have shown mixed results in terms of their contribution to productivity, and tend to focus on selective commodities. In some areas where the private sector is active and well received by farmers, the public extension system has pulled back. Public and private services can work synergistically.  For example, public services can piggy-back on organizational successes of the private organizations by offering a wider array of knowledge and information than that covered by the private firms.
  7. Extension systems are often seen (and used) as vehicles for implementing government campaigns. Over the past decades the Indian extension system has been often used by the state governments to deliver special subsidies to the farmers and to mobilize political support during elections.  This deviation from the primary mandate for extension has been one of the main causes for deterioration of the Indian system. In states where such political intrusion has been limited, extension services have been better able to satisfy the informational needs of the farmers.

Reference

Babu, S.C., P.K. Joshi, C. J. Glendenning, K. Asenso-Okyere, and R. Sulaiman (2013). The State of Agricultural Extension Reforms in India: Strategic Priorities and Policy Options. Agricultural Economics Research Review Vol. 26(No.2) July-December 2013

Read the original blog post here

PIM’s research on agricultural extension is part of the Flagship Project on Adoption of Technology and Sustainable Intensification. The work aims to develop effective, efficient, and sustainable extension and advisory services that contribute to reduction of hunger and poverty worldwide. It re-examines agricultural extension in light of changes in communication technology and the increased interplay of public and private actors within innovation systems. The mid-term outcomes include: strengthened extension and advisory services at individual, organizational, and system levels; increased evidence of what works in extension approaches; improved metrics for extension and advisory services. The gender dimension of the research focuses on designing public extension and advisory services programs to meet informational needs of men and women equally.

Related links:

PIM’s workshop “Research on Agricultural Extension Systems: What Have We Learned, and Where Do We Go from Here?” October 15-16, 2013.