Extension’s role in scaling up agricultural innovation in Africa: discussing synergies and making plans

Agricultural research and extension are complementary to achieve impact at scale. But how to improve the collaboration between the two sectors? This is the question that participants in the side event “Extension’s Role in Scaling up Agricultural Innovation” at the AFAAS Africa-Wide Extension Week 2015 (12-16 October, Addis Ababa) tried to answer. Kristin Davis, executive secretary of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and coordinator of PIM’s research on rural advisory services, shares her impressions about the event. 


Photo credit: GFRAS

-- The side event “Extension’s Role in Scaling up Agricultural Innovation” was called to discuss potential synergies and partnerships between CGIAR, GFRAS, and its sister network, the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS). Another goal was to bring together representatives of key global, regional, and country-level extension networks and raise awareness about CGIAR work on scaling-up agricultural research outputs and innovations in Africa.

In my presentation I reviewed the evolution from a linear research-extension-farmer approach, through the triangle of the agricultural knowledge and information system (which includes education, research, and extension) to the agricultural innovation systems (AIS) approach that is being more and more recognized today.


In the AIS (see chart on the right), innovation happens through a complex system of interaction between different actors. Extension plays a brokering role within this system in order to assess the needs of parties, link the necessary partners, and facilitate innovation processes. With this change of traditional roles and strategies of extension providers, we need to help them build new capacities.

Hervé Bisseleua from the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics gave an overview of the CGIAR research programs (CRPs) and the ways they have been approaching transformation and achieving impact in the first phase of their existence (2012-2016). The recently updated CGIAR Strategy and Results Framework calls for stronger links between these programs and development partners in the second phase (2017-2022), and the CRPs will aim to achieve alignment with national and regional strategic plans for agricultural development. The role of rural advisory services actors in this process should be key.

We had a very appropriate audience in the room to discuss these issues, including representatives of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services, the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS), the sub-regional network Réseau des Services de Conseil Agricole et Rural d’Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre (RESCAR-AOC), and the newly-established Southern Africa Regional Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (SARFAAS) (www.sarfaas.org [editor: site under construction]), as well as country-level networks and members of the CGIAR Consortium. In the group discussions that followed participants reaffirmed a strong need for enhanced collaboration, which should start with more consistent information exchange, and gradually transform into collective action towards vibrant agricultural innovation systems and sustainable development on global, regional, and country levels.

Synergies and ways forward

Research and extension are constantly evolving. As actors are trying to find their new roles in the complex world of agricultural innovation systems, they may find that their activities overlap and sometime even compete. We all agreed that to achieve impact we should take a fresh look at these overlaps and consider them as a chance for collaboration rather than competition. Efforts should not be duplicated, and various actors should work together to increase efficiency of funds and human resources. On the other hand, coordination does not mean unification. We should provide each other enough freedom and flexibility to be able to adapt to specific contexts.

Specifically, we agreed to do the following in the next year.

On the global level:

  • CGIAR, AFAAS, and GFRAS will elaborate principles describing roles of rural advisory services actors in the agricultural innovation systems (AIS);
  • CGIAR and GFRAS will develop guidelines giving advice on how to overcome hindering factors and resistance to incorporating AIS, monitor progress and evaluate results, and learn from the experience;
  • CGIAR, AFAAS, and GFRAS will jointly work on finding best-practice examples and approaches to research-extension nexus; CGIAR and GFRAS will work together to promote results.

On the regional level:

  • AFAAS will act as resource and excellence centre for the African region and will promote inclusion of rural advisory services in the national investment plans.
  • Regional networks will exchange news and information about/invitations to events.
  • Regional and national networks will coordinate to ensure that their plans are aligned.
  • Apply a platform of inquiry approach to analyse each stage of the theory of change/impact pathways.

On the national level:

  • Country level networks need to be strengthened and empowered to fully act as brokers between researchers and farmers.
  • More evidence of the successful use of research on the country level needs to be collected.
  • National rural advisory services (RAS) networks should be involved in the work planning process of the CGIAR research programs, as well as engage in drafting national investment plans under The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).
  • Knowledge management within country networks and the African regional networks needs to be enhanced. Best practice examples of various extension approaches will ultimately be captured and shared through the GFRAS “global good practices” initiative (see betterextension.org) [editor: initiative co-financed by PIM].


Also see our earlier interview with Kristin Davis Rural advisory services: On the frontline of the fight against food insecurity

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