Are South African extensionists ready for the future?


by Kristin Davis, Lindie von Maltitz, Johan van Niekerk, and Tsakani Ngomane | December 15, 2021

Public and private extension and advisory services are key to sustainable agriculture, resilient livelihoods, and inclusive growth. The Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services has called for “the new extensionist.” The new extensionist has both technical and functional skills to help clientele cope with challenges like climate change and food and nutrition security.

South Africa is a nation that relies on agriculture for economic growth and job creation – thus agricultural extension and advisory services are high on both national and provincial government agendas. There are initiatives underway to strengthen extension and advisory services in the country. A new set of norms and standards is being developed for South African extension staff, there are plans to recruit an additional 10,000 unemployed agricultural graduates as “assistant agricultural practitioners.” While the minimum level of training for current extension officers is a diploma (National Qualifications Level (NQF) 7), these graduates need only a minimum NQF level 6 (a national diploma or advanced certificate).

Is the South African extension workforce ready for the future? What skills, capabilities, and mindsets will employees need moving forward? Can the digital revolution support extension and advisory services in South Africa, and are extension staff ready and able to take advantage of it?

A survey supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the University of the Free State, and the University of Pretoria, examined South African extension staff competency levels and attitudes toward and use of digital extension tools.

The findings show that while extension officers have a good arsenal of basic technical skills (e.g., crop and animal production), they are less equipped with some specialized technical skills such as risk management and nutrition.

On the functional or “soft” skills needed for a job working with farmers, many officers have training on areas such as critical thinking and the use of different tools to communicate effectively. However, a good proportion of staff lacks training in inclusivity and empowerment, which are key elements of the new norms and standards requirements for extension and advisory services. While extension staff surveyed recognized the importance of digital literacy for the future, only about half received any training on the use of digital tools, and many relied mainly on phone calls and emails for their work.

For revitalization of extension and advisory services, individual staff will need new capacities and skills, but that is not enough. Government extension departments and private and nongovernmental organizations also require organizational capacities, and relevant national and organizational policies that guide extension should be enable effective functioning. Therefore, in addition to rounding out the technical and functional expertise of South African extension and advisory services staff, adequate incentives and systems should be in place to ensure professionalism and motivation.

To learn more about this research, read the reports:

Davis, Kristin E.; von Maltitz, Lindie; de Bruyn, Melanie; van Niekerk, Johan; and Ngomane, Tsakani. 2021. South African extension agent competencies and attitudes for the future: Results of a survey. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Davis, Kristin E.; Joseph, Jeanelle; Barry, Tessa; von Maltitz, Lindie; van Niekerk, Johan; Ngomane, Tsakani; and Rasoanindrainy, Andrianjafy. 2021. Global agricultural extension staff functional competencies. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Photo: MONTAGU WESTERN CAPE SOUTH AFRICA - CIRCA 2014 Young African man picking tomatoes which will be sun dried for export. Montagu Western Cape South Africa – Image. Editorial credit: Peter Titmuss /

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