Agricultural extension: Its role in national development
I’m absolutely thrilled to be writing this column and look forward to sharing with you what is essentially relevant for us to forge ahead as a nation. First of all l must say that I’m not a politician but l try to understand the politics of the day. In that l believe what has become the ultimate in understanding the truth is that danger bells are ringing for the national economy and absolutely unless agriculture succeeds, a nation can’t succeed.
The challenges I’m going to put forward in this piece is, what relevant role does agricultural extension play in national development? An in depth analysis shows that, a changing agriculture requires public and private institutions that are resilient and adaptable to new opportunities to come to terms with the reality. That means we must go beyond the drawing board and face the reality to bring food to the ordinary people.
What does agricultural extension mean if it is to bring about a desirable change and tangible results into food production and improved national economy? Agricultural extension is an applied behavioural science, which is applied to bring about desirable changes in the behavioural complex of farming community, usually through various strategies and programmes of change, by applying latest scientific and technological innovation. The system of extension was first used in the United States of America during the first decade of this century to connote the "extension of scientific agricultural production knowledge" from the agricultural colleges to the farming community through the process of informal education system. Better still, “Extension” means “reaching out,” The roots of U.S. agricultural extension go back to the early years of the country. There were agricultural societies and clubs after the American Revolution, and in 1810 came the first Farm Journal. It survived for only 2 years, but in 1819 John Stuart Skinner of Baltimore began publishing the American Farmer. Farmers were encouraged to report on their achievements and their methods of solving problems. Some worthwhile ideas, along with some utterly useless ones, appeared on the pages of the publication.
The Morrill Act of 1862 established land-grant universities to educate citizens in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts, and other practical professions. Extension was formalized in 1914, with the Smith-Lever Act (link to that topic in About Us). It established the partnership between the agricultural colleges and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide for cooperative agricultural extension work. At the heart of agricultural extension work, according to the Act, was:
• Developing practical applications of research knowledge.
• Giving instruction and practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices or technologies in agriculture.
Smith-Lever mandated that the Federal Government (through USDA) provide each state with funds based on a population-related formula. The extension service’s first big test came during World War I, when it helped the nation meet its wartime needs by:
• Increasing wheat acreage significantly, from an average of 47 million acres annually in 1913 to 74 million in 1919.
• Helping the USDA implement its new authority to encourage farm production, marketing, and conserving of perishable products by canning, drying, and preserving.
• Helping to address war-related farm labor shortages at harvest time by organizing the Women’s Land Army and the Boys’ Working Reserve.
More generally, extension's role in WWI helped it expand its reputation as an educational entity to one that also emphasized service for individuals, organizations, and the Federal Government.
During the Great Depression, state colleges and the USDA emphasized farm management for individual farmers. Extension agents taught farmers about marketing and helped farm groups organize both buying and selling cooperatives. At the same time, extension home economists taught farm women—who traditionally maintained the household—good nutrition, canning surplus foods, house gardening, home poultry production, home nursing, furniture refinishing, and sewing—skills that helped many farm families survive the years of economic depression and drought.
During World War II, the extension service again worked with farmers and their families, to secure the production increases essential to the war effort. Each year for 5 years, total food production increased. In 1944, food production was 38 percent above the 1935-1939 average. The Victory Garden Program was one of the most popular programs in the war period, and extension agents developed programs to provide seed, fertilizer, and simple gardening tools for victory gardeners. An estimated 15 million families planted victory gardens in 1942, and in 1943 some 20 million victory gardens produced more than 40 percent of the vegetables grown for that year's fresh consumption.
Between 1950 and 1997, the number of farms in the U.S. declined dramatically—from 5.4 million to 1.9 million. Because the amount of farmland did not decrease as much as the number of farms, the remaining farms have a larger average acreage. During the same period, farm production increased from one farmer supporting the food needs of 15.5 persons in 1950 to one farmer supporting 100 persons in 1990. By 1997, one farmer supported the food needs of almost 140 U.S. citizens. That increased productivity, despite the decline in farm numbers, resulted from increased mechanization, commercial fertilizers, new hybrid seeds, and other technologies. Extension played an important role in extending these new technologies to U.S. farmers and ranchers.
At that time, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, and 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in farming. Extension's engagement with rural America helped make possible the American agricultural revolution, which dramatically increased farm productivity: In 1945, it took up to 14 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on 2 acres of land. By 1987, it took just under 3 labor-hours to produce that same 100 bushels of corn on just over 1 acre. In 2002, that same 100 bushels of corn were produced on less than 1 acre. That increase in productivity has allowed fewer farmers to produce more food. Fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living today, and only 10 percent of Americans now live in rural areas. Yet, the extension service still plays an important role in American life—rural, urban, and suburban. With its unprecedented reach—with an office in or near most of the nation’s approximately 3,000 counties—extension agents’ help farmers grow crops, homeowners plan and maintain their homes, and children learn skills to become tomorrow’s leaders. Lesson from the past The establishment of the agricultural colleges in Ghana was laudable and very welcome. I graduated from the Kwadaso Agricultural College and have learned the necessary skills to bring about a desirable change, a commitment l cherished and worked devotedly with a non-governmental organization committed to promoting sustainable organic agriculture in the country some few years back. The working conditions at the non-governmental sector placed me at advantaged position to function well than my colleagues’ extension workers working for the government. That is a true fact. Those that l came into contact with were just confused and tried to blame themselves for the wrong career pathway they’ve chosen. The general situation is appalling. I am tempted to ask the big question; how is extension officers in the country functioning, supported and motivated by government today? I can’t think better words such as dormancy and mediocrity. If extension objectives are to be achieved then we need to revisit and see ourselves the extension officers as key. Agricultural Extension Objectives The objectives of the agricultural extension to the farming community are the expression of the ends towards which our efforts are directed. In other words the objective connotes the direction of movement. The fundamental objective of agricultural extension in our country is the development of the farming community and the overall development of rural economy in general. As regards agricultural extension the following objectives are concerned. 1. Dissemination of the information relating to advanced technology in agricultural production, which includes usage of improved seeds, methods of use of chemical fertilizers; 2. Application of advanced scientific knowledge to the farming and home of the rural people; 3. Scientific management of land based farming such as horticulture, sericulture, dairying, poultry etc, by the farming community; 4. Overall improvement of the quality of life of the rural people within the framework of the national economic and social policies as a whole. Extension Teaching & Learning Agricultural extension involves both learning and teaching methods as it forms an educational process for bringing about the maximum number of people within the fold of desirable changes in them. The essential role of agricultural extension workers is to create an effective learning situation. Most effective learning situation requires the following elements: a) Instructor: The village level worker (Extension worker) with the information on scientific knowledge;
b) Learner: Farmer, Farm women and the village youth, the target group; c) Subject matter: Advanced scientific knowledge such as the practices of cultivation of hybrid varieties of seeds, fertilizers, its planned use, pesticides, improved implements, land and water management system etc; d) Teaching aids: Such as charts, models, samples, slides, film shows, flannel boards, flip charts etc; e) Physical facilities: these include places where farmers could sit around or go around for practical studies;
Extension teaching is the process through which the extension workers stimulate interest in learning more by using various teaching methods, tools and techniques to improve the situation. This knowledge and skill should be so applied by the extension worker so as to arouse in them the interest to adopt the advanced scientific technology in their day-to-day practice. Extension Problems It is worth stating that there is no success in human endeavor without countervailing problems. Effective agricultural extension was bedeviled by a range of problems such as a lack of a single line of command, dilution of efforts by assigning too many jobs to extension workers. Excessively large areas of operation without providing any logistic support i. e. vehicle. Lack of regular training for updating knowledge of extension workers. Lack of research findings appropriate to condition of farmers field, low status and morale of extension staff and the duplications of services by various development departments. At present other than Agricultural Extension Department there are several agencies and some NGO's that are involved in Agricultural Extension activities. But sadly true, there exists little coordination among these departments. There is no harm in identifying the problem areas by individual organization/agencies, but in any case a strong co-ordination should exist so as to make co-coordinated efforts to resolve those problems.
Need for Adoption of Agricultural Extension System for Increased Productivity: The world population in 1990 was 1 billion, it became 2 billion by 1930, 3 billion by 1960 and by 2000 AD it is expected to touch 6.2 billion. However, in order to feed these teeming million the food demand will be in the order of 1550 billion tons at the rate of 250 kgs of cereal per capita and the world has already achieved in 1980 1587 billion tones of food production. Still hunger haunts the human race. The reason is not then the shortage but lack of purchasing power. In fact food is used as a weapon by the developed countries. It should have been the task of mankind to assure the people of this world at large of their right to be free from hunger through increased production. Increased agricultural production can be brought about by advocating the advanced scientific knowledge to bring about changes in the production standards of those areas where the potential is not fully exploited to the level the science has achieved today. For instance, more emphasis on sustainable organic agriculture and tangle research into indigenous knowledge will lessen our dependence on expensive agro-chemicals, which rather more increases production cost and its adverse health and environmental consequences. The Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Mr. Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu overly stated this in the 2006 budget to the nation the need for “increased access to extension services.”
The extension education is the only means through which the desired transformations can be brought about in the agricultural land productivity of the farming community. It is in this perspective that technology development (through research) and technology transfer (through extension and education) have been identified as key inputs indispensable for developing and sustaining a productivity led agricultural sector. Yields are the eventual consequences of developmental efforts, and extension impact would be reflected more in yields than in other measures.
Research findings will be meaningless unless they are accepted by the farmers. The results of agricultural research should be available to the farmers through the network of extension system. Farmers are intelligent enough to adopt those technologies, which are beneficial and bring economic return. Now what is needed is healthy coordination between extension department and research institutions in a more effective way. At present the coordination seems to be almost illusive. One can say with considerable confidence that if extension and research work together shoulder to shoulder there is no reason why we will not be able to achieve self-sufficiency in food in our country. But to achieve this goal and objective the prime need is pledge together to achieve together. To make the sector commercially profitable, economically more vibrant and self-sustaining, we need to do more and say less about the drive for modernizing agriculture. Tomorrow And what will extension look like in the future? Perhaps like one of your favorite Web sites. The extension system needs to develop a coordinated, internet-based information system where customers will have round-the-clock access to trustworthy, balanced views of specialized information and education. I prose the endeavour should assemble teams of national experts from within the universities and colleges and the research stations to develop the materials, versions of which may currently reside on state Web sites, with only minor variations in content and form. For customers, the value will be personalized, best-of-the-best, validated information that addresses their specific questions, issues, and life events in an aggregated, non-duplicative approach. By this, the extension system will continue to ensure national and international leadership in: • Agricultural productivity • The stewardship of our nation’s natural resources • The creation of confident, public-service-oriented citizens • The strengthening of families’ food supply and wealth distributions. The Strategy: Youth are the Key Youth are our future. Young people are already active and involved members of our communities and society. We often hear the government says the youth should go into farming as a lucrative venture. Farming by itself is lucrative and they are aware about that. It is government programmes that make it non-appealing. We need to have a more consistent and pragmatic and practical youth development and educational programmes that will build important skills and knowledge so that our youth can be competent, caring, contributing citizens now and as adults. Giving land and highest incentives to the aging and non-enthusiastic parliamentarians to embark on farming still means increasing the wealth of the few in position and widening the poverty gaps of the disadvantaged majority. I believe synergistic result would come from an efficient combination and coordination agricultural extension system and the youth who bear the torch of hope for today and tomorrow will witness rapid socio-economic development in the agricultural sector hence the national economy. Extension Officers in the country deserves better government attention than ever. They need to be motivated and provided with logistical support. Besides a national grant assistance needs to be established to boost agricultural production with simple and affordable access. The media need to add her voice and play a part in the transformation process and get relevant information to the farmers. The Agro-Link programme on television needs to be re-introduced. Raymond K. Bokor (Austin, Texas USA )