Sunday, May 19, 2024

Extension services wilt, kill crops and livestock sectors

Agricultural extension remains a powerful strategy for rural development throughout the world and there is not a single country that expects to achieve growth in agriculture with an effective extension service. Presently, agricultural extension cannot only focus on increasing production, but should recognize the presence of other institutions that support farmers.

In a 2018 research paper titled “An overview of agricultural extension in Botswana and needed reforms”, the author, Flora Modiane Tladi-Sekgwama argues that the institutions, together with extension must facilitate the farmers’ efforts to solve problems, link them to markets and other players in the agriculture value chain. They should provide services to the farmers; help them obtain information, skills and technologies to improve their livelihoods.

Research has proven that in rural areas, many farmers do not have the most up to date information on how to grow food efficiently and economically. Therefore, improving their knowledge and providing physical resources necessary for implementation can dramatically increase the level of productivity. Increased farmer knowledge means more improved agricultural practices and therefore more food and income.

This increase in agricultural production can be attributed to the acceptance of technological changes at the rural farm level, and can be achieved through an extension service that goes beyond technology transfer to include facilitation, training to ensure learning, appropriate skills development by farmers, promoting farm groups and dealing with marketing issues.

Research also recommends that “the primary focus of agricultural extension should primarily be to change attitudes and behaviour of farmers through training. Secondly, the economical focus is to increase farmer income, crop yield, improved financial health financial management and food preservation skills. The third focus is social; this includes improved health of farmers, leadership skills development and increased desire to participate in own development”.

It is further argued that the overarching focus should be on the “fit between an extension system and the national agricultural policy context as this determines the effectiveness of the system and its operations. In addition, the current extension services should be ready and willing to partner with diverse groups of service providers and agencies”.

The World Bank in 2007 acknowledged that more than 60 percent of the populations of most developing countries is poor, lives in rural areas and depends on agriculture for their livelihoods.  

These are the people who lack the functional knowledge essential for increasing agricultural production and income generation, to further alleviate poverty. Agricultural extension therefore, plays a critical role in facilitating agricultural productivity and achieving the desired development outcomes such as poverty alleviation.

In the Botswana context, it is acknowledged that the relative performance of the agricultural sector dropped from 42 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1966 to 2.37 percent in 2014. A number of factors such as access to roads, electricity, telecommunication, grain storage and sanitation are associated with the decrease in the sector’s contribution to the national economy.

The Botswana National Development Plan (NDP) 10 recommended several goals to enable the attainment of desired results in the agricultural sectors and increase agricultural productivity.

These are: facilitating the growth and competitiveness of the agricultural sector; enhancing farmers’ willingness and sustainable resource management skills; and availing essential resources to agricultural and related sector and improving management skills.

 In addition, commercialization, private sector engagement, and effective extension services are recommended for improving performance of agriculture. An extension approach is a structural framework to the delivery of services and therefore, defines the organizational and leadership structures.

An approach determines the purpose, objectives of extension, clients, needs, programmes, methods and resource requirements. Through extension service, government avails programmes, appropriate resources to improve crops and livestock sectors: these are the reasons why after 79 years, current policy acknowledges the relevance of extension and regard the service as integral to innovative technology required to increase agricultural productivity.

The paper further observes that The Accelerated Rural Development (ARDP) of 1973 to 1976 turned out to be a success only as a rural extension system, and in providing services and building rural infrastructure but “did not improve agricultural productivity and production”.

In addition, the implementation capacity of the ARDP was reportedly low as only 30 percent of the allocated budget had been used by the end of the three years. This poor performance was attributed to a lack of trained workforce.

Research has also shown that extension services become powerful when they do not stand alone but “have programmes that provide for inputs, subsidies and credit”. In 2008, the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) was introduced and runs to date. Its aim is to improve arable farming and increase production through fencing of fields.

This is to protect crops from damage by roaming livestock and game as well as assisting farmers to obtain requisite inputs.

A review of the agricultural sector undertaken in 1989 led to the development of a new agricultural policy in 1991. The policy adopted household and national food security to replace national food self-sufficiency as one of its objectives, and identified several challenges for agricultural extension including the need for: an extension system design that gave maximum economic benefit and promoted national production plans emphasizing agriculture as well as non-farm; economically sound advice on farm techniques that are relevant to farmer situations; targeted policy packages and subsidies for specific farmers; adoption of commercial rather than subsistence production approaches by farmers; and private-sector service provision.

One of the goals of the National Policy on Agriculture was that farmers need to adopt  non-traditional production systems such as horticulture, bee-keeping, harvesting and processing veld products in order to diversify agriculture and enhance food security.

In addition, the policy objectives for commercializing agriculture emphasized entrepreneurial skills. The lack of entrepreneurial skills continues to retard agricultural production in Botswana.

It is also acknowledged that “effective delivery of agricultural extension services is constrained by four groups of factors, physical, administrative, extension worker related and farmer related”. Farmers’ constraints included lack of credit facility, absentee farmers, poor adoption rate because of negative attitudes, lack of knowledge on improved farming practices, and strong farmer organizations.

Two types of institutional reforms, market and non-market are recommended to refocus agricultural extension systems in developing countries. The adoption of one or the other depends on the purpose and focus of an extension system.

Market reform strategies can assist with commercialization of agriculture in Botswana with the Department of Agribusiness Promotion (DABP) leading the public sector role in promoting business skill transfer, market access and agricultural cooperatives and associations.

On cost recovery, the paper recommends the charging of fees by farmers for extension services provided especially to those farmers who can afford fees for extension advice. This enables better targeting of specialized groups such as subsistence farmers, women and youth, and farmers associations to meet different client needs.

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