The concept and practice of extension are the central themes of this guide. However, before beginning to look at the many different aspects of extension practice in later chapters, the meaning of the term extension needs to be examined. Rural extension is now a common activity in most countries of the world, and it is a basic element in programmes and projects formulated to bring about change in rural areas. Extension services are similarly a common feature of the administrative structure of rural areas and these services have the responsibility, in partnership with the farmers, of directing programmes and projects for change.
The concept of extension
Extension is a term which is open to a wide variety of interpretations. Each extension agent probably has his own understanding of what extension is. This understanding will be based on past experience and the particular type of extension service in which the agent is working. In other words, there is no single definition of extension which is universally accepted or which is applicable to all situations. Furthermore, extension is a dynamic concept in the sense that the interpretation of it is always changing. Extension, therefore, is not a term which can be precisely defined, but one which describes a continual and changing process in rural areas.
The term extension may be examined by looking at a number of statements that have been written about it.
- Extension is an informal educational process directed toward the rural population. This process offers advice and information to help them solve their problems. Extension also aims to increase the efficiency of the family farm, increase production and generally increase the standard of living of the farm family.
The objective of extension is to change farmers’ outlook toward their difficulties. Extension is concerned not just with physical and economic achievements but also with the development of the rural people themselves. Extension agents, therefore, discuss matters with the rural people, help them to gain a clearer insight into their problems and also to decide how to overcome these problems.
- Extension is a process of working with rural people in order to improve their livelihoods. This involves helping farmers to improve the productivity of their agriculture and also developing their abilities to direct their own future development.
The above statements are presented to illustrate the range of interpretations that can be found about extension. They do, however, contain a number of common points. They all stress that extension is a process which occurs over a period of time, and not a single, one-time activity. They also all underline extension as an educational process which works with rural people, supports them and prepares them to confront their problems more successfully.
If statements such as those above are examined more carefully, and if the current ideas and practice of extension are considered, four main elements can be identified within the process of extension: knowledge and skills, technical advice and information, farmers’ organization, and motivation and self-confidence
Knowledge and skills
Although farmers already have a lot of knowledge about their environment and their farming system, extension can bring them other knowledge and information which they do not have. For example, knowledge about the cause of the damage to a particular crop, the general principles of pest control, or the ways in which manure and compost are broken down to provide plant nutrients are all areas of knowledge that the agent can usefully bring to farmers.
The application of such knowledge often means that the farmer has to acquire new skills of various kinds: for example, technical skills to operate unfamiliar equipment, organizational skills to manage a group project, the skill to assess the economic aspects of technical advice given, or farm management skills for keeping records and allocating the use of farm resources and equipment.
The transfer of knowledge and skills to farmers and their families is an important extension activity and the extension agent must prepare himself thoroughly. He must find out which skills or areas of knowledge are lacking among the farmers in his area, and then arrange suitable learning experiences through which the farmers can acquire them.
Technical advice and information
Extension also provides advice and information to assist farmers in making decisions and generally enable them to take action. This can be information about prices and markets, for example, or about the availability of credit and inputs. The technical advice will probably apply more directly to the production activities of the family farm and to the action needed to improve or sustain this production. Much of this technical advice will be based upon the findings of agricultural research. In many instances, however, farmers are also sources of valuable advice and information for other farmers, and agents should always try to establish a farmer-to-farmer link.
As well as knowledge, information and technical advice, farmers also need some form of organization, both to represent their interests and to give them a means for taking collective action. Extension, therefore, should be concerned with helping to set up, structure and develop organizations of local farmers. This should be a joint venture and any such organization should only be set up in consultation with the farmers. In the future, these organizations will make it easier for extension services to work with local farmers, and will also serve as a channel for disseminating information and knowledge.
Motivation and self-confidence
One of the main constraints to development that many farmers face is isolation, and a feeling that there is little they can do to change their lives. Some farmers will have spent all their lives struggling in difficult circumstances to provide for their families with little support or encouragement. It is important for extension to work closely with farmers, helping them to take the initiative and generally encouraging them to become involved in extension activities. Equally important is to convince farmers that they can do things for themselves, that they can make decisions and that they have the ability to break out of their poverty.
The above are the four fundamental elements of the extension process. It is not suggested that all extension activities must contain each of these elements, nor that some are more important than others. Clearly, the extension approach will be determined by the particular circumstances. However, an overall extension service should be based on these elements and should seek to promote them within the rural areas
Extension works with people, not for them
Extension works with rural people. Only the people themselves can make decisions about the way they will farm or live and an extension agent does not try to take these decisions for them. Rural people can and do make wise decisions about their problems if they are given full information including possible alternative solutions
Extension is accountable to its clients
Extension services and agents have two sets of masters. On the one hand, they are accountable to their senior officers and to the government departments that determine rural development policies. Agents are expected to follow official policies and guidelines in their work.
On the other hand, extension is the servant of the rural people and it has the responsibility to fulfil the needs of the people in its area. This means that the rural poor should have a say in deciding how effective extension actually is.
Extension is a two-way link
Extension is not a one-way process in which the extension agent transfers knowledge and ideas to farmers and their families. Such advice, which is often based upon the findings of agricultural and other research stations, is certainly important but the flow of information from farmers to extension and research workers is equally important. Extension should be ready to receive farmers’ ideas, suggestions or advice, as well as to give them. This two-way flow of ideas can occur at different stages.
When the problem is being defined. Being in regular contact with the farmers, the extension agent can help research workers to understand the farming problems of the area and the limitations under which farmers have to work. It is even better if the agent can bring researchers into direct contact with farmers in order to ensure that research recommendations are relevant to farmers’ needs.
Extension links farmers with research
When recommendations are being tested in the field. A new farm practice or crop variety might produce good results at a research station but not do so well on a farmer’s field. Trials on farmers’ fields are an opportunity to test research recommendations and provide feedback for research staff.
When farmers put recommendations into practice. Sometimes farmers discover problems with a recommendation which the research station failed to note. With the feedback the recommendations can be adjusted accordingly.
The two-way link between research, extension and the farmer is fundamental to sound extension practice and should be a basic principle of extension activity.
Extension cooperates with other rural development organizations
Within rural areas, extension services and agents should work closely with the other organizations that provide essential services to farmers and their families. Extension is only one aspect of the many economic, social and political activities that seek to produce change for the better in rural society. Extension, therefore, must be prepared to collaborate with all other such organizations, both government and non-government, and to take them into account when preparing to implement extension policies. The kinds of organizations with which extension services should cooperate include:
Political institutions and local political leaders whose active local support will help the extension agent, who may thereby be brought into closer touch with local farmers.
Support organizations such as those which supply agricultural or other inputs, credit facilities or marketing services. Such inputs must be available in sufficient quantity, in the right place and at the right time if they are to be of any use.
Health services, so that the extension agent is kept aware of local health problems, particularly nutritional levels. Agricultural development and nutrition are closely related and the agent must keep closely in touch with health programmes and projects and adapt his programme to conform to local health requirements.
Local schools, so that the agent can have early access to the farmers of the future, and begin to equip them with the knowledge and skills required for farming.
Community development, whose objectives will be very similar to the educational work of extension. Extension agents often work very closely with community development workers to break down local social and cultural barriers to change and to encourage community action programmes.
It is essential that the extension agent in the field know what his colleagues in other services and government departments are doing, and that they understand what he is doing. Close cooperation not only avoids duplication but provides opportunities for integrated farm programmes.
Types of extension
There is no one universal type of extension but a variety of activities and approaches which can be called extension. It has already been stated that since agriculture is the basis of a rural economy, agricultural extension is the most common type of extension to be found in rural areas. But the areas of knowledge and new ideas that farmers and their families require are not restricted to agriculture. There are other aspects of family life in which new knowledge and practices can lead to improvement. Extension is any activity that works with farmers and their families in order to improve the economic and social conditions of their lives and to develop their ability to take responsibility for their own future development. This extension, however, can take different forms and it would be useful to review the two principal ones.
There are probably more extension agents involved in agricultural activities than in any other aspect of rural life. Given the importance of agriculture and the need to produce food both for the farm family and for the nation as a whole, this emphasis upon agricultural extension is understandable. Some agricultural extension services are based upon a single crop, while others adopt more of a “whole farm” approach. The choice is very much dependent upon the local agricultural system and the national crop requirements. In regions where cash crops such as cotton, cocoa or sugar grow, the single crop extension approach is more common.
An agricultural extension service offers technical advice on agriculture to farmers, and also supplies them with the necessary inputs and services to support their agricultural production. It provides information to farmers and passes to the farmers new ideas developed by agricultural research stations. Agricultural extension programmes cover a broad area including improved crop varieties, better livestock control, improved water management, and the control of weeds, pests or plant diseases. Where appropriate, agricultural extension may also help to build up local farmers’ groups and organizations so that they can benefit from extension programmes. Agricultural extension, therefore, provides the indispensable elements that farmers need to improve their agricultural productivity.
In the absence of a collective term to cover the other types of extension, it is convenient to refer to them all as non-agricultural extension. This term includes all activities and efforts not directly related to agriculture or livestock production, but which are important to the farm families. Home economics, family health and nutrition, population education and community development are all non-agricultural extension activities.
Rural extension covers many aspects of rural life
When talking of extension and extension agents, therefore, all activities of the above type are included. These activities also involve the basic elements and principles of extension outlined earlier in this chapter, such as knowledge, learning and practice. Home economists and community development workers, therefore, are extension agents who deal with farm families in the same way as agricultural extension agents. The only difference is their areas of concern.
In fact, it is becoming increasingly common to talk of rural extension as a collective term which brings together all agricultural and non-agricultural extension activities. The feature common to both types of extension is that they work with families in rural areas and deal with problems in a rural environment. Their different programmes and approaches have a common aim, which is the improvement of the lives of the rural people, and they are both guided by common principles and ideals.
Mass media in extension
Mass media are those channels of communication which can expose large numbers of people to the same information at the same time. They include media which convey information by sound (radio, audio cassettes); moving pictures (television, film, video); and print (posters, newspapers, leaflets). The attraction of mass media to extension services is the high speed and low cost with which information can be communicated to people over a wide area. Although the cost of producing and transmitting a radio programme may seem high, when that cost is divided between the millions of people who may hear the programme, it is in fact a very cheap way of providing information. The cost of an hour’s radio broadcast per farmer who listens can be less than one-hundredth of the cost of an hour’s contact with an extension agent.
However, mass media cannot do all the jobs of an extension agent. They cannot offer personal advice and support, teach practical skills, or answer questions immediately. Their low cost suggests that they should be used for the tasks to which they are well suited. These include the following:
Spreading awareness of new ideas and creating interest in farming innovations.
- Giving timely warnings about possible pest and disease outbreaks, and urgent advice on what action to take.
- Multiplying the impact of extension activities. A demonstration will only be attended by a small number of farmers, but the results will reach many more if they are reported in newspapers and on the radio.
- Sharing experiences with other individuals and communities. The success of a village in establishing a local tree plantation might stimulate other villages to do the same if it is broadcast over the radio. Farmers are also often interested in hearing about the problems of other farmers and how they have overcome them.
- Answering questions, and advising on problems common to a large number of farmers.
- Reinforcing or repeating information and advice. Information heard at a meeting or passed on by an extension agent can soon be forgotten. It will be remembered more easily if it is reinforced by mass media.
- Using a variety of sources that are credible to farmers. Instead of hearing advice from the extension agent only, through mass media farmers can be brought into contact with successful farmers from other areas, respected political figures and agricultural specialists.
Principles of media use
For extension through mass media to be effective, farmers must:
- have access to the medium;
- be exposed to the message: they may have radios, but do they listen to farm broadcasts?;
- pay attention to the message: information must be attractively presented and relevant to farmers’ interests;
- understand the message.
Mass media messages are short-lived and the audience may pay attention for only a short time, particularly where the content is educational or instructional. If too much information is included, much of it will soon be forgotten. This means that information provided through mass media should be:
Simple and short.
Repeated, to increase understanding and help the audience to remember.
Structured, in a way that aids memory.
Extension agents can help media producers by keeping them informed of farmers’ concerns and information needs, and by reporting any failure to understand the content of the products of mass media. People who produce radio programmes’ posters and films are usually more educated than farmers and are not normally in regular daily contact with rural people. They cannot, therefore, easily anticipate how well farmers will interpret the material they produce.
Radio is a particularly useful mass medium for extension. Battery-operated radios are now common features in rural communities. Information can reach households directly and instantly throughout a region or country. Urgent news or warnings can be communicated far more quickly than through posters, extension agents or newspapers. Yet, despite radio’s mass audience, a good presenter can make programmes seem very informal and personal, giving the impression that an individual listener is being spoken to directly. Radio is one of the best media for spreading awareness of new ideas to large numbers of people and can be used to publicize extension activities. It can also enable one community or group to share its experiences with others.
Television and video
Television, like film, combines vision with sound and like radio, it can also be an instant medium, transmitting information directly to a mass audience. Television signals can be broadcast from a land-based transmitter, by satellite or through cables. However, in many countries, television transmission and sets are still restricted to urban areas, and the potential of television for rural extension will remain low until sets become more widely available. Television sets are much more expensive to buy and repair than radios, and programme production costs are also far higher. Where television has been used for rural extension communication, access and impact have been increased by group viewing followed by discussion.
As a mass medium, video has more to offer than film, since video programmes can be made far more quickly in multiple copies, and the lightweight video cassettes are relatively easy to distribute. As video equipment – television monitors and video cassette recorders – becomes more robust, it will be possible to use mobile units to show up-to-date programmes, made within the country and even within the area, to large numbers of rural families. The tape can be slowed down, wound back to repeat a particular action, or held on a particular frame while the extension agent explains a point. The same mobile units could carry portable video cameras to collect material for new programmes. The main limitation to viewing is that only 20 to 30 people can satisfactorily watch a video programme on a normal television set, while several hundred can see a film projected on to a large screen.
Where video equipment is available – and it will become increasingly so over the next few years – extension agents should refer to the guidelines given above for using film and audio cassettes.
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