Agricultural Extension Service in Africa: THE BIG PICTURE


A representative from DuPont Pioneer talks about the particular variety of maize that Pioneer recommends for this agro-ecological zone at a demonstration plot in Zimbabwe.

According to Volker Hoffman, an agricultural economist and an expert on extension at Hohenheim University, Germany, governments should not be directly engaged in the provision of extension services, which can be more efficiently managed by private legal entities. Before now, in the 1960s and 1970s state run, state funded extension and advisory service played a key role in getting information and new technologies to farmers.

However, the structural adjustment programmes introduced by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) led to a significant reduction in the funds available for agricultural service delivery. At the same time, the portion of official development assistance devoted to agriculture declined from 17 percent in 1980 to 3 per cent by 2006, and this has a profound effect on national extension and advisory services


Volker further stated that government extension has continued to suffer from a number of shortcomings. According to him, government tend to be bureaucratic and in efficient. Instead of consulting farmers about their needs, government extension agents generally decide what is best for them and that there is often conflict of roles , with government extension agents acting as advisors, policemen, and arbiters about whether or not farmers should receive subsidies or other assistance. This inevitably leads to a lack of trust between extension agents and farmers.

A statistical comparison in the productivity of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa with those of East Asai shows that in 1961, average cereal yields were around 1 tonne per hectare in Sub- Saharan Africa and 1.4 tonnes in East Asia. Yield in Sub-Saharan Africa has barely risen since then, whereas, in East Asia farmers now average more than 5 tonnes per hectare. This leads to associating low agricultural productivity with high level of poverty and hunger. In 1981 and 2005, the number of people living on less than 1.25USD a day in Sub- Saharan Africa grew from 212 to 388 million; in East Asia, the number fell from 1,071 million to 316 million.


Therefore, in order to curb the inefficiency and the passive role of the extension service, Hoffmann suggest that the government should continue to determine policy, regulate how extension services operate and ensure that farmers receive good, sound and applicable advice. However, it should reduce it direct engagement in providing services or input to farmers and this should be left to other service providers such as private companies and non- governmental organisations.

Many stakeholders also broadly agreed that extension services should be provided free of charge for smallholder farmers while commercial farmers are to pay for such services. Also noteworthy is the fact that farmers require not just high-quality agricultural advice but also health services, transport, communications, credit and remunerative markets

In order to move in the direction of farmers’ needs, it is now widely accepted that the move towards more pluralistic, demand driven, innovative, cost effective systems of delivery in which advisory services are combined with better access to credit, farm inputs and the market, has the potential to improve the welfare of smallholder farmers, reduce rural poverty and increase food production.

Photo source- FEED THE FUTURE Flicker photo stream


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