Improving agriculture extension system

Improving farm extension services

farm extensionA highly minute per cent of farmers in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa use modern technology when it comes to agriculture. – File photo

ONLY about 20 per cent of farmers in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa use modern technology in agriculture. This is because either most of them have no money, or if some of them have, they are ignorant and not inclined to use it.

The agriculture extension services staff has not made growers aware of the advantages of the modern farming technology or motivated them to use it.

Agriculture worldwide has undergone tremendous developments and various technologies are used for ploughing, sowing, harvesting and packing crops. But most of our local farmers are still stuck to traditional ways of agriculture, resulting in low yields, wastage of assets like water and 30-40 per cent loss of farm-produce.

Farmers either reject or adopt innovations on the basis of their awareness, interest, experience, product cost and their financial position. They are usually too conservative, ignorant and poor to adopt new technologies and strategies, but once the utility of the system is established, they quickly adopt it. But it requires expertise, profuse contacts and sufficient strength of extension personnel, which unfortunately are lacking.

Instead of following a proactive approach in its interaction with growers, the agriculture extension officials primarily wait for them to come to it with their problems to get them solved. One wonders why this can’t be the other way round i.e. the directorate staff reaches the farmers at their doorsteps to do the required job.

“Agricultural extension department is mandated to provide research technology to farmers, convey growers’ feedback to agricultural researchers and keeps them abreast of the field problems for further improvement in their research work. It is supposed to contact and train farmers, check sale of fake fertiliser and pesticides, collect data and prepare reports on crops and extension materials for farmers, supporting donors and dealers.

But the extension directorate has given up these functions. Its officials now seldom visit fields and farmers. There is no interaction and liaison with farmers to know their problems and needs,” said Haji Niamat Shah, vice-president of Anjuman-i- Kashtkaran, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to him, till the recent past, officers regularly visited farmers and fields. There were daily farmer-specific radio and TV programmes, agriculture extension shows and melas and film shows at village levels, and spraying and pruning of orchards by extension officials.

Fruit plants were also provided to farmers but there is nothing of this sort these days,” he complains.

The extension service has suffered both from insufficient capacity and commitment as well as paucity of staff. Out of 2,654 personnel of the department in 2004, there were only 38 technical officials while field staff numbered 2,129 who had to cater to the agriculture needs of around 1.4mn farms in the province.

When an official had to attend 527 farmers on an average, how could extension duties like making frequent contacts with farmers and checking of pesticides and fertiliser dealers for quality be satisfactorily carried out?

Though there is no direct evaluation of the extension impact – it is indirectly judged from crop yields and cash returns to farmers etc.. There is no authentic data to show as to whether high prices of farm produce have benefited growers more or the middlemen and commission agents?

In 2007-08, model farm services centres were developed for extension purposes but these bodies are now dormant in most of the districts. There is no separate statutory law to govern its functions under which they could be registered.

The department needs to invest on strengthening its information technology section as its website is not updated and still displays figures of 2006 on achievements of agriculture extension services.

The lack of service structure and chances for promotion is discouraging new talent to join the directorate and the existing ones are also leaving their services.

There is a need to establish genuine farmers organisations at village level as community participation is generally better at micro level.

The government and private sector should establish agricultural machinery pools and inputs centres at villages where farmers could get these things and also guidance on subsidised or deferred payment.

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Here is the original script of the article

Improving extension ystem

By Tahir Ali Khan

Agriculture development in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, besides other problems, is also suffering from weak agriculture extension system that has hindered mechanised farming and perpetuated low per acre yield -607kgs as against the national average of 1040kg per acre.

The work of the directorate general of agriculture extension -to disseminate latest agriculture technology and techniques to farmers- is made difficult by apparently scant commitment of the former and the latter’s inability or disinclination to modernise their farming.

The challenge facing the extension department is two-pronged: One, to make the research scientists to develop new varieties and techniques; two, how that is to be made available to farmers and to motivate them to use it. Newly discovered agriculture technologies and techniques come to nothing if these aren’t promptly transferred to farmers -the end users.

Agriculture worldwide has undergone tremendous developments and various technologies are used for ploughing, sowing, harvesting and packing the crops but most of the local farmers still use the old-fashioned ways of agriculture resulting in low yields, wastage of agriculture assets like water, around 30-40 per cent loss of on farm-produce and therefore less incomes for them.

Only about 20 per cent farmers use modern agriculture technology. This is because either most have no money to buy and, if they have one, no knowledge or inclination to use the modern farming techniques and services as extension staff fails to motivate them.

Farmers either reject or adopt the innovations on the basis of their awareness, interest, experience, the cost of the product and their own financial position. Though farmers are usually too conservative, ignorant and poor to adopt new technologies and strategies but once their utility is established, they quickly adopt it. But it requires expertise, profuse contacts and sufficient strength of extension personnel, which unfortunately are lacking.

 

The current extension service does not suit the requirements of modern age and has weaknesses both in structure as well as methodology: poor use of electronic and print media for transmission of messages, lack of expertise of front-line extension workers, scanty staff strength and thus poor mobility, resource constraints and inadequate opportunities for training and national and international exposure for farmers and officials, and weak linkages between line departments and farmers and educational institutions, and so on.

 

Rather than following a proactive approach in its interaction with growers, the agriculture extension primarily waits for them to come to it with their problems to get them solved. One wonders why this can’t be the other way round i.e. the directorate reaches to farmers at their doorsteps itself rather than the former case.

 

Small farmers have limited access to extension officials and they lack resources, courage and urgency to approach the research and extension systems and are kept from technology adoption their poverty and ignorance.

 

With agriculture having been mostly left to the provinces under the 18th amendment, there can be no better time for major overhauling of the extension system to ensure more efficient extension. This obviously requires substantial increase in resources for the directorate and renewed commitment on part of its staff.

 “Agricultural extension is mandated to provide research technology to farmers, conveys farmers’ feedback to agricultural researchers and keeps them abreast of field problems for further improvement of their research work. It is supposed to contact and train farmers, check the sale of fake fertiliser and pesticides, collect data and prepare reports on crops and extension materials for farmers, supporting donors and dealers. But extension directorate has given up these functions. Its officers and officials now seldom visit fields and farmers. There is no interaction and liaison with farmers to know their problems and needs,” said Haji Niamat Shah, the vice president of Anjumani Kashtkaran Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to him, till the recent past, officers would regularly visit farmers and fields. There were daily farmer-specific radio and TV programmes, agriculture extension shows and melas and film shows at village levels, and orchards and spraying and pruning of orchards by extension officials and fruit plants provided to farmers but there is nothing of the sort these days,” he argued.

Extension has suffered both from insufficient capacity and commitment as well as paucity of staff. The extension personnel mostly lack the requisite communication skills and don’t utilise print and electronic media and other resources like mobile, telephone or internet profusely for the purpose.

For example, the directorate, apparently, has not made any special effort to identify and project the areas where foreign donor assistance or large scale public or private sector is direly needed. It is not surprising then that in the agriculture sector there is no foreign funded project in the budget. And it is understandable that most of the farmers still don’t know how and why soil testing is essential and beneficial, what to think of utilising this and other new discoveries for their advantage.

And out of 2654 personnel of the department in 2004, there were only 38 technical officials while field staff numbered 2129 who have to cater to the agriculture needs of around 1.4mn farms in the province. When an official had to attend 527 farmers on average, how can extension duties like making frequent contacts with farmers and checking of pesticides and fertiliser dealers for quality can be satisfactorily done?

Though there is no direct evaluation of the extension impact -it is indirectly judged from crop yields and cash returns to the farmers etc., there is however no authentic data available to show as to whether high prices of agriculture produce have benefited farmers more or the middlemen and commission agents?

In 2007-08, model farm services centres were enthusiastically developed for extension purposes but the bodies were neglected afterwards and these are now dormant in most of the districts. These bodies still have no separate statutory laws to govern its functions and under which it could be registered.

The department needs to invest on strengthening its information technology section as its website is not updated and still displays figures of 2006 on achievements of agriculture extension services.

Female farmers would happily attend trainings and receive inputs and services if these are arranged through female extension workers.

Acknowledging the failure of the extension system, the government rightly intends to revive the erstwhile outreach directorate in the province. The sooner this is done, the better.

The lack of service structure and chances for promotion is discouraging new talent to join the directorate and the existing ones are also leaving their services.

There is a need to establish but genuine farmers organizations at village level as community participation is generally better at micro level.

 

Close partnership between the public extension system and the work of participatory NGOs will surely maximize coverage to the farmers. An agricultural T.V. Channel can be opened to corroborate the efforts of the research and extension system in transfer of technologies to the farming community.

 

There are two separate extension departments for agriculture and livestock which is unwarranted since it is costly and expose farmers to frequent visits of narrow specialists. Instead, there should be multi-commodity focused extension where different technical specialists may offer advice to farmers at their doorstep simultaneously.

The government and private sector should establish agricultural machinery pools and inputs centres at villages where farmers could get these things and guidance on subsidized or deferred payment.*******************************************

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

3 Responses to Improving agriculture extension system

  1. Pingback: Agricultural extension | Catdate

  2. Mohsin says:

    Very well analysed, I think it would be also useful to mention the role of private sector extension which is more effective. For example the widespread hybrid maize and vegetables production is private sector driven and the success is pretty obvious.

    Like

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