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.

******************************

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.*******************************************

Advertisements

Innovative farm schemes needed

Investing in innovative farm schemes

By Tahir Ali Khan

Dawn, 06-06-2011

http://www.dawn.com/2011/06/06/investing-in-innovative-farm-schemes.html

THE Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will present its first budget this week after the devolution of the federal agricultural departments to the provinces. The question arises: what difference will it make?

Though officials of the provincial agriculture department are confident that their development strategy reflects out of the box thinking, farmers have very little hope that it would be any different from the past. Thy say the traditional approach will prevail.

Minister for Agriculture Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Arbab Ayub Jan declined to share any details about the allocations and targets for the next year’s ADP for agriculture but said the budget would be non-conventional in its priorities and plans.

“Several new interventions have been proposed. Allocations have been approved for all of the schemes we had suggested. This has been done for the first time and we hope it would help develop farming in the province,” he said.

Ahmad Said, Chief Planning Officer of the agriculture department, said “We have suggested various innovative schemes, the details of which, I cannot share as yet. I am hopeful this year’s comprehensive ADP with several innovative steps would ensure expansion and development of agriculture. The special focus is on revival of farming in the 12 flood-hit districts,” he said.

Farmers have their own concerns. “The problems are so huge that only a revolutionary ADP, with innovative steps and enormous investments can tackle them. But there is little likelihood that any such plan will be included in the annual agriculture roadmap,” opines Naimat Shah Roghani, a farmers’ leader from Mardan.

High prices of various farm inputs have increased cost of production manifold.

“The government should extend direct subsidies on the farm inputs like seeds, fertiliser, tractors, power, diesel and tube-wells,” he said.

The agriculture sector has received meagre funds in successive ADPs despite its huge significance as the primary source of livelihood for around 70 per cent provincial population.

While the allocation for agriculture sector was increased by about 45 per cent this fiscal year over the preceding year, it came down from 2.4 per cent of last year’s core ADP to 1.9 per cent of this year’s total core ADP of Rs58bn.

Irrigation budget was 4.3 per cent of the core provincial ADP last year. Though its allocation went up by about 70 per cent, it decreased to about 4.1 per cent of the ADP this fiscal year.

Roghani said at least five per cent of the ADP should be allocated for agricultural development, which should be gradually increased to 10 per cent in the coming years.

Only about 20 per cent farmers use quality seeds and modern agriculture technology, for which agricultural research, engineering and extension directorates should be strengthened.

“For better coordination between the farmers and government and to facilitate the directorates of agricultural research and agricultural extension and to bridge the gap between farmers and research, the government should revive the erstwhile outreach directorate in the department of agriculture,” said Muhammad Khalid, an agronomist from Mardan.

“The outreach directorate reached out to the farmers at their doorstep with new farming technologies and improved seed varieties, but became dormant in 1995. Its revival is necessary to address the critical problem of coordination between farmers and agriculture researchers,” he said.

“Soil testing laboratories should be opened in all the districts and tehsils. If modern farming technology and techniques are provided to farmers, it will change their farming from subsistence to commercial/modernised one,” he added.

KP needs to bring under cultivation about 1.6 million acres of cultivable wasteland. If possible, it should distribute the state-lands at nominal rates amongst landless farmers.

This requires water for irrigation which can be met by building small dams for conserving floods/rain water for future use. Wastage of water can be minimised by lining the water-courses and canals and its efficiency increased by adopting the sprinkle and drip irrigation.

And fruit orchards could be set up in areas not suitable for food or cash crops.

Backyard or household farming can also increase people’s incomes. The government, however, will have to provide seeds of vegetable, fruit plants and animal progeny to the poor households.

Tunnel farming technique needs to be extended. For this, the government should provide the technology along with guidance and financial support to the poor farmers.

As prices of chemical fertiliser are gradually becoming unaffordable, the government can support the use of green-manure or other organic fertiliser.

According to Roghani, access to market and improved marketing is vital for increasing the incomes of farmers. At present these markets function only in two districts. More markets should be set up across the province.

Livestock sector continues to be provided with meagre budget. There should be some special programme for the livestock farmers, especially women, who should be given free animal offsprings and poultry initially.

Around 60 per cent area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is suitable for olive cultivation. If an olive plantation project is launched and farmers get plants and technical support from the government, oil import bill could be reduced.

Modern laser technology could be used for land levelling. Mechanised farming is vital to increase per acre yield; for small landholdings, common facilities need to be provided.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa needs more farm credit facilities. It accounted for only 3.4 per cent of the country’s agriculture credit of Rs233bn in 2009. Only six per cent farmers here have access to farm credit against 21 per cent in rest of the country.

“Interest on agriculture loans needs to be decreased and its process simplified,” Roghani said.

The government and private sector should establish agricultural machinery pools and input centres at villages where farmers could get these things on subsidy and deferred payment, apart from guidance.

Rethinking agriculture policy

Rethinking agriculture policy

Availability of farm inputs has to be adequately increased to increase productivity

By Tahir Ali

In an effort to improve agriculture growth and increase income of farmers in the province, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government

Farmer plowing in Fahrenwalde, Mecklenburg-Vor...

Image via Wikipedia

intends to reconsider provincial agriculture policy that was enforced in 2005. The review and reshaping of agriculture policy is the need of the hour as it has failed to address major issues confronting the farmers and farming in the province.

The main goal of the agriculture sector, as per the 2005 agriculture policy, is to ensure food security and alleviation of poverty, but the low per acre yield, land erosion, negligence of livestock, especially milk/meat-farming, failure to prepare and disseminate better animal fodder, outdated farming and lack of water/soil conservation practices and poor agricultural marketing and lack of a crash programme for the uplift of agriculture have made it impossible.

The sector has been ignored and allocated insufficient funds — ranging from one to two percent — in the provincial Annual Development Programmes (ADPs) by successive provincial governments despite the fact that it accounts for over 20 percent of provincial gross domestic product, accounts for 45 percent of the total labour force and it is the main source of income for about 80 percent of its population.

Gul Nawaz Khatak, chief planning officer in KP’s agriculture ministry, says they now would assess the performance and identify the achievements, shortcomings and bottlenecks in the policy’s implementation and requirements for the future, “The re-examination will help us reshape the agriculture policy, bring in improvements in it as per requirements and take remedial measures to develop agriculture, livestock and other sub sectors in the province.”

Khatak agrees that the main problem confronting the agriculture sector in the province was poverty and inability of small farmers to buy quality inputs. “They have been neglected in the 2005 policy. They will now be listened to and empowered,” he adds.

To a question, Khatak says prices of inputs were beyond the jurisdiction of agriculture ministry as these were determined by the market forces and inflation. “We will ensure timely and easy availability of the commodities to farmers. For this purpose, farm services centres have been established and more such bodies would be formed in the hitherto uncovered areas,” he informs.

To enable them buy inputs at their hour of need, Khatak says, the banks are already providing agriculture credit to small farmers at 8 percent mark up in the province to buy inputs and services.

“And the provincial cooperative bank and its cooperative societies have also been revived this year. The government would provide Rs1 billion seed money to the bank to give easy farm and non-farm loans to small farmers and rural women to increase their incomes. The Bacha Khan Poverty Alleviation Programme (BKPAP) has also been started in some districts which would provide farm inputs and financial, technical and educational support to thousands of farmers,” he explains.

Farmers’ income can be increased by ensuring improved marketing of their products, “We intend to establish more regulator markets province-wide. At present, these markets function only in two districts. These markets will have market committees comprising 6-10 farmers plus one official. They will weigh, assess and sell farmers’ produce. Farmers will get good price for their produce and hard work,” Khatak hopes.

Niamat Shah, Vice president of Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says cost and unavailability of farm inputs is one of the major problems, “Though the seed research farms have developed quality seeds for different crops but their timely and easy availability has always been a problem. About 80 percent farmers have no access to quality seeds and modern agriculture technology,” he claims.

“The government has so far failed to streamline input distribution. Mass availability of under-weight and fake fertiliser/seeds varieties will have to be checked as these are adding to problems of farmers,” he points out.

The department seems to be focussing on the Farm Services Centres (FSCs) for improving input availability. But unless these bodies are expanded to each union council or village and their number and membership is increased — there are only 60 FSCs province-wide at present which have only around 45000 members while millions of farmers are out of its ambit — and their weaker financial position of the bodies is improved by giving them financial support as they have to buy and sell inputs through their revolving funds, the idea may not work.

The BKPAP can solve some of the basic problems of farmers but more funds will have to be allocated to increase its area of application. Shah argues that the agriculture sector should be allocated five percent of ADP for the time being, which should be gradually increased later as without funds and robust attempts nothing can be achieved.

“Sufficient money should be earmarked to do research on, and development of, seeds. High-yielding seed varieties must be imported as was done during Ayub’s era. Also, easy and timely availability of seeds and other inputs should also be arranged for through improved distribution network,” he suggests.

“To cope with decreasing agriculture land for its unprecedented consumption by real-estate sector, the government will focus on bringing vast cultivable wasteland under cultivation by leveling and developing it through bulldozers and tractors,” Khatak explains.

Increasing the acreage demands more irrigation water which is already scarce. “This problem will be tackled by efficient management of available water for which schemes have been suggested and through extension of irrigation infrastructure in the province by building new dams which is what the irrigation department is doing,” he adds.

“The department is also working out on how to cope with new and bigger responsibilities following the devolution of the some departments to the provinces,” Khatak says.

Lack of coordination between farmers and the government and non-governmental organisations has also affected the farmers, “First, we will be identifying and removing problems in inter/intra departmental coordination and then it will be worked at with farmers and their associations,” he says, adding, “Rs240 million have been earmarked for the purpose which would be paid to farmers soon through district coordination committees as nominations have been made.”

If expert advice, machinery and marketing support are provided to farmers, it will shift their farming from subsistence to commercial/modernised one. Household farming should be developed. The role and impact of the middle-men in agri-businesses must be minimised to increase farmers’ incomes.

Livestock accounts for 50 percent of provincial gross domestic product but it continues to be neglected. It still has no separate secretary and is being supervised by agriculture secretary. There should be special plan for livestock farmers in rural areas.

Promotion of agriculture is the most effective tool for eradicating poverty and, therefore, terrorism and extremism. But traditional methods, paltry allocations and weak commitment cannot develop the sector. The government will have to opt for out-of the-box solutions to develop the sector.

%d bloggers like this: