Agricultural extension

Agricultural extension
Agricultural Extension Meeting in Laos, 2006

Agricultural extension was once known as the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education. The field of extension now encompasses a wider range of communication and learning activities organised for rural people by professionals from different disciplines, including agriculture, agricultural marketing, health, and business studies.

Extension practitioners can be found throughout the world, usually working for government agencies. They are represented by several professional organizations (such as APEN), networks (such as AGREN) and extension journals (such as Journal of Extension).

Agricultural extension agencies in developing countries have received large amounts of support from international development organisations such as the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) of the United Nations.


Extension terminology

The term extension was first used to describe adult education programmes in England in the second half of the 19th century; these programmes helped to expand - or extend - the work of universities beyond the campus and into the neighbouring community. The term was later adopted in the United States of America, while in Britain it was replaced with "advisory service" in the 20th century. A number of other terms are used in different parts of the world to describe the same or a similar concept:

  • Arabic: Al-Ershad (“Guidance”)
  • Dutch: Voorlichting (“lighting the path”)
  • German: Beratung (“advisory work”)
  • French: Vulgarisation (“popularisation”)
  • Spanish: Capacitación (“Training” "Capacity Building")
  • Thai, Lao: Song-Suem (“to promote”)
  • Persian: Tarvij & Gostaresh (“to promote and to extend”)

In the US, an extension agent is a university employee who develops and delivers educational programs to assist people in economic and community development, leadership, family issues, agriculture and environment. Another program area extension agents provide is 4-H and Youth. Many extension agents work for cooperative extension service programs at [[land-

Definitions of extension

There is no widely accepted definition of agricultural extension. The ten examples given below are taken from a number of books on extension published over a period of more than 50 years:

  • 1949: The central task of extension is to help rural families help themselves by applying science, whether physical or social, to the daily routines of farming, homemaking, and family and community living.[1]
  • 1965: Agricultural extension has been described as a system of out-of-school education for rural people.[2]
  • 1966: Extension personnel have the task of bringing scientific knowledge to farm families in the farms and homes. The object of the task is to improve the efficiency of agriculture.[3]
  • 1973: Extension is a service or system which assists farm people, through educational procedures, in improving farming methods and techniques, increasing production efficiency and income, bettering their levels of living and lifting social and educational standards.[4]
  • 1974: Extension involves the conscious use of communication of information to help people form sound opinions and make good decisions.[5]
  • 1982: Agricultural Extension: Assistance to farmers to help them identify and analyse their production problems and become aware of the opportunities for improvement.[6]
  • 1988: Extension is a professional communication intervention deployed by an institution to induce change in voluntary behaviours with a presumed public or collective utility.[7]
  • 1997: Extension [is] the organized exchange of information and the purposive transfer of skills.[8]
  • 1999: The essence of agricultural extension is to facilitate interplay and nurture synergies within a total information system involving agricultural research, agricultural education and a vast complex of information-providing businesses.[9]
  • 2004: Extension [is] a series of embedded communicative interventions that are meant, among others, to develop and/or induce innovations which supposedly help to resolve (usually multi-actor) problematic situations.[10]


Origins of agricultural extension

Men and women have been growing crops and raising livestock for approximately 10,000 years. Throughout this period, farmers have continually adapted their technologies, assessed the results, and shared what they have learned with other members of the community. Most of this communication has taken the form of verbal explanations and practical demonstrations, but some information took a more durable form as soon as systems of writing were developed. Details of agricultural practices have been found in records from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and China going back more than 3,000 years.

It is not known where or when the first extension activities took place. It is known, however, that Chinese officials were creating agricultural policies, documenting practical knowledge, and disseminating advice to farmers at least 2,000 years ago. For example, in approximately 800 BC, the minister responsible for agriculture under one of the Zhou dynasty emperors organized the teaching of crop rotation and drainage to farmers. The minister also leased equipment to farmers, built grain stores and supplied free food during times of famine.[11]

The birth of the modern extension service has been attributed to events that took place in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century.[12] Between 1845–51 the Irish potato crop was destroyed by fungal diseases and a severe famine occurred (see Great Irish Famine). The British Government arranged for "practical instructors" to travel to rural areas and teach small farmer how to cultivate alternative crops. This scheme attracted the attention of government officials in Germany, who organized their own system of traveling instructors. By the end of the 19th century, the idea had spread to Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, and France.

The term "university extension" was first used by the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford in 1867 to describe teaching activities that extended the work of the institution beyond the campus. Most of these early activities were not, however, related to agriculture. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century, when colleges in the United States started conducting demonstrations at agricultural shows and giving lectures to farmer’s clubs, that the term "extension service" was applied to the type of work that we now recognize by that name.

In the United States, the Hatch Act of 1887 established a system of agricultural experiment stations in conjunction with each state's land-grant university, and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created a system of cooperative extension to be operated by those universities in order to inform people about current developments in agriculture, home economics, and related subjects.

Four generations of extension in Asia

The development of extension services in modern Asia has differed from country to country. Despite the variations, it is possible to identify a general sequence of four periods or "generations":[13]

  • Colonial agriculture: Experimental stations were established in many Asian countries by the colonial powers. The focus of attention was usually on export crops such as rubber, tea, cotton and sugar. Technical advice was provided to plantation managers and large landowners. Assistance to small farmers who grew subsistence crops was rare, except in times of crisis.
  • Diverse top-down extension: After independence, commodity-based extension services emerged from the remnants of the colonial system, with production targets established as part of five-year development plans. In addition, various schemes were initiated to meet the needs of small farmers, with support from foreign donors.
  • Unified top-down extension: During the 1970s and ‘80s, the Training and Visit system (T&V) was introduced by the World Bank. Existing organizations were merged into a single national service. Regular messages were delivered to groups of farmers, promoting the adoption of "Green Revolution" technologies.
  • Diverse bottom-up extension: When World Bank funding came to an end, the T&V system collapsed in many countries, leaving behind a patchwork of programmes and projects funded from various other sources. The decline of central planning, combined with a growing concern for sustainability and equity, has resulted in participatory methods gradually replacing top-down approaches.

The fourth generation is well established in some countries, while it has only just begun in other places. While it seems likely that participatory approaches will continue to spread in the next few years, it is impossible to predict the long-term future of extension. Compared to 20 years ago, agricultural extension now receives considerably less support from donor agencies. Among academics working in this field, some have recently argued that agricultural extension needs to be reinvented as a professional practice.[10] Other authors have abandoned the idea of extension as a distinct concept, and prefer to think in terms of "knowledge systems" in which farmers are seen as experts rather than adopters.[14]

Communication processes within extension systems

The term "extension" has been used to cover widely differing communication systems. Two particular issues help to define the type of extension: how does communication take place, and why does it take place.[13]

Agricultural Extension Meeting in Nepal, 2002

How communication takes place in an extension system: paternalism versus participation

Early books on extension often describe a model of communication that involved the transmission of messages from "senders" to "receivers". As part of this model, senders are usually people in authority, such as government planners, researchers, and extension staff, while receivers are usually farmers who are relatively poor and uneducated. Although this model might include something called "feedback", it is clear that the senders are in control of the communication process.

The transmission model of communication is closely related to the idea that extension workers are the link (i.e. message carriers) between researchers (senders) and farmers (receivers). Extension programmes based on this model has been described as "paternalistic"; in other words, the actors in the communication process have a parent/child or teacher/student relationship. Other authors have used the term "top-down" to describe these programmes.

In many countries, paternalistic extension is gradually being replaced by more participatory approaches, in which the knowledge and opinions of farmers is considered to be just as important as that of researchers or government officials. Participatory approaches involve information-sharing and joint decision-making. The terms "interactive" and "bottom-up" have been used to describe these approaches.

The development of participatory extension requires a re-examination of the communication process. At the present time, no single description has replaced the transmission model that is referred to above, but two ideas are becoming widely accepted:

  • Communication in the context of participatory extension cannot usefully be described in a linear manner with distinct groups of senders and receivers. Instead, extension activities take place within a knowledge system consisting of many actors who play different roles at different times.
  • Although some actors in the knowledge system have more authority than others, communication usually involves a negotiation rather than a transmission. What takes place is a dialogue, with actors collaborating in the construction of shared meanings rather than simply exchanging information.

The related, but separate field of agricultural communication has emerged to contribute to in-depth examinations of the communication processes among various actors within and external to the agricultural system. This field would refer to the participatory extension model as a form of public relations rooted two-way symmetrical communication based on mutual respect, understanding, and influence between an organization and its stakeholders (publics).[15]

Why communication takes place: persuasion versus education

Although extension programmes have many different goals, most programmes fall into one of two basic categories:

  • systems of communication that aim to change the behaviour of rural people
  • systems of communication that aim to change the knowledge of rural people

There is, of course, a close relationship between knowledge and behaviour; changes in the former often lead to a change in the latter.

If government policy-makers, project managers or researchers direct the topics addressed and projects undertaken, then the purpose of extension is to change behaviour. This approach to extension has been variously described as directive extension, social marketing and propaganda.

If farmers and other rural people direct the extension towards their own needs, then the purpose of extension is changing knowledge. This knowledge helps rural people make their own decisions regarding farming practices. This approach to extension is closely related to non-formal education and conscientization.

Four paradigms of agricultural extension

Any particular extension system can be described both in terms of both how communication takes place and why it takes place. It is not the case that paternalistic systems are always persuasive, nor is it the case that participatory projects are necessarily educational. Instead there are four possible combinations, each of which represents a different extension paradigm, as follows:[13]

  • Technology Transfer (persuasive+paternalistic). This paradigm was prevalent in colonial times, and reappeared in the 1970s and 1980s when the Training and Visit system was established across Asia. Technology transfer involves a top-down approach that delivers specific recommendations to farmers about the practices they should adopt.
  • Advisory work (persuasive+participatory). This paradigm can be seen today where government organisations or private consulting companies respond to farmers enquiries with technical prescriptions. It also takes the form of projects managed by donor agencies and NGOs that use participatory approaches to promote pre-determined packages of technology.
  • Human Resource Development (educational+paternalistic). This paradigm dominated the earliest days of extension in Europe and North America, when universities gave training to rural people who were too poor to attend full-time courses. It continues today in the outreach activities of colleges around the world. Top-down teaching methods are employed, but students are expected to make their own decisions about how to use the knowledge they acquire.
  • Facilitation for empowerment (educational+participatory). This paradigm involves methods such as experiential learning and farmer-to-farmer exchanges. Knowledge is gained through interactive processes and the participants are encouraged to make their own decisions. The best know examples in Asia are projects that use Farmer Field Schools (FFS) or participatory technology development (PTD).

It must be noted that there is some disagreement about whether or not the concept and name of extension really encompasses all four paradigms. Some experts believe that the term should be restricted to persuasive approaches, while others believe it should only be used for educational activities. Paulo Freire has argued that the terms ‘extension’ and ‘participation’ are contradictory.[16] There are philosophical reasons behind these disagreements. From a practical point of view, however, communication processes that conform to each of these four paradigms are currently being organized under the name of extension in one part of the world or another. Pragmatically, if not ideologically, all of these activities are agricultural extension.

Extension methods

Compact area group approach (CAGA) is an innovative extension approach developed by Dr.K. Abdul Kareem, an agricultural extensionist of India to combat problems like coconut eryophyid mite in states like Kerala

Creative Extension is a new branch of agricultural extension pioneered by the Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kannur under Kerala Agricultural University. Creative Extension uses art form for communication of innovation to farmers and calls for inputs from people with histrionic talents

See also


  1. ^ Brunner, E. and Hsin Pao Yang, E. (1949) Rural America and the Extension Service, Columbia University
  2. ^ Saville, A.H. (1965) Extension in Rural Communities: A Manual for Agricltural and Home Extension technician Workers. Oxford University Press
  3. ^ Bradfield, D.J. (1966) Guide to Extension Training (1st Edition), FAO
  4. ^ Maunder, A. (1973) Agricultural Extension: A Reference Manual (1st Edition), FAO
  5. ^ van den Ban, A. (1974) Inleiding tot de Voorlichtingskunde, (Dutch edition first published by Boom, later quoted in English editions: 1988, van den Ban and Hawkins, and 2004, Leeuwis and van den Ban)
  6. ^ Adams, M. (1982) Agricultural Extension in Developing Countries, Longman
  7. ^ Roling, N. (1988) Extension Science: Information Systems in Agricultural Development, Cambridge University Press
  8. ^ Nagel, U. J. (1997) Alternative Approaches to Organizing Extension, in Swanson, B. “Improving Agricultural Extension: A Reference Manual" (3rd Edition)” FAO
  9. ^ Neuchatel Group,(1999) Common Framework on Agricultural Extension
  10. ^ a b Leeuwis, C. and van den Ban, A. Communication for Rural Innovation: Rethinking Agricultural Extension (3rd Edition), Blackwell Publishing
  11. ^ Trager, J. (1996) The Food Chronology, Aurum Press, London
  12. ^ Jones, G.E. and Garforth, C. (1997) The history, development, and future of agricultural extension in Swanson, B. “Improving Agricultural Extension: A Reference Manual (3rd Edition)” FAO
  13. ^ a b c NAFES (2005) Consolidating Extension in the Lao PDR, National Agricultural and Forestry Extension Service, Vientiane
  14. ^ Roling, N. and Wagemakers, A. Editors.(1998), Facilitating Sustainable Agriculture: Participatory learning and adaptive management in times of environmental uncertainty, Cambridge University Press
  15. ^ Encyclopedia of public relations, by Robert L. Heath, 2005. Retrieved October 7, 2009.
  16. ^ Freire, P. (1969) Extension y Communicacion, translated by Louise Bigwood & Margaret Marshall and re-printed in 'Education: The Practice of Freedom' (1976), Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative

External links

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