Agricultural extension is defined as those who support people engaged in agricultural production through the facilitation of their efforts to progress and find solutions. Stakeholders who provide extension services work to obtain information, skills, and technologies to improve producer livelihoods and strengthen linkages within the agricultural value chain. The focus of extension has been the transfer of technology to improve productivity. While transfer of technology is very relevant to the developing world, agricultural extension can also play a wider role to enhance the skills and knowledge for production and processing, facilitating access to markets and trade, and working with farmers for natural resource management.
Agricultural extension, or agricultural advisory, is increasingly acknowledged as a strong contributor to agricultural development. Reducing poverty and social inequalities, the sustainable use of natural resources, and participatory development, are general objectives to which extension policies can make a contribution. Food security is often a problem for the rural poor, a large proportion of who solely depend on agriculture as a livelihood. By contributing to the improvement of farming and farm yields, agricultural extension can be a very powerful tool for empowerment and support to community livelihoods.
Why is Agricultural Extension Important for Ghana?
Since it is estimated that about 50.6 per cent of the labour force (4.2 million people) are directly engaged in agriculture, agricultural development is seen as a way to target food security and poverty reduction through the improvement of farm income (FASDEPII, 2007). Agriculture continues to contribute the largest share to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Since 2000, the contribution of agriculture to total GDP has varied between 35.8 per cent and 37 per cent and agricultural growth has increased from about 4 per cent in 2000 to 6 per cent in 2005 (FASDEPII, 2007). The traditional roles of agriculture include provision of food security, supply of raw materials for industry, and creation of employment and generation of foreign exchange earnings (FASDEPII, 2007). Beyond these, agriculture is recognized to have a greater impact on poverty reduction than most other sectors. Other roles include social stabilization, a buffer during economic shocks, support to environmental sustainability, and cultural values associated with farming (FASDEPII, 2007).
However, the slow growth of agriculture specifically for Ghana is due to a combination of factors that reduce farmer incentives to invest and produce, which include lack of technological change and poor basic infrastructure.
Constraints of the sector are classified under:
• Human resource and managerial skills;
• Natural resource management;
• Technology development and dissemination;
• Market access;
• Food insecurity and
• Irrigation development and management (FASDEPII, 2007).
Extension services can contribute to improving the livelihoods of farmers through technology development and dissemination, market access and irrigation development and management that collectively contribute to an increase of farmer income.
Agricultural Extension in Ghana
To increase the impact of extension on agriculture and pro-poor growth in developing countries, public-sector agricultural extension systems are implementing reforms that include demand-driven and decentralized approaches. Such reforms are happening in Ghana as an attempt to increase the accountability of agricultural extension staff to farmers and increase the relevance of extension activities.
The primary system for extension service delivery is through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) district level. In 1987 MOFA established the Department of Agricultural Extension Services based on a train and visit method of regular training (once a month) and visit schedules where one Agricultural Extension Agent (AEA) would carry messages in all disciplines of agriculture (Management Training Workshop, 2006). Today, each district level has a number of AEAs who are responsible for delivering extension to farmers and others involved in agricultural production.
Extension services are hoping to become more demand driven and proactive in developing business and marketing skills of farmers. The hope is that these services become more pluralistic, flexible and responsible to changing the socio-economic environment of the rural sector, which is more open to new funding mechanisms and private sector participation. Importantly, the system of extension is becoming more decentralised to the District Assemblies.
Farmer Training is critical for implementation of agriculture extension and is accomplished at the District level through,
• Field and home visits (3-4 per week per AEA)
• Group meetings
• Community campaigns
• Field days and study tours for farmers
• On-farm Trials and demonstrations
• Drama and docu-drama
• Posters and extension leaflets
• Radio and Video (Management Training Workshop, 2006)
Field Visits are also part of agriculture extension and involves,
• Demarcate operational areas (OAs)
• Sketch map of operational areas
• Visiting Schedules
• Individual farm visits
• Village campaigns
• FBO training (Management Training Workshop, 2006),
Data collected in Bongo and Tamale by Engineers Without Borders for the International Food Policy Research Institute concluded that the majority of an AEAs’ time was spent interacting in the field, while measuring and demarcating plots took up 35-68 per cent of their time. AEAs’ were interacting with farmer groups to incorporate the administrative and supervision of inputs in their work 31-26 percent of time, while 30 per cent of an AEAs’ average day worked towards delivering technology advice on line distances or applying fertilizer, as well as monitoring the application for good agriculture practices (IFPRI Research Papers, EWB 2011). Roughly 45-71 per cent of a AEAs’ activities were spent on enabling farmer access to development partners and 38-80 percent of a day meant for enabling access to external assistance and technology advice (IFPRI Research Papers, EWB 2011).
Since data varies greatly between the two districts, diversity in the dissemination of extension across districts is evident. Some farmers will have greater one-on-one interaction with AEAs, specifically meant for extension and others will depend more readily on their peers for learning. Activity focus is also highly dependent on the season, where the majority of an AEAs’ time could be wrapped in prepping farmers for completion of national level projects or for what the District level Director chooses.
Problems with Agricultural Extension
Inherent difficulties of providing agricultural extension through the public sector include the scale and complexity of agricultural production, dependence on the broader policy environment, weak linkages between the extension and research systems, difficulty in attributing impact, weak accountability, weak political commitment and support, public duties other than knowledge transfer, and the challenge of fiscal sustainability (Davis, 2008).
Solutions to Improve the Lives of Farmers through Extension
Reforms to address these problems are considered innovative in their move away from the top-down methods of public funding and provision of extension services, with its linear process from research to extension to farmers. These reforms include aspects of decentralization, privatization, participatory services, and public–private partnerships resulting in pluralistic extension services that involve the public, private, and civil sectors (Glendenning & Babu, 2011). Even these pluralistic extension services, however, recognize the value of continued involvement of the public sector in roles such as public policy, coordination, regulation of services for quality control; focus on public-good issues, and pro-poor services (Glendenning & Babu, 2011).
Extension should be advisory, not prescriptive. This requires extension workers to be “actors in” not “instruments of” extension. Since farming conditions change at the whim of markets and the weather, to be effective extension must be able to address change. Extension systems must be ultra flexible to respond to new situations (opportunities or crises) (Neuchatel Group, 2007). Trust must be established between the small-scale farmer and the adviser. Solid technical expertise remains essential, but the abilities of extension workers must go beyond that and must be adept in participatory techniques, and resourceful in drawing on a mix of communication methods and technologies (Glendenning & Babu, 2011). AEAs must think in terms of market opportunities, increasing producer incomes and total farm management.
All in all, extension services for agricultural development play a critical role in poverty reduction and food security. Extension is meant to directly engage with producers, solving their most critical problems of increasing yields and selling them at market. Increasing the income of producers contributes greatly to the reduction of poverty for a country like Ghana, where the majority of the population rely solely on farming as a livelihood. Although extension in Ghana currently faces many problems, working with the public sector to become more flexible, decentralized and pluralistic will increase the quality of service.
Engineers Without Borders. Agricultural Extension in Tamale Metropolitan: Results Report For IFPRI, collected June-July 2011.
Engineers Without Borders. Agricultural Extension in
Bongo District (UER) For IFPRI, collected June-July 2011.
Engineers Without Borders. Mofa Extension Policy Powerpoint presented for the Management Training Workshop August 2006 in Kumasi.
Davis, Kristin E. Extension in Sub-Saharan Africa: Overview and Assessment of Past and Current Models, and Future Prospects. International Food Policy Research Institute. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Volume 15, Number 3, Fall 2008.
Glendenning, Claire J., & Suresh C. Babu. The case of the district level agriculture technology management agency. IFPRI Eastern and Sourthern Africa Regional Office, Paper 0167. February 2011.
Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Republic of Ghana. Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEPII). August 2007.
Neuchatel Group. Common Framework on Agricultural Extension. October 2007.