Upgrading agricultural extension services
weakest link in agriculture is the extension services. There
are others as well but one can argue that what is important
is that knowledge is not being imparted to the farmers.
Given the current poor food security systems, short-term
options are needed.
Currently the institutional arrangements are in the
Agricultural Training Institutes [ATI]. These in the Punjab
are located at Rahim Yarkhan, Sargodha, and Rawalpindi.
These are pock marked in other provinces as well but these
are under neglect at the moment. Their intake is
intermediate and the students take one year’s training in
these institutes and then pass out as Field Assistants (FA).
They take on jobs in grade six and after considerable time
(roughly 17 years) become FA in grade nine and then they die
in that position. No in service training is imparted and no
effort is made to augment their abilities or lack of the
There is virtually no motivation and none is in the offing.
Punjab tried to do something but before it could be
implemented it met other snags. Having said what I have, let
me go to the core issues of knowledge dissemination. It is
presumed that the farmer has more knowledge of specific
crops and the FA has of something that is being proposed by
the government for the crop sector.
The new effort at agricultural extension education is
different in the sense that it starts as not with theory
(conventional) but as practice and for those that are more
inquisitive, theory is given later. In other words, his
education is not verbal but practical. In conjunction with
farmers, problems are examined and this is an activity that
is done regularly. As such there is no fixed curriculum and
the objective is to work out the field requirements of the
farming community and not to indulge in theory and
meaningless concepts that have no application. Unlike common
practice, the farmer has the last word in determining
whether to take action on commonly acquired undertakings or
to go by his own wisdom.
There is no effort at forcing the farmer rather it is the
liability of persuasion of the extension worker that is
developed. The farmer is left with the choice. Since
agriculture is a moving goal post where the options keep on
changing year after year while the questions remain the
same, the extension worker has to work in his domain year
after year and be in a two-way communication with the farmer
that is within his area of jurisdiction. It is a camaraderie
that is developed over a period of time. Since the teaching
is informal rather than formal it may be necessary to
understand that the farmer and the FA are on equal terms and
there is no hierarchy involved.
In the process that is followed the local influential are
also involved. So that the informal system gets into
position should there be initially any lack of credibility.
This lack of credibility is not for the sake of lack of
trust but is simply to cover the risk that the farmer has to
undertake. Remember that his smallholding is all that he
has. The two-way process is also a learning process for the
extension worker in as much as he acquires local wisdom and
incorporates that in to his forte.
The teaching that takes place is as equals and is therefore
called horizontal and there is no question of delivering a
lecture and trying that the farmer should learn the lesson.
As a result of the new shift the learning by doing process
is flexible and takes into consideration the evidence from
the last years’ activities. In other words he is not given
the lesson that is at the moment that two bags of DAP and
three bags of urea or whatever. The evidence is carefully
sifted and then actions are taken. The drawing room concept
of generic orders does not go well in the new system.
The expressed desires and needs of the farmers are
considered and efficiency factors are kept in mind. Take for
example the misuse of water and the optimisation factors can
be carefully deduced by the knowledgeable. What is being
stated is that science is all right but that science has to
be carefully assessed as an art. What is currently called
the intuitive part of science and others have called it ‘gut
The new books out are on extension talk of the economics of
happiness and the economics of gut feeling. Economists are
making forays in to the field that normally belonged to
psychologist. They may well be right for one was saying that
the psyche of the farmer is important and so far the upfront
field extension agent has no idea about the new
psycho-economics of the game.
The expressed needs and desires of the farmers come into
play and these find expression in the production function.
It is practical and it is of immediate application. The time
gestation is limited. So what have we covered besides
establishing credibility with the farmers is a measure of
time and a measure of space. I have always maintained that
time and spaces though not measurable are immensely
important in the life calendar of the farmer.
These factors are based on principles. The first is that
this is based on needs and interest of the farmers. In doing
so, the national interest of food security is also
addressed. The second is that as it is at the grass-root
level the cultural aspect is also considered and taken in to
account. The farmer of Balochistan would be tackled
differently than the farmer from central Punjab. Principles
of participation and of adaptability are also addressed and
farmers are part of the decision-making process.
Leadership at the local level is also developed as a result
of the participation of local influential. Since people’s
faith is more acceptable from the locals than from the
outsiders it does give them a chance to assert and learn new
concepts. It is as if the harmonisation of the family into
the process takes place. The success of such programmes
leads to the idea of satisfaction of the locals and the
farmers in implementing these activities.
Above all science is covered by art and the constant
evaluation of the extension agent allows the government to
reward those that are successful. A rendered system of
rewards is thus established. What also happens is that
instead of meeting physical targets the effectiveness of the
work is measured in terms of the changes brought about in
the knowledge, skill, attitude and adoptive behavior of the
farmers so involved.
Pakistan to date has taken dictation from the World Bank on
extension and the T&V programme borrowed from Israel was to
say the least culturally incorrect. The cost incurred by
Pakistan has been immense. It is not possible to take a
programme from another source and make it work in another
Over time and with the establishment of credibility, the
farmer can undertake the more complex tasks. It is important
to understand that the human factor is being turned around
to work not only for oneself but also for the country in
terms of physical output. A jointer of mental and physical
abilities would be a better way to put it.
Courtesy: Business Recorder