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Upgrading agricultural extension services      

THE 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 same.

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 feeling’.

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 cultural context.

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;

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