Posted by: mhirdyounger | October 16, 2012

The Farm Input That Has More to do With Behaviours than Seeds

On this World Food Day, I wanted to share with you the work that my team does to improve food security and rural livelihoods.

We work in Agricultural Extension Services.

What are Agricultural Extension Services?

Often when I tell people that I work on Agricultural Extension Services, they say ‘what?’. So, let’s go back to the basics – what is extension?

Extension originates from the idea of extending agricultural research to farmers. Agricultural extension services, or rural advisory services, can be understood as providing farmers with the information, knowledge, skills, attitudes and opportunities required to be successful. It is the dissemination of good agricultural practices and agricultural technologies. Extension is a key contributor to agricultural and rural development, particularly in countries like Ghana where the majority of the population relies on the agricultural sector.

In Ghana, the principal provider of extension is the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), which has offices in each district around the country. Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) work out of the district offices to provide services to farmers. Some of these services are delivered through government initiatives or NGO projects, others through visits to farmers. Extension can also come from the other direction, from farmers demanding more information or support.

Other providers of extension services include (but not limited to):

  • Radio
  • Input dealers
  • Private extension consultants and firms
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

Our team’s vision is to help create a coordinated, competitive, innovative and sustainable agricultural extension services sector. 

No Extension Without Adoption

Extension, or the dissemination of information  is only one side of the coin. The other side is technology adoption, actually using that information in farming practices and behaviours. A recent study in Ghana showed that although farmers are aware of proper agricultural techniques, adoption of these remains low (“Extension Access and Adoption of Improved Technologies”, Kwarteng et al. October 2010).

Focus on Behaviour Change

EWB has recently been pushing for extension providers to take a behaviour change approach to their work in order to increase farmers’ adoption of good agricultural practices. This means that an agent should not see the end of their day when they tell a farmer that planting in rows is better than just tossing the seeds, but just the beginning.

McKinsey and Company Influence Model

Effective extension services need to take a multidimensional approach to engaging farmers in order to have greater impact on rural livelihoods. The importance here is not only using one of these components, but all of them. Each of the examples cited is highlighting one component, but they also include pieces of the others, and that is what makes them effective approaches to extension. Let’s explore these four categories.

Role Modelling

Role modelling is a critical component to extension services provision, especially here in Ghana. Extension agents and farmers alike will tell you that they are more likely to adopt a practice if they are shown how to do so by one of their peers. Many models have tried to capitalize on this factor by showcasing innovative farmers as role models in the community. Nexus farmers, chief farmers, volunteer extension agents, and district best farmers are all examples of models that promote peer to peer learning and role modelling.

Mr.Appiah with his cocoa seedlings. As a community chief farmer and last year’s district best farmer, Mr. Appiah is a role model for good agricultural practices.

My host father in Bipoa, Mr. Appiah, is a great example of this. Last year, he won the district best farmer award. When walking through town, people yell out ‘chief farmer’. At home, people come to see him to discuss challenges on their farms. On the way to his farm, Mr. Appiah waves at almost every farmer we pass. The local extension agent, Juliana Afenyo, explains to me that whenever a new technology comes out, Mr. Appiah is always the first one to adopt it. If asked, and sometimes even if you don’t, he will spend 15 minutes explaining to you the benefits of using hybrid cocoa seeds for your yield and farm management. Mr. Appiah is a role model in the community for good agricultural practices.

Development of Capacity and Skills

This component goes beyond the provisions of information about technologies to actually how to use and adopt these technologies.

This can happen through training, farm visits, and demonstrations. For example, many NGOs use demonstration plots to showcase new seed types and the benefits of fertilizers and other inputs. The plots are prepared by farmers in the community themselves. They do the planting and apply the inputs, they are responsible for the crop. This is typically done with the support, advice and help of the local extension agent and sometimes project staff. By completing the work on the plot themselves  farmers build the skills required to adopt the practices that are being showcased.

A farmer in the Bawku West district of the Upper East poses by the demonstration plot that he has been working on this year.

Reinforcement Mechanisms

Reinforcement mechanisms are structures of accountability that help to ensure the sustainable adoption of practices.

An example of one of these mechanisms in the extension sector is farm visits or follow-up. When an extension agent has introduced a new practice to a farmer, they should continue to follow up, either through a visit or a phone call, to ensure that the farmer is adopting the technology and implementing it properly.

An NGO worker meeting with a women’s farmer group near Tamale in the Northern Region of Ghana.

Grouping is also a way to create these reinforcement mechanisms. The groups can form a peer pressure that pushes the farmer to adopt a certain practice. Regular group meetings can be an opportunity to remind group members of good practices as well.

Building Understanding and Conviction

This last piece of the puzzle has to do with the why of an agricultural practice. Not only do the farmers need to be engaged in the what (the practice) and the how (the skills) but also the why. This is generating interest and motivation for the technology that is being promoted.

A colleague of mine recently completed research on the use of ICTs to increase this last component. He filmed a rice producer explaining why he planted in rows and recommending that other farmers should do the same. This video was then shown to farmers in other communities to help build their understanding of the importance of planting in rows and their conviction for following through on this practice. His research found that perceived interest in adopting technologies increased by 78% after the video was viewed.

Another important approach to building understanding and conviction is to take a participatory approach to extension services. Farmers should not be seen as simply recipients of agricultural information, but as active participants in the extension system. Understanding and conviction are likely to be increased if a farmer is engaged in the process of identifying, developing and sharing information about technologies.



  1. Thanks for this clear and digestible articulation! This has given me a much better insight into the work AgEx is doing and the vision driving it than any other EWB document I’ve read in the last year. Very well written.

    Meghan, WatSan ProFellow

    • Thanks Meghan! I am glad you found it a good read and also useful in terms of learning across the organization. I hope you are enjoying your time as a ProF!

  2. Great post Mir!

  3. […] our approach to bringing practical entrepreneurship training to Ghana’s agricultural colleges and innovations to the extension services sector. This forum is important at the international level, influencing and advocating for policy […]

  4. […] is how to increase farmers’ adoption. EWB has explored this approach, focusing on taking a behaviour change approach to extension in order to increase technology adoption.  Another way of looking at this challenge […]

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