Posted by: mhirdyounger | November 18, 2013

What are demand-driven extension and advisory services ?

AgEx’s mission is to support demand-driven extension and advisory services (EAS) in Ghana, as well as an EAS system that is more innovative, inclusive and coordinated. Demand-driven EAS are not so easily understood and bear diving into a little deeper.

Demand-driven EAS fundamentally have the farmer at their centre. They are farmer-centred, farmer-led, bottom-up and participatory services that focus on what farmers identify as their needs and desires for information, services and support. What does the farmer need from services, what does the farmer want to know, what support does the farmer require? This approach ensures relevant and appropriate extension services based on what farmers want and need.

Traditionally in Ghana, EAS have been top-down and centralized, with extension messages generally developed in research centres, development projects and national level policies and then disseminated down to farmers through agricultural extension agents (AEAs). Conversely, a demand-driven approach starts with the farmer and is built to adapt to and be guided by farmers themselves. EAS messages and support are collaboratively identified and developed with the farmer.

One of the extension and agricultural challenges in Ghana is a lack of technology adoption. This means that there are low rates of adoption of new information, best practices and behaviours, such as improved seeds for example. One way of looking at this challenge 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 is a that information, practices and behaviours may not always be relevant and appropriate to farmers needs, contexts and desires. In a demand-driven extension model, technologies and information are developed and shared from the farmer-up, ensuring that technologies are relevant and appropriate to farmers’ needs. If a farmer identifies a need and the extension service supports the farmer in meeting that need, the farmer is more likely to adopt the best practice.

How do we build demand-driven approaches to EAS?

There are many ways to foster demand-driven extension and examples of this approch in the field. I’ll highlight just a few:

  • Building farmer empathy. It is crucial for AEAs and agriculturalists to respect farmers, their opinions, perspectives and ideas. This takes building empathy for farmers. This empathy will provide greater space to listen to farmers’ needs, respect their ideas and put them at the centre of extension. All too often, AEAs perceive farmers to be lazy, stupid or ‘laggards’ in terms of innovation. These perceptions prevent AEAs from truly understanding why farmers may not be adopting technologies and the barriers that they face. EWB has been working on building the empathy of the next generation of agriculturalists through our work at Ghana’s agricultural colleges. A re-vamped Internal Attachment Program that we developed with the colleges sends students to the field to live and work alongside farmers for a week. After the attachment, all students said that their empathy of farmers had increased, with 77% qualifying that their empathy had increased ‘a lot’.
  • Respecting Indigenous Knowledge. Similar to the first example, it is crucial that AEAs and agriculturalists recognize and respect that sometimes the most appropriate and innovative agricultural technologies and information exists in the field with the farmers. AEAs, researchers and development workers should not perceive that they hold all the information and farmers are simply empty vessels to fill with best practices. Once agriculturalists respect the knowledge that exists in the field, we can better support farmers to fill gaps that exist and meet their self-identified needs, rather than provide information that might not fit with field realities or might be redundant in terms of what already exists at the field level.
  • Allowing space for demand in extension service provision. AEAs are very busy. They work with multiple projects and have reporting requirements to meet from various stakeholders. FBO meetings and farmer visits are often centred on disseminating project information or a new technology or fulfilling reporting requirements. In order to allow space for farmer-centred extension, AEAs must have the space, resources and time to visit farmers and really listen and empathize with their self-stated needs and opinions. Allowing and supporting demand-driven extension has to be part of an AEA’s job.
  • Farmer Field Schools. Farmer field schools (FFS) are an extension approach that brings vocational training to the field level. It is demand-driven as farmers self-select to participate in the schools and most schools use a participatory mandate that has them concentrate on the farmers self-stated needs. Check out these resources for more information on farmer field schools: IFAD article on the history and success stories of FFS, Putting Framers First, and IFPRI research paper.
  • ICTs in extension. There is a growing interest and excitement for the role and potential of ICTs in EAS development. ICTs can provide farmers access to AEAs, can provide access to agricultural information from best practices to troubleshooting to market prices. Most ICTs in EAS are centred on mobile technologies, principally through SMS.  The idea is that because farmers will have control over the mobiles and how they choose to use ICT extension, they will be reaching out for the services they want – i.e. demand-driven.  Some examples include Farmerline in Ghana, Esoko, etc. For more information, check out these case studies and papers from: MEAS, GFRASPoverty Action Lab, Harvard Business School, and Garner Lee Limited,
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Responses

  1. During my time in Upper West Ghana, I saw a lack of empathy for farmers and a lack of respect for indigenous knowledge by AEAs and project staff, as you describe. Perhaps as a result, I found myself adopting similar attitudes but found on numerous occasions that local methods and knowledge produced the most favorable results.What other strategies are on the horizon for the AgEx team to move forward the idea of demand-driven, farmer-centered AES?


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