Agricultural Extension Service

Agricultural Extension Service

Agricultural extension is one of the necessary conditions for the development of agriculture. It is regarded as the center of the activities between the researcher and the farmer. To many people, it is just the provision of technical advice to farmers to help them increase their agricultural output.

In this unit, it will be revealed that extension takes a central position in relationship to the other aspects of agriculture such as crops production, livestock, and forestry and so on.


Definition of Agricultural Extension

Agricultural extension is a form of educational service for training and influencing farmers (and their families) to adopt improved practices in crop and livestock production, management conservation and marketing.

An agricultural system, or agro-ecosystem, is a collection of components that has as its overall purpose the production of crops and raising livestock to produce food, fiber, and energy from the Earth's natural resources. Such systems may also cause undesired effects on the environment.

Here, the concern is not only about teaching and securing adoption of particular improvement practices, but about changing the outlook of the farmer to the point where he will be receptive to innovation- and on his own initiative, can continuously seek means of improving his farm business and home.


The Concept of Agricultural Extension

It is a broad concept which does the following:

1. Provides information/education to the farmer and his family.

2. Asks the farmer to adopt improved practices in the following areas:

a. Increasing his agricultural production

b. Management

c. Conservation

d. Marketing.

3. Makes him receptive to innovation, and thus motivated to continuously seek means of improving his farm business and home. Specifically, the agricultural extension officer transmits research findings from research institutes or universities to farmers and obtains feedback from farmers (for researchers) for further research, analysis and validation of facts. These duties are carried out through a systematic educational approach under the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

Read On: Importance of Research in Agriculture

Dissemination of Information

Categories of relevant information transmitted to farmers through the agricultural extension officers include the following:

1. Agricultural inputs- importance and techniques of applying fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides etc.; and information on sources of supplies or provision of these inputs to farmers.

2. Agricultural practices- improved techniques of soil cultivation, conservation and general management of farm land.

3. Appropriate techniques for production, management, harvesting processing and storage of different crops.

4. Improved techniques of production and management of livestock including processing and preparation of their products.

5. Information about rural institutions that are relevant to the needs of farmers-for example, financial institutions, market, cooperation etc.

When the information is passed to the farmers, they need to accept and adopt same to improve their harvest and livestock production output.

However, while some farmers readily adopt (early adopters) the innovations, some are hesitant (late adopters) and others do not adopt the innovations (non-adopters), due to several factors related to the three principal actors within the extension service system.

The Principal Actors

Within the extension service system, the principal actors are:

1. The farmers, who are sole beneficiaries of all agricultural extension work

2. The extension officers whose responsibility it is to disseminate the information to the farmers, 

3. The government, that determines the extension services through the development of manpower, recruitment of extension officers, and provision of resources (funds, transportation, communication etc.) for effectiveness of the services.


Rate of Adoption

Some of the factors which are responsible for the rate of adoption of innovations by farmers are as discussed below:

1. Economic factor: This includes the capital outlay required by the farmer in order to practice the new techniques; and it also includes the economic returns. Any new technique that attracts high cost tends to be adopted slowly; while those of low cost implication but with high returns is readily adopted. Thus, any doubt on the reliability or profitability of the innovation reduces its chances of being adopted.

2. Complexity of the innovation: The more complex the techniques are, the more difficult it is for the farmers to adopt the innovation. Farmers tend to accept innovations that are simple to understand and practical’s than those that require high skill to execute.

3. Visibility of returns: Agricultural business depends on nature, hence farmers contend with more risks than entrepreneurs in other sectors. On account of this, farmers are generally unwilling to take additional risks arising from adoption of innovation. 

For instance, the idea of taking insurance on farming business is not something that farmers will readily jump at. Although farmers are aware of the advantages of insuring their farms, the benefit will not be enjoyed by an insured farmer except risk occurs.

4. Divisibility of innovations: Nigerian agricultural sector is characterized by millions of small-scale farmers. As such, they are the focus of agricultural development programmes. 

Innovations should, therefore, be such that could be easily adopted by small scale farmers on their small farm land holdings.

Techniques which can be easily tried on a small scale level are often readily adopted by farmers, than those to be practiced on large scale only. Farmers with small land holdings do not readily adopt innovations compared with their contemporaries with large land holdings.

5. Compatibility of innovations with community belief: Innovations must be consistent or compatible with existing ideas, belief or norms of the target community. Those which seem to contradict the customs or ideas of beneficiaries are usually rejected. An example of this is production of pig in a predominantly Islamic community.

6. Socio-economic status of farmers: Farmers who are wealthy and highly influential in the community often seek for and make greater use of extension information. Thus, they take greater risk than farmers of low socio-economic status.

7. Educational level of farmers: Farmers’ rate of adoption of innovation, sometimes, depends on their educational background. The more educated the farmers are, usually, the more readily they adopt innovations introduced to them.

8. Role conflicts: Farmers are the target of cooperative extension officers and agricultural extension officers. Problems of role and personality conflicts often arise between the agricultural and cooperative extension officers on the field. This tends to negatively influence farmers rate of adoption of new farm techniques.

9. Reliability of extension officers: Extension service is an enormous task which demands a large population of dedicated extension officers for effectiveness. However, the problem of shortage of extension officers, lack of financial resources, mobility etc., prevent them from performing their duties effectively. 

Thus, farmers tend to lose confidence in the whole package of innovation introduced to them. The failure of an extension officer to keep his/her promise of providing inputs of production or additional information reduces the confidence of farmers in him/her.

10. Extension officer’s approach: The approach of communicating with farmers is very relevant- to enhance acceptability. Thus, extension officers need to understand each situation, based on the socio-cultural characteristics of the target group. Mutual respect and trust is paramount to the success of extension service. Farmers tend to be less interested in the innovation introduced to them disrespectfully.

The methodology of imparting information is also essential. In this regard, the use of audio-visual aid, motion picture (video), demonstration plots etc., tend to enhance the understanding of farmers and their acceptance of innovation.

11. Malpractices/fraudulent acts: It is human to make errors. However, when errors are committed intentionally, it becomes fraud. Cases of the involvement of extension officers in fraud are observed on the field. Thus, farmers who have been victims of such malpractices in the past are usually skeptical about innovations brought to them by innocent extension officers.

12. Insufficient financial resources: Government, rarely, provides adequate funding for extension services in the country. Extension officers are unable to perform effectively due to lack of mobility and non-payment of traveling expenses. The poor state of rural infrastructures- such as roads hampers extension services.

13. Shortage of extension officers: The shortage of extension officers is due to failure on the part of the government to recruit adequate manpower for extension service programmes. The present extension service manpower level is grossly inadequate to cope with the contact with the extension officers. 

Thus, innovations previously adopted by farmers are later dropped when they are faced with difficulties, and there is no extension officer to consult.

14. Frequent changes of government policies: Government formulates policies to ensure rapid agricultural development. However, there were cases in the past when farmers adopted innovations, and then along the line, a new policy is formulated with adverse effect on the farmer’s business. A farmer who has suffered this in the past is often hesitant when it comes to accepting new techniques. For example, government policy may encourage importation of maize to meet increased demand of the poultry sector.

On assessing the performance of the agricultural sector, another policy such as ban on importation of all grains may be announced to protect the local producers of grains, if local demands exceed supply; many farmers may be forced out of the industry.

15. Availability of facilities which must accompany innovations for achievement of expected results: Modern agriculture depends mostly on the use of high yielding varieties (HYV) which depend on fertilizers and irrigation. Thus, timely provision of fertilizer in adequate quantity and irrigation facilities tend to encourage farmers to adopt new planting materials. This is because irrigation reduces the effects of the adverse weather conditions on crops and livestock production.


Conclusion on Agricultural Extension Service

You would have realized that agricultural extension is a system of disseminating information from research institutes to farmers within the shortest possible time; more so, rural farmers are trained so as to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge.

From the concept of agricultural extension, it has been made clear to you that agricultural extension serves as the rallying point for the components of agricultural systems, namely- production, supply, credit marketing, research and regulation which form the nerve center of agricultural development.

Post a Comment