Definition and Importance of Agricultural Extension


Definition and Importance of Agricultural Extension

Agricultural extension is one of the necessary conditions for the development of agriculture. It is regarded as the centre 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; but in our discussion in this article, it will be revealed that extension takes a central position in relationship to the other aspects of agriculture such as crops production, livestock, forestry and so on.

In this article, we will learn about the importance of agricultural extension.

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What is Agricultural Extension?

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. 

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. 

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.


Importance of Agricultural Extension Services

Here, let us consider the following.

1. Contribution to economic growth: This is seen in improved production efficiency and better use of resources through improved yield; it helps in getting more export earnings. This contribution was felt much during the time major emphasis was on cash crops for export- i.e. before the discovery of petroleum products in Nigeria.

2. Educational services to farmers: Farmers benefit much under extension programme. This contribution has a far reaching effect on the well-being of the farmer and his family. For many, this is the only hope of learning and making their lives better. It has brought education to those who have lost the opportunity of formal education.

3. Rural development: It helps the rural populace in the organization of activities other than agricultural production. Activities may extend to social and cultural activities- with the benefit of the education and training gained in extension. Health services such as immunization of children can gain from extension services.

4. Leadership training: Through extension education and training many farmers acquire leadership training which helps them in playing important roles in their communities.

5. It plays the role of an agent of transfer of knowledge from government research centers, universities and other areas to the farmer.

6. It helps farmers to manage his farming better and see his farming as a business and not for subsistence. The farmer learns to use economic factors in decision-making.

Rate of Learning and Adoption

Let us consider the following.

1. Farmer’s speed of learning: Farmers differs in their speed of learning and adoption. The process by which a new idea spreads among people in an area is known as diffusion. Not all farmers will accept a new idea at the same time.

In any rural community, the readiness to accept new ideas and put them into practice varies, depending on each farmer's previous experience with new ideas, the personality of the farmer and the amount of land and other resources available. Thus, we can identify different categories of farmers in terms of their abilities to adopt new ideas.

2. Innovators: Innovators are farmers who are eager to accept new ideas. Usually, there are only few people in this class in a farming community. They are often farmers who, having spent some years outside the village, feel that they can make their own decision without worrying about the opinions of others.

In villages, innovators are often looked on with suspicious and jealousy. Yet they are important to the success of an extension programme since they can be persuaded to try new methods and thereby create awareness in the community. However, the extension agent should exercise tact and caution, and avoid over-praising innovators in public or spending too much time with them. This could result in rejection of the idea by the rest of the community because of jealousy and suspicion- as the innovator's motives in adopting new methods is seen in bad light.

3. Early adopters: Farmers who are more cautious and want to see the idea tried and proved under local conditions are known as early adopters. They express early interest but must first be convinced of the direct benefit of the idea by putting up a demonstration. Usually, this group of farmers includes local leaders and others who are respected in the community.

4. The majority: If the rest of the farmers adopt a new idea, they will do so more slowly and perhaps less completely. Many farmers will lack the resources to adopt the new idea at all, while others may only do so slowly and with caution. The majority who can and do adopt the idea are likely to be more influenced by the opinions of local leaders and neighbors than by the extension agent or the demonstrations he arranges.


Stages of Learning and Adoption

Learning and adoption occurs in stages. Different types of learning are involved in extension. Before a group of farmers can decide to try out a new idea/practice, they must first learn of it. They may then have to learn some new skills. Five stages have been identified in the process of accepting new ideas.

Let us consider these now.

1. Awareness: A farmer learns of the existence of the ideas, but knows little about it; hence, he is willing to know more.

2. Interest: The farmer develops interest in the idea and seeks more information about it from a friend, community leader or the extension agent.

3. Evaluation: How the idea affects the farmer must now be considered. How will it be of benefit? What are the difficulties or disadvantages of this new idea? The farmer may seek further information or go to a demonstration or meeting, and then decides whether or not to try out the new ideas.

4. Trial: Very often, farmers then decide to try the idea on a small scale.

For example, they may decide to put manure or fertilizer on a small part of one field and compare the result with the rest of the field.

To do this, they seek advice on how and when to apply the fertilizer or manure.

5. Adoption: If the farmers are convinced by the trial, they accept the idea fully and it becomes part of their customary way of farming.

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The Act of Dissemination

Disseminating information to the farmer is a complex exercise. It involves different facets which have their own peculiarities. Any act of communication, be it a speech at a public meeting, a written report, a radio broadcast or a question from a farmer includes four important elements.

1. The message- this is the information (innovation) or the new idea to be communicated.

2. The source/communicator- this is where the information or ideas comes from.

3. The channel- this is the way the message is transmitted; the medium which the communicator uses to reach his audience (fanner).

4. The receiver/audience- this is the person for whom the message is intended- which is the farmer. Any communicator must consider all the four elements carefully, as they all contribute to effectiveness. As earlier stated, the duty of an extension worker is to encourage farmers to adopt innovations of proven value.


Methods of Dissemination

The methods of disseminating information could be classified as follows:

1. Mass method: These are usually designed to create general awareness and interest in the new ideas and techniques among the people or farmers. They include radio broadcast, newspaper articles, agricultural shows, film shows sponsored by the extension service. The service may also produce bulletins, which provide very useful information (which can be technical, economic and social) to the rural population. Leaflets can also be made for mass distribution.

2. Group methods: These are employed to advance people's awareness and interests to the point where they express their willingness to try and experiment with the new idea (innovation). These methods teach farmers in groups and are mainly in the form of practical demonstrations. The first is called method demonstration; which teaches farmers how to do particular jobs e.g. How to spray or plant.

The second is result demonstration, which is used to teach farmers the result that could accrue from doing something in a certain way- e.g. the effects of good spraying on the health of a cotton field. It provides the farmer with the practical proof that the improved practice is applicable locally and is superior to an established traditional practice.

Group meetings are also part of the methods of extension teaching. They involve organizing a gathering of farmers with similar interest for the purpose of teaching them some techniques about their areas of interest.

3. Individual method: Although a great deal of extension teaching is done in groups, learning is always an individual process. Hence, the extension agent is not only concerned with the group but also with individual farmers. The agents must know the farmer, his situation and aspiration. Some of the individual teaching methods employed in extension teaching include personal contacts or visit by the agent to the fanner and his family, sending letters about important events, conducting tutorials and discussing major problems directly with individual farmers.

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Conclusion on Definition and Importance of Agricultural Extension

The channels influence different group of farmers in different degrees. Innovators and early adopters make use of the mass media more than the other groups. Extension agents, however, use a variety of channels to reach their farmers. Face-to-face contact by the extension agents is known to be a very effective way of selling innovations to farmers; farmers desire the extension agent to talk to them, to demonstrate to them. Adoption of innovation depends more on the adoption process.

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