Demonstration in extension and rural advisory services
By Raymond Erick Zvavanyange
Key message The article offers practitioners the recommendation to revisit demonstration in extension and rural advisory service delivery.
A fundamental missing
In preparation of my contribution to the YPARD/GFRAS e-discussion on extension/rural advisory services and young professionals, I re-read my previous article titled Fundamentals of Agricultural Extension in which I argued for nine fundamentals of extension as: (i) non-formal education, (ii) adult-focused, (iii) communication, (iv) exchange of knowledge, (v) innovation, (vi) the change agent or extension staff, (vii) agricultural development, (viii) sustainability, and (ix) groups of people. The nine fundamentals portray extension in its establishment as a formal discipline in response to trends in international agricultural research. A recent study by a Netherlands researcher with the title "The history and future of agricultural experiments" got my attention to an important feature of extension and rural advisory services that which I, here propose as Fundamental Number Ten. The missing Fundamental is demonstration.
What is demonstration?
Demonstration is the root of extension and rural advisory services. The presented nine fundamentals are all directly and indirectly pinning demonstration. Demonstration definitions vary by context and objective. In this article, demonstration is putting across an acceptable, simple and single agricultural message on the ground, (Tsododo G, 1990). Demonstrations are more effective if they carry a single message at a time and supported by adequate resources. They are objectively carried out for three purposes namely: the promotion or dissemination of proven technology, rectification of an identified constraint and staff development.
An evaluation of the extension system in my home country Zimbabwe shows that institutional arrangements take precedence over the extension objectives which are to demonstrate proven farming technologies for adoption. Furthermore, in post -independence Zimbabwe there is dilution at field level of extension objectives with countrys priorities. This puts extension and rural advisory services as a non-indicator service when compared to social services such as health and education.
The critical mass in Zimbabwe years
I was introduced to extension and rural advisory services in Zimbabwe early 2008 as an agricultural extension worker under the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development; the same period professionals were searching for better employment opportunities in far and near places. My focus here is not the controversies surrounding the Zimbabwean years but to stress the existence of both large and small farmers who displayed resilience in that time of adversity. There were a significant number of extension professionals who embraced the challenges of the day in the execution of their duties. Agricultural messages were conveyed, demonstrations conducted, agricultural shows and field days hosted and farmer field schools promoted. Suffice to say here, a critical mass ensured extension and rural advisory services remained a farmers first service.
A recommendation of the 21st century
A recommendation to revisit the demonstration approach in extension and rural advisory services is here offered to research and extension practitioners. A basic understanding of what it means to say farmer driven and farmer centered is a pre-requisite before exploring how the recommendation can be taken up. The simple question to practitioners should ask themselves what demonstrations they have conducted in the past. Were the demonstrations farmer-centered and farmer-driven? What is the role of information and communication technologies in demonstrations? What is the impact of the demonstrations on farmers livelihoods? Emphasis should not only be on the adoption numbers but on how many farmers actively design new farming methods as a result of the show cased demonstrations. I envisage this puts the farmer as the center in demonstrations, creates a platform for innovation and feed back and re-connects research and extension disciplines.
1) Maat, H. 2011. The history and future of agricultural experiments. NJAS -Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences,Volume 57, Issues 3-4, February 2011, pages 187-195. ISSN - 1573 - 5214.
2) Tsododo, G. 1990. The Role of Demonstrations within AGRITEX. Is the current policy of one demonstration per project per extension officers the ideal? In: E.M. Shumba, S.R.Waddington and L.A. Navarro (eds). 1990. Research and Extension Linkages for Small Holder Agriculture in Zimbabwe. Proceedings of a workshop on Assessing the Performance of the Committee for On-Farm Research and Extension (COFRE). Kadoma, Zimbabwe. 7-9 May, 1990. Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR& Ss), AGRITEX, and International Development Research Centre (IDRC).