June 15, 2017
Written by Ben Addom
This article originally appeared on Spore.
There is no doubt that agricultural extension and advisory services (EAS) have been going through a tumultuous crisis over the past years. But, from my over 25 years of experience as a farmer, agricultural extension practitioner, and ICT for development specialist, I have come to believe ICTs are tools that can enable EAS – whether they are old or new models and approaches of extension. So the question is, should development partners, donors, technology developers and researchers continue exploring new extension models and approaches or find innovative ways by which ICTs can enable any existing models? Is there a holy grail somewhere, someday to be grabbed? My position is that there is no need to continue exploring new models of EAS; instead we need to find ways of using ICTs innovatively to revamp existing extension systems. However, the use of any ICTs should be context specific; it depends on the state of the extension services in a given country. The ICT application/system that will have an impact on the extension system in Uganda may not work in Ethiopia.
Over the years, several models and approaches to agricultural EAS have been promoted with different assumptions, objectives and structures, but all with the goal of improving agricultural productivity. Take, for example, the training and visit (T&V) approach. It was designed with a focus on building a professional extension service that is capable of guiding farmers in agricultural production and raising their income. While the T&V principle still stands, ICTs are being used to enhance the training of intermediaries and significantly reduce the frequency of visits made to farmers.
The technology transfer approach has been seen as a top-down approach which believes that certain technologies could revolutionise farming and therefore provides specific recommendations to farmers for adoption. New innovations and technologies move from research and development through agricultural extension services to the producer/farmer. While the technology may be new, it still takes the human component – extension personnel – for the technology to work. ICTs are increasingly being seen as a means of facilitating the functions of extension personnel.