The Ninth Annual Meeting of GFRAS discussed the Challenges and Seizing Opportunities in Developing Effective Partnerships in Rural Advisory Services (RAS). 152 participants from 56 countries representing different sectors and regions of the world participated in this meeting. Dr Mahesh Chander reflects on his participation at this event.
In a pluralistic extension ecosystem, many actors viz public sector, private sector, non-governmental organisations, producer organizations etc., contribute through various arrangements to the provision and financing of Rural Advisory Services (RAS), though to varying degrees according to context. However, many of us strongly feel, for RAS to be effective in facing current challenges, it needs to go beyond providing information and services related to an increase of production and income by adopting a holistic approach of looking at value-chains, livelihoods, and overall community development. Further, our experiences reveal that any single service provider cannot be fully inclusive and holistic, and a range of services and providers that meet a variety of needs are better suited to respond to these needs and challenges. This in turn requires an increased coordination and collaboration between the different actors in order to use each actor’s comparative advantage to provide inclusive and demand-based services to their clientele. This is why it is imperative that coordination, collaboration and partnerships need to be discussed to make RAS more impactful.
The GFRAS has been organizing its annual meetings around some major themes in different continents. The 9th meeting held at Jeonju, Republic of Korea this year was hosted by the Rural Development Administration of Korea with the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Digital Green, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) and Korea Tourism Organization. From October 22-25 2018, the participants discussed different dimensions of partnerships & coordination that can make Extension and RAS effective and impactful. The meeting organizers provided a conducive environment for RAS actors to exchange, discuss and find solutions to issues concerned with partnerships and coordination around the world. The Rural Development Administration, as the local host was not only responsible for organizing the logistics of the meeting, but also appreciably, they extended financial and/or in-kind support to the meeting and organized a cultural evening in addition to informative and interesting field trips.
The expectations from the meeting
This meeting was organized to:
- Identify and define good practices, best-fit approaches and strategies to develop, strengthen, and maintain effective partnerships in RAS, with a particular focus on smart technologies, financing and collaboration across stakeholders;
- Identify and define ways to build the capacities needed at different levels and by different stakeholders (policy, research, education, extension, farmers) to develop, strengthen, and maintain effective partnerships in RAS; and to
- Identify and define the roles and capacities needed by GFRAS and its regional RAS networks to play an important and meaningful role in developing, strengthening and maintaining effective partnerships.
The different concepts and definitions of effective partnerships in RAS, their importance and roles, corresponding challenges and opportunities in strengthening RAS for the benefit of rural actors worldwide were crystallized. Going beyond defining concepts, identifying challenges and opportunities, I felt that the participants in the Annual Meeting strived to share and learn from good practices and identify innovative yet realistic and practical strategies to develop, strengthen and maintain effective partnerships in RAS. They discussed and identified capacities needed at different levels to implement these strategies. I am confident that the outputs of this meeting will include tangible action plans and recommendations for the short, mid and long term at three different levels:
- Actions that each participant will be able to implement on return to their country;
- Action plans for regional and sub-regional networks to strengthen their capacities and roles; and
- Recommendations for structural changes required in national and regional policies and strategies.
Based on these outputs, a short declaration was prepared & presented by Mr David Nielson, GFRAS Co-chair on the final day as a key output of the Annual Meeting for wide dissemination.
Inaugural & the Opening Plenary session
Dr Rasheed Sulaiman V, GFRAS Steering Committee Chair; Mr Ra Seungyo, The Administrator of Rural Development Administration, Republic of Korea and Mr Kim Songil, Vice Governor of Jeonbuk Province, Republic of Korea delivered the welcome address and made the opening remarks highlighting the importance of coordination and partnerships among different actors to achieve the sustainable development goals.
I liked the video input from Dr Kristin Davis, Director, Developing Local Extension Capacities (DLEC). She beautifully introduced the topic of partnerships in RAS to the GFRAS Annual Meeting participants. It was followed by two opening plenary presentations on partnerships and policies, which were quite thought provoking. The panelists discussed
- State of the practice of RAS partnerships: where are we now? Where are we headed? and
- State of policy in supporting partnerships.
Both the sessions were moderated beautifully by Ms Nancy White & Ms Andrea Bohn who made the sessions interactive and stimulating. The key messages from the discussions were: partnerships and coordination are essentially required to make best use of the available resources like manpower, funds and logistics and for this to happen we have to overcome mental and physical barriers. Here again it was emphasized and confessed that capacities are currently lacking in making the environment enabling for partnerships and coordination.
The following three parallel sessions were held:
- Smart technologies for effective partnerships in RAS
- Innovative financing towards effective partnerships in RAS
- Convergence through collaboration and coordination in RAS
I presented a paper on Seizing and scaling Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for Improving Public Extension Services in Parallel session II. This session was moderated by Ms Andrea Bohn. My presentation reflected upon how we can strengthen public extension services by making best use of funds available under CSR of companies. Unlike the routine presentations, there wasn’t any PowerPoint presentation or excessive talking by me, but the participants intensively deliberated on the content circulated via a one pager stating-What, So What & Now What. This was very unique for me as most of us by now have become accustomed and conditioned to PPTs.
I wish I could attend and benefit from the presentations in the other two parallel sessions, which were very interesting too. In Session I, Smart technologies for effective partnerships in RAS were discussed by three speakers, while in Session III three speakers talked about convergence through collaboration and coordination in RAS.
Out of the three side events organized, I could attend only one, viz. The side event organized by the FAO: ‘Exploring the complex universe of agricultural extension and advisory services: guidelines for assessing pluralistic systems at the National level’. This session was moderated by Ms Delgermaa Chuluunbaatar, Agricultural Extension Officer, FAO; Ms Zofia Mroczek, Agricultural Extension specialist at FAO in Rome together with Dr. Rasheed Sulaiman V, Director, CRISP, India. It was to me, avery stimulating experience since the aim was to develop assessment methods for extension services, which is an imperative need.
I wish I could attend other side events too, which were organized by APIRAS, CIRAD and Youth working group. But due to the sessions running simultaneously, I was unable to attend them all. I would have particularly liked to witness the launch-engaging youth in RAS in Agricultural Innovation Systems.
Apart from indoor deliberations, we had the opportunity to learn about Korea’s cultural heritage (tour of the world famous Hanok village) and public agricultural extension services through field visits showcasing various case studies and agricultural extension systems. The well designed field trips focused on five main topics viz., ‘Korea’s Extension System’, ‘Value Chain’, ‘Smart-Farming’, ‘Rural Youth’, and ‘Farmers’ Groups’. These are currently the main issues internationally, so also for the Korean government. It was appreciable that the Rural Development Administration in Korea was working on the philosophy, ‘think global act local’ especially when we saw the focus on export, good agricultural practices and high emphasis on product quality and value addition. We were briefed about field trips before leaving for our respective destinations. These well planned field trips provided us with several take home messages to be acted upon in.
Written communication and in person briefing about our roles helped in making the field trips relevant, interesting and focussed. Each group was requested to provide their feedback with learning experiences from the field trip. These field trips provided participants with insights into RAS, agriculture and value chains developed around Jeonju. These well planned field trips provided us with several take home messages to be acted upon in. We ended the day with a social evening full of food & music, which was very relaxing after hectic day long field trips.
I am happy to share that I was declared one of the five winners of the field trip photo contest, and received a Chocobar from Ms Nancy White with appreciation for the photos we took while on the field trips. This is one good way to engage participants.
The GFRAS has been organizing Share Fare at the Annual Meetings traditionally. At this meeting too, four participants from different regions discussed and shared their new projects, ideas, field experiences, publications and materials on the latest RAS programmes. I presented a success story of a young agripreneur under the title, “Cow dung and earthworms can make you rich and famous”. I talked about how a young boy was trained by KVK-IVRI who then became an agripreneur and is doing well keeping his hopes high, serving as an inspiring story for other youths.
Participants, their Participation & Presentations: The meeting was announced well in time with a well drafted concept note on Meeting theme, wherein, inputs were invited from the prospective participants from world over. The organizers had set a limit of 150 participants, considering the logistics and need of managing the sessions effectively. The selection procedure for papers to be presented in the technical sessions was apparently very strict, which can be understood from the fact that only 3 papers per session were allowed. Only 9 papers presented in the three parallel sessions reflect the importance given to the quality of presentations. The papers were chosen for quality, representativeness and relevance to the theme of the meeting. Not only were the papers screened and evaluated but also the presentations in the form of one pager were edited by the moderators of the respective parallel sessions well in advance.
On my one pager, I received comments from the moderator for my session Ms Andrea Bohn, thereby helping me improve my presentation. This was an eye opening experience for me and I am sure that many of us, prior to this event, may not have known that presentations including PPTs are subject to external evaluation for good, of course. All the presenters were briefed a day before about the modus operandi of parallel sessions, which helped in improving the outcome from each session. Appreciably, the participants were actively engaged and involved in discussions in all the sessions. This was one key take-away to be followed in conferences we organize back home.
Side Events, Share Fair and Discussions on Regional Networks: It was exciting to be a part of interactive and continuous formats that facilitated and stimulated exchange, discussions and learning. As is usual in GFRAS Annual Meetings, the participants had enough opportunities to share their projects, programmes, products, ideas, and thoughts at a market place installed during all three days
Besides three professionally stimulating and technically sound parallel sessions, this meeting provided many opportunities to discuss selected themes in small groups and helped the participants acquire more detailed information on ongoing interventions. The sessions also helped in networking with several others who are working on similar themes or with shared interests. The meeting of GFRAS Regional Networks was yet another opportunity to share our activities and also to chalk out actions plan for the next year. I actively participated in sharing and planning AESA activities along with other participants from the region mainly from India, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka.
Time Management: All sessions including the inaugural programme finished well within the scheduled time. Since the presentations were pre-reviewed for length and content, the speakers could finish well within time. This, in my opinion, was very important learning since in many conferences in our region, time management is an issue.
Social Media use: The conference was well publicized using social media channels like FB, FB Live, twitter etc. The photos from the meeting activities like presentations and field trips were posted by me and other participants in GFRAS FB group including regional networks. Also, important messages from the conference presentations were tweeted by the participants including myself under #gfras2018 & @infogfras. For instance, key messages from various presentations were tweeted in real time picked from ongoing visual presentations by myself @maheshIVRI and several other participants, viz @NancyWhite, @BotirDosov, @NgwenyaHlami, @CANOneous and the organizers @infogfras .
For me this event co-organized with the Rural Development Administration, Government of South Korea was yet another exciting opportunity offered by GFRAS. We the participants could explore issues concerned with RAS in context of collaborations and partnerships among various actors involved in RAS across the globe. It was interesting to read the Concept Note prepared for this meeting by the organizers, which made clear the intent of this meeting well in advance.
I believe this meeting happened to be one unique opportunity for the participants from all regions, sectors, gender, and ages to exchange and learn about the
- Smart technologies for effective partnerships in RAS,
- Innovative financing towards effective partnerships in RAS, and
- Convergence through collaboration and coordination in RAS.
I believe these are the issues which have strong bearing in running RAS anywhere in the world. We were able to explore and exchange experiences; discuss and give recommendations on the coordination, collaborations and partnerships towards making RAS effective & impactful. It provided the participants an opportunity to discuss the Rural Advisory Services in context of coordination & partnerships-an emerging area for extensionists especially across developing world. I am sure like me, all others who participated in this meeting would have found this meeting professionally very enriching. Once back home, the participants might have had many take home messages from this GFRAS meeting which will help shape up things in meaningful directions.
I feel it is important to draw lessons from such international meetings to improve the situation back home. This conference addressed pertinent topics since collaborations, coordination & partnerships are going to be talked about even more in years to come. I could learn a lot more about the role of coordination, collaboration and partnerships in making RAS more effective, which will help me do better in delivering topics with the insights on partnerships and collaborations.
I am thankful to GFRAS & IVRI/ICAR/DARE, Govt. of India for facilitating this learning experience- the wonderful opportunity to learn, grow and do better in Rural Advisory Services.
Dr Mahesh Chander is Principal Scientist & Head, Division of Extension Education, ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar-243 122 (UP), India. (firstname.lastname@example.org)