Without an extension manual to guide millions of extension interventions, the effectiveness of extension work cannot be improved upon to meet the objectives of the agriculture sector, including the ambitious drive for doubling farmers’ income, argues Shri Suresh Kumar.
Everyone is concerned about enhancing the effectiveness of extension. Several extension approaches as well as initiatives are being undertaken to inform and educate farmers on new knowledge related to farming, and assisting them to improve their production, productivity and income. But there have not been commensurate efforts in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of using these approaches.
What has always struck me during my long association in this sector is the need to suitably appreciate/acknowledge the contribution of extension to achieving farm sector goals and to improve the effectiveness of extension interventions. I vividly remember the challenge of convincing the farmers during the earlier exciting yearsof promoting hybrid and high-yielding varieties(HYVs)which ushered in the ‘Green Revolution’,thus proving all the skeptics wrong. This challenge continued when I had the privilege to establish and operationalise the Training & Visit (T&V) system in Maharashtra over a period of more than five years when I was the Director of Agriculture in
Maharashtra. There were many success stories of the T&V system, which have also remained unappreciated. T&V had some excellent features which need to be incorporated into the present system (as also recommended by the Doubling Farmers’ Income Committee1 ), but that deserves another blog, another day.
Extension reforms were introduced since the late nineties. A new institutional set up with the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) at its core was established, from1999-2003 as a pilot phase in select districts and expanded country widewith additional human resources and extension activities subsequently. Irrespective of these developments, the good old extension practices which existed during my time continue to rule, including demonstrations, farmers’ training, farmers’ fairs and farm visits.The scope of these extension activities is considerable. During 2017-18, ATMA alone organised 17,53,592 extension events (see Table 1). This excludes the work done by other organisations, including the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), State Agricultural
Universities (SAUs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and the private sector.
Table 1: Extension activities under ATMA (2017-18)
Traditional extension methods – such as folk troupes, folk songs–that were important during my time, continue to be relevant even today while new ones keep emerging. The concepts of farmers’ friend and farmers’ producer companies (FPCs) are key extension reforms in recent times. ICTs are also emerging as core strength of extension. Various new initiatives and interventions ensued, including Farmer’s Portal, Kisan Call Center, mobile phone text messages to farmers, field videos, community radio, Kisan Channel and so on. Every SAU/ICAR and government institution has a website for providing technical advice to farmers. The scope of these extension tools is massive. Kisan portal, inaugurated in 2013, has sent more than 2100 crore text messages. Kisan Call Centers (KCC) cater to nearly four crore farmers through its wide network. Millions of messages are sent every day to farmers by various organisations/service providers; and there are nearly 800 websites in their service. This provides a snapshot of the extent of extension reach and the challenge of optimally using these activities and interventions.
IMPACT OF EXTENSION METHODS
The biggest challenge for an extension worker is how to convince a farmer to adopt new technologies as well as changing the habits of a lifetime/traditional practices. This is a herculean task on the ground. Despite employing the best extension approaches, I still remember that after the introduction of the T&V system, Dr Daniel Benor would demonstrate to us how an unwilling farmer can be pursued to adopt better technologies. This remains the gold standard for extension. The T&V system also published/produced very good booklets, which proved quite useful for all of us. Impact/effectiveness of various extension methods and extension practices depends upon the quality of their performance/use. Even a likely improvement of 10-20% can make a big difference to the effectiveness of extension in the short term. Therefore the scope for improvement is much more in the medium and long term. Success of the entire extension strategy for doubling farmers’ income and achieving various objectives of the farm sector,including food security, depends upon the quality of extension services which in turn depends upon how the various extension interventions are practiced. The vast resources being provided for these extension activities need to be optimally utilised. How should each of these (for example demonstrations, farmers’ fairs, farmer visits, KCC) be
planned, implemented, monitored, evaluated, reviewed, and improved upon? How should the new ICT tools be optimally used? Beyond improving the effectiveness of individual extension practice there is the challenge of integrating the use of various practices for synergy and avoiding duplication.
Challenging as the role of extension is, it is expanding given the increasing complexity and importance of the farm sector. The DFI Committee, in its Draft Report XI, has assigned a key role to extension in the strategy and policy proposed for doubling farmers’ income.It has recommended 24 roles (Table 2). Extension is expected to broaden its focus from productivity and production to income of farmers, as well as facilitate project-based extension and tackle emerging challenges including climate change. How will extension functionaries be equipped to understand, and then effectively carry out, the roles expected as per recommendations of the DFI Committee over and above the already onerous responsibilities being carried out by them? The issue of integrating extension resources was highlighted by the DFI Committee, which had identified 107 categories of institutions providing extension support/services apart from a very large number of other institutions that could be leveraged for extension support/services. These include 1.57 lakh common service centres (CSCs) and self-help groups (SHGs), 1.71 lakh milk cooperatives and a vast network of credit-linked extension groups. How should extension collaborate with this large number of institutions, considering that it is already struggling to coordinate research systems? Convergence of extension systems will be a major challenge for extension planners. In AESA Blog864 the issue of census of extension resources was covered.
Table 2: Roles recommended for extension providers
ENHANCING CAPACITIES OF EXTENSION PERSONNEL
There are nearly one lakh public sector extension personnel in the country; and almost the same number or perhaps even more representing the private and NGO sectors. In light of a multitude of roles required and expected to be performed by these extension functionaries, the challenge of extension is how each of these extension support /organisation functionary can perform the various extension activities effectively as desired and demanded. This requires improving the effectiveness of individual practice as well as the integration of these practices and Extension resources.
While some sort of training is being provided currently to extension functionaries by training institutes (MANAGE /SAMETI), it is not possible to continuously train everyone and that too in the most effective manner. Therefore there is an urgent need to prepare high-quality extension manual/s for extension functionaries. The following suggestions are made in this regard, which could be implemented gradually.
- There should be separate manuals for different groups/types of extension functionaries relevant to their specific needs, instead of one omnibus manual. There is need for a separate training manual for trainers and another one for extension planning and extension practices.
- The manual/sshouldbe made available in both formats – hard copy/print as well as soft copy/video – suitably indexed to provide ready reference.
- Material in the manual should constituteextension knowledge which could be used for various purposes, such as preparation/deciding of extension curricula. The material should be suitably tagged so as to provide links to relevant modules. The manual should be updated annually in light of relevant experience acquired during the preceding year.
This may be done by obtaining feedback during annual conferences of field officers.A conference at the national level may be preceded by conferences at the state level.
- The manual should be uploaded to the internet and remarks about the content as well as personal experience of practitioners, experts and farmers incorporated for use during update. A suitable format could be devised for accomplishing the aforesaid. In my AESA Blog 275 I had recommended operationalising the concept of ‘Extension Pedia’.
- The Department of Agriculture and Cooperation may designate a nodal institution, such as MANAGE, for preparation of manuals. It may otherwise designate any other institution.
- There is a need for the designated institution to collaborate with other subject matter/specialist institutions /experts for extension advice on subjects such as marketing support, climate change, IT support, irrigation extension, watershed extension. National Institute of Agricultural Marketing (NIAM) could be one example of a collaborating institution for marketing extension.
Shri Suresh Kumar, former Additional Chief Secretary & Principal Secretary (Agriculture), and Director of Agriculture, Government of Maharashtra, acted as the Chairman of the 12th Plan “Working Group on Agricultural Extension for Agriculture and Allied Sectors” constituted by the Planning Commission of India. (email@example.com)