The case for the new extensionist

The ‘new extensionist’ brings a strengthened system of knowledge and advisory. Photo: Anne Wangalachi (CIMMYT).

Kristin Davis, seconded from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), is in Punta del Este for GCARD 2012 this week with delegates from the advisory services community to promote the idea of the “new extensionist.”

What is a “new extensionist,” you might ask?   As she explains, it is not a superman (or woman!)  but a vision of new roles, strategies, and capacities to reduce hunger and poverty through strengthening rural advisory services – the activities that provide the information and capacities needed by farmers, their families, and other stakeholders in rural settings to respond to existing and new challenges and to improve their livelihoods.

Today’s challenges of food price crises, natural resource depletion, changing and uncertain markets, environmental degradation, and climate change require an agricultural innovation systems perspective, with a view of all of the different actors who contribute to development, their actions, and their interaction. This in turn requires strengthening knowledge and advisory systems.

Thus, the vision of a “new extensionist.”

Strengthening knowledge and advisory systems requires enhancing capacities at individual, organisational, and system levels. According to Davis, this is a major challenge that is currently underestimated, and must be met to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and future Sustainable Development Goals.

Luckily, a major priority area for GCARD 2012 is to “develop the required human and institutional capacities for generation, access and effective use of agricultural knowledge in development.” GFRAS is leading a session today at GCARD2 specifically to formulate actions and partnerships to address this capacity strengthening challenge, based on the “new extensionist” concept.

They will also present this concept in a background report,  and have a briefing paper available for discussion during the session. The paper discusses the role of advisory services within agricultural innovation systems, the importance of enhanced capacities for better performance at the individual, organizational, and enabling environment levels, the constraints and roles of actors at national, regional, and global levels, and recommendations for action and partnerships to strengthen capacities and the role of advisory systems at all levels.

The “new extensionist” concept has undergone a peer review, global electronic consultation, and validation exercise at the GFRAS annual meeting.  At GCARD, the goal is to validate the recommendations and define the next steps, in alignment

with the GCARD Roadmap.

Blogpost by Marcia MacNeil (IFPRI) with contributions from Kristin Davis.

4 thoughts on “The case for the new extensionist

  1. The concept of the New Extensionist is not new. Regardless of location or tasking, all Extension Officers require four fundamental components. One, an operational budget so they can do thier work. As basic as transportation, office space, internet connectivity, and actual field tools. Two, the support of their Supervisor to make sure their work is supported financially and supported ethically. Three, specific taskings that are metrics put into a business plan, which include what are they to do and how will thier performance be measured? And four, the support of their clients, which includes legitimacy, and the support of the centers of higher education, so that the Extension worker can reach back to subject matter experts for help. In short, Extension Officers require a budget, require a specific list of tasks, and they require support. Holding them accountable for performance is essential too. Yes, they must be knowledgable…but by and large just knowing things in and of itself is of little value until that knowledge is transferred to those willing to learn. We cannot teach anybody anything with this willingness to learn.

    1. Last sentence confusing. Here is a better one: We cannot teach anyone anything unless they are willing to learn.

  2. Thanks Mike! Good points. The “New Extensionist” is in quotes because we also feel all is not new – but there are new roles and capacities needed to play an effective role.

  3. The New Extenionists shall seriously take into account the new roles of family farms as inside out sources of Ecofunctional information in sustainable agriculture systems with inherent resilience to challenges in markets, sustainable appropriate techniques and climate change among others.The major challenge is to reach out the poor family farms which are often neglected by the waves of sustainable development interventions relative to the MGDs. It would be good for GFRAS to have a platform in engaging the ODA’s as mechanisms of strategic partnerships with donor countries for effective impacts in poor farming communities . In this process, GFRAS would become relevant to the livelihood of dominant poor family farms in Third World Countries.

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