Can we Innovative and Double Efforts in Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services (AEAS) to Transform African Agriculture?

 
Mr. Paul Fatch, AFAAS Board Chair

Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services (AEAS) are an indispensable enabler for agriculture led equitable prosperity (economic), stewardship (environment), and wellness (health) through the many and expanding roles AEAS play all over the world. The roles include farmer organization, market linkage, technology and practice promotion, stakeholder network development, while addressing persistent as well as emerging issues such as climate change, gender, nutrition, pest and disease outbreak containment, and pandemics.

Agriculture is changing, so must AEAS. The African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS) is best positioned to drive this change. The African Union (AU) officially designated the AFAAS as its arm for agricultural extension. This was announced by the AU Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy, and Sustainable Environment (ARBE) Her Excellency Josefa Leonel Correira Sacko during the 2021 Africa Wide Agricultural -Extension Week (AAEW2021) hosted in Uganda.

Buoyed by the need to facilitate food and economic systems able to sustain livelihoods of the majority of the 1.4 billion people in Africa, a better organized AEAS network across Africa under the leadership of AFAAS is a must. The expectations are high. One Extensionist (Kakwera, 2022) remarked that “AFAAS bodies should help to ensure that AEAS are pro-active in enhancing threatened food systems; professionalizing AEAS delivery, and improving grassroot connections of AEAS actors at all levels”.

Despite the enormous expectations, AEAS professionals and practitioners are at crossroads on whether to decentralize, or centralize; to promote face to face extension or ICT based extension; whether to have technology transfer driven extension or market and value chain-oriented extension; to take educational or advisory approach; to engage non state actors in AEAS or not; and many other debates. However, one thing that appears almost universally agreeable is to dump “top-down extension” and embrace “participatory extension”.

In the midst of this confusion, we have seen emergence of coordination structures termed in various ways such as Innovation Platforms, that have attempted to bring stakeholders together yet the stakeholders remain in their silos, sticking to their preferred paradigms/perspectives that drive their ideologies and ultimately shortchanging farmers. In the mean-time, the farmer is starved of one of the major needs from AEAS: frequency of visits to farmers by qualified extension workers. This is because of loss of touch with the grassroots. Norman Borlaug simply stated the connection with grassroots as “Take it to the Farmer”.

As the paradigms/perspectives in extension evolve, it is important to recognize that Africa is still grappling with long-standing general challenges of low productivity, low profitability, and food insecurity coupled with deteriorating natural resource base. The continent continues to import what can be locally produced, and gets very small portions of proceeds of value chains whose raw products are predominantly produced in Africa. At the same time, technologies remain in scientists’ shelves, extension systems remain greatly underfunded and understaffed yet agriculture graduates remain unemployed.

It is purported that out of the potential agriculture yield (100%), Africa is able to attain a general maximum of 60%, actual mean yield hovers around 40%, while produce availability as food and other products is at 30% owing to losses and waste (Wasilwa, 2022). Low productivity is not unexpected since there is low adoption of technologies, conservatively estimated at approximately 11% (Hutchison, 2022). All these require urgent actions in many fronts which can benefit from a more active AFAAS network that is able to trigger the revamping of agriculture in Africa.

AFAAS, through its continental, regional and country fora, has proven to be a major player that has potential to help harmonize and contextualize the many forces creating instability in AEAS in the name of paradigms/perspectives, which ideally are just options. For example, despite downplaying of technology transfer model, method and result demonstrations remain popular across Africa. This means that Africa cannot afford to lose gains and positives of any paradigm/perspective since many of these have particular roles to play.

As the harmonization and contextualization takes place, there is need to innovate to deal with the obvious and less obvious impediments to AEAS which have a bearing on the performance of the agriculture industry in Africa. For instance, despite the “explosion” in data and information availability, challenges are there in the processes of sourcing and creation of data and information, packaging, transmission, storage, retrieval, dissemination and utilization of the information to create necessary knowledge, perceptions, attitudes, and skills to enable radical action that can change the status quo in agriculture. There are also elements of “mysteries” in availability of some of crucial information, particularly related to trade and marketing in agriculture, which need to be resolved through AFAAS networks if farmers are to enjoy fruits of their labor.

To take up the role of leading agricultural extension in Africa, AFAAS should innovate and double efforts. This will be done if all AFAAS structures are functional, having officially and legally recognized mandates, constitutions, strategic plans, able to meet regularly at all levels for networking, lobbying, advocacy, solution generation for action and following up implementation of the actions.

In the period between Uganda AAEW 2021 and Nigeria AAEW 2023, there is need for AFAAS to double number of functional country fora, double country fora which are able to have effective and high quality national gatherings [at least twice a year], double countries that receive funds from AFAAS to enable kickstarting of country level resource mobilization, double number of registered individual and organizational members of country fora, double high quality communication, information and knowledge (CIK) products, double funds available for AFAAS network, double Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with reputable stakeholders at continental, regional, and national levels.

Ultimately, the doubling of efforts in AFAAS should lead to changes in AEAS through considerable increases in numbers of farmers reached by extension workers using appropriate channels of communication, numbers of frontline extension staff employed across Africa, funds allocated to extension, number of extension staff with appropriate transport equipment, better and updated knowledge and skills among extension workers, driven by existence of updated federal and state extension policies and strategies in each of the African countries. Africa has resources and people with ideas and the zeal to do better in agriculture. I believe all this is possible with improved AEAS under AFAAS.

By; Mr. Paul Fatch.