Pluralism in agricultural extension
Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. Anil Kumar
Extension services in the country have been by and large provided by the public agencies. This also included the state agriculture and allied departments with their field functionaries working at the grass roots with the farming community. The State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) also through their respective directorates of extension provide training to the field functionaries of the state agriculture and allied departments; who are than supposed to carry it to the farming community. Public extension services have a wide outreach. However, despite much strength, the public extension services have not achieved what was desired of them. Therefore presently the extension system is witnessing a shift. The shift which was earlier towards privatisation is now moving towards engaging more and more agencies to cater to the diverse needs of the farming community. This is what is referred to as the ‘Pluralism’. The private players, the NGOs, the civil society and others are also now actively being taken on the board. Through all these efforts, a greater thrust is being given to the mobilization of the farming community. This has also been accompanied by a change in approach from top down to bottom up, supply to a demand driven one, from transfer of technology to facilitation and from a single commodity to a broad based approach and from a single agency based extension service to pluralistic one. .
In the country various private agencies like the Indian Tobacco Company, The Tata Kissan Sanchar limited, are now actively providing agricultural extension services to the farming community. They provide a diverse range of information ranging from timely sowing to harvest to market prices and provision of weather based agroadvisiories. In a case of privatisation of agricultural extension services, leading pesticide company Dhanuka Agritech also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Madhya Pradesh to work in a partnership mode. The Dhanuka charged some nominal fee from the farmer for getting their soil tested. Farmers did not mind paying the minimum fees as they got their soil samples tested well in time. Dhanuka even came to the rescue of the State Agricultural Department by providing those seed of crops like soybean, when the state government fell short of the same during the peak sowing season. Similarly, there are different commodity boards in India like the coconut development board, Central Silk Board, National Dairy Development Board, National Horticulture Board, National Jute Board and many others. All these have their own mechanism for providing extension services. In India there are many input agencies and they do not have sufficient knowledge and experience in providing good extension services to the farming community. They are also now being trained with a one year diploma to provide extension services to the farmers. Various private agencies are also supporting the input dealers in this cause. Similarly the farmers associations and organisations also provide extension services besides playing a pro active role in policy advocacy for the farming community at the higher level.
The first serious effort towards farmers’ mobilisation came in the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA). It is based on a bottom up approach. Under the ATMA the private and public sector works together. Various farmer interest groups, commodity interest groups are being promoted and linked with the market. Now, ATMA is a part of the National Mission on Agricultural Extension and Technology (NMAET). In another case of promoting pluralism towards extension services, the beverages gaint Coca-Cola India has partnered with DCM Shriram (DSCL) along with Solidaridad and International Finance Corporation for a project to enhance sugarcane yield and improve farmers’ income in Uttar Pradesh. “It is a sustainable supply project, in addition to improving farmers’ income. According to Coca-Cola India and South West Asia President Venkatesh Kini told PTI they all have come together to increase sugarcane farmers’ yield and to bring in sustainable agricultural practices. DCM Shriram, which is also a supplier to the beverages major, has four sugar mills Ajbapur, Hariawan, Loni and Rupapur in Uttar Pradesh and the project works with farmers around its mills. The project named Meetha Sona Unnati will work with about 48,000 farmers (8,000 lead sugarcane farmers, 40,000 sub lead farmers) for 3 years in the command area of DCM Shriram’s four sugar mills. DCM Shriram claims to have seen positive impact on sugarcane farmers’ yield in the areas they have worked on. The company have also been training farmers on best international agricultural practices and adopting modern techniques. Through this project the company aims to train farmers on Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and efficient water usage and Implement farmer practices to improve demand side water efficiency.
In another initiative to engage the private sector for climate smart agriculture, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) is also running a four year project to promote climate smart agriculture practices for the most vulnerable but economically important crops of the Terrai region of Nepal namely the rice, maize and sugarcane. In Nepal, the agriculture firms involved in the project through their technical teams, dealers and extension officers have to work with 15,000 farmers and encourage them to adopt climate resilient agriculture practices through intensive trainings and demonstrations on climate smart village model during the project period from 2013 to 2017. Extension officers from the private agriculture firms are being invited regularly for trainings on climate smart interventions and these extension officers plan to conduct 500 trainings for rice, maize and sugarcane farmers in the course of entire project period. This project also aims to link the farmers with the markets.
Small farmers in rural areas everywhere face some serious constraints to productivity that result in low returns. These farmers typically have little access to the extension services. This small farm development is not just desirable for poverty reduction but also. Several studies have pointed out that the small farms can be more productive on a per hectare basis compared to the large farms. A recent United Nations Environment Programme report concludes that small holders can be at the forefront of a transformation in world agriculture; but they need to overcome market failures and other disincentives for sustainable land use. Demand based, participatory with a bottom up planning based agriculture extension services have all the potential to help the small farmers to overcome failures of all sort and be at the forefront of another transformation.
(The authors are from Advanced Centre for Rainfed Agriculture; SKUAST-J; can be reached at [email protected])