Agricultural extension: Keeping up with the times

Nepal’s constitution has ensured the production function to the local level and to some extent to the provinces, giving the centre the role of formulating acts, rules, regulation and international coordination

Agricultural extension is the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education. It now encompasses a wider range of communication and learning activities. Modern agricultural extension began in Dublin, Ireland in 1847 during the great famine. It expanded in Germany in the 1850s and later in the USA via the cooperative extension system in 1914. In the US, an extension agent is a university employee who assists people in economic and community development, leadership, family issues, agriculture and environment. In Nepal, agricultural extension is broadly understood as the “dissemination of new knowledge” from researcher to farmers.

Nepal initiated the agricultural extension approach with the concept of Training and Visit System (T and V System). Initially it was implemented in 23 districts with support from the World Bank from 1975 to 1989 with some hiccups and criticisms about its cost. The Integrated Rural Development Approach followed in all the 75 districts with the objective of providing holistic support from service to production and marketing. However, it did not cater to all the categories of farmers.

The Tuki approach of extension was initiated with support of the Swiss-assisted Integrated Hill Development Project in 1977, but was limited to two project districts. In this system, a trial was made in the farmers’ field by distributing a packet of seeds and fertilisers and sharing the results to test their suitability in the local condition. The system was implemented with the recruitment of Tuki volunteers after an intensive 15-day progressive farmers’ training.

In the 90s, the Farming Systems Research and Extension (FSR/E) project was initiated to integrate research and extension by generating technology in the research outreach sites with the participation of the farmers. Proven agricultural technologies got expanded within the Extension Command Area (ECA) in the hill districts in close coordination with the British-funded Lumle Agriculture Centre and Pakhribas Agriculture Centre (PAC). These two centres were run for more than 30 years in Nepal with good success.

In the later stage, the Block Production Programme (BPP) was initiated under the USAID-supported Integrated Cereals Project (ICP) to increase production and productivity of a particular commodity. Started in 1982, the approach was tested in two Terai districts and later expanded to the entire belt and some hill districts with government funding.

If we look at the agricultural extension system in Nepal, several metamorphoses can be seen from the Conventional Education Approach to the Pocket Package Approach. In the former approach, key farmers themselves disseminate the knowledge and skills taught to them, whereas in the Pocket Package Approach, production is on a pocket area basis. Until the recent past, the Department of Agriculture (DoA), under the Ministry of Agriculture, had the primary mandate of agricultural extension from the centre to the region, and district to the community level. In addition to the Department, it had disciplinary directorates at the centre, regional offices in each region and a District Agricultural Development Office (DADO) in the districts. The village level technicians, popularly known as JT/JTAs, were grass-roots level staff with a dense presence at all the levels.

Along with the adoption of the federal system in Nepal, agricultural extension has also been adopted accordingly. The agricultural extension system is basically a top-down approach. Nepal’s constitution has ensured the production function to the local level and to some extent to the provinces, giving the centre the role of formulating acts, rules, regulations and international coordination. However, a similar spirit could not be ensured in the new organogram, which was prepared in 2074 BS. As a result, the major function of technicians has been deviating from technical backstopping to serving as input distributing agents. So they have a subsidiary role instead of being a technology generator and disseminator.

Some donor-supported programmes and Prime Minister Agricultural Modernisation Project (PMAMP) have been initiated, under the pocket package approach. The Farmers Field School (FFS) Approach has been in operation based on the principle of learning by doing and seeing is believing. This is one of the successful approaches in the Integrated Pest Management Programme. Government organisations are undertaking a partnership approach with other organisations like the Department of Irrigation, Commerce, universities, media, NGOs, CBOs and private organisations to deliver the extension services effectively.

Agriculture as a science has to be linked to the practice of delivery of new innovations to the farmers. This needs regular capacity building of the staffers and organisations with strong coordination and linkages. However, at present, there is cryptic coordination among the Agricultural Knowledge Centres (AKC), under the provincial ministry, and the institutions working at the local as well as federal levels. In fact, AKCs were begun to provide expertise to the farmer by remaining in between the three tiers of governance. The AKC was to be the interface among the researcher, extension and students.

GC is secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development