Extension services are integral to agricultural productivity growth, development, and competitiveness. Developing high-quality, demand-driven, multi-sector services is a key to meeting food security, farmer livelihood, and export goals.
In response to the changing demand—particularly the increasing market focus—private sector extension services increasingly provide input, commodity, business development, and value chain-oriented services in partnership with public authorities. To best support this expanding and critical role of the private sector, public authorities can provide incentives to private service provision; ensure robust regulation and oversight; monitoring, technical support and evaluation of service providers; coordination of service providers; and financial support of underserved issues (such as natural resource management) and marginalized populations.
The following examples highlight the role of the private sector across select extension functions:
Improving technology transfer to increase export crop production and achieve food security
Traditional technology transfer is an important part of the extension that often involves the private sector. Aspects might include:
- Public and proprietary technologies in new crop and livestock technology.
- Private sector financing of extension services for specific commodities, inputs, and/or value chains.
- Private sector firms and/or farmer cooperatives’ provision of technical advisory services for new production inputs (allowing public extension systems to shift attention to other important extension functions).
Intensifying and/or diversifying the farming systems of small-scale farmers to increase farm income
In response to economic growth and changing consumer demand, extension can introduce new high-value crop, livestock, and other enterprise options to groups of farm households. The private sector, along with the public sector, can facilitate this in various ways:
- Innovative farmers, who have already developed these new production systems or enterprises on their own, can be instrumental in building farmer capacity to absorb the new approaches.
- Private sector financing of extension services, inputs, and/or value chains.
- Private initiatives in information and communications technology can expand the circulation of market, price, and weather information and be an efficient conduit for specific kinds of extension advice.
- Support to farmer and producer associations in improving access to larger urban markets.
Training for extension services
The following three extension functions all require training that in many cases is provided efficiently and effectively by nongovernmental organizations and the private sector working together with the public sector:
- Building social capital and reaching economies of scale within rural communities: As small-scale farmers strive to increase farm income, they need to work together through producer and self-help groups within these rural communities. These farmer groups and their leadership will require training in many areas, including organization, technology, and financial management and technical skills. These skills are especially important as the groups begin creating larger producer or farmer associations with nearby farmer groups.
- Educating farmers about sustainable natural resource management (NRM) practices: Land and water degradation is an increasingly serious problem and sustainable NRM practices should be a high priority for any government. However, adoption of NRM practices is often slow, as it requires investment up-front in exchange for long-term benefits. Farmers often lack the necessary training, knowledge, and skills to apply or implement sustainable soil, water, pest, and other NRM practices. They need to be educated to integrate cost-effective, location-specific NRM practices into their farming systems.
- Training rural women in nutrition, hygiene, healthcare, and family planning: In addition to the vital role women play across all areas of agricultural production and rural livelihoods, women are integral to alleviating hunger and malnutrition, and preventing disease. Training in family nutrition and in proper hygiene can support women in these efforts.