PNG needs an extension service that empowers farmers

PNG has a fragmented agricultural extension scenario largely due to twin policies on ‘decentralisation and corporatisation’ which have made the tasks of managing and resourcing the extension services much difficult to undertake, says an agricultural expert, Ted Sitapai, at an international conference on ‘Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services’ in Nairobi, Kenya, last week.

PNG farmers need greater empowerment

Mr Sitapai, a consultant with PNG National Agricultural Research Institute/Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), recommended that a new agricultural extension policy be adopted by the Government as soon as practical. This new policy should promote pluralism and market-oriented extension with participatory approaches and methods that are appropriate for empowering farmers and increasing their social capital, particularly amongst women farmers in PNG.

His paper was based on a case study he conducted among extension heads/advisors representing research, commodities, private, provincial and services providers including farmers in the Momase, Highlands and Islands regions of PNG early this year.

The conference in Nairobi with the main theme: “Linking Knowledge to Policy and Action”, was hosted by the Government of Kenya, and was sponsored by the CTA in collaboration with several national, regional and international organisations.

Its objective was to take stock of current policies, thinking and practices, successes and failures of ongoing and past reforms in extension and advisory services and to develop a coalition to address the needs of smallholder farmers, in particular women and youth, in a sustainable and cost effective manner.

The conference covered four cross-cutting themes of Policy, Capacity Development, Tools and Approaches and Learning Networks.

The event was officially opened by Hon Dr Sally Kosgei, Kenya’s Agriculture Minister, and was attended by over 400 delegates from 140 countries.

In welcoming the delegates on behalf of the organisers, CTA Director Michael Hailu expressed that the event was more than just talking to each other and while everyone else listening politely.  “This week provides an excellent opportunity to create a coalition of different interests committed to improving the welfare and productivity of the world’s smallholder farmers,” he said.  Extension and advisory services, he explained, have a key role to play in confronting the many challenges farmers face, from climate change to low productivity and rising food prices. Mr Hailu added that the conference was to identify practices and policies to improve the delivery and effectiveness of extension and advisory services.

During the conference, delegates explored a wide range of topics relating to agricultural extension, including pluralism, coordination, privatisation, public funding and capacity building. There were differences in perspective but there was also a strong consensus that government, the private sector and non-governmental organisations have a role to play in delivering extension and advisory services to farmers.

“Extension is a public good for which poor farmers cannot afford to pay,” said Romano Kiome, Permanent Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture. The private sector can also help deliver the knowledge and technology needed to improve productivity and tackle food insecurity. Participatory development of approaches and standards will ensure relevance, quality, effectiveness and impact.

It was widely agreed that one of the aims of extension should be to make farmers more business-oriented and less dependent on government services. Among other things, this means encouraging farmers to become involved in the higher end of value chains.

“We should see farmers as business people,” said Jethtro Greene of the Caribbean Farmers’ Network.  If farmers owned more of the value chain, they’d be able to afford extension services.”

There was a strong consensus among the participants that all aspects of agricultural policymaking need to be participatory and transparent. Farmers need to be better organised to make their voices heard. Although there was some debate about how much public money should be channeled towards extension and advisory services, it was generally agreed, that there needs to be a significant increase in investment.

Many of these themes were explored in individual presentations. All confirmed that the top-down models of providing extension services are ineffective. Maria Linibi, President of Women in Agriculture Development Foundation, who was one of the two PNG delegates to the conference, affirmed the importance of the ‘farmer first approach’.

Kareke Mbiuki, Kenya’s Assistant Minister for Agriculture emphasised the importance of investing in agriculture, and especially agricultural extension. “When agriculture grows, our economy grows,” he said.

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