April 14, 2009

Agricultural communication: Stimulating agriculture - Lessons from Asia and the Pacific

Background to paper
By Dr D.C. Dalton

Geoff Moss wrote this paper 20 years ago, and the world financial meltdown, and the misguided drive to grow crops for engines and not mouths has again brought the problem into sharp focus. Geoff’s wisdom, agricultural experience and common sense on this massive topic is worth another airing, as it applies to the whole world now and not just developing countries. New Zealand’s expertise has a lot to offer in facing this challenge.

Stimulating agriculture - Lessons from Asia and the Pacific
By Geoffrey Moss
Occasional Papers in Rural Extension No. 7, 1989
Department of Rural Extension Studies, University of Guelph. Ontario, Canada

Extracts from a document produced in the Communication Technology Laboratory, a facility of the Department of Rural Extension Studies at the University of Guelph. Contact Geoffrey Moss at moss@xtra.co.nz for the complete paper, and take a look at his Moss Associates website here.

Stimulating agricultural production in a developing country is a complex operation. Goals and objectives must be set, resources allocated, aspirations understood and governments, farming organizations and extension workers motivated to achieve those goals. Communication systems, extension services, research, training and marketing are only parts of the jigsaw puzzle. In my experience, here is what three elements in this system can achieve:

The Government can:
  • Set clear, realistic national goals.
  • Supply sound leadership.
  • Set up effective two-way communication systems.
  • Build up systems to facilitate increased production (transport, marketing, processing, education).
  • Involve agro-industry in planning.
  • Reorganize and streamline government departments.
  • Co-ordinate the activities of all government departments involved in agriculture.
  • Re-allocate resources from less productive departments into agriculture.
  • Legislate for increased production.
  • Minimize restrictive practices.
  • Overcome disincentives to increased population.
  • Promote land development and land settlement schemes.
  • Improve land surveying and ownership legislation.
  • Develop storage and marketing facilities.
  • Upgrade research and educational institutions.
  • Establish "think tanks", comprising planners and innovative experts.
  • Call in overseas consultants and trainers.
  • Send staff overseas to train and look for new ideas and markets.
  • Borrow money to help finance some of these measures.
Marketing organizations can:
  • Seek top prices for the farmer.
  • Develop new and better markets.
  • Process, package, and store produce to meet criteria of the market.
  • Research and develop new products.
  • Carry out an extension role.
  • Bulk purchase the best available seed, fertilizer and pesticides and supply them to the farmer at the lowest possible price.
  • Provide sound advice, adequate credit facilities, efficient services, and long term contracts.
  • Provide the farmer with best available breeding material.
  • Act as an effective link between the farmer and the marketplace.
  • Co-ordinate the supply of seasonal requirements, production and transport.
Extension workers can:
  • Encourage and support farmers and help them reach their personal objectives and aspirations.
  • Get messages directly to farmers.
  • Diagnose problems and call upon expert help when necessary.
  • Carry out field trials and demonstrate results.
  • Introduce new plant varieties and new management techniques.
  • Set up learning situations (field days, seminars, farmer schools).
  • Co-ordinate commercial and government agencies.
  • Arrange availability and distribution or resources, if necessary (seasonal finance, quality seeds, fertilizers, pesticides).
  • Advise commercial and government agencies.
  • Assist in marketing.
  • Organize farmer groups to share experiences.
  • Organize young farmers' groups to educate, develop and train rural youth.
  • Train other extension workers, teachers and rural leaders.
  • Encourage vegetable and small animal production.
  • Support rural life development.
  • Encourage good home management skills (health, child care, nutrition, cooking, family planning).

Why is agricultural extension not as effective as it should be? 

These are typical replies given by experienced people in the business:
  • Too much political interference.
  • Too many other jobs to do.
  • Too many supervisors.
  • Too many reports.
  • No clear job specification.
  • No detailed work schedule.
  • Unrealistic goals and objectives.
  • Inadequate transport.
  • Insufficient in-service training.
  • No effective links with research.
  • Low status, morale, and pay.
  • Duplication of services by rival departments.
  • Lack of strong leadership.
  • Insufficient technical information and support services.

Solutions to improve extension services
Replies from people involved in the business were:
  • Improve incentives and working conditions for extension workers.
  • Tell us what we should be doing and let us get on with our job.
  • Establish a resource bank of technical information and research findings for use by extension staff.
  • Current research recommendations should be made available rapidly to field staff in simple newsletters prepared by specialists.
  • District staff should organize regular training sessions in practical husbandry and extension methods.
  • Training centres with demonstrations and trial plots should be equipped to train farmers.
  • Field days should be conducted regularly every season.
  • Specialists and head office staff should visit districts more frequently.

A five Point Plan:
The following simple five-point plan sets out some priority areas in which, in my opinion, a great deal of work is still required in many developing countries.
  • Train trainers so that their skills will be multiplied and passed on to increasing numbers of extension workers and farmers.
  • Increase the ratio of women extension workers to help increase food production and improve the quality of family life.
  • Develop information and training support services to make staff more effective in their job.
  • Examine research priorities and ensure research results are being used effectively.
  • Upgrade management systems. Train managers in effective supervision and management skills. Involve staff in planning and restructuring their organizations.


  • Agricultural extension faces immense challenges in the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific.
  • No two countries are the same and methods, which have been successful in one country, cannot easily be transferred to another.
  • International planners and extension workers should not lay down hard and fast rules; they must be flexible in their ideas and be prepared to alter their plans when necessary.
  • One should avoid making harsh comparisons between one country and another but rather try to stand back and get things in perspective. If one is from an industrialized country, it is salutary to try to think back to the time when your country was at a similar stage in development.
  • Countries are all at different stages of evolution and their goals may be very different. Is the country aiming for self-sufficiency or is it aiming at growing large surpluses of food for export earnings?
  • In too many countries a large part of the budget is allocated for military expenditure and this drain on resources limits the amount available for research and development efforts to increase food production. In all cases the extension worker plays a vital role.
  • I am convinced there must be more training in supervision and management skills for those in positions of authority in extension services.
  • At the same time, workers in the field must be well trained initially and then supported with reliable information and good aids and equipment.
  • Resources should be available for refresher courses in new methods and techniques and to share field experiences.
  • I must re-emphasize the training and the support for those already in the service to help the millions of women engaged in food production - the "invisible farmers" of Asia and the Pacific.

  • Expert Consultation on the Establishment of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) (1985). Bangkok: F.A.O. Regional Office of Asia and the Pacific.
  • Khan, Salma,(1984). Paper Prepared for Lecture Series One, Centre for Women and Development. Dhaka, Bangladesh.
  • Moss. G.R., (1979). Improving Agricultural Communications in Sir Lanka, Rome, F.A.O.
  • Moss, G.R., (1986). Sound Investment Areas for Non-technical Agricultural Research in Asia. Paper presented to the Technical Advisory Committee of the Food and Fertilizer Technology Centre for Asia and the Pacific Region, Taipei.
  • Moss, G.R., (1986). Stimulating Agriculture: A Manual for Training Agricultural Extension Workers. Bangkok: U.N.D.P. Asia and Pacific Programme for Development Training and Communication Planning in Asia and the Pacific.
  • Moss, G.R., (1987). Workbook for Stimulating Agriculture. Wellington, New Zealand: Moss Associates Limited.
  • Moss, G.R., (1987). Transferring Agricultural Technology: Guidelines for Agricultural Extension Planners. Paper presented at Agricultural Extension Seminar, Highlands Agricultural College, Papua New Guinea.
  • Moss, G.R., (1988). Trainers' Handbook. Singapore: Institute of Management.
  • National Agricultural Research. (1984). Rome: F.A.O.
  • Proceeding of the Commonwealth Association of Scientific Agricultural Societies (CASAS) South Pacific Regional Seminar, (1981). Self Sufficiency in Food Production in the Pacific: Opportunities and Constraints. Lautoka, Fiji.
  • Schultz, T.W. (1979). The Economics of Research and Agricultural Productivity. Paper presented at the Seminar on Socio-Economic Aspects of Agricultural Research in Developing Countries, Santiago, Chile.
  • World Bank, (1981). Agricultural Sector Policy Paper. Washington.

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