Agricultural Extension and Participatory Approaches –co-existence approaches in the agricultural advisory service approaches

Million Getnet Gebreyes works at ILRI as a consultant. He is the National Learning facilitator for SAIRLA- NLA in Ethiopia and Innovation Platform facilitator for Africa RISING project in the Ethiopian highlands. Recently (June 30- July 8, 2018), he was at Haramaya University to teach a course for the Africa Centre of Excellence on Climate Smart Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation for masters’ students. The program is a World Bank supported international program that is training PhD and masters students on climate smart agriculture and biodiversity conservation. He was invited to teach a course on Agricultural Extension and Participatory Approaches. This blog reflects his stay at the University with the university community.

The course description demands evolution of agricultural extension approaches and methods, gender issues in agricultural extension service delivery, participatory approaches and knowledge management in agricultural extension service provision areas to be covered. Materials from sources such as the New Extensions Learning Kit (, academic journals such as Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension ( and other web-based sources were used. The course was an important component of the Africa Center of Excellence on Climate Smart Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation (ACE-CSABC) program to equip its students with theoretical and practical skills on designing and execution of communication interventions at multiple levels, involving multiple actors.

This occasion was also a good opportunity as a professional, to learn and get some insights as well. The first insight was on evolution of agricultural advisory service approaches, from the early 1950’s and 60’s Transfer of Technology model to that of 1980’s and 90’s participatory approaches to the 2000’s innovation platforms. There was a reason for this evolution. Development practitioners have been frustrated by the slow changes in the agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa, partly because the much costed extension approaches have been found inadequate to respond to the complex farming systems. The scientific community of extension professionals embraced the complexity of farming systems and extension delivery mechanisms and advocated for concepts such as innovation systems, innovation platforms, knowledge brokering, boundary spanning and so on. The practice world speaks different, however. Transfer of technology models remain enduring, community based participatory approaches are still the fashion of the day, while innovation systems and innovation platforms are under experimentation. Hence, the evolution of extension methods should not be seen as one approaches progressing from one to another, replacing one with another or improvising. Rather, what seems to be the case is pluralism of approaches, where the old approaches co-exist with the new ones. The old approaches still persist for a number of reasons. First of all, they are simple, are based on common sense and non-extension experts easily understand them. Some of the innovative approaches also proved difficult to scale. One can mention the challenge of Farmers Field School and Participatory Technology Development approaches which works absolutely fine at local level by is challenging to scale. Innovation systems and innovation platforms, together concepts such as knowledge brokering, boundary spanning and co-production could be too complex to manage, with unpredictable and emergent outcomes. In funding contexts which requires to seek to see results quickly and with certainty, it is easy to fall back to the old ways of doing things. What is even more working is that recent interventions in climate smart agriculture and biodiversity conservation tend to overlook long years of experiences in agricultural development which questions technology transfer and participatory approaches.