Sunday, February 17, 2019 | ePaper

Making rural advisory services workable

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Karim Hussein :
In mid-2018 the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) that brings together key development partners  and 17 multistakeholder Regional Networks and country fora across six continents, published a new book :  What Works in Rural Advisory Services: Global Good Practice Notes .
This book includes over 30 Notes on a wide range of essential topics for strengthening agricultural  extension and rural advisory services, drawing on contributions from the GFRAS family of experts, practitioners, governmental and non-governmental  stakeholders, facilitate access to know-how and support RAS organisations, managers, and individual field staff with easy-to-understand overviews on key approaches, principles and methods.
It is a unique effort drawing on the experience of more than 90 people involved in agriculture and advisory services drawn from 6 continents.
What are Rural Advisory Services and how are they relevant to the 2030 Development Agenda?
When agricultural and rural advisory services, whether public or private, are properly resourced and have the right skills and capacities, they play vital roles in enabling agricultural producers to access the services and advice they need to improve skills, productivity and incomes.
They are vital in order to achieve the 2030 Development Agenda, particularly SDG 2 that seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. The important roles of rural advisory services for inclusive development and rural transformation have indeed been recognised by the OECD, the UN, the G7 and G20.
However, agricultural extension and advisory services have in many countries suffered over many years from inadequate policies, underinvestment, weak institutions, limited opportunities for capacity development and learning across regions and an insufficient uptake of responsive, demand-driven approaches. This has particularly been the case in lower income countries.
This book compiles Notes on a variety of critical issues for strengthening RAS to serve development, including an overview of extension philosophies and methods, innovative financing, roles of the private sector and producer organisations, capacity development and professionalization, a review of advisory methods (from farmer-to-farmer approaches, farmer field schools, community knowledge workers to ICT and mobile phone extension) and key cross-cutting issues (such as gender and nutrition).
The Notes highlight the roles of advisory services as facilitators in sharing new agricultural technologies, practices and knowledge. They show how such services have the potential to play critical roles in improving the livelihoods and well-being of farmers, particularly rural smallholders worldwide, and to enable them to contribute to sustainable development.
They highlight the need to address three levels of capacity development in RAS: (i) building a good policy environment that enables RAS to do their work effectively; (ii) strengthening institutions and organisations involved in RAS (including producer organisations, civil society and private sector operators); and (iii) building the capacities of individuals involved in providing advisory services.
RAS providers are being asked to fulfil a wider range of tasks with very limited capacities and resources. To fulfil expectations and undertake these tasks, a wide range of approaches, methods and principles exist.
The success or failure of particular approaches is always closely linked to the context in which they are applied and therefore it remains critical to strengthen the capacities of all stakeholders in RAS, from farmers and rural producers through to private and public service providers, to select and adapt approaches to specific contexts.
Without adequate skills development it will be extremely difficult for RAS to achieve the hoped-for development impact and results.
This book addresses a vital topics for capacity building in RAS. However, it could go further in addressing the question of how RAS can better demonstrate their capacity to respond to local,  national and international development challenges that are at the top of development agendas.
For example, they need to engage more with youth, women and poor smallholders, consider ways in which to take account of the challenges posed by migration and urbanisation in their work to foster more inclusive, safer and more efficient food systems and they need to review the challenges RAS face in responding to fragile and conflict-affected situations.
The sustainability of the Forum and knowledge network model in agricultural and rural development: making it more relevant, demand driven and sustainable
Lastly, true, effective and efficient subsidiarity between the global, regional, national and subnational levels remains an enormous challenge for all knowledge sharing networks and for a given resource and capacity constraints.
These reviews of existing practices need to be complemented by consistent policy and advocacy efforts and a tighter connection to programmes that invest in inclusive rural transformation in order to persuade decision-makers to mobilise new resources for extension.
The global networking approach taken by GFRAS needs to change focus to mobilise investments in concrete programmes that ensure RAS generate positive impacts on the lives of rural people in a shorter timescale.
Information sharing, knowledge development and networking are not sufficient. This will involve assessing the real demand for services and networks by the ultimate users and intended beneficiaries and the value they place of the advice and support they receive.
Otherwise it would be fair to reflect on whether resources should be directly made available to ultimate users, such as farmers and their organisations, who then decide how best to use these to serve their needs.
GFRAS was established in 2010 to nurture a global network of agricultural extension and rural advisory services (RAS) to enhance their performance so that they can better serve farm families and rural producers, thus contributing to improved livelihoods and the sustainable reduction of hunger and poverty.
Rural advisory services help to empower farmers and better integrate them in systems of agricultural innovation. GFRAS reaches smallholder farmers through its regional RAS networks, which in turn have national-level platforms or country fora.
The country fora bring together stakeholders from all sectors working in RAS, and work directly with smallholders. Country fora help prioritise national-level issues relevant to extension and RAS, and formulate requests and proposals to be taken to the regional and global levels.

(Karim Hussein was Executive Secretary of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services from September 2016 to August 2018).

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