The arrangements for agricultural extension in India have grown, over the last five decades, in terms of activities, organizational types and available manpower. However, public investments in agriculture, (investments in irrigation, rural roads, rural electrification, storage, marketing, agricultural research and education, land development, co-operation etc) in real terms have been declining consistently in all the states since the mid seventies.
In this context, Dr. Shiraj A Wajih, Senior Environmentalist and President, Gorakhpur Environment Action Group, GEAG, says,"The agriculture scenario is undergoing rapid changes and having the right information at the right time can make a huge difference to farmers' incomes. Farmers need information from different sources and often need help to integrate them. So the success of a farmer, in the years to come, is going to be primarily dependent upon his level of knowledge.
Advice and assistance to farmers to help them improve their methods of production and marketing is conventionally called agricultural extension. Historically, it has often been seen only in terms of increasing agricultural output. However, extension is a part of overall effort to achieve a balance between the productive and the social, environmental, and economic development of rural areas.
The basic objective of the agricultural extension system is dissemination of useful and practical information relating to agricultural activities focused mostly on improved seeds, fertilizers, farm implements, pesticides, poultry, livestock, etc. ; expert advice to farmers on cropping practices, innovation technology dissemination, crop protection from pests and diseases, market trends and prices of various crops in the markets and also dissemination of information about occupational health facilities, risk covers and provisions of crop and personal insurance."
He further said, "The major constraints of the public extension system in Uttar Pradesh are--(i) the public extension services are not need based but supply driven, (ii) there is no clear policy or practice of involving women in the extension system, (iv)lack of skills and knowledge in village level extension worker, (v) low level of involvement of small and marginal farmers in technology development and dissemination process. Thus most extension services have a curative rather than a problem solving approach.''
Small and marginal farmers and women farmers, who constitute a major part of the farming community and are the main contributors to food production, are both entrepreneurs and clients. They cannot be ignored in the extension mechanisms. Extension services have to provide space for the articulation of needs and knowledge development. Extension services should be problem solving devices, rather than be a supply-driven mechanism. They will succeed only if they address the local problems of the farmers. There needs to be a strong linkage between Extension, Need, and Supply in order to fulfill the genuine demands of the farmers.
The alternate extension system initiated by GEAG stands as a successful working model today. This model ,at household and village level, shows that poor people can actually achieve food sufficiency on their own. They can create control over agricultural inputs and escape the negative effects of the so-called free market. They can link through their groups to obtain substantial amounts of bank credit, where the groups ensure repayment and create an enduring credit-worthiness. This has benefitted all, especially the poor who have little self worth. It has actually resulted in their economic betterment, making them more self reliant.
(The author is a Special Correspondent to Citizen News Service (CNS). Website: www.citizen-news.org, email: email@example.com)