THE NEW EXTENSIONIST

Adopted from: Extension as a knowledge partner in farming systems research – Early lessons from “FutureDairy” Australia, Sean Kenny, Ruth Nettle, (By Kwaku Mensah Nudanu - Directorate of Agricultural Rxtension Services, MoFA)
As issues surrounding future production systems for increased productivity involve technical, economic and social domains of knowledge, a multi-linkage research design is considered necessary. The central strategy of the new extensionists is to create a platform for different disciplines and knowledge types to co-develop knowledge for improving farm and industry productivity. These knowledge partnerships (Nettle and Kenny, 2006) are facilitated through a research-extension interface with links to key actors/partners/stakeholders. This interface is enhanced by links to farmer groups (FBOs) and is facilitated and coordinated by the extension agent.

Critical to the partnership is social research, whose role it is to capture the decision making process of the farmers around the issues of concern, document learning’s of the knowledge partnership, and critically analyze the effectiveness of this RD&E model. This process must be interactive and should adopt a participatory approach. 
A key challenge for such a multidisciplinary design is the role extension plays in the facilitation process as a broker. Recent literature advocates learning and negotiation processes amongst inter-disciplinary teams in technology development (Leeuwis, 2000). The need for such processes highlights the importance of a designated facilitator of the innovation process, competent in both technical and socio-organizational skills.

Campbell (2001) describes such a ‘social agriculturalist’ as the new extensionist, a professional intermediary between science and practice who recognizes the implications of technological change on handling information and social learning. This mediator also informs debates, illuminates trade-offs, and works as a go-between, brokering information between research and the farmer. However, it is one thing to describe the role of the ‘new extensionist’, and another to make it work in an RD and E environment dominated by the agribusiness paradigm (Nettle 2003). What does the every-day practice for the “new extensionist” in multi-disciplinary teams entail and how does the extension role contribute to innovation?

The challenge for extension
The role of the new extensionists should primarily revolve around: a) establishing and supporting effective partnerships between farmers and other actors along the agricultural value chain; b) brokering the different knowledge types of farmers, extension and researchers and c) building networks with local, Regional and international extension and farming groups.

Establishing and supporting partnerships
In general the transfer of technology paradigm (TOT) (Rogers, 1983) has dominated agricultural RD and E in many parts of the world. During the 1990’s, the focus of extension shifted more toward working and learning together with farmers through developing an understanding of their unique context and building effective responses from this position in many developed economies such as Australia (Hamilton, 1995; Paine, 1997; Kenny, 2002). The extension – research - farmer knowledge support utilizes the understanding of issues associated with adaptation of new technology to promote a harmonious partnership and mutual benefit for all the actors involved. 
One persistent challenge relates to shifting the focus within the knowledge partnership away from technical science as the primary discourse, to seeing each discourse within the partnership as equally legitimate (demand driven). The expectation ‘science will provide the answers’ still persists and a shift toward the notion of ‘co-development’ should be encouraged within these linkages. For example, the frustration of a farmer’s expectation not being met as a result of the introduction of a new innovation suggests that the need for a demand driven approach is inevitable. 
This suggests that a new model of knowledge generation and sharing (co-development) needs to be learned, particularly in an environment where alternate approaches exist and are functional. Thus the extension role involves facilitating learning around a shared concept of what co-development of knowledge “looks-like”, whilst operating in a demand driven environment.

Brokering knowledge types
As stated previously, the ‘new extensionist’ needs to be competent in both technical and socio-organizational skills. This is no exception where the extension agent, in order to fulfill his/her role as ‘knowledge broker’, must have the capacity to mediate between multiple knowledge types. Within knowledge partnership, technical research has provided knowledge concerning good agronomic practices for the cultivation of various crops and rearing of animals, perceptions of risk and the preferred division of labour for cultivation and harvesting of these crops. This means that a far richer picture is emerging of the technical, economic and social requirements of farming through demonstrating agronomic best practices alone.
Extension in this situation provide farmers with the initial insight into the technology, establish an appropriate environment for the technical scientists to share their knowledge and develope a detailed understanding of the farm business which enable ‘customization’ via modeling potential of crop/livestock scenarios. It also provides a means of feeding back the farmer insights to the researchers, thus ensuring the farmers experience was considered in ongoing research activities. This process undoubtedly forms a case study for social research on how the knowledge partnership functioned around planning, insights which have been critical in further developing our understanding of farmer decision making and the effectiveness of the partnership.

Building networks
The network which forms the basis of the knowledge partnerships should be predominantly based on good will, verbal agreements and in-kind support.
Developing, maintaining, and supporting the network becomes the conduit for brokering knowledge and also the main focus for relevance of extension and advisory practice. This however presents two main challenges.First is logistical, in that keeping informed of farm progress and ensuring an approach tailored to local cultural and advisory arrangements requires significant travel and communication with the support of farmers and the private sector. 
Second is institutional, in that mainstream extension service providers rely on the commitment of participating organizations to undertake most of their outreach activities. For example, six months into the knowledge partnerships, one participating organization withdrew funding for a critical FutureDairy network member. Although an issue for project management, extension as the overseer of the network has to work to manage the inhibiting impact this will have on the functioning of the network and knowledge partnerships at the local level. These challenges suggest that facilitating effective networks across varied farming and advisory “landscapes” requires an equal focus on networks at all levels. Such a focus requires a significantly different set of skills to be employed by extension.

Towards a model for RD&E
Extension therefore has a unique role as a mediator in knowledge management. As such its competent performance is based on a capacity to share in a number of competent performances with a range of other practices like farming, researching and policy making. In so doing extension requires its own body of theory and methodological resources to continuously improve its practice and that of other practices in which it shares a competent performance (Paine et al 2004). This presents challenges around managing expectations of extension as they currently stand whilst at the same time operating within an open and alternate system. Although a model for the ‘new extension’ in farming systems RD and E may be in its early days, early insights suggest that such a model will need to resolve the question of how to effectively resource and manage the relationships required for knowledge partnerships to function effectively. Such relationships will have to be built upon the following:
 

·         An acknowledgement of the process associated with ushering in a new paradigm for generating new knowledge around technology adaptation and innovation. Such an acknowledgement will involve a process of negotiating and agreeing upon new dynamism within RD&E.

·         A new technical competence for extension through capacity building based on a better understanding of the broker role and how to track and modify its performance.

·         More definition (through documentation) of the new role of extension in farming systems RD&E so that capacity for managing farming systems can be built.
The experience of extension and the way the role of extension is effectively being redefined in real time is seen as a platform for building theoretical and methodological resources to improve the performance of extension (mediating practices) in farming systems RD&E.

Content owner: 

K.M Nudanu