Monday, December 26, 2011

Improved rural advisory services vital


SMALLHOLDER agriculture and family farming is the core contributor to agricultural production in most developing countries, including Papua New Guinea, contributing to achieving food and nutritional security. 
A resource centre established by NARI in the Rabaraba area of Milne Bay province in partnership with PNG Sustainable Development and the National Disaster Centre. This centre is being used to multiply and distribute improved crop and livestock varieties in the area under a food security project. Such models can be tested further in our efforts to improve rural advisory and extension services in PNG – Picture by JAMES ERNEST

To help these smallholders improve their farming practices; a coalition of public, private and civil society actors at national, regional and international levels is needed to revitalise and strengthen agricultural extension and advisory systems.
 This was the challenge put forward by more than 400 participants who attended the international extension conference on Innovations in extension and advisory services: Linking knowledge to policy and action for food and livelihoods.
The conference.  held in Nairobi, Kenya, from November 15-18,  2011, was aimed at taking stock of current policies, thinking and practice, successes and failures of ongoing and past reforms in extension and advisory services and develop a coalition to address the needs of smallholder farmers, in particular women and youth, in a sustainable and cost effective manner. The conference covered four cross-cutting themes of Policy, Capacity Development, Tools and Approaches and Learning Networks.
Farmers, extension professionals, policy-makers, researchers, academics, representatives of the private sector and the media from over 70 countries participated at this event.
The Pacific region was well represented with representatives from a number of key organisations to voice the concerns of Pacific Island countries and territories.
Rural advisory services  are increasingly recognised by many rural development actors as an essential vehicle to ensure that research, development of farmer organisations, improved inputs, and other elements of rural development support actually meet farmers’ and other rural actors’ needs and demands.
Despite past advances in agricultural innovations through improved crops and farming systems, much of the developing world still faces challenges in food and nutrition security, non-sustainable agricultural practices, poor access to markets, and a falling contribution of agriculture to national GDP.
Rural farming communities have not really benefited from advances in agricultural technology. The diminishing national extension and advisory services reflect reduced government investment in agriculture.
 Now, the global community, responding to this situation, is revisiting extension and advisory services as the critical link in the agriculture value chain, where smallholder farmers are key actors of agriculture.
Director of CTA, Michael Hailu in his opening remarks said that the conference theme, Linking knowledge to policy and action for food and livelihoods, was very relevant and provided a new perspective to extension and advisory services.
He said 75% of the poor in developing countries lived in rural areas and the majority of them depended on agriculture for their livelihoods.
He pointed to smallholder farmers as the primary group producing food, yet over 30 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa face food security issues.
Any effort to fight poverty must start with agriculture.
Hailu pointed out that the event was no ordinary conference, where experts came to talk to each other and everyone else politely listening. 
He challenged participants to take the opportunity provided to create a coalition of different interest committed to improving the welfare and productivity of the world’s smallholder farmers.  Extension and advisory services, he explained, had a key role to play in confronting the many challenges farmers face, from climate change to low productivity and rising food prices.
He expressed the hope that the conference would identify practices and policies to improve the delivery and effectiveness of extension and advisory services.
Hailu advocated increasing government funding to agriculture, his call supported by many other speakers.
We have and will continue to make this call in PNG.
We believe the state has a duty to its smallholder farmers and should invest in agriculture, which supports the livelihood of over 80% of our population.
Ensuring food and nutritional security for a growing population is a challenge.
The world population estimated to reach to 9 billion by 2050 and with additional challenges posed by climate change and scare resources such as land, water and energy will require not only technical innovations but policy action and investment.
The diminished role of extension and advisory services is a hindrance to future agricultural and rural development and hence there is an urgent need for redesigning and revitalising their role in reshaping the global food system.
There is also need for coordination of development actors to articulate and advocate for investments in agricultural extension and advisory services and to ensure that they remain priorities on the national, regional and global development agenda.
In PNG, responsible agencies should act on Ted Sitapai’s recommendation to formulate a new agriculture extension policy, which promotes pluralism, market-oriented, and participatory and methods that are appropriate for empowering farmers and increasing their social capital, particularly amongst women farmers in PNG.
Currently our extension system is fragmented, making it difficult for managing and resourcing the extension services.
The meeting noted the need to enhance the use of information and communication technologies, both old and new, and engage the media in expanding the reach and impact of extension and advisory services.
Strengthening extension advisory services will directly boost value-chain pathways.
The international conference provided a unique forum for world experts to share experiences, success stories and challenges and recommend future measures and policy reforms that will make extension and advisory services more relevant and responsive to the needs of millions of smallholder farmers so that they are better equipped to feed a growing world population.
We hope some of these recommendations will be acted upon in PNG for the benefit of our smallholder farmers.

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