Regional Extension and Advisory Service Fora:
APIRAS - Asia and Pacific Islands Network for Rural Advisory Services
Rural Advisory Services in Asia
From: GFRAS (2011) Rural Advisory Services Worldwide - A Synthesis of Actors and Issues. Prepared by Barbara Adolph, Triple Line Consulting. Available at http://www.g-fras.org/en/knowledge/gfras-publications/file/6-rural-advisory-services-worldwide (This excerpt posted with permission, December 2011)
2.1.2 Asia and Pacific
188.8.131.52 Regional characteristics
The Asia and Pacific region is very heterogeneous, with wide variations in agro-climatic zones and biodiversity, levels of economic development, social infrastructure, human well-being, and the capacity to respond to disasters and crises. Industrialised countries of the region have achieved high levels of well-being and are recognised as new centres of manufacturing, with the result that East and South Asia now account for a major share of world economic output and economic growth. Agriculture’s contribution to the national income and exports in most Asian countries is declining, but the Asia and Pacific region still underpins the global agrarian economy, with Asia being the largest supplier of the world’s food and agricultural products. The size of landholdings is declining, and production resources are shrinking. The Asia and Pacific region is the home of about 58% of the world’s population and 74% of the global agricultural population, but has only 38% of the world’s agricultural land (Singh 2010). As a consequence, land availability per person involved in agriculture in this region (0.3 ha) is almost one fifth of that in the rest of the world (1.4 ha). Over 80% of the world’s small and marginalised farmers live in this region, with large variations between countries with high population pressure on land and those with lower human-to-land ratios. Moreover, the agricultural work force is becoming increasingly feminised and older, with young men moving to non-agricultural employment.
The Green Revolution launched in the region in the 1960s resulted in an unprecedented growth of agricultural production and productivity, and led to the proportion of hungry people being more than halved by the year 1995. For the past decade or so, the region (with the exception of China) has experienced stagnation or a slowdown in agricultural production and productivity. Food insecurity and poverty, particularly rural poverty – accounting for two-thirds of the world’s hungry and poor and exacerbated by the soaring food and fuel prices, the global economic downturn, volatile markets, and climate change–induced vulnerability – have resurfaced as the foremost development concerns in the region, resulting in an increasing divide between rural and urban, as well as between farmer and non-farmer incomes. Except in China and India, however, investment in agriculture in the region, particularly in agricultural research, education, and extension, has declined or stagnated during the past decade.
According to stakeholder discussions during the GFRAS validation process, key thematic areas in Asia in the context of agricultural and rural development include value adding, access to markets and development of modern value chains, focusing on niche and quality products, postharvest treatment, diversification of income, infrastructure, genetically modified crops, access to assets (in particular land, finance, and natural resources such as water), natural disasters (floods, cyclones, earthquakes, rising sea level), climate change, and organic farming.
184.108.40.206 RAS stakeholders
Farmer organisations and farmer-to-farmer extension
Similarly to Africa, there are many farmer innovators in Asia, and farmer-to-farmer extension is an important source of information. The Prolinnova network mentioned in the Africa section also operates in several Asian countries, promoting and supporting farmer innovation and farmer-to-farmer learning. Farmer field schools have been operating in many of the emerging countries, in particular to develop and share strategies for pest and disease control and for soil and water conservation.
Most Asian countries have active national farmer organisations, but the degree to which farmers are organised locally into formal or informal farmer groups varies from country to country. Groups can be state-initiated, farmer-initiated (usually with some state or NGO support), or part of the local government system. Farmer field schools established at farms of lead farmers have proved to be highly effective particularly in transferring complex messages and technologies. Farmer groups vary in their technical orientation, focusing, for example, on natural resource management, a particular crop or livestock enterprise, or on processing and marketing. According to a study on farmer empowerment commissioned by Danida (Danida 2004), farmers in Asia have a long tradition of organisation along water management and service delivery. Policy advocacy and farmer empowerment have in many ways been a success in Asia and there are strong indications that farmer organisations (FOs) with political linkages can be powerful mediators for farmer interests. However, farmers who have been ‘empowered’ often belong to the well-off part of the farming community, and despite agricultural development there is still widespread poverty and a lack of services for poor and marginalised farmers. During the GFRAS validation process, stakeholders pointed to the need for strong communities and strengthened farmer capacities, so that farmers can act as development partners and influence state policies.
There are a large number of networks and groupings of farmer organisations at the national and sub-regional levels, including the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) with nine member organisations in eight countries in East and South East Asia and the Asian Farmers’ Group for Cooperation (AFGC) with nine member countries. A consultation of farmer organisations and forums conducted by IFAD in 2005 identified as common challenges of FOs in Asia the need for member capacity building, shortage of funds (because membership fees are insufficient to pay for the services expected), threats to smallholder farmers from trade liberalisation and globalisation, issues related to access to productive natural resources, declining government support to agriculture, ineffective pro-poor government policies, and the lack of consultation with FOs by governments during policy formulation.
Public-sector advisory services
Many national extension systems in Asia have over time evolved from commodity-focused colonial services to comprehensive advisory services for the whole agricultural sector. In terms of numbers of personnel, agricultural extension staff make up the bulk of Ministry of Agriculture employees in many Asian countries. Qamar (2002) highlights that agricultural extension in the region is a poorly paid profession with few career opportunities, and as a result does not attract the most gifted candidates. Pre-service education and on-the-job training of extension staff are generally poor.
Public-sector agricultural extension in the region has undergone a similar range of reforms as in Africa, including the T&V system. Overall, however, national systems have been less influenced by donor paradigms than in Africa, as extension systems are largely funded by national governments, in particular in India and China. Declining public funding for extension has led to a reduction in staff and inadequate operational budgets. Distant and remote areas are often poorly served by the public sector and are also weakly integrated into the market. During the recent GCARD e-consultations, Asian participants voiced their concern that extension/technology/knowledge transfer systems have weakened, and some said that public extension systems in the region are ‘dead’. This is a result of under-investments in agriculture in almost all countries in the region, probably with the exception of India and China.
Most countries in the region do not have extension policies or strategies, and do not have systems in place to monitor progress and assess the impact of public RAS. In many countries reforms are taking place to make extension more client-oriented, and to move away from purely technical advice aimed at increasing production towards also considering economic factors at the farm and market levels as well as environmental concerns. The extent to which these reforms have resulted in pluralistic, accountable, and demand-driven systems is yet to be assessed. There are currently no public-sector RAS networks in Asia, even though public-sector representatives attend certain forums and meetings on cross-country RAS.
While there are large differences within the region, private-sector RAS play a more important role in Asia and the Pacific than in Africa, possibly owing to the larger proportion of produce that is sold outside the immediate production location. Private sector RAS can be provided by input suppliers or by produce purchasers. Asian farmers increasingly sell their produce (particularly fresh vegetables) to multinational companies or supermarket chains through contract-farming types of arrangements. Many large trading companies have their own agricultural research and extension staff, who might be better informed about the export potential of specific products than a government extension agent. While access to alternative sources of information is certainly a plus, in particular where highly specialised knowledge is required, the terms and conditions of these contracts are not always advantageous for small-scale producers, in particular if farmers have to bear the production risk.
Multinational private-sector firms such as Syngenta and Monsanto play an important role in RAS in some Asian countries, particularly in densely-populated areas. Because provision of extension is subject to economies of scale, providing extension services may be profitable for private companies only if they can reach a sufficiently large number of farmers. In places where smallholder farmers are located far apart and have limited access to transport, the transaction costs of providing extension are typically high, hindering the for-profit private sector from providing these services.
The private sector is also a key provider of ICT services in Asia and the Pacific, which are widely used for rural and agricultural information dissemination. Village knowledge centres and visual and radio networks are used for sharing knowledge and information and to link extension centres to markets, constituting a market-led form of extension. Several studies have revealed the effectiveness and efficiency of mobile phones in information sharing, particularly for market information.
Implications for GFRAS are the need to engage with private-sector firms and networks in all regions, but in particular in Asia and the Pacific (and in Latin America – see next sub-section), acknowledging their key role in RAS provision. This would involve including the private sector in networking and exchange events and activities.
NGOs providing advisory services
In many Asian and Pacific countries NGOs are major RAS providers, often going beyond the ‘traditional’ NGO mandate of social mobilisation and farmer empowerment to be serious partners in participatory innovation development and dissemination. Civil society organisations and NGOs are increasingly becoming involved in the policy arena to ensure green development and a sustainable growth pattern. CSOs also play an increasingly strategic role in the campaign for the right to food, in particular for marginalised and tribal people, for whom the pressures for survival are likely to increase under growing environmental and economic pressure.
Extension reforms provide new opportunities for NGOs, with different sectors complementing one another by meeting different needs or covering different population groups. Complementary roles are also seen in the technology development process, with NGOs often piloting environmentally appropriate technologies that are later promoted by extension services.
There are at least two NGO networks with an interest in RAS: The Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC), which is primarily concerned with advocacy, and the newly (in 2008) formed NGO Association for Agricultural Research in the Asia-Pacific (NAARAP), an APAARI (Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions) initiated group of NGOs involved in RAS that have an interest in agricultural research and technology development.
Agricultural research in Asia and the Pacific is organised at the national level through national/public sector agricultural research institutions (including universities), as well as private-sector laboratories and research centres. Some large NGOs also undertake adaptive research, in particular on pest and disease control in crops, natural resource management practices, and post-harvest management.
There are three main agricultural research networks covering the Asia and Pacific region:
• AARINENA, established in 1985, covering Western Asia (including Pakistan) and the Arabian peninsula (but also North Africa)
• APAARI, established in 1990, covering 42 countries in South, South East, and East Asia and the Pacific (including Australia and New Zealand)
• CACAARI, established in 2009, with eight members (all of them former Soviet republics)
These networks or forums participate in the international debate on priority setting for ARD, and the CGIAR reform process. There is currently no overall agreed ‘Asia and Pacific’ agenda on ARD, comparable to the CAADP process in Africa, possibly due to diversity of needs and resources in the region, which make it difficult to agree on one agenda. Communication and exchange between research and RAS need to be strengthened in the region.
Agricultural education institutions
The Asia and Pacific region is a provider of agricultural education both for the region and for other parts of the developing world, notably Africa. There are a large range of education institutions at all levels, catering for different stakeholders. Agricultural universities in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, and China provide training to agricultural professionals, including future RAS providers, from all over the world.
Agricultural training and education are generally provided both pre-service and in-service. NGOs are an important source of in-service training to RAS, in particular where they require additional skills that are not necessarily taught in agricultural colleges (e.g. in organic farming, or in the use of participatory approaches). Criticism has been voiced regarding the top-down approach of some Asian public-sector RAS providers vis-à-vis their clients, and training courses as well as on-the-job training often focus on facilitation skills and participatory approaches.
The Asia Pacific Association of Educators on Agriculture and Environment (APEAEN) is the largest network of professionals working in agricultural education in the region, with 21 member countries and a large number of individual members. Their mandate is mainly scientific and technical capacity development and exchange between members. GFRAS might be able to draw on such advanced networks in Asia to link them with extension education organisations in other parts of the world, especially in Africa.
In 2010, the Asia-Pacific Islands Rural Advisory Services (APIRAS) network was created. APIRAS brings together the diverse actors of the Asia and Pacific region, which is also organised in sub-regional and national professional networks, whose main objective is to support individual members (not necessarily organisations) in their professional development. The Central Asian Countries and Caucasus (CACC) agricultural advisory services network held its first meeting in 2009 and is still active. The Australasia-Pacific Extension Network (APEN) is a professional association with around 500 members, mostly based in Australia. The Pacific Islands Extension Network (PIEN) was formed in 2005, primarily with the aim of building the capacity of extension staff and associated institutions including government, non-government, and academic institutions in participatory research and extension. PIEN offers the ‘excellence in extension and outreach’ award. PIEN also actively pursues opportunities for extension services to engage in the use of ICTs and the media in order to improve outreach to their main clientele – the farmers. At the national level, the Philippine Extension Network (PEN) was established in 2001 to influence the direction taken by national extension services and to increase the level of professionalism in RAS. The expertise of these networks could be harnessed for activities outside the region.
Agricultural development in Asia and the Pacific faces many challenges. The GCARD consultations identified common weaknesses as follows: (1) Lack of connection between teaching, research, and extension institutions and agencies, (2) Lack of cooperation between the government, NGOs, the private sector, and farmers, and (3) Lack of integrated approaches along the whole value chain. The Central Asia and the Caucasus Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (CACAARI) GCARD report pointed to the need to strengthen extension in the region.
Amidst the generally unsatisfactory situation of RAS, there are some good models of extension and support services offered by the private sector, farmers’ cooperatives, and NGOs. They have the potential to be further developed into innovative public-private and NGO-market partnerships. Such extension approaches are likely provide scope for an integration of research and advisory services along the value chain. GFRAS’s role in the region could be to provide networking and learning opportunities, so that the different stakeholders active in RAS have the opportunity to learn from each other, and possibly develop joint approaches to RAS. With large parts of the region relying heavily on value addition to agricultural produce, RAS approaches need to increasingly focus on market access and quality issues to enable producers to obtain adequate returns to their efforts. While some RAS stakeholders are clearly aware of this, mechanisms to identify the comparative advantages of different actors and share experiences and approaches more widely are still insufficient.
There is a huge potential for learning and exchange within this diverse region, as well as between this region and others, and much is already happening. Australia and Japan are both training RAS providers and other agricultural professionals in the region, and provide technical and financial assistance. Indian RAS professionals are working in Afghanistan and in many South East Asian and Pacific countries, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is probably scope to build on existing networks in order to further foster exchange and learning in the region.
 Because of the high diversity of the Asia and Pacific region, the role of different types of stakeholders varies significantly from country to country. The following sections generalise to a high degree in the interest of brevity.
 Eicher (2007) reports on a 2003 national survey of 51,770 farm households in India who were asked to reveal their main source of information about new technology and farm practices over the past 365 days. Progressive farmers were the most important source (16.7%) of information for smallholders over a period of 12 months, followed by input dealers, radio, and television. Only 6% of the farmers in the national survey gained their information from extension workers.
 For example in India there are an estimated 100,000 extension agents in the MoA (see Eicher 2007).
 The Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (see Singh 2009).
 They were, for example, represented at the GCARD in 2010 and commissioned their own reviews of ARD constraints and opportunities in their regions.
- Sharma, V.P., editor (2006): Report of the APO Seminar on Enhancement of Extension Systems in Agriculture held in Pakistan, 15-20 December 2003. Asian Productivity Organization, Tokyo. http://www.apo-tokyo.org/00e-books/AG-16_EnhanceExtSystem/AG-16_EnhanceExtSystem.pdf
APAARI Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions www.apaari.org
APEN Australasia-Pacific Extension Network www.apen.org.au/default.asp
RIU Research Into Use: Sharing lessons to enable innovation in agriculture.