Rural Advisory Services in Europe
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)
126.96.36.199 Regional characteristics
Europe covers 42 very heterogeneous countries – including the 15 ‘old’ member states of the EU, 12 new member states, 7 candidate countries and potential candidate countries, and 7 other European countries. Half of these countries have undergone tremendous changes since 1990 as a consequence of the transition from a centrally planned economic system to market economies.
While Europe provides the majority of donor funding for global agricultural research and development, it also faces the challenge of addressing rural livelihoods and rural poverty in many European countries. Therefore, any analysis of Europe as a region has to consider two aspects: (1) RAS needs in Europe, and (2) Europe as a RAS provider or sup- porter at the global scale (through technical and financial assistance, including training of future RAS providers from the South in European colleges and universities). The second function is considered in Section 2.2, as it targets RAS globally.
The EU is the world’s largest importer and exporter of agricultural products and the largest export market for developing countries. The number of farmers in Europe is gradually decreasing, but the agro-food sector is still a key employer and generator of wealth. In Eastern and South Eastern Europe, agriculture is characterised by land frag- mentation, low productivity and competitiveness of agricultural production and value chains, short- age of off-farm income-earning opportunities, and weak rural social services delivery; these key structural problems hamper modernisation of the sector and reduction in rural poverty. Generally, globalisation and the opening of agricultural markets have confronted farmers with the need to produce and commercialise their products in a more competitive way. Discussions amongst European GFRAS validation partners referred to priority themes related to market development, strengthening links between urban and rural areas, adding value by indication of origin and labelling, and diversification of agriculture and of rural income.
There is one agricultural policy for the 27 EU member states: agriculture and fisheries are subject to integrated EU community policies, with decisions taken at the European level and a ‘communitarised’ budget that is separate from the national budgets. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been in place since the 1960s and has evolved through many reforms – from a focus on an increase in agricultural production to an approach taking more ac- count of the sustainability of agricultural production. The CAP provides support to the farming sector through two components: the first pillar provides sector-specific measures related to agricultural markets, while the second pillar addresses rural development programmes. Since 2003, the most important budgetary instrument of the CAP has been the so-called ‘single farm payment’. The CAP makes it compulsory for member states to set up a farm advisory system (FAS), which can be sup- ported under the EU’s Rural Development Policy.
There is no structure explicitly in charge of RAS at the EU level because it is in the responsibility of member states or even their provinces. During the GFRAS validation process, GFRAS stakeholders criticised weak coordination between different directorates-general (for Environment, for Agriculture and Rural Development, for Regional Policy) with regard to RAS.
188.8.131.52 RAS stakeholders
In line with Europe’s role as both an in-country RAS provider and user and a supporter of RAS in developing countries, RAS stakeholders generally belong to one of the following groups: Group 1) is concerned with agricultural and rural development in Europe, and includes European farmer organisations, private and public-sector RAS providers sup- porting European farmers, and agricultural research institutions focusing on European needs. Group 2) is comprised of organisations and networks concerned with the developing world, including NGOs and re- search organisations focusing on technical and financial assistance to RAS in the South. While there are some overlaps between these two groups, they largely operate separately, and only recently have European farmer organisations, for example, taken an increasing interest in agricultural developments worldwide and in the global South. The present section is primarily concerned with the former group.
European RAS are organised heterogeneously at the country and even sub-country levels. In Central and Northern European countries the lead is with public agencies, semi-public chambers, or farmer organisations that have a long tradition, with varying degrees of public (co-)funding, which, however, has been reduced over the past years. In other sub-regions, such as Eastern and Central Europe, the private sector has filled the gap where no public system was in place or where the system had been disrupted. In these countries there has been a tendency to prepare or put in place publicly co- funded RAS in order to support the application of the EU’s CAP through a system of good governance and increased consideration of public interests (e.g. environmental issues) at the farm level (see FAS in Section 184.108.40.206 above). Different RAS structures exist, based on historical developments, and there is no clear conceptual framework at the EU level to guide policymakers on designing and regulating RAS programmes. Participants in the 49th IALB conference in Besançon, France, mentioned the following key issues facing European RAS: the challenges of financing activities such as labelling; reducing costs; diversification into farm-related services (such as agro-tourism); and providing profit- able and at the same time demand-oriented RAS. Other concerns are raising awareness of the importance of RAS for rural development; land pol- icy; farm management (including inheritance of farms); ecological issues (organic farming, biodiversity, water management, climate change); and social equity (i.e., gender and youth).
Farmer organisations and farmer- to-farmer extension
Farmer unions have a long history in many European countries, and are a powerful lobby in some. National farmer unions in Western and Southern Europe have, often effectively, advocated for agri- cultural and rural subsidies, and have succeeded in influencing the CAP in their interests. Farmer un- ions are organised locally, regionally, and nationally as membership organisations, with some focusing on specific commodities or specific production systems (e.g. organic farming).
The main European farmer organisation is the Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations (COPA), which merged in 1962 with the General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives (COGECA). COPA-COGECA is now Europe’s strongest farming representative organisation with 76 member organisations from the EU Member States and from other European countries. Their role is to represent the interests of European agricultural, forestry, fishery, and agro-food cooperatives and to influence decisions which affect agricultural cooperatives’ activities by lobbying the EU’s public institutions. Similar to COPA-COGECA, the European Federation of Agricultural Workers’ Unions (EFA) is mostly concerned with members’ interests (health and safety, income, job security, etc.). COPA-COCEGA has links to farmer organisations worldwide.
For farmer cooperatives, RAS are part of overall support services available for farmers along the supply and marketing chains of cooperatives. Thus the role of farmer organisations is to provide information (often including interpretation and advice with respect to current and future legislation) to members and promote exchange between them as a means to empower farmers to demand good- quality RAS at fair prices, and to ensure that the regulatory framework for RAS is favourable to farmers’ interests.
Public-sector advisory services
Public RAS has a tradition of more than 100 years in some European countries. After the Second World War, national systems of agricultural extension services were set up in all European countries, replacing more traditional ways of circulating knowledge in rural areas (demonstration farms, agricultural fairs). While RAS were organised differently in the various countries, technical support was financed to a large extent by public funds and/or by a sys- tem of additional taxes on the sales of farm pro- duce or on land. More recently, there has been a partial or total retreat of member states from the implementation and programming of RAS at the national scale, while transforming public funding into ‘project- or goal-oriented packages’. Traditional forms of semi-public RAS (chambers of agriculture) or off-state RAS associations are replaced by new forms of contractualisation of relations between the state, farmer unions, and RAS service providers (Rivera and Zijp 2002). This has been accompanied, over the past 15 years, by a continuous disappearance of small family farms. State funding for RAS now generally focuses on issues related to public health and safety (e.g. prevention and control of disease outbreaks), environmental management (e.g. reinforcement of environmental laws and protected areas), facilitating the implementation of the increasing number of regulations that are more and more complicated for farmers to understand, and rural development. In Central and Eastern European countries, which are still experiencing a wide productivity gap, the high proportions of the rural population earning an income in the agricultural sector pose a challenge to RAS and to rural development policies in general.
As in other regions, RAS stakeholders are demanding more and better capacity development for RAS agents. Some exchange between public RAS is happening at the regional and continental levels, but there is no continental umbrella organisation for RAS.
Private-sector input and credit supply, marketing, and advisory services
Private-sector RAS have largely taken over from public-sector extension to provide productivity- oriented advice to larger single farms in most of Western and Southern Europe. With farming being considered by many national governments to be a business like any other, the farmer as a business owner is responsible for investments in knowledge and technology as a private good. However, small farms are often unable to pay for private advisory services. Service providers include both small firms providing customised support to farmers in a specific location, sector, or topic, and large corporations providing package technologies or inputs to farmers, with embedded advice. Research from the Netherlands and elsewhere has revealed the new role of innovation ‘brokers’. These are frequently RAS providers who connect people and facilitate effective communication for innovation (Klerkx and Gildemacher, in press). Some of these service providers also advise overseas commercial farms. The Danish Agricultural Advisory Services (DAAS), for example, an enterprise owned and used by Danish farmers, and some of its member organisations provide RAS to developing countries, as well as to Danish investors in agricultural production overseas.
There is currently no Europe-wide umbrella organisation for private RAS providers, but there are a number of commodity-focused professional organisations or chambers (e.g. the European Milk Board), which include producers, advisory services, and input providers. Private-sector RAS providers also participate in regional forums, such as the Pesticides Initiative Programme (PIP), a European cooperation programme funded by the European Development Fund and managed by COLEACP (mentioned in footnote 63).
NGOs providing advisory services
European NGOs focus mostly on environmental issues (supporting organic farming or encouraging farmers to develop a wildlife-friendly habitat on their farm, e.g. the Foundation Ecology and Agriculture with headquarters in Germany) or have a social focus (working with rural communities to address issues related to health, community life, marginalisation, disability, etc.).
In parallel to regional or rural development programmes or programmes for protecting natural resources, special local or regional bodies comprised of representatives of municipalities, regionally active development organisations, NGOs, farmers associations, and state representatives are created. To achieve their goals, these bodies often depend on RAS to reach farmers and the rural population and motivate them to participate in the joint process. Examples include initiatives such as LEADER (a European Union Community Initiative for assisting rural development), and other programmes on water resource management, biodiversity-oriented landscapes, and village development.
Europe has traditionally had a large number of re- search institutions linked to specialised agricultural colleges, universities, and to the state administration. The research landscape has become more di- verse during the past decades, with some of the traditional agricultural research institutes adapting to new demands and challenges (such as climate change mitigation) and diversifying to include a wide range of socio-economic and biophysical sciences, with the aim of contributing to agricultural development in Europe and overseas, while also meeting academic objectives and standards.
As in the other parts of the world, RAS stakeholders consulted by GFRAS criticised the weak link between research and RAS in Europe and called for increased collaboration. They also demanded a stronger focus on extension in European research, and pointed out a special need for evidence on what approaches are effective in different contexts. Many research institutes are torn between the challenge to academically competitive at the international level (and ac- quire funds for international research programmes, in collaboration with the international research com- munity) and the need to undertake research that supports farmers in their endeavour to comply with increasing levels of restriction in farming due to pol- icy interventions by consumers and NGOs, which often result in new legal standards.
The private sector in Europe has also evolved in its role as a provider of relevant science and technology for both Europe and developing countries, including the development of new varieties (with the disadvantage of property rights forbidding on-farm multiplication of varieties), pesticides and herbicides, fertilisers, and other agri-inputs. The private sector is also a research funder in its own right, for example via its foundations supporting both agricultural research and agricultural education.
Agricultural education institutions
Education institutions include both vocational/ technical training colleges (mostly concerned with training European farmers, agricultural technicians, and other farming professionals) and institutions of higher education, such as agricultural departments in universities. As agricultural employment in Europe has been and still is on the decline, agricultural colleges and universities have begun to focus increasingly on educating overseas students.
RAS or agricultural extension education are taught by a few dozen universities and colleges in Europe, including leading institutions such as the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, the University of Hohenheim in Germany, and the University of Reading in the UK. In other countries, such as Denmark, education on RAS is only provided by (farmer-owned) agricultural knowledge centres. There are also a number of mid-career courses for RAS providers and those working in agricultural research for development, in particular the International Centre for development-oriented Research in Agriculture (ICRA) course. These three organisations are members of AGRINATURA, a network of 35 universities and re- search organisations working in 18 European countries on agricultural research, education, training and capacity strengthening for development.
European RAS stakeholders involved in the International Academy for Agricultural and Home Economics Advisory Services (IALB) initiated an initiative to standardise continuing education for European advisors and elaborated the Certificate for European Consultants in Rural Areas (CECRA). It aims to improve the capacities of RAS staff, especially in the methodological and social domains. The initiative was presented to the representatives of the European Commission preparing the legal framework for RAS within the EU as part of the CAP 2013–2020 negotiations.
There is no formal network on RAS covering the whole of Europe. The International Academy for Agricultural and Home Economics Advisory Services (IALB) is a platform for German-speaking RAS that fosters the exchange of information and experiences. Participants of the 49th IALB conference in Besançon mentioned the need to intensify and enlarge European exchange on RAS to benefit from Europe’s diverse experiences.
With support from INTERREG III, a regional development support programme of the European Union, the Rural Extension Network in Europe (RENE) was initiated in 2004 with the aim to promote the ex- change of information and experiences in rural development, vocational, and extension work and the strengthening of specialised methodological knowledge about RAS. However, this project has ended and no follow-up has so far been initiated. Nevertheless, the formal and informal contacts which have been forged between the participating RAS in Europe, also integrating many partners outside the formal network, have had and continue to have an effect, with stakeholders knowing each other better and encouraging common activities in different fields.
At the European level, the EARD InfoSys+ system provides information about ARD organisations and programmes in Europe, mapping the European ARD landscape, supported by a network of European Partners and based on the contributions of its users.
Europe’s role as both a user and provider of RAS offers interesting lessons, which are currently not exploited systematically. Poor rural areas of Europe could potentially benefit from an exchange of experiences with less developed countries in transition and in the ‘South’, while commercial farmers in Asia and Latin America could find that they share many challenges with the more prosperous family farms in Western Europe.
With RAS being provided by a range of stakeholders, including NGOs, the private-sector, and farmer organisations, the role of public-sector extension services has diminished, and there are no overall European networks focusing specifically on public RAS. There does not appear to be a shortage of networks and forums in Europe concerned with agricultural and rural development, but because RAS is part of the mandate of several stakeholder groups, specific RAS concerns (such as, for example, access of small European farms to RAS, and transferring lessons learnt from RAS in Europe to Europe’s global RAS support) might not be adequately addressed.
 Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and four Eastern European countries.
 The European GCARD review (Richards and Chartier 2010) points out that, compared with other regional reviews prepared for GCARD, ‘absolute’ poverty in Europe is low; 38 countries out of 42 have less than 2% of their population living on less than US$ 2 a day. The countries with significant and persistent income poverty are in Eastern Europe: Romania, Moldova, Turkey, Albania (and Kosovo). However, the incidence and prevalence of ‘relative’ income poverty is on the increase throughout Europe, with inequalities increasing in many countries, including the most developed Western European countries
 2009, an equivalent of 11.2 million full-time jobs existed in the agricultural sector in the EU27, which amounts to approximately 5% of all full-time jobs. http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ ITY_PUBLIC/5-07052010-AP/EN/5-07052010-AP-EN.PDF
 This payment is (1) based on reference periods of past agricultural production; (2) decoupled from (or not related to) production (in the case of livestock farming, arable crops, and dairy farming), and (3) conditional upon meeting criteria such as respect for the environment and animal welfare.
 The publicly funded or co-funded RAS of the German-speaking countries have engaged in an exchange of experience over the past 50 years within IALB (the International Academy of Rural Advisors, www.ialb.org) with a yearly congress, project-oriented activities, and working groups. Cooperation with French RAS (chambers of agriculture) and with RAS in other neighbouring countries has been developed over the past years (during the INTERREG III project on a Rural Extension Network in Europe, RENE).
 For example in June 2010 a Central and Eastern European Rural Advisory Services Forum took place with representatives from Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova. www.acsa.md/libview.php?l=en&idc=114&id=683&parent=0
 Between 2000 and 2009, employment in the agricultural sector in the EU27 decreased by 25%, the equivalent of 3.7 million full-time jobs. www.europe.xorte.com/0,3,Employment-in-the-Agriculture-Sector-Down-by-25-Between-2000-and-2009,11785.html
 www.landwirtschaft-mlr.baden-wuerttemberg.de/servlet/ PB//menu/1298823_l1/index.html, www.cecra.net
|Related to Extension and Advisory Services in Europe|
IALB, International Academy of Rural Advisors - A network for supporting education and extension, www.ialb.org
Communication and Innovation Studies, Wageningen University http://www.com.wur.nl/UK/History/. This is an academic group that is very active on extension issues in Europe. CIS has published hundreds of academic articles that are relevant to the field. More at http://www.com.wur.nl/UK
|Europe - based Institutions that conduct research and consulting work on agriculture and
development, including agricultural extension related issues in
developing countries. |