Rural Advisory Services in Latin America
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)
18.104.22.168 Regional characteristicsAccording to the regional GCARD synthesis report for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) (Carriquiry 2010), this region is comprised of more than 30 countries with a population of close to 600 million people (less than 10% of the world’s population). However, it has 23% of the world’s arable lands, 31% of its water resources, 23% of its forests, and 46% of its tropical forests, making it an increasingly important actor in global food supply. LAC is very heterogeneous in many aspects, particularly in relation to natural resources and social and economic situations. The region has one of the highest levels of economic and social inequality in the world, both among and within countries. More than 17% of the region’s population lives under the poverty line of US$ 2 per day (World Bank 2005).
Agriculture is an important activity for the LAC economies. In many countries, the primary sector provides around 10% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and agribusiness as a whole provides 30%. Some segments of the sector have shown a pattern of strong growth, with greater integration into global markets and an increasing ability to create jobs and income opportunities. However, the participation of small-scale farmers – who have not yet received enough attention in the political, social, and research context – remains a challenge. LAC has around 15 million family farms, 60% of which are located in Brazil and Mexico. Family farms represent 85% of the total farms in the region and generate 35–45% of the agricultural GDP and an even bigger portion of employment.
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.
22.214.171.124 RAS stakeholders
Farmer organisations are particularly active in Latin America. The role and relative strength of other stakeholders varies significantly between and within countries, with the Andean countries generally being less developed, and consequently having weaker RAS actors and higher levels of rural poverty.
Farmer organisations and farmer-to-farmer extension
Farmer organisations have a long history in Latin America, and have been very active in promoting access to land and in advocating for sustainable agriculture. Since the 1980s new national-level rural organisations have emerged throughout the region, representing sectors previously excluded from the main peasant organisations and rural unions of the past, such as the indigenous, landless, environmental, and rural women’s movements. In addition, many new movements have arisen in opposition to large-scale infrastructural projects, such as dam construction or mining. In the 1990s many of these movements have contributed to building transnational associations and networks at the sub regional, continental, and global levels. As a result, the rural social movements in Latin America have come to be among the best organised as well as the most fervent critics of the neoliberal development model in the region.
Latin American farmer organisations are sometimes grouped into (1) organisations involved mostly in promoting sustainable agricultural practices, with a strong field base and emphasis on farmer capacity development (building on indigenous practices), and/or (2) organisations involved in advocacy for an agenda involving structural changes and changes in power relations. An example of the first group is the Movimiento Campesino a Campesino (MCAC), now counting several hundred thousand farmer promoters, helping farming families in the rural villages of Latin America improve their livelihoods and conserve their natural resources. The second group includes organisations such as La Vía Campesina (LVC), which have a strong advocacy role. Since its inception, LVC’s main objective has been to halt neoliberalism and construct alternative food systems based on food sovereignty. Another main transnational organisation is the Latin American Confederation of Peasant Organisations (CLOC, Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo), with currently more than 88 peasant organisations from 25 countries.
In the Caribbean, FOs from 13 countries are represented by CaFAN, the Caribbean Farmers Network, founded in 2004 with the aim of developing the capacity of Caribbean FOs to deliver services to members; to increase intra and extra-regional trade; to increase communication and exchange of ideas, resources, information, and technology; to raise awareness and improve advocacy and networking in order to collectively influence decisions on strategic issues affecting regional agriculture, and to mobilise resources for and on behalf of network members.
Public-sector advisory services
According to Roseboom et al. (2006), public RAS in the LAC region have undergone significant changes, developing from agents within a linear ‘transfer of technology’ model to more inclusive services in line with the concept of ‘innovation systems’. After a period of strong support in the 1960s and
1970s, public funding for research and RAS activities in LAC began to wane in the 1980s and 1990s. The strained economic situation in many countries made it necessary to seek more cost-effective and efficient strategies for producing, disseminating, and applying new knowledge and information in agriculture. At the same time the demand for innovation became more pressing, as increased global competition required improvements in agricultural productivity. Consequently, many countries in the region sought to revitalise their agricultural research and extension systems through a series of institutional reforms, with particular attention given to the sustainability of funding for these services. Reflective of the drivers of reform, the focus was on the following principles: 1) diversification in execution and funding; 2) allocation of funding on a competitive basis; 3) demand-driven financing; 4) empowerment of local communities; and 5) increased private-sector participation in implementing the reform agenda.
In the course of this process, RAS have retained the public delivery and public funding characteristics of traditional centralised extension despite decentralisation, whereas the responsibility for delivery has been transferred to local governments (district, county, etc.) in diverse ways. Many Latin American governments undertook this approach in the 1980s and 1990s, with levels of decentralisation varying widely from country to country. In some cases (e.g. Chile), the result has been encouraging (see also below).
In order to better meet the needs of farmers, public RAS have adopted a more demand-driven approach by incorporating farmers as active partners in identifying the priorities for advisory services. By doing so, public RAS have extended beyond technical information on agricultural production to include guidance on a wider range of issues, such as financial and economic concerns. Most countries have geared public advisory services more towards market opportunities in response to greater trade liberalization.
A characteristic of recent agricultural extension reforms in the LAC region has been the outsourcing of advisory services to NGOs, farmer organisations, private businesses, etc. Generally, public resources are used to fund competitive contracts with local service providers. This requires the transition from a highly centralised and integrated structure to a clear separation between the different entities responsible for policy, priority setting, and implementation, as well as considerable organisational and managerial capacity within the government. Experiences have so far been mixed, and it has remained unclear to what extent this newly emerging system caters for the needs of the most vulnerable farmers.
Reforms of RAS in Latin America have had effects beyond the LAC region. For example, the Ugandan National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) were partly inspired by visits to Chile and interactions with Latin American RAS experts.
Private-sector input and credit supply, marketing, and advisory services
The private sector plays a crucial role in the region’s agricultural development, but its role varies between the more commercialised high-potential farming areas and diverse smallholder farming systems such as in parts of the Andes. The reform processes discussed above have given a new role to private-sector RAS providers, who are now in several countries working in partnership with NGOs, FOs, and government agencies to provide advisory services. In Chile, for example, public technical assistance to farmers was replaced with private services in the 1980s, and during the 1990s extension to medium and large-scale farmers in Chile was executed by a private farmer group. It is now funded entirely on a private basis, while the Agricultural Development Institute (INDAP) of the Ministry of Agriculture targets small-scale farmers through an extension programme which is publicly funded and privately executed through private technology transfer firms (Antholt and Zijp 1996). However, a large number of small-scale farmers in Chile still lack RAS that could assist them in reaping the benefits of market opportunities. Besides private RAS provision as part of a national strategy, there are many examples of contract farming in the LAC region, with private-sector firms providing RAS to those farmers under contract with them – largelycommercial producers of export commodities.
NGOs providing advisory services
A wide range of NGOs are involved in RAS in the LAC region, serving mostly remote and marginalised communities. The boundaries between FOs and NGOs are not always clear, as some larger FOs provide similar services as NGOs. Most NGOs have a focus on sustainable agriculture, including organic farming, the use of indigenous knowledge and technologies, and support of fair trade initiatives.
There are a number of NGO networks operating in the agricultural sector, mostly in a capacity development and advocacy role. Centro Latinoamericano de Desarrollo Sustentable (CLADES) is one of these. Formed in 1989 by eleven Latin American NGOs from eight countries, it has since developed into a wider network including academics and private sector organisations as well (Yurjevic et al. 2002).
The Latin American NGO movement has influenced the thinking about agricultural and rural development outside Latin America, and has actively engaged with NGOs and FOs in other continents to share ideas and increase advocacy.
Similarly to Africa and Asia, national agricultural research organisations operate in most LAC countries. LAC also hosts the headquarters of several international agricultural research centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Both NGOs and the private sector undertake agricultural research and dissemination of technologies, the latter primarily for the commercial farming sector. Attention to farmer innovation has a long history in Latin America, with many NGOs and some research institutes not only documenting local innovations, but actively encouraging their development. However, as outlined earlier, public investments in agricultural research and development have dropped in most LAC countries, affecting public research institutions.
FORAGRO (the Forum for the Americas on Agricultural Research and Technology Development) emerged in 1997/98 as a network to facilitate dialogue, coordination, and strategic alliances among the different actors that comprise the national and regional agricultural research and technology development systems, and between these and the international system of agricultural research. One of FORAGRO’s key roles is to influence policies to promote agricultural development from a technology perspective. FORAGRO is a member of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR). FORAGRO members include public and private national agricultural research institutions, universities, private sector organisations, producer associations, NGOs, and private foundations that develop and/ or promote innovative technology.
Agricultural education institutions
The LAC region has a large number of agricultural colleges and universities, as well as a wide range of education institutions engaged in farmer training. Many of them are affiliated with agricultural research institutions and universities (see above). However, there are concerns about the relevance of RAS curricula, as expressed by FAO (1997) and re-iterated during the IAASTD. Curriculum contents are often insufficiently geared towards the needs of the rural population, lacking coverage of themes like agricultural diversification and risk reduction. The conventional high-technology agricultural production models proposed by higher education – which often inadequately consider environmental issues – are not accessible for the majority of small farmers.
The IAASTD demands that access to agricultural education for students from rural areas be granted in consideration of their experience and knowledge of the rural environment, as opposed to only their academic qualifications. To facilitate access by rural populations to labour markets, educational reforms are needed that include intercultural and multilingual training, the development of physical and IT infrastructure, and scholarships and training programmes for skill development.
The main umbrella organisation for agricultural development in the LAC region is the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), with 32 member countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Spain, the USA, and Canada. It thus straddles North, Central and South America with the purpose to encourage and support the efforts of its member states to achieve agricultural development and well-being for rural populations. While RAS is clearly a component of this, the mandate is much wider and includes agricultural research, policies, investments, input supply, markets, and infrastructural development. Arguably, all of these six strategic areas of IICA are related to RAS directly or indirectly (IICA 2006).
Another regional not-for-profit organisation is the Latin American Center for Rural Development (RIMISP), founded in 1986. Over the last few years RIMISP has signed a range of collaboration agreements with more than 130 organisations in Latin America and other regions. Its current focal areas are social learning for rural development, rural territorial dynamics, and market transformation. RIMISP initiated the Latin American Network for Rural Extension which met for the first time in 2010. RIMISP has also engaged with RAS networks outside the LAC region, in particular with AFAAS in Africa.
The RAS landscape in the LAC region is very diverse, with a lot of potential, but also facing many challenges, including high levels of inequality between and within the region’s countries, and economic and environmental challenges such as adaptation to cli-
mate change, natural disasters, and the global economic downturn. The rise of free trade agreements in the region has stimulated greater demand for agricultural innovation. Both agricultural research and rural advisory services are increasingly shaped by market demands for improved quality and cleaner or more specialised (e.g. organic, eco-friendly) production. Producers are more market-oriented, and consequently, make more demands on national innovation systems, of which RAS are a component.
The region has much to offer in terms of experiences with RAS reforms and with pluralistic RAS provision, and could potentially be an important source of experience for other regions.
 See also: http://data.worldbank.org/topic/poverty
 According to Holt-Giménez (2006), MCAC has demonstrated that, given the chance to generate and share agro-ecological knowledge freely amongst themselves, smallholders are perfectly capable of developing sustainable agriculture, even under highly adverse conditions.
 In Chile, for example, extension agencies offer each farmer assistance in developing a business plan to support the economic viability of their farm, and continuous and intensive assistance to facilitate the transition.
 See http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTARD/825826-1111129171182/20431839/Extension_Reform_V2_final.pdf, page 9
 See, for example, Osorio 2007, who highlights shortcomings in advisory services especially for small-scale and women farmers.
 See interview with Alberto Gómez, National Coordinator for the National Union of Autonomous Regional Farmer Organizations (UNORCA) in Mexico, and North American regional Coordinator for Vía Campesina, in Holt-Giménez et al. 2010.
 These include some with an international reputation, such as Zamorano in Honduras (www.zamorano.edu/english), and Earth in Costa Rica (www.earth.ac.cr/index.php), which train agricultural professionals from all parts of the world.
AIAEE Association for International Agricultural and Extension Education www.aiaee.org
ITACAB Instituto de Transferencia de Tecnologieas Apropiadas Para Sectores Marginales, Convenio Andres Bello, www.itacab.org
IICA, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture, www.iica.int/Eng/Pages/default.aspx
Directory of Development Organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean, www.devdir.org/la_caribbean.htm
Directory of Development Organizations in Canada and the USA, www.devdir.org/north_america.htm
Caribbean Community Agricultural Policy of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas www.caricom.org/jsp/community/donor_conference_agriculture/agricultural_policy.jsp
Regional Strategy to Alleviate Key Binding Constraints to Agriculture in CARICOM (Jagdeo Initiative, 2005): www.euacpcommodities.eu/files/04_Target_2015.pdf and www.euacpcommodities.eu/files/01_Jagdeo.pdf
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, OECS Agricultural Policy and Strategic Plan. 2003. http://ctrc.sice.oas.org/geograph/OECS/agriculture.pdf