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Agricultural extension is the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education. The field of 'extension' now encompasses a wider range of communication and learning activities organized for rural people by educators from different disciplines, including agriculture, agricultural marketing, health, and business studies.
Extension practitioners can be found throughout the world, usually working for government agencies. They are represented by several professional organizations, networks and extension journals.
Agricultural extension agencies in developing countries receive large amounts of support from international development organizations such as the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Modern extension began in Dublin, Ireland in 1847 with Lord Clarendon's itinerant instructors during the great famine. It expanded in Germany in the 1850s, through the itinerant agricultural teachers Wanderlehrer and later in the USA via the cooperative extension system authorized by the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. The term was later adopted in the United States of America, while in Britain it was replaced with "advisory service" in the 20th century. A number of other terms are used in different parts of the world to describe the same or similar concept:
In the US, an extension agent is a university employee who develops and delivers educational programs to assist people in economic and community development, leadership, family issues, agriculture and environment. Another program area provided by extension agents is 4-H and youth activities. Many extension agents work for cooperative extension service programs at land-grant universities. They are sometimes referred to as county agents, or extension educators. Often confused with Extension agents, Extension specialists are subject matter experts usually employed as scientists and university professors in various departments in the land-grant university system. Subjects range from agriculture, life sciences, economics, engineering, food safety, pest management, veterinary medicine, and various other allied disciplines. These subject matter specialists work with agents (usually in a statewide or regional team environment) to support programs within the cooperative extension system.
There is no widely accepted definition of agricultural extension. The examples given below are taken from a number of books on extension published over a period of more than 50 years:
It is not known where or when the first extension activities took place. It is known, however, that Chinese officials were creating agricultural policies, documenting practical knowledge, and disseminating advice to farmers at least 2,000 years ago. For example, in approximately 800 BC, the minister responsible for agriculture under one of the Zhou dynasty emperors organized the teaching of crop rotation and drainage to farmers. The minister also leased equipment to farmers, built grain stores and supplied free food during times of famine.
The birth of the modern extension service has been attributed to events that took place in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century. Between 1845–51 the Irish potato crop was destroyed by fungal diseases and a severe famine occurred (see Great Irish Famine). The British Government arranged for "practical instructors" to travel to rural areas and teach small farmers how to cultivate alternative crops. This scheme attracted the attention of government officials in Germany, who organized their own system of traveling instructors. By the end of the 19th century, the idea had spread to Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, and France.
The term "university extension" was first used by the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford in 1867 to describe teaching activities that extended the work of the institution beyond the campus. Most of these early activities were not, however, related to agriculture. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century, when colleges in the United States started conducting demonstrations at agricultural shows and giving lectures to farmer’s clubs, that the term "extension service" was applied to the type of work that we now recognize by that name.
In the United States, the Hatch Act of 1887 established a system of agricultural experiment stations in conjunction with each state's land-grant university, and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created a system of cooperative extension to be operated by those universities in order to inform people about current developments in agriculture, home economics, and related subjects.
The development of extension services in modern Asia has differed from country to country. Despite the variations, it is possible to identify a general sequence of four periods or "generations":
The fourth generation is well established in some countries, while it has only just begun in other places. While it seems likely that participatory approaches will continue to spread in the next few years, it is impossible to predict the long-term future of extension. Compared to 20 years ago[timeframe?], agricultural extension now receives considerably less support from donor agencies. Among academics working in this field, some have recently argued that agricultural extension needs to be reinvented as a professional practice. Other authors have abandoned the idea of extension as a distinct concept and prefer to think in terms of "knowledge systems" in which farmers are seen as experts rather than adopters.
Aspects of future extension education:
Several of the institutional innovations that have come up in response to the weaknesses in public research and extension system have given enough indications of the emergence of an agricultural innovation system in India. This has resulted in the blurring of the clearly demarcated institutional boundaries between research, extension, farmers, farmers' groups, NGOs and private enterprises. Extension should play the role of facilitating the access to and transfer of knowledge among the different entities involved in the innovation system and create competent institutional modes to improve the overall performance of the innovation system. Inability to play this important role would further marginalize extension efforts.
The term "extension" has been used to cover widely differing communication systems. Two particular issues help to define the type of extension: how communication takes place, and why it takes place.
The related but separate field of agricultural communication has emerged to contribute to in-depth examinations of the communication processes among various actors within and external to the agricultural system. This field refers to the participatory extension model as a form of public relations-rooted two-way symmetric communication based on mutual respect, understanding, and influence between an organization and its stakeholders.
Agricultural communication can take three modes—face-to-face training, training "products" such as manuals and videos, or information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as radio and short message system (SMS). The most effective systems facilitate two-way communication and often combine different modes.
Any particular extension system can be described in terms of both how communication takes place and why it takes place. It is not the case that paternalistic systems are always persuasive, nor is it the case that participatory projects are necessarily educational. Instead there are four possible combinations, each of which represents a different extension paradigm, as follows:
There is some disagreement about whether or not the concept and name of 'extension' really encompasses all four paradigms. Some experts believe that the term should be restricted to persuasive approaches, while others believe it should only be used for educational activities. Paulo Freire has argued that the terms ‘extension’ and ‘participation’ are contradictory. There are philosophical reasons behind these disagreements. From a practical point of view, however, communication processes that conform to each of these four paradigms are currently being organized under the name of extension in one part of the world or another. Pragmatically, if not ideologically, all of these activities are considered to be represented in agricultural extension.
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