Services‎ > ‎Case Studies‎ > ‎

The role of NGOs in Agricultural Extension Post Conflict

Tom Remington, Stephen Walsh, Aaron Chassy (Catholic Relief Services)

Introduction & Justification

Violent conflicts, whether military (inter-state) or civil (non-state or state-society), have had a devastating impact on agriculture across Africa.  The combination of market inefficiencies or collapse, a significantly compromised agricultural research capacity, and a disintegrated or collapsed public sector extension has the cumulative effect of limiting farmer access to and use of input & output markets and new technologies in production and processing. Ultimately, agricultural production stagnates or declines.

In a post conflict environment, there is an urgent need for rapid agricultural recovery to reestablish food security, reduce the need for costly food assistance, give people hope, and preserve a fragile peace.  Donors turn to NGOs because they establish a presence rapidly, are flexible and responsive, tend to operate in an apolitical and objective manner, and can be held accountable.

Though perhaps not explicitly stated, NGO agricultural relief & recovery interventions are seen as a transition to a reestablished public sector extension system.  In principle, this transition phase is a first step in a sequence of response, rehabilitation, and reconstruction.   Unfortunately, there is typically no strategy for this transition and often tensions arise between the NGOs and the recovering public sector extension service. 

In a post conflict environment, the state may be less focused on achieving reconstruction and development goals, and more focused on self-preservation and securing political and administrative stability. This may manifest in reinforcing clientelism, an asymmetric but mutually beneficial and non-pluralistic relationship of power and exchange where those in control – the patrons – provide selective access to goods and opportunities which is conditioned on subordination, compliance, or the goodwill of others.  

NGO’s  and Agricultural Extension

The acronym NGO tells us very little besides what it is not – not governmental. This means that an NGO can be a church group, a village association, a small community-based organization, a lobby group that does advocacy work, a national apex organization of farmer groups, a national non-profit organization, a large multi-sectoral relief and development organization, or any combination of these.  Operating where governments may be autocratic or where civic organizations and civil society may have a limited sphere of influence, or where small holder farmers may have little voice on strategic research and policy decisions pertaining to agriculture, the advocacy and community empowerment efforts of NGOs are likely to have positive spill-over effect in terms of generating institutional pluralism and building democratic processes.  

Clarifying these intended and desirable ‘spill-over effects’ within unique post-conflict environments and extension systems is critical. A starting point should be a diagnosis of both the post conflict environment and the extension system itself. The aim should be to understand the needs and the opportunities, based ideally upon a strategy for a pluralistic extension system which has buy-in from government and civil society, recognizing that they may hold competing visions and differing interests. Furthermore, the role of NGOs in post conflict agricultural extension and specifically how to strengthen and sustain a pluralistic system should be defined to reflect this diagnosis.

 NGO’s themselves can be broadly characterized by the following challenges:

1.       Strong capacity in Emergency – Weak capacity in Extension

2.        Interventions are often short term and project based and oriented to input delivery (direct and free distribution of nonfood goods, i.e.  seeds & tools, and services (training).

3.       NGO extension tends towards an expensive ‘full service’ approach, reaching relatively few farmers in an approach that is neither scalable nor sustainable.

4.       No overarching extension vision, strategy or approach

5.       Competitive rather than collaborative operating environment

6.       Reluctance or genuine ignorance on how to support the public sector, and nascent private sector, extension  to recover and how to hand over responsibilities in this process.

7.       Effective monitoring & evaluation and learning systems are often missing, leading to a reluctance to adapt and change and ultimately an under leveraging of the wider extension system.   

These seven challenges will be addressed in the case study – from the perspective of an NGO with experience in agricultural recovery. Though written from the perspective of a practitioner NGO, the study will also explicitly address the challenges from the public and private sector as well.


CRS proposes to study the current public-private-NGO extension approach in four ‘paired’ recovery countries where we were active in agriculture during the conflict and throughout the post-conflict recovery period until the present:

·         Liberia & Sierra Leone

·         South Sudan & northern Uganda

In each country, the pre-conflict and current post-conflict extension system will be described and its strengths and weaknesses discussed.  This will include the trends that were occurring until the onset of the violent conflict and the impact of the conflict on the existing extension system.  The extension strategy in recovery will be described and the strengths and opportunities of the different actors (public, private, NGO) to work together will be identified and highlighted.  These four country case studies will inform an overall conclusion that compares and contrasts approaches, including recommendations for improving the effectiveness and sustainability of post conflict pluralistic extension systems.

Study Team

This study will be led by Tom Remington.  Stephen Walsh will lead the S Sudan and Uganda studies and Jules Keane will lead the Sierra Leone and Liberia cases. This will start on June 1, 2012 and conclude on September 15, 2012.

This study will be closely coordinated with a companion study led by Paul McNamara that looks at the role of extension in conflict and peacebuilding.  This will be done by including Tom Bamat and Aaron Chassy, CRS advisors for peace-building and governance, on the study advisory team.  In addition, there will be a shared study protocol, bimonthly communications, and the sharing of learning as this occurs. And, lastly, there will be a joint workshop and conference event in DC or some other location after the studies are completed.