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Antiquated or Adaptable?

The Small Farm Resource Center’s Current and Future Roles in Extension and Advisory Services in Southeast Asia

Abram Bicksler and Rick Burnette, ECHO Asia Impact Center; Ricky Bates, Penn State University

ECHO Asia conducted seven case studies on Small Farm Resource Centers in Southeast Asia and the synthesis report has been published as well. Follow the links to access each of the seven individual case studies:

The main author, Abram Bicksler, has had multiple opportunities to present the findings at international conferences and a journal publication is anticipated as well:

  • ECHO conference in Chiang Mai, October 2013. The presentation is available for download below or by clicking this link].


The Small Farm Resource Center (SFRC) is a research-extension tool that coordinates trials at a central site, as well on the fields of individual farmers, with the purpose of evaluating, within the community, ideas that have been proven el

Small Farm Resource Development

An Approach to Beginning or Enhancing an Agricultural Project

by Dr. Martin L. Price. 

ECHO Technical Note, Revised 2003

Available for download below
sewhere. Any new ideas, techniques, crops, or new varieties of a local crop may first be evaluated at the SFRC and promising ideas extended to local farmers with little risk. This adaptive research is done directly by the non-governmental agency (typically missions
organizations and other small institutions) and local farmers and extended to the community. 

Marks of an SFRC include: 
1) involves minimal risk to local farmers; 
2) employs innovative approaches; 
3) builds such confidence among stakeholders that resources are readily and organically adopted and adapted; 
4) extends resources that are readily (culturally) accepted; 
5) has a distinct focus group (geographic, ethnic, linguistic, etc.) with determined needs;
6) identifies and utilizes early adopters and positive deviants; 
7) is not necessarily limited to agriculture, but may include other socio-environmental development foci such as: sanitation, citizenship, land access, etc.; 
8) places a priority on community-based services; 
9) is rooted in a local context; 
10) is often defined by organic growth, outreach, and adoption. 

The overall goal of the SFRC is that local farmers are encouraged to learn how to do their own testing of new ideas, adopt those successful technologies, and extend them to their fellow farmers to bolster community food security. 

South and Southeast Asia have a rich history of the SFRC meeting community needs for food security. Many of these were established as the outgrowth of missionary endeavors for outreach and extension based on the felt needs of a particular focus group. In 1912, Presbyterian missionary, Sam Higginbottom, in Allahabad, India, was training Indians in scientific methods of agriculture to improve rural livelihoods; his outreach and extension influenced Baptist missionary, Brayton Case, who in 1923, set up the Pyinmana Agriculture School in Burma, with the sole purpose of training and teaching agriculturists to return to their own villages to serve and improve livelihoods. These small “agriculture education centers” were the precursors to the SFRC’s. Since that time, many types of SFRC’s serving many different purposes have been established to meet the livelihood
needs of Asia’s poor. Their common thread is that they test, promote, and extend resources independently - but not exclusively - outside the typical governmental and academic extension and advisory role.


SFRC’s have played a strong role in strengthening the relevance and role of their sponsoring organizations (e.g. missions organizations). Although popular as an outreach and development tool from 1920-1980, the advent of PRA and farmer field schools stressed the importance of farmer-led extension, in turn causing many extension and development experts to question the role of traditional agricultural centers. Although many SFRC’s are still in existence, the benefit and efficacy of the SFRC’s on local livelihoods, however, has not often been measured or evaluated. This may be partially due to their multifarious foci, differences in extension techniques, their secondary role to other institutional priorities, lack of understanding or interest in extension best practices, and lack of institutional vision or sustainability.

There is a need to document, evaluate and empower existing SFRC’s as a useful research-extension tool in South and Southeast Asia operating outside the formal government/academic extension model. It is our perception that SFRC’s have a continued role to reach neglected segments of populations, particularly communities on the margins. In order to justify their continued existence, however, important questions about their efficacy need to be answered, such as: 
1) what is their capability to engage a particular focus group based on that group’s felt needs; 
2) what is their extension strategy and its ability to catalyze documentable and felt changes related to sustained improved
livelihood and food security; 
3) how adaptable to change are they in a rapidly developing Asia; and 
4) what can the SFRC do to amplify its extension impact?