[Follow link to view the the presentation on Development and Validation of Liberia’s National Policy for Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services. given by Dr. Vickie Sigman and Thomas Gbokie Jr. on May 21, 2013 at the AIAEE conference in Fort Worth, Texas]
The MEAS team also visited farms, County extension offices, as well as universities and training centers.
The mission aimed to identify the key issues within the pluralistic extension system in Liberia that will need to be addressed in order to develop a sustainable, farmer-led and market driven system of extension and advisory services. In addition, the mission identified specific recommended actions for consideration by the MOA and for possible future funding by USAID.
Extension in Liberia finds itself in a transition period as Liberia moves from the period of post-war relief and rehabilitation to an environment of development and growth. This has led to a number of issues, such as differing approaches for the distribution of inputs (i.e., free distribution versus development of input markets). The MOA is in the process of building County Extension Centers (CECs) consisting of offices, training centers, guest quarters, and an active demonstration farm in all 15 counties, though progress on establishing these CECs has been very limited, due to financial constraints. In the future, the MOA might consider developing smaller, district level extension centers (office/demonstration farms).
In terms of the public extension staff, the MOA faces the situation where well over half of the district agricultural officers (DAOs) are over 50 years old. Many of them require additional training in up-to-date technical and process (extension) skills if they are going to function effectively in an increasingly decentralized, farmer-led, market-driven extension system. MOA staff reported they had very limited resources available for the development and delivery of extension programs, including very limited funds for vehicles and motorcycles, especially monthly fuel costs. While free seeds are being provided through projects like the FAO (financed by the European Union), if and when these project funds are no longer available, these pluralistic advisory services, especially those supplied by NGOs, will be substantially reduced.
Additionally, while MOA staff use the terms “farmer led” and “farmer driven” about the public extension system, the extension leaders at the county and national levels within the MOA will need further assistance if they are to move toward implementing a more “farmer-driven” extension system. Presently, to the MEAS team’s knowledge, no “formal” County Extension Advisory or Steering Committees have been established to help shape and provide substantial input on extension programming. Additionally, the “market” orientation of extension workers at the current time is inadequate and steps must be taken to shift extension’s program focus and the delivery of extension services to become more “market driven,” especially for high-value crop, livestock, aquaculture and other products (e.g., mushrooms, honey). In terms of methodology, the MOA extension system would benefit from explicit utilization of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and related approaches in its move towards more farmer-led extension programming.
For example, identifying innovative farmers in each County and/or District could be a useful teaching tool to demonstrate the benefits of intensifying and/or diversifying the crop/livestock/ fisheries production systems. In short, innovative farmers could become effective peer trainers. Conducting PRAs is a useful tool to identify these farmers in each area and then to engage them either directly or indirectly in sharing information and management practices with other farmers.
Technical backstopping services for the field extension workers need to be expanded and improved. Links between the Department of Technical Services (DTS) and the Department of Research, Extension and Rural Development (DRERD) deserve greater attention. Likewise, the policy and coordinating role of the MOA, in terms of fostering a more consistent set of extension programming practices across the diverse group of service providers within Liberia’s pluralistic system has to be strengthened. MOA has an important role to play in developing and delivering extension programs and messages, including technical guidance, such as recommended practices, fact sheets, audio files, etc.
It is estimated that at least sixty (60) NGOs provide extension and advisory services in different counties and districts throughout Liberia. The MEAS team met with ten of these international NGOs and most of them have subcontracts with local NGOs who actually provide the direct advisory services to farmers. It should be noted that the MEAS team is concerned that some NGOs are following an unsustainable and flawed model of handing out free inputs and tools; thereby creating “farmer dependence” on these NGOs.
Instead of providing handouts, some international NGOs such as ACDI-VOCA and CARE, are following a different strategies in providing advisory services to farmers. In the case of ACDI-VOCA, their key is in organizing and linking farmers to exporters for key tree crops (e.g., cacao and oil palm) and then training them how to use this income to further diversify their farming systems in producing locally consumed, high-value products (vegetables, livestock and fish). ACDI-VOCA indicated that they were serving about 10,600 farmers in their LIFE project and an additional 1,000 farmers in ACE project. ACDI-VOCA, CARE and some of the other international NGOs have been actively organizing farmers into groups to share production practice knowledge and for marketing purposes. While many NGO managed extension related projects seem to be quite successful, they are costly and serve only a very limited number of farmers. A challenge for any kind of donor dependent and project based intervention is the long-term sustainability of the services provided by the NGO. Unfortunately the successful work of NGOs can result in a weakening of public sector extension services because the NGOs can often pay higher salaries and provide operational funds to their personnel, thus attracting some of the most competent staff away from the public extension system. One could argue whether the problem is that the NGOs pay too much or that the public sector pays too little. The concern is that too heavy dependence on NGOs may have a negative net effect on the pluralistic system as a whole and that the services provided by NGOs reach a very small number of farmers at a high cost per farmer.
Although the MEAS team did not have the opportunity to meet with BRAC, this development organization has built a strong reputation for effectively reducing poverty by empowering the poor to bring about change. BRAC uses an integrated approach of providing micro-credit, inputs and advisory services. BRAC has been operating in Liberia for only three years but has already organized 1,200 community groups involving 22,000 women farmers as well as rural women especially for off-farm, value-added activities. BRAC is not donor driven in that they are not as dependent upon the donor-project cycle as some other NGOs.
These recommendations are being made to help Liberia transition from an agricultural extension system that is primarily focused on relief and sectorial rehabilitation, to a pluralistic extension system with a solid core capacity within the MOA, that can both coordinate and deliver extension services that are more farmer-led and market-driven. These recommendations have three main thrusts: 1) capacity development and institutional strengthening of the MOA and its ability to both coordinate and deliver needed extension services; 2) strengthening the extension methodologies used throughout the pluralistic extension system, including participatory approaches (e.g., farmer-led), including Innovative Farmers (positive deviance approaches, asset-based agricultural development approaches); and, 3) strengthening of the extension education and training programs that better prepare extension workers to pursue a more farmer-led and market-driven approach to developing the agricultural sector in Liberia.
Farmer-led Extension Programming - Development of farmer advisory committees (FACs) at the county level would help determine priorities for extension services being provided within each county, and possibly even differentiating priorities by districts within each county. The committees would consist of 10 to 15 farm leaders, for example the heads of producer groups. At least one third of the members, ideally half of them, should be female. The FACs would meet monthly to help determine extension program priorities, as well as to monitor the performance of extension personnel in the county and its districts. Functional FACs will result in the extension system becoming more farmer-driven. By being involved in the setting of priorities, farmers will be involved in determining how resources are allocated within each county for program development and the delivery of advisory services.
The first step towards developing a farmer-led extension system is to train MOA extension officials and the county extension directors in how to establish these FACs at the country level. This could be done in a 2-3 day workshop, including the procedures for selecting and establishing these FACs and then in training these farm leaders about the role they will play in moving these FACs forward in a positive manner. After these county FACs are functioning, it would be useful for district extension workers to set up similar committees at the district level. Eventually, the heads of each district FAC would then serve on the county FAC. This would ensure a more “bottom-up” farmer driven extension system.
Development of County and District Level Demonstration Plots/Farms - As explained in this report about our assessment of the Margibi County Extension Office, we strongly recommend that the MOA develop both Extension Training Centers and effective Demonstration Farms at the County level. Eventually, these demonstration farms could also be established at the District level. Based on the feedback and approval of the FAC, these demonstration farms should showcase the recommended production practices and farming systems that are being recommended within each county and/or district. If properly managed, these demonstration farms could become revenue generating units for the County Extension Office. Furthermore, as farmers get organized into producer groups, they could use the County Extension Office (and farm) as the collection point for livestock as well as for gathering, packaging and marketing high-value crops throughout the county and the Monrovia market.
Capacity Development and Training of MOA Extension Personnel - A series of in-service training activities is needed to up-date the skills and knowledge of the current extension workers. These in-service training courses should focus on a) extension methods and process skills (e.g., participatory extension methods like PRA), b) how to organize producer groups and link them to available markets, so these farmers can successfully market their agricultural products and c) specific technical training on crop/livestock/fishery management practices, especially for those new crop and livestock systems that need to be introduced into the different counties across Liberia. Subsequently, some of the younger, more competent extension personnel with diplomas should be selected to continue their education and earn B.Sc. degrees in agricultural extension.
One or more of the Liberian universities could be selected to carry out this in-service training for the current county and district extension staff. Course and curriculum development could be done in collaboration with the MEAS project. MEAS is already putting together training modules on a range of topics that can be made available to the Liberian partners. Together the material can be adapted to the local needs and delivered in formats that are suited either for workshops for full-time staff or integrated into the universities on-going agricultural extension degree program. In terms of educational assets to build upon, the University of Liberia (UL) has an Agricultural Extension Department. Athough at the present time UL does not appear to deliver a functioning program in extension education, they do have faculty who could teach in this program. Cuttington University (CU) has a functioning agricultural development oriented program, and it could also serve as a place to deliver in-service training for MOA Extension personnel. These training activities could be shared between CU and UL and also disseminated to other colleges and training institutions such as the Booker T. Washington Institute. To initiate this process, it is suggested that the instructors who developed these different MEAS modules be sent to Liberia to conduct specific workshops for university, MOA and key county extension officials.
Establishing an Extension Communications Unit - Develop a small unit within the MOA to begin developing and distributing new extension materials (handouts, fact sheets, media products, including an on-line website that would include technical materials, videos and sound files), as well as other educational materials that could be used by both the public extension staff and other advisory service providers (e.g., private sector and NGOs) in Liberia. One of the first tasks would be to inventory improved techniques and practices observed in Liberia as well as those working in the region and applicable to Liberia. These techniques and practices can serve as a bank of content based on which the communications unit can develop and then disseminate extension materials. The unit should be positioned to assist in transforming research findings into useable extension messages that can be easily used by field extension staff and understood by all types of farmers. This communications unit should be prepared to conduct in-service training on how to use the material it develops. Possibly, this unit could assist MOA in strengthening the much needed monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of extension activities across Liberia
Internet Resource Website - It would be important to keep up-to-date technical, marketing and other needed information available on internet websites, so this information can be easily accessed by each County Extension Office (CEO), NGO service providers and to progressive farmers who eventually will have improved internet access. Two CEOs already have buildings and are now receiving computers from the FAO, but the internet is accessed primarily through telephone modems in these rural counties, so on-line access to this information is very slow. In a few years broadband wireless access may be more widespread.
Making “Tablets” Available to Field Extension Workers - With assistance from the extension communications unit the MOA should develop a “technical resource” website and then provide electronic tablets (e.g., iPads), which should include information on all approved and recommended crop, livestock, fisheries and other technologies and management practices. These tablets should be loaded with available information (both from the MOA and other countries within the region) and then distributed to both the county and district extension staff. In this way, they can then easily share this information and technical recommendations directly with farmers and farmer groups within their respective county or district. When Wi-Fi capacity is eventually expanded across Liberia, then these field extension staff could directly download all new technical and market information, either from the county extension office or directly using Wi-Fi.
Farm Radio - Farm Radio should be introduced to all different radio stations across Liberia. Presently CU has a farm radio program and this could be supported and built upon. The MOA could play a supporting role for farm radio, perhaps through the Extension Communications Unit, by producing content and facilitating a network of farm radio participating stations. Additionally, the MOA can use the Extension system and farmer groups to facilitate the identification and development of extension-related radio messages. In addition, as market information becomes more readily available, this information should be shared on a daily basis through Farm Radio broadcasts. Beyond MEAS resources, additional partners including possibly Farm Radio International and other organizations with farm radio expertise could be involved in the program to provide some training and support.
Capacity Development Using Emerging Innovative Farmers and Value-Chain Leaders - The District Agricultural Officers (DAOs) (and the County Agricultural Coordinators (CAC)/County Extension Office CEOs) should carry out a participatory rural appraisals (PRA) to identify innovative farmers within their respective district and county. The PRAs will help identify new production and market opportunities. (PRAs would also be used to identify priority agricultural problems within communities as well as locally feasible ways to address these problems.) Training extension staff in PRA methods would be necessary prior to launching this effort. The innovative farmers identified through the PRA could then be visited by the emerging leaders of different community and/or producer groups to learn more about how these new community groups might begin supplying specific markets,. They will also learn how the producer groups might need to adjust their practices for specific products, post-harvest processing and marketing activities. Graduates of the Songhai Agro-Enterprise Training Center (AETC) could play important, but different roles within these emerging value chains, so they too could become role models for others within the county to follow in terms of value-added processing.
Using Innovative Farmers for Peer Training with Identified Lead Farmers in Communities - Once identified through the PRA, it will be important to engage the innovative farmers to share their best farm management and marketing practices within their particular district and county. Through field visits and/or talks these innovative farmers can share their specific farm management practices with potential lead farmers in other villages, communities and districts. Also, some of these more promising “success stories” should be video-taped and then made available on-line and included on the “tablets” that will be made available and used in the field by these county and district extension workers.
Marketplace Literacy Curriculum and Implementation - An entrepreneurial market literacy program, which will engage and empower poor subsistence farmers (especially women farmers and landless rural women) to participate in the marketplace will result in mutually beneficial exchanges. Aimed at low-literate, low-income farmers through adult non-formal education methods that are active, engaging and practical. Marketplace literacy is not basic literacy but it refers to social skills, awareness of rights, and self-confidence to negotiate in the marketplace. This component could be expanded to include some support of adult literacy development.
Other Possible Recommendations for Consideration
Cash-on-Delivery within a specific County Extension Office or Pay for Extension Performance - Another option might be to work with MOA on the basis of a “performance plan” with some limited, up-front funds to strengthen a specific County’s extension program. These funds would be based on and paid re: the accomplishment of key milestones and tasks related to extension program development. Performance targets could include the number of farmer groups being organized and/or served; status of the county demonstration farms; the number of extension training events actually conducted and the level of farmer participation; and other observable and measurable outputs. Measurement could include reporting and direct observation, as well as a survey of farmers and other people within the County. This approach with an emphasis on performance and outcomes could take advantage of research conducted in the public health and education sectors in developing countries, where different methods have been employed to improve teacher or public health worker productivity (e.g., camera documentation of attendance, establishment of advisory committees, incentive payments based on productivity). Objectives of this effort would be to develop performance abilities and documented outputs as well as the MOA’s ability to deliver in a performance oriented context. Other contracting methods in the “pay for performance” area could be considered such as vouchers with farmers groups or other public/private linkages to build the capacity for more demand driven and performance oriented extension services.
Launching of Trained High Potential Farmers - Working with select universities and colleges (especially BWI and CU) to identify and then promote and help start skilled young farmers with high potential (from rural area, previous experience in farming, good performance in school and good basic writing and reading and analysis skills) into an agricultural business to serve as model farmers within specific districts and counties. If possible they should receive a parcel of land large enough to develop a commercial model farm and then receive the needed transitional support to develop and launch this model farm. This support would include access to low or no interest loans to allow them to purchase farming equipment, such as power tillers, rice dehullers and/or small-scale milling equipment, such as cassava processing equipment. They would be required to develop a farm business work plan to begin this program and then to develop their farm. In return for this support, they would have the opportunity and be expected to participate in teaching events (and receive a small honorarium) where they would teach about their farm and their agribusiness experience and commercial development. They would participate in a network of model farmers that would meet twice a year for training and network development.
Student Placements in Extension Programs being provided by the MOA and NGOs, as well as private sector extension programs for important tree crops (cacao, oil palm, etc.). To prepare potential extension workers for their forthcoming assignment, students should be assigned to work with progressive and effective extension workers, so they can learn how these field staff inform and train farmers and farmer groups on how to increase their productivity and incomes by producing more high-value crop and livestock products.
Curriculum Development on Effective Extension Methods, including the most effective ways of organizing sustainable producer groups and linking them to markets. All of these up-to-date and effective training materials should be shared with the UL (B.Sc. degree program in Agricultural Extension), CU and the BWI within Liberia.
Developing an Up-To-Date Agribusiness Program at CU and UL - This would allow additional training opportunities for future MOA staff (as well as upgrading skills for current MOA staff) to develop skills in agricultural business domains and strengthen their market orientation.
Private Sector Extension Matching Fund and Grower Training Network - Tree crops, especially rubber, but also cocoa, coffee, and oil palm, are important both to small-holder growers, private sector firms, and to the national economy of Liberia. In order to encourage and strengthen private sector efforts with small-holders to improve the quality and productivity of production outreach efforts would be beneficial. Outreach efforts by firms can also address issues beyond the specific tree crop in question, as most small-scale growers also produce other crops. A network of private sector outreach programs would be developed in order to share approaches and information. A small-grant facility could be established so that private company funds can be leveraged for outreach educational efforts with outgrowers.