Providing knowledge and support to the people who need it
Access to information and new ideas to improve agriculture practice is important for small scale farmers. Practical Action not only trains farmer groups directly in a range of technologies, but community extensionists are also trained to provide advice and support services on an ongoing basis beyond the life of any project. Many hundreds of extensionists have been trained across Kenya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Nepal and Peru.
Community based extension works by training community representatives to support farmers with advice, services and inputs on an ongoing basis. Extensionists are trained on animal health, agriculture, fisheries or horticulture. They can then provide advice on animal, crop or fisheries management, give services such as vaccinations or training, and sell inputs such as medicines, seeds, fish fry, etc. They can also help to scale up skills and technologies where projects can only reach a limited number of people directly.
Building links between these extensionists and government extension departments and private input suppliers is important so that they can update their skills and buy inputs. Community extensionists earn an income from charging for their services or making some profit on the inputs they sell.
In some places Government services rarely reach the community level as they are too short staffed and lacking in resources. Therefore, community extension is a cost effective and successful approach which government and other NGOs could replicate.
Fozlur Rahman was trained by Practical Action in vegetable seed and seedling production. Before the project, few people in the project communities were growing vegetables, and therefore they either had to spend scarce cash on buying them or do without. Practical Action promoted vegetable production in order to directly improve people’s diet as well as giving them an additional source of income through sale of any excess. To ensure that good quality seed was available in communities, the project also trained families to produce and supply this seed, as well as to provide advice on vegetable growing.
“In one month at least 20 people might come to me for advice, for seeds or for seedlings. This number can be more in peak season. I give advice on transplanting seedlings, appropriate spacing, how to prevent pest infestations and how to apply fertilizer correctly,” says Fozlur.
The impact of his new skills on his livelihood has been significant. In 1998 his house was just one simple mud and thatch building but now it is two tin buildings. Local Practical Action staff noted that he is much less thin now and has grown a beard which is a sign of doing well. His daughter is also studying in higher education.
Halima Begum was trained as a poultry vaccinator in 2000. She received 5 days training and contributed 50% of the costs to receive a vaccinators kit. Initially Halima was afraid to do the injections – she thought the hens might die! But fortunately none did so her confidence grew.
For vaccination she used to charge one taka per hen on top of the cost of the vaccine itself but now she charges 2 taka. So her monthly income has doubled from 500 to 1000 taka per month on average.
Halima has reinvested her earnings into her own poultry production, in a small shop where she sells chickens and groceries, and in having a better track constructed from the main road to her home. She also eats more fish and vegetables now than she did before, but does not like to eat chicken!
Akas Ali was just 20 years old when he trained as a fisheries extensionist. Now he is 28 and he has a thriving business. Alongside providing technical advice, he produces fish for consumption and sale, has a fish nursery and sells fish seed. He has around 50 customers: 30 local farmers and 20 mobile fish seed traders. He only charges his customers for inputs and services – all advice is given for free.
“I think I was selected for training because me and another friend were a bit more influential among the youth and had already taken the initiative to rent a pond. I was interested because I heard that fisheries had more potential for money making,” Akas told us.
Akas is certainly entrepreneurial. He is providing services to three other villages beyond his own. From sales and advice he has expanded into arranging catch and marketing for other fish farmers and employs around 4 or 5 people to do the catch for him. He also works 10 ponds: 6 of his own and 4 shared. “I work hard but I like earning money!”
Gita Das has been providing a breeding buck service for 22 years. It was a family tradition, but the quality of her animals had declined over time. Practical Action aimed to enhance the quality and productivity of goats in the area through training people in improved breeding buck rearing.
Gita received 5 days of formal training, then informal support from Practical Action and through links she developed with the government livestock officer. On completion of the training she was given 2 small pure breed bucks (Black Bengal) with a value of 5,000 taka of which she paid back 3,000 taka in 2 instalments.
Now she has a third buck (pictured) which she bought herself from a private supplier and is worth 12,000 taka. “I bought this new animal because it is more popular with some rich farmer clients due to the fact that it gives larger offspring. I am able to charge a higher rate for its service. However, I generally prefer the Black Bengal goat as it is a local breed, better suited to the local environment."
As well as rearing breeding bucks and providing a breeding service Gita has also been rearing goats for milk and meat for around five 5 years. Her average monthly earning from these three sources is around 300 taka of which she spends 100 taka on feed. Her husband is mentally ill so she is the sole provider in her household. However, now she feels confident she can provide for her family of seven.
By building technical capabilities Practical Action enables small scale producers to access appropriate technologies by building on local knowledge to strengthen existing technologies and helping farmers to access and adapt introduced technologies through a process of Participatory Technology Dev...Read more
Participatory Extension Approaches (PEA) in Zimbabwe
This booklet provides practical guidelines to field workers and development practitioners who are involved in both agriculture and other development initiatives with resource poor communities who are keen to improve their participatory development skills for increasing access to services.