Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) has been identified as an alternative that can increase agricultural productivity in the region, while at the same time mitigating the multiple effects of climate change. Gradually the approach of CSA is gaining ground in the agricultural sector in Africa. This consequently places enormous demands on extension services which have a crucial role to play in promoting agricultural innovation to keep pace with the changing context. It is therefore important to explore to what extent extension services are used to improve the implementation of CSA across West African countries.
Key facts on agricultural extension services
In developing countries, most of the extension services are carried out by public institutes. However, the private sector and civil society organizations are playing an increasingly important role in carrying out speciﬁc extension/advisory services because most public extension systems are still top-down in structure. Information, knowledge and skills for climate smart agriculture are delivered through three extension methods: mass communication methods, individuals methods and group methods. For each method, different tools and approaches have been used. This could involve technologies such as radio, podcasts, mobile phones and video programmes as well as the ways in which new knowledge and skills are shared with farmers as model farmers, farmer field schools, village information centres or question-and-answer services.
Many approaches such as the market day approach, the teacher-student approach, field school approach in Burkina Faso, the village level participatory approach (VLPA) in Benin, adaptation (modification) for adoption in Nigeria, radio, TV have been used to promote agricultural development. Some of these extension services have focused on information provision and training of farmers. In West Africa, one of the common approaches is Farmer Field School (FFS). It is a participatory method of technology development and dissemination whereby farmers are given the opportunity to make a choice in the methods of production through discovery based approach based on adult learning principles and experiential learning (FAO, 2001). It reflects the four elements of experiential learning cycle, namely: concrete experience, observation and reflection, generalization and abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.
This approach challenges farmers to learn how to organize themselves and their communities. Then, the farmers are sensitized in new ways of thinking and solving problems. Through participation in FFS, farmers develop skills that allow them to continually analyse their own situation and adapt to changing circumstances (Madukwe, 2006). Farmer field schools is seen to by a good approach which tend to be participatory and demand-led; and in other words is ideal to sensitize smallholder farmer to include climate factors in production; to promote the economic value of agriculture to the youngs; to improve local practices to use seeds that adapt to climate variation and others.
In the other side, mobile phone, radio and TV are a powerful communication tool. Experience with mobile phone, rural radio and TV have shown the potential for agricultural extension to benefit from both the reach and the relevance that local broadcasting can achieve by using participatory communication approaches (Chapman et al., 2013). Mobile phone as well as rural radio can be used to improve the sharing of agricultural information by remote rural farming communities. Video is effective as training method for providing information and knowledge on complex technical topics for farmers. Video, which combines both visual and verbal communication methods, appears to be an appropriate extension tool for less developed countries as this medium is suited for the transmission of skills, information and knowledge (David & Asamoah, 2011). However, video has been underutilized in Africa as a tool for disseminating technical agricultural information to farmers.
Challenges and perspectives
Africa needs to harness opportunities arising from South-South cooperation and regional integration in fostering partnerships and building capacity in CSA. The dominant top-down ‘transfer of technology’ model has largely excluded farmers from the development and dissemination of new technologies and led to low adoption of CSA technologies. The main challenges facing CSA in terms of dissemination of farming technologies are perception that the technology is expensive to adopt, training of extension agents, unwillingness of farmers to accept the technology, inadequate funding, high illiteracy levels among farmer, incompatibility of the technology and/or the extension officers with cultural beliefs including female farmers, inadequate and inexperienced extension workers, limited farmer participation and the gender dimension. In addition, lack of adequate knowledge on farm management skills like correct land preparation, timely planting, pest and diseases and their control, timely weed control to bypass the critical period of weed competition, knowledge on nutrient deficiency symptoms and how to correct them and keeping farm records are some of the constraints face by farmers in adopting new technologies related to CSA practices. An inclusive approach to CSA is needed, one that both empowers women and generally reflects differing gender roles, and deliberately aims to involve Africa’s rural youth. An ‘innovation system’ approach should be taken that encompasses not only the introduction of new technologies, but also organizational and behavioural changes.
Source: Kénou C. 2016. Overview of interesting extension services for climate smart agriculture in West Africa. In Sala S, Rossi F, David S. (Eds) Supporting agricultural extension towards Climate-Smart Agriculture: An overview of existing tools. Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GASCA)/FAO, Italy, p. 28-30.