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close this book Agricultural extension
close this folder Research and planning
View the document Introduction
View the document Understanding people
View the document Community survey
View the document Agricultural survey
View the document Needs and resources survey
View the document Record keeping and planning

Understanding people


Self interest is the basis for all that a farmer does. The source of a farmer's motivation, whatever it may be in a given case, can be quite obscure to the extension worker. A farmer who seems to be strong, intelligent, financially secure, and aware enough to be successful may still cling to his timeworn practices rather than opt for something new that he perceives to be against his interests. Neither repeated contact with an extension agent nor weighty scientific evidence will change his mind. The farmer's personal concerns - his religion, his desire for material possessions that he feels can be more quickly had by other means - are foremost in his mind. As such they are of primary concern to extension workers.

An extension agent needs to learn what the people she lives with value and consider important. This understanding is at the heart of the two way communication process. Without it, the extensionist can gain no perspective on the appropriateness of the change she promotes. Nor can she determine what training methods are most suitable to local people's needs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the agent will be unable to empathize or even communicate effectively with her friends and neighbors.

To learn anything about a person's self-interest requires time and shared experience. It takes hours in hammocks and sweating over plow blades, eating from the same bowl and walking together in sadness in a funeral procession. The 'methods' used are informal, but the information gleaned is of crucial importance. The farming aspect of a villager's life, as was mentioned in Chapter One, is connected with all other aspects. Labor resources for farm work are also labor resources required by virtue of kinship and community ties to help maintain village roads and water supplies; money for improved livestock strains can just as easily become money for a niece's school fees. As an extension worker enters a community, then, and begins to make her initial social contacts, she should take note of the various special interests people display in order to better understand how to go about her work.


A case study of learning about self-interest:

Felicia had a special interest in serving the needs of the women farmers in her area. One of the agricultural tasks Felicia observed as primarily a woman's responsibility was grain drying. Hours each day were spent spreading grain on mats and concrete slabs where it was allowed to dry in the sun. Because chickens and free ranging goats often tried to eat the grain as it dried, someone had to constantly be on guard to shoo them away.

Felicia would often sit with her neighbors and talk as they watched their grain. She noticed that several of her neighbors occupied their grain drying hours by weaving mats. She asked the women if they were going to use the mats in their homes. Most replied that they intended to take their mats to a nearby market for sale. This they explained was the way that they were able to pay their children's school fees.

On closer inspection, Felicia discovered that school fees were a major concern of most of the women in town. She talked with women who made clay pots, women who dyed cloth and women who hired themselves out to help weed neighbors' fields and she found out that not only were school fees the sole financial responsibility of women family members, but that the fees at the local primary school had nearly doubled in the past two years. This information eventually led Felicia to concentrate her extension work on very small-scale, cash generating projects to help meet local women's needs.


A suggestive and partial list of small-farmer self-interests and motivation' (derived from Chapter One)

• Pride in individual accomplishments

• Filling a particular role in a family or community

• Obtaining special material possessions

• The sense of fulfillment in being able to use one's existing skills

• Maintaining ties to tradition

• Avoiding risk

• Developing new skills

• Reducing work load of existing tasks

• Overcoming feelings of impotence