| Agricultural extension |
|Research and planning|
Extension agents do their farmer clients a great disservice when they fail to keep adequate records of their work. Development efforts overlap, mistakes are repeated and useful insights and expertise are lost when the daily affairs of an extension station are not recorded.
Documenting extension work in an area serves several purposes simultaneously. It helps the extension agent organize his own work. It allows the agent to more closely monitor the needs of individual farmers. It sets up an information bank for use by the community at large. And it aids development agencies such as the Peace Corps and ministries of agriculture in evaluating and learning from past extension efforts. Ongoing extension services can also be conducted with a greater degree of continuity.
The recording of information proceeds in stages. Initially, information is recorded in narrative form, and the purpose of writing things down is to simply help remember them at another time. After sufficient raw information has been gathered, a more systematic ordering of information can take place. Practical lists and information summaries emerge -- farmers who have already purchased grade cattle, places where tools can be bought at the least inexpensive price, tasks to be accomplished in the upcoming month -- which help the extension agent use the research he has done in planning his work.
Planning takes place when the extension agent sits down with farmers, village leaders, counterparts and ministry and project officials to try and determine ways in which the needs of a community can be linked with appropriate resources to solve problems. Problems are prioritized and various alternatives for solutions are considered. Decisions are made as to who will take responsibility for what tasks, and how and when the tasks will be completed. Chapter Six includes a further discussion-of planning as a management skill. The point to be made here is that planning proceeds directly out of a lengthy information gathering and recording process designed to maximize the amount of local input into decisions affecting local people.
The format for recording information so that it can be readily used in planning depends in part upon the work style of the extension worker himself, in part upon the type of information being recorded, and in part upon the need to keep information accessible to the people who will eventually use it. A pocket-size field notebook can be used for jotting down brief entries on farm visits. A work log or diary expands upon notes from the field to provide a history of work in a particular station. Charts, graphs and timelines can be efficient means of preserving large bodies of factual data. Inventory sheets and financial accounts are essential to the effective management of storage facilities. Periodic formal reports extend information from a local station to a more centralized headquarters and constitute a key link in the two-way communication chain. Finally, maps and diagrams can be used to represent information in visual form. All of these formats can aid the planning process at different stages.
A comparison of recordkeeping formats used in an irrigated rice
Went to the town assembly leader early a.m. to ask about the farmer meeting in Yillah swamp. He said it would still take place. No one showed, but I did a rough sketch of the dam we want to repair.
Went to Sanga swamp with Samuel. Saw the area Foday Sanusie wants to develop this dry season. About 2/3 of an acre. Requires a new biforcation of the irrigation ditch. Ditch needed to be cleared and widened before biforcation will be possible. Appears to be some problem with iron toxic soil. Advised farmers to burn rice straw rather than plow it under. Promised Foday I would come survey for him as soon as my equipment was available.
Visited Brimah Kaaha's section of the swamp. He is the first to plant his dry season crop; his plots are unlevel, iron toxic; no water on higher plots; bad weeds and brown spot throughout. Samuel informed me that Brimah is spending a great deal of time working in his banana plantation these days."
Annual Report (year's end; excerpts from recommendations for upcoming planting season):
1. Widen and deepen drain all the way down.
2. Widen and deepen irrigation ditches all the way down.
3. Consider dividing larger plots into smaller, better levelled sections to improve weed control.
4. Survey, peg and construct new upland vegetable plots.
5. Repair leaks in main drain head gate.
6. Continue promoting vegetable, tree crops and upland rice cultivation near the swamp.
1. Repair sluice gate and raise head bank.
2. Investigate the possibility of working with head farmers on demonstration plots for nursing and transplanting techniques.
3. Repair bush path crossing the swamp on one of the interior bunds.
(The exerpts from the Field Notebook, Work Log and Annual Report are included to show how information is first gathered and recorded in narrative form and later re-combined in a more useful format. The Annual Report serves simultaneously to help the extension agent organize his plans for the upcoming planting season and to inform the ministry's program officers of the progress made and problems faced in the agent's site.)
Case study of usefulness of records in maintaining continuity from one extension worker to the next:
Maria arrived at her Peace Corps placement after the volunteer who preceded her had already left the country to return home. She found waiting for her a stack of papers and notebooks with a hand written note from her predecessor welcoming her and describing what types of information the various records contained.
Over the course of the next several weeks, Maria found many uses for these documents. First, there were maps of the community that helped her find her way around. One that was particularly useful marked the locations of the houses of the most significant community officials, farm cooperative leaders and demonstration farmers. Second, there is a chart of the Ministry of Agriculture hierarchy extending from her field assistants to her district supervisor that helped her remember people's names and responsibilities. Third, she found a record of the rental agreement established between the landlord who owned the town's ag storage facility and the Ministry that paid the rent. Fourth, her predecessor had kept a daily work log which gave Maria an idea of what farmers might expect of her based on their previous experience with Peace Corps extension agents. Fifth, there was a set of recommendations for ongoing work in the station that detailed some of the difficulties one group of farmers had experienced the previous year. Finally, there was a list of all the project farmers' names including a full accounting of their loan obligations to the Ministry store.
The chief value of the records from Maria's perspective was that they saved her from duplicating hours of time and energy in gathering information about her site. The value of the records to farmers lay in the way they influenced Maria to go about her work with an eye towards maintaining some continuity with what had gone before.
Suggested format for recording a farm visit:
Location of farm:
Purpose of visit:
Commitments (by farmer or agent) for follow-up:
Partial list of record keeping formats for field stations:
• Field notebook (pocket size)
• Work log or diary (narrative)
• Maps and diagrams
• Inventory sheets (for storage)
• Financial records (facilities)
• Copies of reports to Ministry and project supervisors
• Copies of official correspondence
A caution: Records are kept for a purpose; it is important that this purpose remain clear so that valuable time is not lost that could be devoted to other tasks, and recordkeeping is not misunderstood.
For other TOOLS pertaining more directly to planning, see Chapter Six.