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close this book Agricultural extension
close this folder Providing agricultural support services
close this folder Direct services
View the document Testing recommendations
View the document Administering credit
View the document Selecting and producing seed
View the document Providing farm inputs
View the document Surveying agricultural land
View the document Providing storage
View the document Marketing agricultural products

Providing farm inputs


Beyond credit, locally-adapted practices and adequate seed, there are other outside inputs to which small-scale farmers do not have ready access. The extensionis may help farmers directly by providing such inputs when needed. These inputs may include:

• labor, equipment or machinery

• tools

• manures, lime and other organic soil treatments

• manufactured or inorganic fertilizers

• pesticides, herbicides, and other ag chemicals

• storage containers

• any other items necessary for production, harvest and processing of ag products.

Through thorough research and planning (see Chapter Two), the extensionist and farmers determine which crops or livestock should be raised and generally which practices to employ. The extensionist makes sure any recommended crops or livestock practices are thoroughly tested under local conditions. Then, based on farmer interests and recommendations, farmers choose the practices and crops/livestock that seem best for them. At this point the farmers and extensionist assess the need for various specific inputs to their farm enterprises.

Determining what inputs are needed involves, first, an assessment of the specific problems each crop or animal enterprise entails. Then the extensionist and farmer can list various inputs to solve each "specific problem". Finally, the farmer can choose the most appropriate input for the job.

For example, in order to raise okra, a farmer must weed her plot on several well-timed occasions. (See ILLUSTRATION for an example of this process). She will probably choose the most convenient and familiar, cost/beneficial weeding inputs, in this case mulch and one locally-made hoe.

It is extremely important that the extensionist and farmer weigh the appropriateness of any input employed in the farm enterprise. (See TOOLS for "Guidelines for the Selection of Appropriate Inputs" and Chapter Six, MANAGEMENT, "Planning", TOOLS for "Guidelines for Selecting Appropriate Resources"). Appropriate in this case means useful to the small-scale farmer. The choice of an appropriate input involves much more than the technical solution to a problem. The independent choice of several inputs for a production project on purely technical grounds can add up to a gross disservice to other farmer interests and needs.

For example, using pesticides in an irrigated rice field upstream from a drinking or washing hole is not appropriate, even though it may solve the immediate insect problem successfully. Friday afternoon work companies to prepare land for planting are not appropriate in a Muslim village where worship is held on Friday afternoon, even if they are the best local form of communal labor. Choosing inputs involves the spectrum of farm and village interests.

Procurement involves these steps: identifying the sources of inputs, ordering the materials or making sure the materials are available, arranging for payment and transportation, purchasing and transporting the inputs and storing and distributing them. Logistics are often difficult where roads, communications, networks and transportation systems are new and incomplete. It is therefore necessary to plan and carry out procurement steps in a rigorous way. See Chapter Six, MANAGEMENT "Planning" and "Carrying Out Plans" for TOOLS to procure inputs.

Distribution of inputs should be orderly, efficient, culturally appropriate and well-documented. The more inputs to be distributed, the more formality is necessary. (Chapter Six, MANAGEMENT, provides TOOLS for the formal 'management' accomplishment of tasks like distribution of inputs.

"Fairness" is often an issue which arises when inputs like tools or fertilizer are being distributed. "Fairness" is culturally-defined, however, and is rarely the same to an American and a Costa Rican or Kenyan person. For example, an American extensionist may receive a partial shipment of vegetable seed in response to an order through the agriculture ministry. Since there is not enough to fill every farmer's specific order, the extensionist may decide to equally divide the seed among all farmers to be "fair". The local chief may be very upset to know he is to receive as much as his neighbor, an ordinary village person. To the chief, "fair" means according to local custom, by which the chief is accorded more out of respect. The orderly and efficient distribution of inputs must be culturally attuned or it will cause misunderstandings and create serious mistrust.

Some inputs may be borrowed instead of purchased. These may be treated like credit in terms of assessing cost, terms and cost/benefit. Keeping careful records of equipment, machinery or input loans is imperative. Signed or witnessed agreements, according to local custom, help sort out terms when return or payment is due. Borrowed inputs must be monitored carefully and cared for according to agree-upon terms.

In situations where support services are new, the provision of inputs is of tremendous importance but also is a tremendous source of power. If an extensionist is the only person in a village with real access to the inputs which village farmers need in order to realize profitable yields, the extensionist's power is apparent. When inputs are procured and stored through the extensionist and they must be distributed by him, he holds another kind of power. If the inputs are to be procured through him, the extensionist can even reserve the power to choose which input to get. This is the power of doing things for people.

In situations where ag support has not reached small-scale farmers, the power to help this way is often a challenge worth the risk of dependence. It is important for the extensionist to understand that he can only accept this responsibility provisionally, however, even though at first it may be vital to bring resources to the aid of small-scale farmers in this way. Accepting responsibility to be a source of inputs to village farmers, the extensionist must always keep in mind the needs, interests and goals of farmers, and help to meet them. In the case of farmers who wish to use harmful and dangerous pesticides on their crops, for example, the extensionist must weigh carefully his personal conviction to say no against his respect for the opinions of his farmer friends. There is no formula for this sort of decision-making, but it is of paramount importance that the extensionist use his 'power to provide' with great care and consideration. (See Chapter Six, "Evaluation", Chapter Five, ORGANIZING COOPERATIVE ACTIVITY; and this Chapter, "Indirect Service").

Fertilizer and Pesticide Use:

It is imperative that etensionists promoting the use of any manufactured fertilizer or pesticide consider the issues involved in their use. Much has been written about "organic" versus "inorganic" agricultural practices. Extension workers are asked to clarify their own opinions and values with regard to these issues, and to work with farmers focussing as far as possible on the wishes of farmer/clients. Where an extensionist disagrees with a farmer over "chemical" use, the extensionist should provide information (technical knowledge) to help the farmer make her own choice. Right and wrong are personal viewpoints in this matter. Farmers have a right to their choice. Extension workers also must exercise thoughtful personal choice.


Choosing Inputs

A farmer is going to grow okra using a new variety and locally-adapted practices suggested by the local extension agent. The extension agent discusses this project with the farmer after they agree on the practices and variety. A "specific problem" the farmer must cope with is WELL-TIMED WEEDING. The farmer and extension worker devise a list of possible inputs to help solve the weeding problem:

• family members and friends, by hand.

• family members and hoes.

• family members by hand (longer hours).

• mulching and some weeding by family.

• herbicide by local agent and farmer (backpack sprayer).

They discuss the choices. The herbicide is too dangerous and too expensive to use in this situation. Weeding by hand will take too long, especially since family and friends cannot meet at the same time. Hoes sound good, but they will cost a small amount, care of the local blacksmith. Mulch is readily available, bus is not the best sole solution.

The farmer and extensionist agree that the best solution is to mulch the okra garden and purchase one hoe to weed when needed.


1. Guidelines for Choosing Appropriate Inputs

Useful inputs are:

• culturally appropriate

• in agreement with farmer interests

• familiar to or easily learned by farmer

• technically beneficial

• not economically risky (cost/beneficial)

• locally available or within easy access

2. For managing procurement sorties, see Chapter Six, MANAGEMENT, "Planning", TOOLS.

3. For using fertilizer and other soil additives like organic manure or compost, see I.C.E. manual R8 (1980) SOIL, CROPS & FERTILIZER USE

4. Distribution Record Chart (illustration)







Miki sold

$1.00 paid




due 5/18












due 5/19










10 hoes

Jo and work

due 5/20


10 shovels





Agricultural math aids:

a. See I.C.E. manual R4 Agricultural Mathematics for Volunteers

b. See I.C.E. manual TRADITIONAL FIELD CROPS, Appendices, for

• How to Conduct an Elementary Statistical Analysis

• How to Convert Small Plot Yields

• Measurements and Conversions

c. See the same manual, page 143 and following to see

• Determining Fertilizer Needs

• Basic Guidelines for Applying Chemical Fertilizers

d. Consult local ag suppliers farmers or research stations for guidelines on seeding rates, feed rations, etc.


Ag Chemical Safety Information:

Refer to I.C.E. Traditional Field Crops M13 or

Pesticide Safety Packet P4.