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close this book Agricultural extension
close this folder Organizing cooperative activity
View the document Introduction
View the document Assessing self-interest and problems
View the document Defining issues and tasks
View the document Clarifying roles and responsibility
View the document Meetings
View the document Group dynamics
View the document Training leaders
View the document Forming associations


Extension work can help farmers participate more competently in the process of change in various ways. By providing indirect service, extensionists help farmers link up directly with supportive resources. Through farmer training, farmers learn new skills, knowledge and practices in order to increase their agricultural options.

Organizing cooperative activity, on the other hand, can help farmers on a different level:

• Cooperation is a form of capital farmers do not normally have alone, with which they can address bigger or more complex problems and gain access to a wider range of supportive services.

• Cooperative activity (especially formalized cooperation) institutionalizes changes (new skills and access to new resources) in the form of work companies, pre-cooperatives, co-operatives, etc.

Access to ag support services


Cooperative activity concentrates and focuses the most readily available and useful resource each small farmer has - personal skills and resources. Cooperation transforms the personal resources of each person into powerful tools for change and growth. The process of cooperating can transform the people themselves too. Because extension workers wish to help small-scale farmers solve practical problems and grow as people, organizing cooperative activity is a most important skill.

Organizing cooperative activity must be done with great respect for local institutions, customs and cultural norms. Cooperative activities can affect the local balance of influence and authority. The decision to organize should be made by local people themselves for their own purposes. Small-scale farmers can find themselves exerting new-found influence on local events when engaged in organized cooperation. As the most numerous producers in the agrarian economics of developing countries, small-scale farmers need to participate actively in local ag development and change. It must be done sensitively, however.

Institutionalizing change is a very slow process. Appropriate levels of cooperation are planned for various stages of development. At all times, extensionists strive to organize farmers in order to develop collective problem-solving ability, a long-term goal.

There is a wide range of cooperative activity which farmers share. They vary from informal endeavors between family members or friends to formal institutions involving many farmers. A list of the common kinds of informal and formal cooperation among small-scale farmers includes:


sharing a shovel


working together on each other's farms


sharing water rights


joining a seasonal work company


renting a truck together to market a crop


renting and stocking a storage building


joining a dues-collecting farmers' co-operative


Any group of people engaged in cooperative activity goes through a process of group growth. (In Chapter Five, under "Forming Associations" there is a TOOL describing the stages of group growth in detail).

When extensionists organize cooperative activities, they must understand and guide this process. Extensionists can tell the difference between a collection of individuals, a group and an organization. Each has a specific purpose, requires an unique level of cooperation among farmers, and calls upon a special skill on the part of the organizer. Managing group dynamics is an important part of organizing cooperative activities.

Organizing must be distinguished from both "facilitating" (providing indirect service) and management (planning, carrying out and evaluating work). Facilitating is linking farmers and resources directly -- solving problems. Organizing, on the other hand, has two purposes, -- creating capital and insitutionalizinq change. The avowed goal is to create something which lasts. at farmers do with it is up to them.

Bringing farmers together, an extensionist must employ several skills underlined below: In order to understand the collection of individuals who seek to cooperate, the extensionist must assess "self-interests" and local problems. When these interests and problems are analyzed, leaders and the extensionist can define unifying or common issues, to act upon cooperatively. The issues must then be transformed into cooperative tasks which farmers agree to do together Once it becomes clear what needs to be done, the extensionist helps farmers define roles and agree on responsibilities so each task will be done.

In order to discuss these issues and decide how to act, the extensionist develops skill in planning and carrying out meetings and managing group dynamics. So that local people learn organizing skills, an effort is made to train leaders throughout. If the opportunity presents itself, an extensionist may help farmers form associations or co-operatives, the ultimate goal of organizing.

In order to initiate cooperative activity which is not dependent on the organizers, the extensionist's role must be clearly defined and strictly limited. Organizing is a very strict and disciplined form of helping. The extensionist must never make a decision for participating farmers and insistently return the responsibility for each task to the farmers themselves. As an organizer, the extensionist can only consult or assist farmers.

Limiting and defining the helping role like this is never easy, especially because this stance contradicts the persistent expectation that extensionists perform direct services. Organizing is said to follow after direct and indirect service and farmer training for this very reason. The time must be right. Farmers must have the skills and interest to be self-reliant. The extensionist and her farmer friends must work long and hard to change the expectations which colonial extension activity created. Organizing for the future can then begin.

Volunteers who have laid this groundwork for successful organizing can seriously address the issue of working themselves out of a job during the second year of their tour of service. On arriving in a village, an ag extension volunteer represents a new village resource or capital, which can be institutionalized by focusing existing farmer resources through organizing. The beneficial innovations accepted by farmers in a village can be institutionalized too by organizing cooperative activity.

Organizing cooperative activity can lead to greater farmer access to support services. Beneficial change can be institutionalized and twoway communication between researchers and farmers can be greatly improved. Organizing is therefore an extremely valuable extension skill.