Cover Image
close this bookImproving agricultural extension. A reference manual. (1997)
close this folderPart II - Improving extension programmes and processes
close this folderChapter 8 - Selecting appropriate content and methods in programme delivery
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDeveloping appropriate content
View the documentExtension's clientele
View the documentIncorporating needs into programmes
View the documentProgram delivery and implementation
View the documentReferences

Developing appropriate content

Appropriateness of content is situation driven: what is appropriate for one farm family may not be appropriate for another, even though both families operate within the same agroecological zone; or what is appropriate for one country may not be appropriate for another. Even at the national level, it has been shown that agricultural development can be facilitated by the development of appropriate technologies. Hayami and Ruttan (1985) pointed out that in Japan, where land is scarce, technology development was oriented towards biological technologies, for example to improve varieties. In the United States, however, where land is abundant, technology development was mainly in the form of mechanical innovations such as tractors. In the case of developing countries, their commercial relationship with the developed world predisposes them to accept or develop technologies that are not always appropriate for their farmers. For example, the research organization for banana production in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean because of market pressures and trade agreements have consistently produced technologies which require additional labour, although labour cost and availability are the biggest constraint to banana production in that subregion.

Given the arguments above, appropriateness should be defined within the scope of what is

1. Technically feasible
2. Economically feasible
3. Socially acceptable
4. Environmentally safe and sustainable

Technical Feasibility

Technical feasibility should be examined from two perspectives, the first being the ability of farmers to produce a commodity within their environment, and the second being what the farm family can achieve, not what can be achieved on research stations. In the first case, certain commodities do not fit into the production system of small farmers, while others do, for example scaleneutral technologies for crops like maize, rice, and bananas. In the second case, a distinction must be made between technological potential and technical feasibility. The technological potential is the tested output of a given technology and is dependent on controlled agronomic factors. Technical feasibility is what can be achieved within the holistic environment of a farm family; this is not limited to technical factors only, but also to social, economic, and political factors that affect the farm family. Small farmers, because they operate under less favourable conditions than those under which the technologies are developed, usually produce under the technological potential. Given this situation, what becomes important to farmers is whether or not that commodity can fit into their farming system. If the technology can fit, then it is technologically feasible.

Economic Feasibility

The ability of farmers to incorporate a technology or technological package into a farming system has economic implications. The farmers' resource base, both human and financial, must be considered. Do farmers have the financial resources to purchase the inputs to derive the benefits from the technology? Will this technology require the hiring of additional labour, and if so, is it available and affordable? Some Green Revolution technology failed to be adopted because some anticipated users of the technology could not purchase the fertilizer and other inputs which formed part of the package.

Economic feasibility can also be examined from the point of view of function within the farming system. Some small banana farmers in the Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean continue to grow bananas, although they have been advised against it. The rationale for this advice is that, among other things, soil erosion on the very steep slopes where most small farmers cultivate bananas and the resulting low yields make the cultivation of bananas economically unprofitable to them. However, they contend that banana cultivation allows them to have access to inputs which they can use to increase the profitability of other crops within their farming system, thus making the total farming system economically profitable. As such, banana cultivation within the system is seen by these marginal small farmers as a "facilitator" crop and not primarily for economic profitability. To these farmers, banana production is economically feasible within their farming system.

Social Acceptability

Innovations can be technically sound, but may conflict with the social norms of the end users or even cause societal disequilibrium. For instance, in Zaire, efforts to increase cassava production were constrained by the inability of the women to handle the increased yield. At the time the new varieties were introduced, the women in the targeted communities were already fully occupied. The task of processing cassava was their responsibility, but with the increase in yield, the women's workload increased correspondingly, thus making it physically impossible for them to handle. As a result, the farm families reverted to cultivating the local variety, which was lower yielding.

With regards to social disequilibrium, in some cases the adoption of technologies by small groups of individuals has resulted in a shift in power relationship within the society. For example, Campbell (1982) found that in the upland plateau of Ardeche, France, individuals from among the group of farmers who adopted tractors and mechanical harvesters were those who challenged the existing family-linked mayoral structure.

Within the social context, there is also what can be termed situational appropriateness, that is, what is most likely to be accepted or rejected by a group at any given time. For instance, it would be unwise to introduce programmes with a crop or livestock component which had recently experienced market failures. Farm families remember such failures and tend to be hostile to such programmes.

Environmental Safety

An extension programme must be cognizant of the effects it will have on the environment. The commercialization of agriculture results in farmers using increasing quantities of fertilizers and agrochemicals. These chemicals for the most part have negative effects on the environment because they contaminate groundwater and may disrupt food chains. For example, birds which feed on insects exposed to chemicals may become contaminated and may die.