| Agricultural extension |
|Research and planning|
An extension worker enters a community gradually. As an outsider she must first meet personal needs to establish social contacts with her neighbors and orient herself to her physical surroundings. Professional objectives are addressed later when the extension worker is more at ease in her interactions with the people she works with and can more carefully focus on agricultural practices and community problems. Regardless of the type of information being sought, however, an extension agent clearly establishes herself upon entering a community as one who is willing and able not to teach, but to learn.
Small scale farmers in developing countries have not traditionally had full access to extension services. There exists accordingly an acute lack of information as to how to make those services conform to small farmer needs. The extension worker assuming a learner's posture is one step toward bridging that gap. In order to complete the chain, villagers must step into the role of educators.
That villagers act as cross-cultural mentors of extensionists is assumed. What may be more significant is the vital function farmers can serve as historians and skilled practitioners of farming methods in a given area. When a small farmer educates an extension agent about what has happened in the past on her farm, the agent can help the farmer begin choosing appropriate steps to make improvements.
The information an extension agent gathers at the outset of an extension effort is based on a 'reality', a set of circumstances or perhaps an event. It is important to note that different individuals may interpret the same 'reality' in radically different ways. A jar is either half full or it is half empty; a harvest is either better than some years or worse than others.
Individual farmers' perspectives vary, and an outsider must be concerned with checking information gathered against independent sources. A similar check is warranted with regard to the extension worker himself. There is a strong tendency to 'selectively' hear answers to questions that conform to notions that prompted the asking of the questions in the first place.
This mutual 'filtering' of information occurs to a greater or lesser degree in all communication processes. Systematic checking of information will aid the extension worker in compiling a less-biased picture of the 'reality' referred to above.
The information-gathering an extension worker attempts is done in a cross-cultural context. Thus, sensitivity and respect are crucial to success. One must be willing to share information about oneself and must have the patience necessary to persevere under the sometimes difficult conditions imposed by linquistic and cultural barriers.
Information filters and cultural barriers provide cautions to an extensionist to go slow in the early stages of his work. One or more of the following suggestions could help an extension agent start on the right foot:
• Consciously employ observation skills to complement information gathered through the interview process.
• Engage a translator or assistant who can help ensure that research is done in a culturally appropriate manner. (Counterparts often play this role).
• Use some 'random' process to select sources of information to prevent a skewing of results in one direction.
• Establish a routine of note-taking and record keeping so that, later, information can be analyzed and plans can be made.
These and other choices pertaining to the methods used to gather information can be made more or less formal to suit the type of information being sought, the source, the interviewing 'climate' or the extension agent himself. After a body of information has been gathered, recorded, 'de-filtered', and analyzed, matches can be made between needs and resources, and the agent's role can be more clearly defined. Planning and problem-solving remain contingent, however, upon a continuing accurate flow of information between individual farmers and the extension agents who serve them.