| Agricultural extension |
|Providing agricultural support services|
Being the intermediary to some extent between farmers and institutions of various kinds, the extensionist finds himself answering to a variety of people at any given time. He must equip himself, therefore, to work effectively within an institutional framework and to orchestrate these different interests successfully. There are several types of institutions he maybe involved in:
• local authorities (community leadership groups, village hierarchy, etc.)
• government ministry or department
• development agency project
Each of these institutions has both a formal and an informal structure. It is often said, for example, that the influential advisor of a government minister, while not an official member of a ministry, is part of a 'shadow ministry' behind the scenes. The informal structure of an institution is not easily apparent to the outsider, but it may have tremendous impact on institutional decisions or events. In dealing with any institution effectively, a fundamental lesson is the fact that real power and influence may not lie with those who have titular position. This is not license to avoid institutional structure, but it is important to know.
Extensionists sometimes do not fit into institutional structures very well. They are the outermost grass-roots level of most government or development agencies, and they tend to be outsiders in the village community. As such they have both considerable license and a large responsibility to become a part of these institutions. There is an emphasis in this manual on research at the level of people's interests. This extends to institutions as well.
The extensionist's first responsibility to an institution is to clearly define its expectations of her. But how can one deal with the often competing or uncomplementary interests and goals of these organizations? Clarifying their interests is a start. Clarifying one's own is the next useful step as an extensionist. Then, usually by a process of trial and error, the extension worker evolves an acceptable accomodation of these interests. It is up to the extensionist to work out compromises among unreconciled interests. Using the principles of good feedback as guides (see "Working With Counterparts"), extensionists can work out with respective agencies and institutions what is possible.
When pursuing the goal of capacitating local institutions, extensionists find it necessary to work within institutional frameworks. The most thorough way of helping people grow is to start where they are, not where they "should" be. This in no way diminishes the aspiration for better things. It is rather, the institutional form of indirect service. Rather than performing a service or solving a problem apart from or for a local institution, the extensionist can focus on the institution itself and the resources the institution has to allocate to the problem. He will concentrate on how to help those resources work better.
On the other hand, the informal structure of a government ministry or village hierarchy maybe more effective than its formal one. It is up to the extensionist to balance use of both. In a government or development agency, it is essential to pay due respect to those in power, but secretaries, truck drivers, carpenters, store keepers, etc. may be those who really get things moving.
On the village scene, there are often informal "craftmanship structures", as well as religious, cultural and social hierarchies which are not readily apparent. As pertains to agriculture work, "craftmanship structures" are systems of "master" or "head" farmers and opinion-leaders in farming work. These are the people through whom significant change can be effected. On the village level and often in other institutional settings, extensionists come to discover that friendship is a powerful thing, and that investments of "village time" spent with people in culturally-defined settings and activities have profound implications for work.
Working within institutions while trying to facilitate growth and change for village farmers is a difficult task. It requires sensitivity, clear values, ability to work out conflicts and give useful feedback, patience and an ability to discern the real catalysts of work while respectfully working along established lines. The rewards of this tight-rope act are large, for institutional changes and successes have extensive effects on the local scene. Respectful efforts from within by the extensionist can help the institutions which affect small-scale farmers become better resources.
Lydia is a very precise person. She is thorough, prompt and reliable. This is what she expects of others. She has been working in the district for eight months. Her supervisor met her at a reception for her at district headquarters. She has visited him precisely seven times since then, at the end of each month. Each time she comes she asks the receptionist to see him, submits two copies of her typed report, politely asks questions or makes her requests, leaving copies of each for her supervisor, and leaves to return to work. She is very upset today because for the fourth month in a row she has not received what she requested - not even an explanation as to why. In fact, her supervisor is not finding it convenient to even see her anymore for her monthly visits, and the receptionist refuses to tell her where he is or when he will be back. Lydia is incensed!
Rory, on the other hand, is a relaxed sort of fellow, though he is reliable and conscientious in his own way. He has learned by trial and error to dress neatly when visiting the ministry office. He knows the store clerk at the office, who is always there, very well. He sets two days aside for the visit each time he comes (which is when he needs to), and brings money to entertain himself well. He invariably is able to get together with his supervisor, Mrs. Garcia, and her husband. They usually begin at their house and go out to eat and enjoy an evening together. In the course of these affairs Rory is able to talk business with Mrs. Garcia fairly well. Usually his objectives are met - not always - but usually. And he has been told by Mrs. Garcia herself that he can count on her in an emergency.
(A partial list of important people in local institutions:)
- the most respected farmers
- gifted orators
- religious or cultural leaders
- respected craftspeople or technicians
- persons who advise or affect more visible leaders
- persons who have vested interests in ag work
- persons who have been affected by extension work in the past
- secretaries, receptionists, appointments people
- bookkeepers, accountants, store keepers, finance people
- drivers, mechanics, helpers
- carpenters, technicians, artisans
- family and friends of officials
- suppliers of ag products and other vested interests
- foreign government representatives
- family and friends
- "gate-keepers like secretaries, etc."