|Soil Conservation Techniques for Hillside Farms (Peace Corps, 1986, 96 p.)|
As an extension program gets under way in a community and starts growing, it becomes more and more necessary for the extensionists to work with groups as time may not always be available for individual visits.
If working in communities with no organized groups, extensionists are faced with the task of initiating groups with which to work. It is not unusual for community members to be resistant to the idea of joining such a group. For many reasons (a tradition of working alone, local feuds or jealousies, suspicion of unwanted economic or political committments, etc.)) this may be one of the extensionists most difficult tasks. dealing with and overcoming this reluctance is an individual matter and every extensionist works things out uniquely. It takes time and communication to develop a relationship that both the community members and the extensionist are comfortable with. Other people, including other agricultural extensionists, nurses, or school teachers, who have had experience working with similar community groups, may have very useful suggestions in these matters.
Although presenting new information to farmers is more efficient on a group than on an individual basis, this may not be so for actual field work. The extensionist must evaluate each community to decide if it is more appropriate to carry out demonstrations on individually or group tended lots. In group cultivated lots, the work and risks are shared, lessening the burden of any individual. However, sometimes farmers are less conscientious about caring for a crop if it is not theirs individually. In such cases, it may be most appropriate for the extensionist to present new information or techniques at a central location, such as a school, a small parcel of land made available to the extensionist for this purpose, or by rotating among the individual parcels of the group members. After the group presentation, the extensionist should, whenever possible, discuss or visit each individual's parcel to ensure that the technique will be put into practice correctly.
Organized groups of farmers can also be very important in the continued spread of the introduced techniques after the extensionist leaves. They increase communication among farmers, they serve as support groups for innovative farmers, they are more likely to attract the attention of other extension programs, and in some cases they manage credit funds which make it easier for farmers to implement certain technologies. Extensionists should familiarize themselves with the different types of groups so that they have a better understanding of how groups may facilitate, or possibly inhibit, the continuance of their promotional effort.
Agriculture committees are often informal assemblages of people drawn to meetings by a common interest in agricultural innovations. These committees are very flexible and allow for the admission of new members or formation of new committes upon demand. This can be a big advantage when working in a new area as the success of the program will probably attract more and mere interested persons. This flexibility also leads to the danger of dissolving rapidly if interest wanes, especially if dominated by only one or two enthusiastic members. The members of these committees can, however, be very important resources as local volunteer extensionist singe very often they are attending solely based on interest and a desire to learn, without any other reward. These committees can also be a good starting point for the organization of an agricultural cooperative if desired.
Cooperatives are more formal groups, generally organized around a set of by-laws or constitution, requiring members to fulfill certain responsibilities (pay dues, attend meetings or workdays) and granting them certain privileges (credit, buying and/or selling at favorable prices, right to farm a certain portion of land). Because of their formal nature, cooperatives are likely to be more permanent organizations than agricultural committees. Also as a result of this more formal nature, they are less flexible about admitting new members. Many times cooperatives receive preferential treatment from. governmental agencies when soliciting training courses, credit, or other types of assistance.
There are several types of cooperatives, differing in the nature of the rights they grant and the responsibilities they require of the members. Production cooperatives involve the members working together in the production process, such as farming the same piece of land. Credit cooperatives manage a common fund which is used to loan members money, an alternative to more expensive and often unavailable bank loans, Buying and selling coops pool all the farmers buying orders, buying in bulk for cheaper prices, and pool the farmers' produce to sell an higher prices or lessen transportation costs
Soil conservation extensionist may also be involved in working with other types of groups, such as schools, youth groups, housewives groups, etc. Regardless of the type of group an agricultural extensionist works with, some basic concepts must be considered. First, groups should be goaloriented or purposeful, that is they must provide some advantage to their members; some incentive to spend their time with the group Second, the group must have a structure, organization, plan of activities, and disciplinary code which permit the attainment of its goals. Third, care must be taken in planning, promoting, and realizing all group oriented activities to avoid disillusion among members and abandoning of the group. This may result from joining a group without understanding its stated goal or joining a group incapable of attaining its stated goal because of flaws in the design of its structure, organization, plan of activities, or disciplinary code. When these concepts are kept in mind, then the group is much more likely to serve its members in a productive, self-sustaining fashion Once confident of the usefulness and power of their own group, community members will be much more motivated to work within the group framework to improve their own situation.