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international conference on innovations in extension and advisory services, nairobi, kenya

The International Conference on Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services brought together over 400 people from 75 countries including those from government ministries, major agricultural and research centres and representatives from civil society and farmers’ leaders. There was a huge diversity of opinion and some inspirational presentations, including that of Dr Ben Corrêa da Silva from the Brazilian Ministry of Agrarian Development, who spoke of the refocusing of government agricultural extension services away from the large commercialised farmers (who can afford private services) towards small family farms where the needs were greater.  It was great to hear a call for changes in favour of smallholder farmers!

The three day conference culminated in the Nairobi Declaration, a statement calling for renewed priority to be given to extension services, including a mix of public, private and civil society approaches, and with the focus on demand-driven services for smallholder farmers. This is definitely a step forward for smallholder farmers in Africa and around the world.

During the conference, a review of ASFG member Practical Action’s work with local or community-based extension systems was presented – a vital component in Practical Action’s agricultural programmes. The presentation, “Bridging the gap between resource-poor farmers and extension services: the role of community-based extension systems” can be found here.  A key component of these projects has been the development of local or community-based extension systems (CBES) to bring information, skills and services to farmers and livestock keepers who would otherwise have limited access to government or commercial extension services.

The presentation identified how local policies and practices have influenced the variety of models of CBES developed and their effectiveness. Findings from the review showed that these systems can be sustainable and continue to provide a valuable service to farmers after the ending of project support.  They can also provide more flexible, cost-effective and far-reaching services to resource-poor farmers in marginalised areas than government or commercial extension are able to. As such, recognition and support to CBES should be considered by policy-makers as part of an integrated and pro-poor approach to extension services.  A copy of the paper with further information is available here.

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