respected and legitimate in that setting. Mike McGirr, National Program Leader for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), confirmed that to change behaviors, an extension agent needs to be seen as a credible person by the community, and even more so when dealing with contentious issues.
However, Gary Alex, Farmer-to-Farmer Program Manager for USAID, cautioned that extension agents from local areas may be from an elite group or have social links on one side of a conflict that make them less trusted. In that case, extension work done by an agent from a different region, an NGO, or some other neutral body may be more effective.
Unruh pointed out that a community just emerging from war typically has very different needs from one that is several years removed from a crisis. Immediately after conflict, a country or region may be very risk averse and focused on not making things worse, whereas economic development often requires that a population be willing to take some risks, whether trying a new variety of seeds or accepting an extension agent’s advice. Thus an extension agent may be able to engage in more traditional activities in the latter situation and may need to devote more attention to peacebuilding and stability in the former.
Hartzell added that the capacities of extension personnel differ greatly from country to country. In Liberia, for example, few people are available to serve as extension agents, whereas more people have those skill sets in Colombia. Unruh added that a significant challenge can be to convince a person with a university degree to serve as an extension agent in a war-torn part of a country. In such situations, a more effective approach is to identify the local problems that need to be solved and work toward local solutions.
Hartzell concluded that the adoption of a single model in all cases is not appropriate. Rather, the nature of the conflict and the capacity that exists in a country or region will determine what kinds of extension services will be most effective. And the model adopted for those services will affect both the tasks in which extension personnel engage and the degree to which they are trusted.