For example, the core role of extension personnel is to distribute information. The information typically involves agricultural productivity, but it need not be limited to agriculture. In addition, extension agents can empower the people they serve to seek out information on their own or to make their needs known to others.
The great advantage of extension activities is their potential to serve farmers’ needs in a bottom-up fashion, through both geographic distribution and the ability to address expressed needs, subgroup members said. A farmer may or may not be knowledgeable about ways to increase productivity, and an attentive extension agent can tailor advice accordingly. Ideally agents could also try to identify and prioritize assistance for the most pressing problems facing farmers, such as land tenure issues following conflict or water management disputes during a drought. It is similarly helpful for agents to respond simultaneously to both short- and long-term needs, so that early success paves the way for long-term improvements. For example, a producer association can address both immediate needs and the longer-term issues involved in sustainable improvements.
Participants cited some examples of successful decentralized approaches. The Agriculture Technology Management Agency in India was designed to be accountable to farmers and their needs. Another decentralized approach that has resulted in successes is the extension-supported business cooperative; in Armenia, such cooperatives have become among the most trusted actors in rural communities.
A bottom-up approach need not be antithetical to top-down directives, subgroup participants pointed out. The extension agent typically represents the state and needs support from the state to be effective. The development of institutional structures in the community, whether agricultural associations, schools, or health clinics, requires both grassroots and government support. Although the state may at times be a negative presence, it also can promote positive internal changes in a community. For example, universities, NGOs, or the private sector generally are not able to step in and resolve conflicts in the same way that government officials can, though nongovernmental entities can make governments more aware of conflicts.
Support for extension efforts may be more effective in some countries than others. Successful extension systems tend to be decentralized, increasingly pluralistic, participatory, market oriented, sustainably financed, and technology enabled. For systems with these characteristics, investments are likely to be more productive than for weaker systems. At the same time, as was emphasized throughout the workshop, one size does not fit all. One pos-