Agricultural extension service Editorial
Stabroek News
April 11, 2002

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The Extension Service is perhaps the single most overlooked tile in the total mosaic of agricultural development in this country. Yet it is pivotal to the advancement of crops and livestock production; and, let's face it, agriculture is and will continue to be the economic base for total rural development in the foreseeable future, notwithstanding all this talk about industrializing the rural areas.

The rice and poultry sub-sectors provide some degree of extension and training services. In recent times, private companies which supply inputs have also developed an extension capacity. The problem, however, lies with the "other" non-traditional crops and livestock. Farmers, with some few exceptions, have not achieved an acceptable degree of efficiency in these areas of activity and are in dire need of support services.

Historically, during colonial times and thereafter, successive governments have recognized the importance of extension services and the training that is prerequisite thereto. The Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) was founded in 1963 and the Burnham Agricultural Institute and the Regional Educational Programme for Animal Health Assistants (REPAHA) were notable establishments in the seventies. Dr. Jagan once had the noble idea of transforming the defunct Kimbia facilities into an Agricultural School for the development of the Intermediate Savannahs. Unfortunately, for very practical reasons, this vision was not transferred into a reality.

Now, as before, the farmers need guidance and tangible help, not lastly in areas relating to pests and diseases, weed infestation, the misuse of pesticides, post harvest losses, soil tilling techniques, drainage and irrigation, market intelligence, seed and stock, pasture agronomy and breeding.

The truth be told, one cannot be convinced that there still exists an adequate amount of capable functionaries with knowledge to carry out optimally, even efficiently, the education of farmers with their ever changing interests. The brain drain has taken its toll. Consequently, we have had to place our knowledgeable scientists and field personnel in other important positions of management. For example, the country's top pesticide specialist was converted into a top bureaucrat; Guyana's only animal geneticist was until recently, with commercial fishing; one of our most experienced animal husbandrists heads the research programme for vegetables at NARI; and the only trained marketing specialist for agricultural commodities has just handed in her resignation. We just don't have enough bodies to go around. Also, it must be said that many of those who have remained behind feel themselves misused and abused and definitely not cherished.

Worse, the hundreds of agri-extensionists are constrained by low salaries, inadequate transportation/low travel allowances, lack of equipment, inconvenient offices in their areas of activity, insecurity of employment, inadequate continuous and further education, etc. In addition to these factors, agri-extensionists are housed in the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries, Crops and Livestock. Yet the specific knowledge they need to efficiently carry out their functions is generated by the research which is (should be) produced by NARI. The two turfs just don't mesh, neither financially (budget-wise) nor philosophically.

If our points of origin are that non-traditional crops and livestock represent an integral part of our national economy and that farmers involved in these undertakings need help, then it is clear that we need to refocus: Monies will have to be invested in the training of professionals and sub-professionals. We may need to revise our Handbook for Extensionists and redirect the emphases in a "New Skills Training Programme". The GSA and UG syllabi must reflect these new needs.

The wherewithal for extension personnel to carry out their craft must be provided. This latter may include the establishment of strategically located Rural Mini-Training Centres. Research, market intelligence/promotion and extension must be under one roof and with great interaction between these components. Such interaction must at all times take place, hand-in-glove, with the producers. The latter's participation in the process is of paramount importance, for they may need to be convinced of the rightness of advice, just as the researchers, market specialists and extensionists may need to take heed of the farmers' wisdom.

Finally, new and potentially lucrative areas of agricultural endeavour will have to be embarked upon. Apiculture, rabbit production, floriculture, medicinals, inland fish rearing, organic agriculture are just a few new areas of enterprise that spring to mind. Extension agents will have to be trained to address these new realities.