A well-developed science and knowledge-based extension service is crucial for improving smallholder productivity and profitability in a sustainable way.
Unfortunately, extension services for small-scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South and South-East Asia are often inadequate and have not been able to absorb and make use of rapid scientific and technological changes in the field of agriculture. In addition, the often existing broad blanket recommendations leave little incentive for local adaptation that is crucial for efficient use of resources.
Furthermore, to disseminate and scale up knowledge and innovations, extension services and agricultural research and innovation systems need to be more strongly connected to each other and to farmers. However, there are different challenges blocking the knowledge flow and there could be several reasons to this:
- The structure of the extension systems is not always effective and therefore not providing frequent and regular services to all smallholders.
- In cases where the knowledge reach the smallholders, it is not always relevant and not considering or providing information on how to best manage the trade-offs that are part of the reality for the farmers.
- Low or inadequate education of both smallholder farmers and advisors can be limiting the ability to see the farm as a whole and find best practices and synergies within the holistic farming systems in line with the local preconditions.
- Lack of feedback systems where farmers can demand the advisory services and innovations they need is another challenge together with the difficulties to synthesise and translate science into practical hands-on knowledge.
It might be necessary to look for innovative ways of modifying the extension system to better suit the current and future demands of farmers, especially women and youth.
Both innovation and extension systems involves a number of actors such as the government, universities, private companies, non-governmental organisations, farmer associations, research institutions and others. The knowledge pathway from science at university to practical knowledge on the farm is not straight and sometimes incomplete. But the feedback system, where smallholders can make their voices heard and demand their rights is often even weaker. Women, especially in Africa, also have less access to extension services even if they carry out much of the farm work and therefore lag behind in knowledge and often also have less power over resources.
The strategic entry points for AgriFoSe2030 within this challenge would therefore be to identify the missing links and functions in order to ensure a science-based extension and innovation knowledge pathway that is; inclusive for all smallholder farmers, has a holistic analysis of the farming system, including two-way communication, linking stakeholders across disciplines for common goals, enabling structures for knowledge flow and quality control of the disseminated knowledge.