Broadening the extension toolbox to enable innovation at scale

Photo: Aline Bastos extracted from FAERJ-RJ

A new report from CoSAI, The Role of Extension and Financial Services in Boosting the Effect of Innovation Investments for Reducing Poverty and Hunger was launched on Tuesday 30 November 2021 as part of the GFRAS Side Event: Pathways and Instruments for Sustainable Intensification: Lessons for Extension Advisory Services from CoSAI. The new report, by Alejandro Nin-Pratt from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) shows that the combined effect of improved access to financial and extension services could reduce the number of poor people from 518 to 488 million and undernourished people from 463 to 428 million.

The GFRAS side event enabled an insight into how we can to broaden the extension toolbox to achieve impact within our complex food systems.

The side event started with an exploration of different approaches and instruments, which CoSAI has evaluated. The lead author of the evaluation, Dr Brigid Letty from INR in South Africa used the opportunity to discuss possible future roles of extension staff – as innovation brokers, facilitators, supporters of innovation testing and sharers of farmer innovation. Dr Letty also pointed out that for new instruments to benefit all actors, power dynamics need to be managed to ensure equitable access to innovation resources. Furthermore, bundling of financial and non-financial instruments to support innovation, as well bundling of multiple innovations is often necessary for effective innovation.

The side event discussed Brazil’s Full Bucket Program which promotes the sustainable development of the dairy sector through innovative technology transfer – with the farm as the learning environment. The program focuses on sequential and incremental technology introduction that is farmer orientated, with extensionists acting to pull all resources together for the benefit of the farmers.

Key lessons identified by Luciane Chiodi Bachion, from Agroicone and principal investigator of the study, included the importance of building record-keeping capabilities to underpin improved management, the need to take a bottom-up approach with trialling and experimenting on the farm critical for success. It was also identified that the role of grassroot actors, local government, and technicians to stimulate networking to exchange information and practices using different platforms has contributed to the continuous improvement process and perpetuity of the Full Bucket Program.

A panel discussion, involving Marie-Aude Even (IFAD), Marcelo Corrêa da Silva (Visiting Professor - Agribusiness Program - Universidade Federal da Grande Dourados, Brazil) and Patience Rwamigisa (Head of the Division of Agricultural Extension Coordination, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Uganda) drew out key lessons including:

  • Innovations’ needs and farmers’ needs are context specific. So, community driven innovations and community managed extension are core to addressing challenges.
  • We must empower all local farmers in their situation. Seeing what works best for farmers is necessary to ensure communities lead innovation process and to ensure broader social ownership and behavioural change.
  • Awareness is crucial for achieving results. When farmers and other actors along the value chain are aware of their specific roles and how they function within the operating environment and understand the results of their practices, impact is greater.
  • Participation is key to ensuring inclusion, and this means addressing diversity within communities, which requires meaningful engagement that engage all categories of households and entities, including most marginalized, women, youth and minorities. In addition, this requires specific attention to screen innovation adoption and results against these different categories and community contexts.
  • Sustainability and scale require long term investment in “last mile” implementation capacities (grassroot institutions, community extension workers, lead farmers etc.) and supportive systems. In addition, knowledge intensive local innovation process need to be well documented and articulated with broader social and knowledge networks.
  • Understanding the political economy and dynamics of social change is important for ensuring impact can be reached. Without the right enabling environment, even the best innovations cannot reach scale.

The side event concluded with Dr Rasheed Sulaiman V, CoSAI Commissioner and GFRAS board member outlining that:

  • EAS needs to consider the different tools that are available to support different forms of participation in innovation processes.
  • In considering these different tools, public extension must engage the broader toolbox and understand how their EAS role can understand how deploying these diverse tools can facilitate innovation at scale.
  • Funding is important, but appropriate instruments are needed to properly direct the funding.
  • Ensuring participation of end-users in the innovation process is important and efforts should be made to build trust of the end-user in the innovation process.
  • Capacity development, especially on functional aspects is important, though there is a need to understand the political environment and institutional barriers.

CoSAI will be publishing the reports associated with the side event in addition to policy briefs that provide clear recommendations. See a recording of the event here.

Rural producer, Fernando Duque, from Valença, RJ with the technical team of Balde Cheio (Full Bucket). Photo: Aline Bastos