Gross shortage of agric extension officers

Business News of Friday, 12 April 2013

Source: B&FT

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A new survey commissioned by the Peasant Farmers Association has established that, on average, there is only one extension officer for every 3,000 farmers – a situation that is a far cry from the global standard of one for every 200, and which farmers say is unacceptable.

In some situations, the ratio went as high as 1:7000, the lead researcher, Joseph Awantungo of Pinnacle Investment said, calling for a 5 percent increase in the annual intake of students by agricultural training institutions in the country. The fact that Government has in the last three years not recruited new extension officers — and the switching by personnel to other jobs for want of better remuneration — has contributed to the dire situation, the researcher said.

The problem however goes far beyond the number of extension officers, discussants at the launch of the research findings reasoned, to include the fact that for religious or moral reasons a section of women smallholders — who make up over 70 percent of the informal agricultural sector — are not comfortable with male extension officers following them to their farms.

Meanwhile, for marital and other reasons, women are not encouraged to take up the job of extension officers — even though a 30 percent quota exists for them at agricultural training institutions. “From our analysis, the ratio of women and men extension officers is 1:10,” the researcher revealed, asking Government to increase investment in the agricultural sector — and pay particular attention to the activities of research institutions and the conditions under which extension-officers work.

“If you look at countries that have grown globally in the area of agriculture, they depended on technology; and so if farmers today are still sticking to the farming practices of our forefathers — they do not have any capacity or knowledge to transform their farms by the use of modern agronomic practices which can increase their yields and increase their investment — then basically they will not benefit much,” Mr. Awantungo said.

The role of extension services to farmers’ access to information and technology has been acclaimed globally, with farmers having access to such services said to witness major improvements in their output.

But whether farmers, particularly peasants, should continue to rely on public investment to better their lot remains a sticking point. In an era when private extension services are increasing in the agricultural sector, Aisha Habib of African Connections — a private firm in the sector — says Ghanaian farmers need to move away from over-relying on Government.

The farmers reminded Aisha, however, that they are not asking too much from Government, and that they have all along borne the greater part of the cost anyway; that with the already precarious situation of Ghanaian farmers, the majority of which are peasants, the role of public investment in agriculture cannot be downplayed.

“Our farmers are not ready for private extension services,” Victoria Adongo of the Peasant Farmers Association said. “From our findings, 66 percent of smallholder farmers are not in the position to pay for private extension services, while 18 percent said private extension providers are not available and 16 percent are not aware of their existence,” the researcher said. There was however a general consensus among the farmers that a mass deployment of “farm radio” across the country could go a long way to fill the yawning gap left by the absence of extension officers.

The survey on extension services was conducted in several districts in the Upper East, Northern, Brong Ahafo and Greater Accra Regions — areas that are largely crop- and livestock-producers, and are in the main dependent on public extension services. In all, 600 respondents were questioned about their knowledge of extension services and whether they had benefitted from same.

Some 30 percent of respondents said extension officers visited them once a year, and another 30 percent said they had never seen any extension officer on their farms.

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