MEAS (Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services), a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project, conducted a scoping mission to examine the pluralistic extension system in Nepal and to develop recommendations for strengthening its extension system.
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The field assessment work occurred December 1-21, 2011, and included in-depth interviews with Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC) staff members, Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC), faculty members at Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science (IAAS) of Tribhuvan University, international and national non-governmental organization (NGO) directors, farmer cooperatives, leader farmers, freelance agricultural development professionals, and private sector representatives. The team reviewed relevant publications and reports.
The MEAS team visited farms, the District Agriculture Development Office, District Livestock Services Office, regional research and training centers, agricultural stations, as well as universities and training centers. In addition, the team conducted an online survey with mid-career and senior agricultural development professionals to identify areas needing improvements within the current extension service in Nepal.
The purpose of the scoping mission was to identify key issues within the pluralistic extension system in Nepal that will need to be addressed to develop a sustainable, farmer-led, and market-driven system of extension and advisory services. This report summarizes the findings based on literature review, personal interviews, observations, and feedback from seminar presentations followed by discussion. The scoping mission team has recommended specific actions for consideration.
Summary of Findings
Consistent with the requested terms of reference of the scoping mission for extension, the MEAS team met with personnel from the National Planning Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, farmers groups and cooperatives, AgroVets, and farmers. In addition, the team met with representatives of the Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, and national and international NGOs. In summary, these meetings resulted in the following impressions and conclusions:
- Agricultural extension is widely distributed and has significant footprints. Despite remoteness, the extension services of the DOA and DLS have a nationwide structure—regional and district offices, service centers, training institutes, farms, and farmers groups.
- A generalist approach to agriculture and livestock extension is followed without due regard to diverse peculiarities of different agro-ecological regions and farmer categories. However, Nepal has many education, research, and training institutions to support region-specific, need-based, and demand-driven agricultural development.
- The public extension service structure has been stable, but also stagnant. Extension service suffers from lack of suitable technology to transfer to farmers and agribusiness operators. Agricultural research and extension services are not linked well. Also, there is no formal linkage mechanism for communication and interaction between pre-service educational institutions such as IAAS, CTEVT, HICAST, NARC research farms, centers, and extension agents in the field.
- The Agricultural Information and Communication Center disseminates information on modern farm technologies and practices through mass media. A daily 15-minute farm radio program is broadcast on Radio Nepal at 6:40 p.m. Similarly, a daily program on national TV airs at 6:40 p.m. Technical publications are distributed to district offices on a limited basis. Although limited to one market, agricultural market prices are broadcast daily in the morning on Radio Nepal. The unit needs major enhancements to serve the diverse informational needs of the farmers and agribusiness operators.
- Most agriculture extension offices have a computer, and extension professionals have personal email accounts. However, use of the Internet and communication technology is very low. Email is used infrequently for communication. Extension has not been able to use ICTs due to limited funding and lack of trained staff who can develop ICT-based messages. However, ICTs could significantly enhance communication between extension, research, and education organizations.
- Unavailability of modern inputs such as improved seed, seedlings and fertilizer are major issues. Extension workers are generalists and they are thinly spread, so the need for improved staff coverage is an important issue. Current staff are poorly equipped with technical knowledge and skills in agricultural production practices, and they are also weak in process skills, including social mobilization. Further, front-line workers do not have exposure and training in marketing and supply chain management, which is of growing importance for modernizing the agriculture sector.
- Women in Nepal are engaged actively in farming, though front-line extension workers are mostly men. There is an urgent need to train and recruit female extension workers. At the same time, there is a need to initiate a special reward and recognition system for extension workers who perform gender-sensitive work.
- Nepal has pluralistic extension services. In addition to DOA and DLS, many NGOs and CBOs offer education and training to farmers. Some national-level NGOs, such as CEPREAD, RRN, and Forward, are prominent in extending services to farmers, agribusiness operators, commercial producers, and farmer groups. However, sustainability of these services depends heavily on external funding.
- Private sector engagement in extension is limited but growing. Examples include the operation of small-scale poultry hatcheries, fruit and vegetable nurseries, animal feed and veterinary services. There are a number of agricultural service providers who sell modern inputs like seed and pesticides and also offer technical advice to farmers. Veterinarians and farm consultants are engaged in supplying improved seed, seedlings, saplings, chicks, fingerlings, animal feed, pesticides and veterinary services. Some veterinarians also offer artificial insemination (AI) on cattle and buffalo.
- There is a strong civil society movement on-going within the agriculture sector that is resulting in the formation and operation of dairy and vegetable cooperatives and the seed potato grower association. Women also have formed agricultural cooperatives. Mothers’ groups also are operational in many communities. Some of the cooperatives have been very successful in serving the needs of their members, specifically in marketing of farm products such as milk, vegetables, and seed potatoes. Front-line extension workers have assisted in the formation of cooperatives and farmers’ groups. However, policies and guidelines for how extension services could collaborate effectively with these groups are lacking.
- The operation and management of an agricultural extension service is funded by the Government of Nepal. However, extension services needs more funding to support educational programs for farmers and demonstration of new farming practices at the village level. At present, 60 to 70 percent of the extension budget at district extension offices is spent on staff salary and 30 to 40 percent is allocated to extension programs and activities.
- There is consensus about the need to introduce and/or strengthen performance-based funding for extension. The extension service may consider moving toward outcome- and impact-based evaluation and away from a geographic distribution/coverage of services, regardless of needs and impacts approach.
- Private sector firms such as agricultural suppliers, veterinarians, and cooperatives offer quality and timely input services to farmers. It may be time to privatize and commercialize selected inputs. The LARPs, VAHWs, and JTs/JTAs could be the input dealers for fertilizer and other inputs, including recommended practices from extension services.
- Nepal has an adequate institutional infrastructure for the agricultural education and research system. However, there is an urgent need to strengthen research and education capacity at IAAS, CTEVT, and NARC research centers and farms. There is also a need to develop “second generation” human resources to support agricultural education and research. The associated curricula and pedagogy need immediate improvement. There is also a need to strengthen research laboratories, including training human resources on how to operate and maintain lab equipment.
- The post-conflict situation continues in Nepal, and impacts the agriculture extension system as it does all other national needs. The Constitutional Assembly is working on a new constitution—it is debating on the form of government, including state restructuring. We heard that VDCs and municipalities will remain the lowest unit of government. The present structure of district level government may or may not remain intact. The current regional administrative structure may change or even abandoned. We heard that the newly formed states may have power to plan for their own development. Considering this scenario, we see a need for a decentralized, demand-driven and municipality/VDC-led extension program for Nepal.
- There have been frequent changes in the government. Civil service personnel are operating under tremendous pressure from political parties. Questions are raised about efficacy in the use of public funds. Some staff are aligned with various political groups. As a result, filling senior positions, placing and transferring officials within government organizations, and garnering recognition for quality professional work have been difficult.
- Food security-related projects are scattered and poorly coordinated. For example, irrigation development is under the purview of the Ministry of Water Resources; agriculture credit is under the Ministry of Finance; fertilizer is the under Agriculture Input Company Limited; export crops such as tea, coffee, cardamom, and ginger are under the Ministry of Commerce; non-timber forest products are handled by the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation; and agricultural extension is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. Further, many donors who are engaged in technical assistance operate almost independently in various districts. Coordination of services is difficult.
- Senior GON officials feel that investment in irrigation would be the most effective strategy for increasing local food production. Other strategies that could affect local food production in the short-term include field crop improvement, livestock improvement, and provision of fertilizer. It should be noted that provision of inputs such as improved seed and fertilizer in a timely manner was ranked as the most important service need for farmers. Equally pressing is the need for marketing of farm products.
- Nepal’s public extension service needs improvement. Key extension needs are: a) a more participatory approach; b) greater specialization and focus on higher-value products; c) more marketing of extension services; and d) greater facilitation of agricultural services and input delivery at the VDC and district levels. Extension must strengthen supervision of extension field staff and building reward and recognition programs to motivate extension staff to deliver superior work. The need for training/retraining of extension staff is urgent.
- Food security requires an integrated approach to serving farmers and agribusiness operators. To offer the needed support, both public and private sector agencies must work together to:
- improve the supply of modern inputs, e.g., improved seed and fertilizer, in a timely manner at the local level;
- support for small-scale irrigation for crops and vegetables;
- development of fruit and vegetable processing/packaging facilities;
- enhanced availability of production/marketing credit for women and women’s groups,;
- production and marketing of special local products such as ginger, medicinal herbs, non-timber forest products, and crafts;
- training of research scientists to conduct applied research;
- upgrading of agricultural research farms and laboratory facilities,; and
- support for pre- and in-service training of extension staff.
Finally, Nepal has adopted several models of agricultural extension in the past four decades. Most extension delivery models have been top-down in nature. Educational programs and services in the past were planned at the DOA or DLS headquarters. At present, most extension activities are planned at the district level. Our interviews with key officials indicated that some elements of training and interaction need to be retained, e.g., provision of agricultural assistants at the VDC level, regular training of agricultural assistants based on perceived need, and periodic interaction of subject matter specialists with researchers. Similarly, training of local farmers to serve as “Tukis” in the villages should be continued. However, there are additional needs. Coordinated production programs with timely supply of inputs such as improved seed and fertilizer are essential to improving production. Farmers need help in marketing their farm products. Any improvements in the extension system need to consider all of these elements.
Nepal has a nationwide structure of extension offices, research farms, and education and training centers. The extension service has government support and has received funding from various donors. Institutions for agricultural research and education are also in place. However, the extension service has poor linkages with agricultural research and education systems. What messages or new technologies will extension workers take to the farmers if they are not kept current with the most recent research recommendations? How can education and training organizations teach about the latest technologies and improved farm practices at pre-service/in-service training if they do not interact with research and extension professionals on a regular basis? Improvement in extension services requires improvements in research and education and all three functions; extension, research and education/training complement each other.
Front-line extension workers such as JTs and JTAs are assigned at the service centers to serve large geographic areas, but they have no travel support. They are poorly supervised or not adequately guided by extension professionals. It was frequently mentioned that they neither have the technical skills nor motivation to serve the farmers. There were also similar complaints about extension staff at the district level. An exception is that veterinarians and/or livestock technicians charge fees for treating sick farm animals and they travel on their own to offer treatment services to farmers. Therefore, a major challenge facing extension service is how to use the current human resource and institutional infrastructure by developing and implementing appropriate policies, incentives, staff training, and supervision as well as developing a relevant system of rewards and recognition for quality performance.
Recommendations for Consideration
The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative may consider the following recommendations to strengthen Nepal’s agricultural extension services:
- Strengthen front-line service providers through a coherent in-service training program in partnership with existing regional training centers to offer process and technical training and to promote active learning. This may also include training on social mobilization skills.
- Develop MOAC, NGO and private sector extension leaders through targeted training opportunities – training on PRA, participatory approaches in extension, management, and technical areas (NRM, marketing, health and nutrition, agriculture, etc.).
- Amplify the ability of agriculture information and communication centers to use mass media and the Internet to deliver extension services and messages:
- training in ICT-based extension, technical skills in editing, videography and video editing, and farm radio broadcasting; and
- capacity development of farmers’ associations, cooperatives, and other groups, including VDCs, farms, and DADOs, and contracting with NGOs and private individuals for extension services.
- Decentralize extension program planning, implementation, and performance evaluation and place these functions at the VDC level. Introduce and scale up the use of Local Agricultural Resource Persons (LARPs) or Village Animal Health Workers (VAHWs) at the VDC level. The LARPs, VAHWs, and/or JTs/JTAs could be local persons having JT/JTA training or AgroVet technicians. The VDCs could use local LARPs/VAHWs to serve farmers’ needs with a coherent financing strategy that involves VDC participation and control. A VDC may require LARPs/VAHWs to specialize in specific commodities such as coffee, ginger, farm animals (e.g. water buffalo), or poultry. Local candidates for LARPs/VAHWs would be identified through a participatory process and would be on fixed-term contracts, with payment based on performance and deliverables. The performance of LARPs/VAHWs may be through documentation of deliverables, which might include photos with date and time stamps, and GPS stamps of educational meetings and activities, as well as certification of performance by local VDC agriculture committees. Introduction and scale-up of the use of LARPs/VAHWs could be promoted through private sector organizations and agricultural civil society groups (cooperatives, agricultural finance organizations, and farmers associations) through partnership funding streams and technical and business support. This leads to a decentralized extension system with local control of extension program and personnel. Implementation of this strategy is described in more detail under recommendation section of the main report.
- Strengthen and deepen the use of best practice methods in monitoring and evaluating MOAC extension programs. There are many success stories of technology transfer and adoption. These need to be documented and lessons should be shared through case studies, farm radio, and TV programs.
- Assist the MOAC in increasing the use of performance criteria and programming criteria in extension human resources policy. Posting periods should be matched to time periods that accurately reflect the amount of time it takes to produce results in the field.
- Build capacity within the MOAC, private sector advisors, and NGO community for market-led and farmer-driven extension programming. Staff may need training on participatory, need-based, or demand-driven extension program development processes.
- Strengthen pre-service and in-service training of extension professionals nationwide. Many district and regional level staff need advanced graduate training. There is also a need to develop second generation faculty capacity at IAAS, CTEVT, and NARC institutions.
- Collaboration and linkages between agricultural organizations is critical. One of the main functions of the FtF project may be the coordination of services and communication between government organizations such as DOA and DLS, donor communities and DOA and DLS, autonomous agencies like NARC and IAAS/TU, and NGOs funded through donor communities.
Immediate action steps for the FtF to strengthen pluralistic extension system and to scale-up extension activities for meeting FtF goals may include strengthening AICC, expanding use of LARPs/VAHWs and AgroVet training for qualified youths, introducing and using LARPs/VAHWs through fixed-term (non-civil service) performance contracts, implementing a sustainable financing model (with VDC support) at the VDC level, and supporting internship programs for IAAS/HICAST/CTEVT B.Sc.Ag. students to work in FtF project districts.
The GON, USAID, and other leading donors are committed to improving the food and nutritional security situation in Nepal, particularly in the identified FtF districts. As outlined in our assessment of the extension situation in Nepal, a number of current assets exist that can be further harnessed to increase production of key crops, improve income of farmers and landless laborers, and augment nutritional security.
One option is for DADOs and other partner organizations at the district level to work on a coherent and explicit plan that would lead to improved food security. The main outputs of interest would be adoption of higher yielding and more robust varieties of maize, rice, lentils, and other agricultural staples, as well as implementation of appropriate best practices (e.g., small tube/well irrigation, improved storage, fertilizer use, and adoption of integrated pest management practices). District level DOA and DLS offices would benefit from training and coaching in work plans. Such proposals and statements of capacity would detail and identify key extension assets in each district, including complete staffing of the DADO and sub-district offices, as well as enhancement of partner organization capacity (farmer associations, cooperatives, private input dealers, and lead farmers).
Such an extension capacity building project would have final determination of the participating districts with input from a committee comprising a mix of MOAC staff, and representatives from key groups and organizations. The extension plan would also detail a set of actions and expected outputs that could form the basis of the M&E plan that would be jointly administered by the project management unit. Monitoring and evaluation would measure performance through means such as date, time and GPS stamped photos of training visits and farmer demonstrations, as well as through quasi-experimental evaluation research of the program impacts on participating farms (using non-participating farms as controls).
The GON continues to be very supportive of agricultural extension services. It has received generous support from various donor communities to address food security. The main issue is the efficacy in the use of public funds to address the root causes of food insecurity. It is time for Nepal and its friends to reflect on the questions, “What lessons have we learned from past food security-related projects and how can we improve the performance and impact? How can we reach the people who need the help most? What roles should public institutions such as the extension service play in food security? What roles should be delegated to NGOs and the private sector? ” Long-term food security cannot be delivered from outside. Communities and households have to be empowered to grow nutritious food sufficient to maintain healthy lives.
Some agricultural development practitioners argue for privatization of extension services to enhance efficiency and speed in enhancing food security. We agree that private firms, including NGOs, may offer timely delivery of agricultural inputs such as improved seed, pesticides, fertilizer, and farming equipment. However, considering the context of a less developed country such as Nepal, we are concerned about the timely delivery of quality input services by private firms. Therefore, cost, timeliness, and quality of services must be monitored by MOAC units such as DOA, DLS, or DFTQC. We believe that extension services contain significant public good components and thus there is an important reason for public sector involvement in a developing country’s extension system. We must remember that projects may come and go, but the extension service of DOA, DLS, NARC, and IAAS will continue to exist. Therefore, it is important for development projects and programs to engage public institutions, as well as civil society organizations and private sector firms. Building the capacity of the public institutions to plan, deliver and evaluate local food security programs is essential for sustainable development.