The training and visit system of agricultural extension, initially developed as a systematic program by Daniel Benor, was first used extensively by the Bank in India in the early 1970s, following a field trial in a project in Turkey. Based on its success, particularly with crops under irrigation, it has also been adopted in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and, recently, in West and East Africa. In August 1982, there were 64 Bank-financed projects explicitly using the training and visit system, 23 that incorporated elements of it, and 10 non-Bank projects using it.
Agricultural extension, a system of supporting services aimed at making farmers—particularly small-scale and subsistence farmers—more productive, is being increasingly affected by the philosophy and methods of this approach. The Bank’s World Development Report 1982 labeled the experience with traditional extension work “disappointing.” The reasons cited were varied—research did not take account of local conditions; extension was biased toward men, when women played an important role; support services were inadequate; and so on. The key improvements offered by the training and visit system are the development of better links between farmers and extension workers, and between both of these and research; and the increased effectiveness of the extension worker.
The essence of the system is that it should be sufficiently flexible to be used effectively in any type of farming, under any conditions. Its aim is to improve the use of existing resources, concentrating initially on key improvements in major crops. In some areas, where farming practices are already efficient and appropriate, this has meant giving farmers technical advice on more productive crops or more appropriate types of fertilizer or seed. In others, advice on better farming methods—when to sow, how to weed—can produce dramatically better yields fairly quickly without much cash being paid out by the farmer. Quick and successful results are an important way of demonstrating the use of the system and in persuading more farmers to adopt it.
“System” is an appropriate name for the approach. Centered on providing farmers with relevant, clear, and sensible advice, which depends on close two-way contacts between farm families, extension workers, researchers, and administrators, it functions by allocating precise responsibilities and by timing activities carefully. The chart shows the line of command; not shown are all the links with research and the timetable of extension and extensional research activities, which are equally important. Village extension workers visit small groups of “contact” and other farmers at least once a fortnight, to teach them three or four carefully chosen recommendations about what to do over the next two weeks. Since farmers attending the sessions also pass the advice on to other farm families, one extension worker can reach from 500 to 1,200 farm families in this way. The extension workers—who generally spend eight days out of every two weeks on these visits—spend one day at a training session where subject matter specialists teach them the recommendations for the next two weeks and discuss farmers’ problems from the previous fortnight. When appropriate, these sessions are attended by representatives from supply and credit agencies who collect information on the support the farmers will be needing.
The subject matter specialists divide their time, according to an equally structured program, between these training sessions, research, and fieldwork—an important element of the latter involving adaptive trials on farmers’ fields to improve recommendations. The supervisors of extension field-workers also attend training sessions, in addition to spending at least eight days every two weeks in the field. At every level, contact is maintained between fieldwork and research, concentrating the system on making the extension work deal effectively with farmers’ problems.
The system embodies few new ideas, but by emphasizing key principles that are frequently neglected, and by providing a resilient implementation system, it can have a significant impact. In India, for example, under the Community Development Program established in 1952, the village level worker had been the point of contact between the government and the farmer. Although he was meant to spend 80 per cent of his time on agricultural work, he had to provide virtually all the public services needed by the village, and had too much else to do. The situation became acute once Indian farmers began to use new high-yielding seed varieties and the focus shifted even further from extension work to providing supplies of inputs.
Following the introduction of the system in a few pilot areas in the mid-1970s, 13 states in India have adopted the training and visit system in IDA-financed projects that should eventually, at full development, reach 69 per cent of India’s cropped area. Adopting the system involved reforming existing extension services, a major organizational effort. The key changes were to make the extension staff responsible only for extension work in a unified service and to put pressure on researchers to concentrate on the practical problems of the average farmer. As a result, technical recommendations are now available that can substantially increase farmers’ incomes. The success of these recommendations for farming both under irrigation and rainfed conditions is well known and proven; a number are also available that can improve the productivity of small farmers in rainfed areas with minimal investment on their part, as well as raise the productivity of larger farmers.
Organization pattern of the training and visit system of agricultural extension in India
*Subject Matter Specialists— the link between extension work and research. They sit on technical committees at headquarters and district levels, visit research stations, and organize field trials with and train Agricultural Extension Officers and Village Extension Workers.
Although all the results are hard to quantify, some direct effects of the system on production are evident. In Orissa, for example, extension has been the main vehicle for promoting the planting of oilseed and pulses, and the area planted under both increased from 1.5 million hectares in 1977 to 2.3 million in 1980. In Rajasthan, during the first three years under the system, wheat, cotton, and groundnut yields went up; the area planted under hybrid millet increased more than threefold in some areas and was replaced by soyabean in others; and the seed treatment and fertilizer applications recommended by the village extension workers have been adopted by 40 to 50 per cent of the farmers.
It is not, however, a straightforward exercise to adapt an existing extension service to the training and visit system. In India, extension had been the weak link in agricultural services; distribution and marketing systems were good, supplies were available, and so were technical recommendations that had not reached the average farmer but were capable of increasing productivity. Once the extension service was reorganized, yields went up, and the success strengthened the dedication the system needed to make it work. Now that the system has been in place for a few years, however, problems are emerging. Administrative norms and procedures emphasize office, not field, work, as do supervisors; rural and agricultural development strategies are sometimes at odds with the single-purpose function of the extension worker; difficulties are arising in concentrating research on adaptive technologies, and so on. Some projects have been delayed because of administrative and political difficulties.
It is also proving more difficult than anticipated to adapt the system to areas where technical support and infrastructure are weak. To make its greatest impact, the system depends on all elements functioning well: extension staff need to be dedicated, capable of learning on the job, and respected; contact farmers need to be representative; research needs to provide the advice and improvements in technology and practices that are capable of increasing yields; supervisors need to monitor extension and research in the field; separate support facilities—to supply credit and inputs—must be available; and the distribution services and infrastructure must be in place to market the crops and provide the boreholes or the irrigation needed. In many areas there are simply not the resources, either human or physical, to establish such a concentrated, interlocking system. In these cases, it has to operate with more limited horizons to avoid the extension service losing its credibility.
Nevertheless, there have been some signs of successful adaptation. Three years after being established, the training and visit system has perceptibly improved cotton and foodcrop yields in an IDA-financed project in Upper Volta. Extension workers are reaching an estimated 100,000 farmers, who have increased their use of fertilizer and improved grain varieties and who are receiving more credit. Before the system was established, extension workers had unclear and too many responsibilities and little training; now they receive training and refresher courses, and concentrate only on extension work for three days a week (village groups are organized to manage input supplies and to distribute credit). The changes have been introduced without increasing staff or creating upheavals in the existing system.
The difficulties, rather than demonstrating a weakness in the approach, show that it had seemed perhaps deceptively simple to implement in the early days. While its main ideas are straightforward, its concentrated approach requires a radical change for extension work in most areas—in its focus on fieldwork, its procedures, and in the attitudes of staff at all levels. Once a system has been reorganized, it has to be monitored and supported continuously for improvements to be maintained. This can only be done by field supervision of extension work and farmers’ responses, by monitoring the relevance of research work, and by training sessions—all of which require substantial commitment. Nevertheless, once established, the system has tremendous scope for self-sustained improvement. Given the needs of modern agriculture, suitably adapted to each set of circumstances, it seems a logical way to ensure long-term progress.