Farmer participation in private sector agricultural extension

Farmer participation in private sector agricultural extension

Can the private sector deliver an effective extension system?

This article examines how private sector organisations are increasingly becoming important players in the provision of agricultural extension services, as well as crop research, in the global South. Drawing on evidence from a case study, the article argues that the advances of the last quarter-century of thinking and experience with farmer participatory approaches have largely failed to influence the delivery of agricultural extension services to smallholder farmers by a major transnational company. The article uses the case of the Monsanto Smallholder Programme to focus specifically on the issues of farmer participation, responsiveness and accountability, in a situation where extension services are being supplied by a transnational company that is also a major producer and marketer of herbicides and driver behind the development and commercialisation of genetically modified crops.

The paper finds a number of weaknesses on how the programme was conceived, designed and implemented in agricultural extension as follows:

  • the programme was seen to have evoked outmoded and largely discredited approaches to agricultural research and extension
  • the programme was designed and implemented in a top-down, expert-driven mode which aimed to facilitate a one-way transfer of technology from Monsanto’s laboratory scientists and plant breeders to farmers
  • the selection of focus crops themselves was determined primarily by the products and technologies Monsanto had to offer and wished to promote, and the selection of districts and villages was shaped by the market development priorities identified by sales managers
  • the need for farmers to adopt new technologies and commercial approaches to farming were regarded as axiomatic steps in the process of “development”, so that farmers’ role in Monsanto’s implicit vision of development was essentially a passive one.

The paper concludes that by highlighting positive stories about the benefits of GM technology for smallholders, Monsanto clearly hopes to influence the global debate about GM crops, and in particular to demonstrate or even “prove” to the wider world the value and appropriateness of transgenic crops for developing countries. Against this background, the Smallholder Programme can be seen to have had a role to play in winning the argument for agricultural biotechnology at the global level. In order for this argument to be made, it was necessary to make certain prior assumptions about the needs and priorities of farmers, rather than depend on them articulating their own preferences and priorities, which might conflict with the company’s interests.

  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.