Good intensions and hard realities: Achievements and challenges in agricultural extension systems in Tunisia
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The purpose set for this study was to assess the proficiency of the agricultural extension in Tunisia based on secondary information and interactions with key stakeholders involved in the extension information chain. These discussions and interactions indicates that organizational structure the agricultural extension system of Tunisia (AEST) has been in existence for decades and is quite elaborate. It is impressive in its coverage of functions, regions and activities. It is also commendable for the quantity of extension material, both written and audio-visual, that it uses to convey messages to farmers. While elaborate in its administrative structure, the AEST is however elementary in its conceptual nature and suffers from a number of limitations and constraints that are inherent to the nature of the agricultural activity itself, namely rainfall dependence, marketing channels functioning and power, the scattered nature of farms and their limited size; all negatively affecting its expected profitability and therefore its economic viability. Consequently, the derived demand for extension service is limited, localized, restrained and mostly public incentive induced. The objectives to privatize the AEST and induce private participation and partnership in it have been set for decades, to date the supply of extension messages are typically of the top-down nature and based mostly on technical recipes; i.e., public administration set and lacking information on socioeconomic considerations that could provide farmers with viable alternative options and help reduce the risk and uncertainty they are constantly facing. They also lack flexibility regarding the diversity of farmers and farming conditions. Improving the performance of extension services in Tunisia is essential if policy makers would be successful in designing ways, using modern tools, measures and instruments for relaxing the constraints that limit the profitability and overall attractiveness of the agricultural work and investment. This dialectic nature rests on many technical, institutional and social considerations and constraints that do not change rapidly over time.