Technical Report: Training Course on Contemporary Approaches to Extension - May 15-19, 2016
Masafumi Tamura. (14/11/2016). Technical Report: Training Course on Contemporary Approaches to Extension - May 15-19, 2016.
The rapidly changing context of agriculture has resulted in a transformation of the way knowledge is generated and applied. Agricultural development is increasingly taking place in a globalized setting, which implies that domestic markets alone no longer define demand. Agricultural systems are increasingly complex and knowledge from other domains and locales is increasingly more important. Affected by technical, social, economic, political and environmental issues, the range of issues that must therefore be addressed to foster agricultural development is vast and impossible to achieve without adequate foresight. Hence, what is required is a different approach towards the generation and application of agricultural knowledge. Traditional approaches to agricultural research and extension are no longer sufficient to enable agricultural innovation and development to take place. Over the years, perspectives on the role of agricultural research for development have shifted considerably, moving from linear Transfer-of-Technology (ToT) models in the 1960s to ‘Farmer First’ and Farming Systems Research approaches in the 1980s and 1990s. Participatory approaches that came into vogue in the 1990s contributed to technology generation and adoption that further brought in economic, market driven value chain thinking into agricultural research and extension. However neither participatory approaches nor value chains addressed the organizational and institutional factors required for technological changes to sustain. Thus far, agricultural research has focused strongly on improving production and processing techniques such as breeding new varieties, improving cultivation practices or interactions between food and cash crops. More recent views focus on Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS), which builds on systems thinking. Systems thinking is an approach to probing and dealing with the complex situations that actors face in a particular sector – looking at the whole and making links between the various parts. Systems are defined as “relationships and linkages among elements within arbitrary boundaries for discourse about complex phenomena to emphasize wholeness, interrelationships and emergent properties” (Röling 1992). Integrated systems are complex wholes in which a range of social and bio-physical processes interact across various levels and scales. Re-orienting the dynamics of systems in favour of realizing desirable outcomes is essentially about changing the way people interact with each other and respond to their changing environment. (Leeuwis et al 2014). As such, recent approaches to agricultural innovation are increasingly rooted in (soft) systems thinking. The focus on actors, their perspectives, their intentions, and their interrelationships within the wider context makes it a useful approach for dealing with the complexity in which smallholder farmers operate. The new perspectives that emerge through focusing on actors and using a soft systems approach, challenge predominant reductionist, linear, transfer of technology approaches. (Sanyang et al, 2014) The Agricultural Innovation Systems perspective can help to address systemic constraints shared by multiple actors operating in complex systems with competing forces at play. The AIS perspective places great emphasis on understanding the nature of relationships between actors, and the attitudes and practices that shape those relationships. Relationships promote interaction and interaction promotes learning and innovation (World Bank, 2007). An innovation system can be defined as “a network of organizations, enterprises, and individuals focused on bringing new products, new processes, and new forms of organization into economic use, together with the institutions and policies that affect their behaviour and performance” (FAO working 3 definition, Rajalahti, 2012, Hall et al., 2006). They are seen as a way of operationalizing interaction and learning among actors, and enable reshaping institutions and relationships. (Swaans, et.al., 2014)