In the past few years Nepal has tried several measures to ensure better delivery of agriculture extension services to farmers. But only few such measures worked because of high cost and lack of community ownership. Instead, the number of agriculture service centers, which are mandated to provide services to farmers at the grassroots, has considerably declined due to shrinking government investment in agriculture.
As a result, the quality of services provided by these centers is poor; and the extension service coverage is less than 15 percent of total farming households. One field technician has to provide service to 3,760 farming households, which is nigh impossible in the hilly regions.
The government has started the Community Agriculture and Livestock Service Center (CALSC) after reviewing the Three Year Interim Plan (2007-2010). The goal was to make service extension quicker and more effective. The recently approved Agriculture Development Service (ADS) is scheduled for implementation from the start of this fiscal.
It aims to create Community Agricultural Extension Service Centers (CAESC) that will be fully owned and managed by the communities in each VDC and funded by combined resources of the VDCs, cooperatives, private sector and the government. The CAESC will be a registered organization and its membership will be open to all farmers, agro-enterprises and agricultural extension service providers in VDCs.
The centers will own and manage their own assets, hire their own staff, conduct meetings, formulate business plans, open bank accounts, disburse funds and audit accounts. The purpose of the center is to facilitate extension services at village level, as per the needs of farmers. The centers will hire their own extension service providers (agricultural and livestock technicians or village extension workers) who will receive training and technical assistance from government service centers in the districts or other related units.
These centers might also establish links with agricultural universities, colleges and vocational schools for capacity-building. It can initiate direct MOUs or contracts with projects, NGOs or private service providers.
As agriculture extension services, which include program planning, program implementation and financial authority, have already been devolved to the DDCs, the CAESC approach provide further impetus to take these services to the grassroots. It is in line with local government structure of federal Nepal as well.
The best thing about the current extension system is it is broad remit as it includes public and private sectors as well as civil society institutions. They will in turn provide a range of services (advisory, technology transfer, training, promotional, and informational) on a variety of subjects such as production, value addition and marketing that rural people require to manage their agricultural systems and livelihoods. Donor organizations, I/NGOS and private sector have begun to take part in delivery of such services.
Properly implemented, CAESC can be developed as a network of extension service centers that reach out to all VDCs. Since they will be managed by communities, they are likely to be more responsive to the diverse needs of farmers.
However, proper implementation of the CAESC requires coordination among different stakeholders such as farmer groups and cooperatives, VDCs and other service providers in the VDCs. It also calls for effective coordination among actors like District Development Committee, District Agriculture Development Office, District Livestock Service Office and other service providers.
It is most essential to integrate CAESC activities into VDC/DDC plans. Local youth should be encouraged for self-employment in agriculture business. For this, local youth should be trained under the government’s youth self-employment program.
Finally, there should be a legal provision to operate CAESC. The main purpose of CAESC should be to ensure its long-term sustainability, providing agriculture and livestock extension services in the communities. As our farming system is integrated with crops and livestock, the community managed service centers should also be integrated with these two sub-sectors.
Moreover, the services of the centers should be demand-based, and it should provide all three types of services: advisory, technical and inputs-outputs marketing. A two-pronged service delivery should be adopted. The commercial or commercially-oriented farmers will demand more advanced technologies and intensive services. Service charges for this category should be comparably higher than the charges for poor farmers, who should ideally be provided these services at minimal rates.