In much of the developing world, agriculture is the key vehicle for moving millions of people out of poverty. Smallholder farmers, the majority of whom are women, produce most of the food we eat. Often they do this with minimal support, using outdated technologies and practices. They are seldom reached by extension and advisory service providers as their needs and demands are not well articulated or understood. They also lack the resources, mainly financial, required to access much-needed inputs. Increased attention is now being paid to the issues inhibiting the full participation of smallholder farmers in value chains. Policy and institutional changes are critical in bringing about a transformation.
The diminished role of extension and advisory services as public goods is seen as a major bottleneck to future agricultural and rural development. In recent years, several initiatives have been launched to redesign extension and advisory services to meet the new reality in the global food system. After many years of under-investment in agriculture particularly in extension, research, education and training, the tide has changed and governments and the international community are mobilized and committed to take urgent action and provide substantial funding to support agricultural and rural development. Revitalizing extension and advisory services, maximizing their potential and strengthening their linkages with other actors in agricultural value chains and the wider innovation system are fundamental to improving agricultural productivity, sustainable livelihoods and rural development.
The International Conference on 'Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services: Linking Knowledge to Policy and Action for Food and Livelihoods' held in Nairobi in November 2011 brought together about 500 national, regional and international experts, key stakeholders and organisations. The objective was to take stock of current policies, thinking and practice, successes and failures of ongoing and past reforms in
extension and advisory services and build acoalition to address needs of smallholder farmers, in particular marginalized communities, women and youth in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.
This publication reflects the state of the art and contemporary thinking and approaches for transforming advisory and extension services and making them more responsive, efficient and effective. The papers were developed from the shortlisted abstracts that were selected in response to the call for papers and case-studies and presented during the International Conference in November 2011. Four thematic areas are covered: policy, capacity development, tools and approaches and learning networks. These are unique papers that provide insights into the research that is being conducted in the area of extension and advisory services around the world. They also reflect the gaps where more work is needed, especially in the area of policy and impact assessment.
This publication is a valuable resource for informing policy and practice on extension and advisory services and serves as one of the legacies of the international collaboration that led to this successful conference.