Farmer training centres (FTCs) have been designed and used to improve agricultural extension services delivery in many developing countries. Ethiopia is promoting the FTC approach with the hope of improving the reach and effectiveness of agricultural extension and the participation of farmers in technology development.
Within the broader strategy of agricultural development-led industrialization (ADLI), it is envisioned that FTCs will contribute to general rural transformation in Ethiopia that would not be limited to agricultural development. Extension services ranging from capacity development on use of improved farming technologies (e.g. improved seed production techniques, improved agronomic practices, integrated pest management, animal husbandry and agroforestry, etc.) and providing market-oriented information and communication and advisory services, to name a few, would be provided through the FTC approach.
In addition to providing information and improving communication and capacity development activities, the agricultural extension services at the FTCs will help in linking farmers with institutional support services such as input supply, credit, cooperative promotion and development offices and marketing services.
In principle, the FTC strategy document of the Ethiopian government states that FTCs should be staffed with at least three diploma holder extension agents who are trained in crop and animal science and natural resource management. In addition, a mid-level veterinarian and a cooperative promotion officer shall serve two to three FTCs by residing at a central location. The strategy also recommends that each FTC have at least two hectares of land for carrying out demonstrations.
Field-extension service is a strong foundation of FTCs and in many cases, trained extension agents are already in place and close to farmers. So far, thousands of FTCs have been established throughout Ethiopia and tens of thousands of extension agents have been trained to support farmers to improve their practices. This implies that many peasant associations (PAs), districts and regional offices are well staffed with professionals who are trained to address new challenges in agriculture and some studies suggest that pockets of entrepreneurialism and innovations are developing in specific FTCs and districts of the country due to the new approach to extension.
However, although there are a few cases where intended objectives are achieved, the majority of the FTCs are not rendering the required extension services to rural communities. Many FTCs have not been fully equipped, staffed and/or budgeted for as originally planned. There also appears to be significant variation in their operations across the country.
In our field visits, baseline and other surveys as well as day-to-day project activities in several PAs in some zones of the Oromia region, we have observed that FTCs have not, on the most part, been used effectively.
Several constraints are observed within the field-level extension system and require particular attention. These include high staff turnover, lack of basic infrastructure, facilities (such as equipment and demonstration sites) and resources (including staff and financial). Most FTCs do not have basic inputs for carrying out typical extension activities on the demonstration sites (where these exist). In some cases, FTC sites are used as storage for crops and other materials or serve as a source of income for the PA administration instead of as a ‘centre of participatory extension delivery’ as intended.
Moreover, there are complaints about the ability of the development agents to serve farmers due to lack of practical skills and tools to effectively implement the FTC centred extension policy. In addition, the FTCs and public extension in general do not have appropriate mechanisms for accessing modern agricultural knowledge and information.
In general, although FTCs are important resources and provide opportunities to move participatory extension forward, making them more functional and effective remains a challenge, despite the fact that FTCs can reach many farmers at a minimal cost.
The Livestock and Irrigation Value Chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project is using FTCs in some intervention areas to demonstrate new technology for fodder development and irrigated vegetable crops interventions. Based on the experience of the past two years, we are convinced that services provided by FTCs can be more effectively used and enhanced in collaboration with partners.
LIVES plans to collaborate with agricultural offices such as the bureau of agriculture, the livestock development and health agency and the irrigation development agency, PA administration and other stakeholders to boost the role of FTCs in intervention areas. A comprehensive strategy is, however, needed to revitalize the use of FTCs as centres for effective technology demonstration and spaces for participatory learning.
Written by Zewdie Adane, Gemeda Duguma, Abule Ebro and Amenti Chali.