Today commercialization of agriculture is an inevitable reality throughout the whole world. There are a number of factors affecting the commercialization process in agriculture. Some of them could be named as rapid growth of economies in the both developing and developed countries, introducing of new technologies, market expansion, market liberalization, urbanization, rapid increase of demand for food, decreasing of farming population, liberalized and open economic policies, bilateral and multilateral economic agreements, developed infrastructure facilities in farming areas and government agricultural policies. However, commercialization in agriculture is not a new phenomenon and it is not a surprise to the farming community. Since the nineteen fifties, farmers in most of the countries have moved towards commercial agriculture. Their major objective was surplus production aiming market prospects. Agricultural extension plays a major role in agricultural production.
Role of agricultural extension in a commercialized agricultural system is different from such service in subsistence farming system. In the commercialized agriculture the extension service will mainly concentrate on the resourceful big farmers, with favorable environmental conditions and higher socio-economic status. Under the commercialized agriculture the number of farmers is to be reduced and the size of the farm land should be increased. This is a generally accepted concept in commercial agriculture. Do we have to accept this concept under each and every situation? We think the answer is “no”. By using improved technologies farmers can move towards commercial agriculture without considering the size of land. Under protected agriculture, farmers follow concepts of the commercial agriculture. Commercial livestock farming does not rely on the farm size except diary farming.
However, the role of agricultural extension in the commercialized agricultural system is mainly dependent on the type and way of commercialization in a given society. We have to expect that agricultural extension services are supposed to fulfill many aims, from reducing rural poverty and improved livelihoods for rural households to increasing the overall production and contributing to foreign exchange earnings from exports. But the level and percentage of this contribution may vary from one situation to another.
CONCEPTS OF RURAL EXTENSION
Agricultural extension was once known as the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education. The field of extension now encompasses a wider range of communication and learning activities organized for rural people by professionals from different disciplines, including agriculture, agricultural marketing, health, and business studies.
‘Agricultural Extension is an ongoing, non-formal educational process which occurs over a period of time and it leads to improve the living conditions of farmers and their family members by increasing the profitability of their farming activities. In this activity, to achieve above goals, it expects the improvement of the farmer’s knowledge, skills and change of their attitudes in agricultural technology, farming activities and agricultural marketing.’
Today extension should look into increasing the productivity of the farming business as a whole. It includes both direct farming activities and off farm or farming related activities. Agricultural extension should assist, guide and direct farmers to identify both farming and non-farming activities which can increase their net income.
Therefore, the mode of agricultural extension is also a key factor which affects the degree of commercialization of agriculture. Today, agricultural extension is a commodity with a certain price. This commodification of agricultural extension, the transforming of knowledge into a product for sale, helped to revolutionize both public sector extension and the business of private sector technology transfer (Rivera 2000). This revolution took place not because of anything else, only because of the commercialization of agricultural extension.
CONCEPTS AND PRACTICES IN AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION
Under this concept, first, agricultural extension is considered as a commercial product or service, which exchanges between two parties over a required payment. Simply one party (extension providers) acts as sellers and other party (farmers) acts as buyers. Secondly, basic economic theory of supply and demand is applied in this process. Agricultural extension service becomes a totally demand-oriented activity. Thirdly, extension can also be considered as an input such as fertilizer, improved seed, agro-chemicals, machinery, etc, which is essential for the commercially oriented farming. As farmers have to pay for other inputs, they have to pay for extension services also.
The basic concept is that farmers have to pay for the service which they get. Either farmers pay totally or partially, it depends on the extension approach. Farmers may pay the full amount of the fee or the government or other funding agency could subsidize it fully or partially. However, finally extension providers are being paid for their service. These extension providers are not essentially to be private sector companies or individuals. It can be a government or semi government extension agency.
Different Approaches of Commercialization of Agricultural Extension
There are a number of extension approaches that can be listed. Here, I would like to categorize them into following groups.
Decentralization of agricultural extension refers to one way of gradual transfer of responsibility for extension from the public to the private sector. It involves the transfer of planning, decision making, management, from the central government and its agencies to field organizations, subordinate units of government, semi-autonomous public organizations, regional organizations, chambers of commerce, and even non governmental organizations.
· Public cost recovery approach
To cope with serious fiscal constraints and by changing structure of the farming sector, most of the governments have begun charging fees for some extension services they provide to the rural sector. The degree to which these cost recovery programs have been pursued has varied across countries.
· Totally private extension delivery approach
The major idea of this is to transfer delivery of extension services mainly to the private sector. Several types of private firms currently undertake agricultural extension activities. These include agro-processing firms, input suppliers, media companies and consulting firms.
· Contracting of extension services
There are two types of extension contracting viz. “contracting out” and “contracting in”. Contracting out means public sector or state provides financing and private sector delivers the extension service for the financing authority. Contracting in means private organization or an NGO provides funds and public sector organization delivers the extension service.
· Farmer taxation
Farmers are taxed for the services provided to them directly or indirectly. For instance in Sri Lanka, tea small holders are taxed indirectly for the extension services provided to them through Tea Small Holders Development Authority which is a semi government body.
Pluralism or pluralistic extension system means using both public and non-public institutions for delivering extension services to farmers (Qumar, 2001). In many developing countries, various non-governmental organizations, private input supplying companies, semi governmental organizations deliver extension services parallel with the public sector extension services.
Commercialization of agricultural extension becomes a reality today. Therefore we cannot survive only with free of charge extension services which are mainly owned by the government sector. Today most of new technologies are developed by research institutes and/or commercial firms by spending a large cost. As an example, a new variety of paddy or maize was developed by spending millions of dollars. Today most of these research institutes or commercial firms are profit-oriented institutes. They are not prepared to give this technology free of charge. Therefore, commercial extension service has to purchase it and sell back to the farmers.
But this is not the reality in the farming world. There are millions of resource-poor farmers in the developing countries. They will be marginalized by commercialized extension services and therefore a number of social problems may arise. So, the state owned free of charge extension services should concern themselves with these resource- poor farmers.
Considering all these facts discussed throughout this paper, the role of extension in commercial agriculture can be summarized as follows:
· Durability of the service depends on quality, effectiveness and efficiency.
· The extension service should provide information and advice not only on cultivation practices, but also in farm planning and management, post harvest practices and management, marketing and alternative income generating sources and technologies.
· Information and knowledge delivered by the extension service should be cost effective. Else, the sustainability of the service would be in danger.
· Commercialized extension service should identify alternative strategies not to marginalize resource-poor farmers in the community.
· Extension service should provide a number of alternative recommendations rather than a package. Then farmers can select the best solution or recommendation out of the alternatives.
· Delivery of public goods is a problem because they are non- excludable and non-rival. Also, many types of agricultural information are not pure public or private goods: information may be highly excludable but at the same time non-rival within that group. Extension service has to identify new methods to deliver this type of goods, because these cannot be delivered for a fee.
· They have to pay sufficient attention to environmental issues, not merely increase productivity. One of the major criticisms against commercialized extension services is trying to increase productivity without considering environmental issues which is very important for the sustainability and balance of the environment.
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