Imagine that your job is to train 5,000 rural farmers on improved techniques across an area the size of Rhode Island. But you don’t have an office or a place to meet with farmers. You also don’t have any transportation to get to them. Oh, and you don’t have a cell phone or other way to communicate with them from afar.
This sounds like an implausible situation, but this is how agriculture extension is set up in Bangladesh, and in many parts of the world. Government extension staff are expected to reach thousands of clients to teach improved practices that will help them adapt to climate change or to increase their incomes. However, extension agents in Bangladesh lacked the most basic tools necessary to do their jobs.
It was this challenge that was given to the Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), a local NGO working in in partnership with CARE Bangladesh. The agricultural extension service center (AESC) model was piloted through USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative under The Agricultural Extension Support Activity
. The regions where the project worked experience declining soil fertility, loss of land and water resources, stagnation of fisheries capture and livestock production, all of which compound the already high rates of malnutrition in Bangladesh. Frontline extension staff, known as Sub-Assistant Agriculture Officers (SAAOs), are the most direct way to teach farmers about adapting to a changing environment and adopting technologies and practices that can help them do so.
The Department of Agriculture Extension is the only agency in Bangladesh that provides public crop-based extension services. The frontline extension agents are attached to "blocks" that are the hub of information flow to an Upazilla, which is in turn sub-divided into three "unions" (each union comprising a cluster of villages). A single extension agent could be tasked with serving 4,500 farm households in each Upazilla. However, these agents do not have an office, a work vehicle, or a mobile phone, and little to no communication with their supervisors at the Upazilla level.
Accessing the right tools
: The AESC model was designed to address these challenges of lack of transportation, communication or housing for extension agents in order to improve service delivery to small-scale rural farmers.
: Before AESC, three SAAOs, each serving one block, had shelter (not an office) in one of the three blocks (DAE-model). This required them to travel between blocks to provide services to farmers. Under the AESC model, SAAOs are housed at a newly established office at the block level close to Farmer Producer Groups. The Program coordinated Farmer Producer Groups (FPGs) at central.
: They were also provided motorcycles, so they could travel to farmer groups more easily. Women SAAOs also gained a sense of empowerment from being given a motorcycle, something that is not customary, and that elevated their positions within the community.
: SAAOs also now have smartphones, which ease communication not only with their supervisors, but also with farmers who can now text SAOOs pictures of diseased plants and receive advice within hours.
Improving women’s access to extension:
Women SAAOs found it easier to provide services at their own office, rather than in public market places, which is against the social norm. Further, SAAOs could now reach farmers on motorcycles and as a result, women farmers who cannot travel to the centers because of cultural norms received more direct contact with extension agents.
Increased motivation of extension staff
: By having an office, transportation, and smartphones, SAAOs received a huge morale boost from their increased social status and increased respect from the farmers they serve. Some SAAOs were so proud that they printed business cards at their own expense.
Increased uptake of extension services
: The AESC model is a simple and effective way to address the resource challenges experienced not only in Bangladesh, but in many rural communities globally. The Project listened to the needs that farmers and service providers expressed and implemented a solution that can be scaled by the Government of Bangladesh. The model has been incredibly successful at reaching farmers, especially women, who were not previously reached. A total of 87 percent of farmers say that this model has improved the effectiveness of extension services, while 63 percent of farmers say they gained new skills because of the approach.
If you would like to find out more about the agriculture extension service center, you can read the evaluation
of the model. For more information on the Agriculture Extension Support Activity
, please visit the Project website.