AGRICULTURAL extension service is under criticism in Pakistan.
Let us have the viewpoint of an extension officer: I have meagre time for the fanners.
Few months back we were assigned the duty to work with the police to grab the kite flyers in city, and then we monitored Sasti Roti Scheme Tandoors and during Ramazan we have to take care of Ramzan Bazaars.
I may be deputed any time at any place for a job I am not trained for and was not selected for, a senior officer of Department of Agriculture (Extension), Government of the Punjab said when he was asked about activities of the department for the farming community in the province.
Agricultural extension is considered as one of the most important tools for achieving food security, sustainable rural development and prosperity through dissemination and exchange of agricultural information and technology.
It is a unique service of providing non-formal education to the small farmers in remote rural areas.
Agricultural extension system is, in fact, a series of interlinked interventions that encompass agricultural research, extension and farmer triangle, and is meant to empower farmers.
The Department has huge field force in that it has presence at the village level -starting from field assistants at the union council level, agricultural officers (extension) at markaz, deputy district officers agriculture (extension) at tehsils and district officers agriculture in the districts.
Apart from field staff, the Directorate of Agriculture (Extension and Adaptive Research) has a well established network of adaptive research farms and In-Service Agricultural Training Institutes in the province.
Almost all of the officers hold professional B.
Sc.
or M.
Sc (Honours) degrees in different disciplines of agricultural sciences.
Essential reforms and restructuring of the organizations become inevitable to match the pace of technological advancement.
Without reforms, the public organizations become obsolete and ineffective in delivery of services to their target population.
Agricultural extension system is no exception and various paradigms of agri extension have been implemented in Pakistan such as village co-operative movement, the village agricultural and industrial development programme, integrated rural development programmes, training and visit system etc.
after Devolution Plan 2001, implemented by the then military government of Pervez Musharraf, the agricultural sector was decentralized at the district level and field staff of the Department of Agriculture (Extension) becomes practically under the control of district nazims; and presently due to non-existence of nazims they are directly under the bureaucratic control of district coordination officers (DCOs).
Devolution of government functionaries anticipates an improved monitoring, evaluation and solution of problems at the local level.
Accountability of state officials to the elected local governments is considered as an effective governance strategy worldwide.
Particularly in the field of agriculture, demand driven system is expected with the participation of the local people at the grass-root level (including local elected members).
However, in Punjab the state of affairs regarding Department of Agriculture (Extension) is rather disappointing.
The field force of the department, that is meant to facilitate the farmers, is being utilized for different odd assignments including sasti roti scheme, ramzan bazaars, urban vegetation etc.
The ground reality is that the elected representatives and bureaucracy are more inclined towards development work and social welfare activities etc.
and they are least interested in the promotion of agriculture in the rural areas.
The enthusiasm and morale of the staff of the Department of Agriculture (Extension) go down when they are asked to give maximum time to such activities that are entirely extraneous to their job.
The DCOs and city administration have their own priorities including development of green belts and landscaping.
They want to utilize the services of extension field staff for beautification of urban areas.
Sometimes the latest equipment such as laser land levellers are also utilized according to their sweet will.
For instance, when asked about the availability of laser land leveler for the farmers, a senior officer of the Department informed that one equipment is working at a housing scheme in city while another one is being used at an under-construction park.
Recently initiated Chief Ministers Kitchen Gardening Project has further aggravated the issue.
No doubt, the project has its own merits and benefits but the precious time and resources of the extension field staff that have to be utilized for rural areas are being exploited in the urban areas and the farmers (particularly small farmers) are left at the mercy of private multinational companies.
The research-extension-education triangle which is already feeble has further been weakened.
The agricultural extension service under decentralized arrangements is combating with the new regulations, policies, administration and service structure etc.
In such circumstances the country cannot meet the challenges of global climate change, food insecurity, poverty, market liberalization and sustainable rural development.
The desired objectives of the devolution of agriculture extension service cannot be achieved when the leadership (both at local and provincial level) is not committed to uplift the livelihoods of poor farmers and development of rural areas on sustainable basis.
(The authors are faculty members at the Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.
E-mail: babar.
shahbaz@amail.
com)