At the request of the USAID Ghana Mission, the MEAS project (Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services – a USAID funded project) conducted a rapid scoping mission to examine the pluralistic extension system in Ghana and to develop recommendations for strengthening extension and advisory services in the country. The fieldwork for the assessment work was carried out from October 19 to November 7, 2012 and included in-depth interviews with Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) staff at all levels, international and national non-governmental organization (NGO) directors and staff, lead farmers, university faculty, agricultural researchers and private sector representatives. To the extent possible, interviews were carried out on the “shop floors” of the different respondents, allowing the MEAS team to visit farms, area and district extension and project offices, universities and training centers, and research facilities. The mission aimed to understand the institutional landscape, identify the principal actors, and ascertain respective resource levels, targets, operational modalities, inter-organizational relationships, areas of conflict and gaps. Based upon the information collected and observations made, the team identified a number of key issues within the pluralistic extension system in Ghana that will need to be addressed in order to develop a more sustainable, farmer-led and market driven system of extension and advisory services.
Overall, our rapid scoping assessment found very positive aspects of extension in Ghana, as well as some significant weaknesses and deficiencies. Extension assets we identified included some examples of good extension practice in a number of public sector and NGO run extension programs that employ key approaches like market-oriented extension and use of innovative ICT approaches. Additionally, Ghana is home to some promising private sector input marketing and market access approaches, which have the virtue of being financially sustainable. However, we also identified gaps in the current extension programming approaches in Ghana. Perhaps most importantly, we found a need for coordination at the national level because of the sheer number of actors and organizations operating in the agricultural extension area. Also, we heard many reports of the need for improved performance from the public sector extension services. Furthermore, the mindset of much of the extension work we observed focuses on production increases, without sufficient concern for farm-level profitability, which is necessary to induce further agricultural innovations and thereby boost productivity. At the same time, the riskiness of many proposed agricultural innovations deserves additional analysis and attention. The team also found many examples of extension programs that were not market oriented. There is a need for extension program structures that are explicitly and consciously farmer-led. In this vein, we also found gaps in the ability of some current extension programming efforts to reach women farmers. We also identified gaps in the training and capacity of MoFA Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) and other extension field agents as for many staff no regular in-service training programs have been available for several decades. Training in the area of ICT use and applications, as well as in extension process skills is also indicated. Furthermore, we identified numerous reports and examples of farmers and farmer groups not receiving extension services, in some cases because of lack of funds for transport for AEAs, but also due to poor staff motivation. Lastly, addressing the role and position of extension in the increasingly decentralized governmental structure of Ghana was identified as a critical need in northern Ghana.
Measurement is necessary to guide extension policy and program development and coordination. Yet this function of gathering and analyzing and disseminating widely the results of extension program measurement and evidence is lacking in Ghana. Measurement at the farm level should occur annually for a panel-type sample of northern Ghana farmers and their farms so that the needed focus on farm profitability and net family farm income can be tracked, as well as providing measurements on yields and farm investment behaviors as well as food security and poverty measures. Ideally, such data gathering would be independent of major agricultural projects and MoFA extension so that some measure of the breadth and depth, as well as targeting gaps, in extension programming efforts in northern Ghana could occur. Such information could be used for improving the reach of efforts over time. Additionally, measurement efforts should include improved monitoring and evaluation (M&E) frameworks for any ongoing and new agricultural development projects that involve extension in northern Ghana. A major weakness is the lack of a suitable comparison or control group and the inability to establish real program impact, particularly beyond the life of a project.
Action research, meaning applied research involving farmer’s organizations and others involved directly in extension, should be conducted to:
· determine best-fit approaches to market-oriented extension in Ghana;
· examine the impacts of nucleus farms (hub and spoke model) on small-holder farms in terms of technology adoption and net farm revenues;
· identify best-fit methods to improve market access for farmers groups; and,
· examine good practices and their impacts in the NRM area in northern Ghana.
The learning from such action research projects would inform the design and implementation of extension programs in Ghana.
In the area of public sector extension and advisory services, an overall objective should be to improve system performance, especially through better AEA motivation and incentives, particularly in the context of governmental decentralization. Also, farmers groups and organizations should receive capacity-building training to advocate for their receipt of agricultural extension services. Third, local government (District Assembly) capacity to utilize extension to improve small-holder incomes and food security should be strengthened so that decentralization does not further damage the ability of small-holder farmers to receive extension services. Fourth, capacity building at the national level is necessary to improve coordination of extension activities and programs across a wide variety of extension providers. Fifth, support and improvement via strengthening should be provided to MoFA ICT-based extension efforts. Sixth, ensure that widely available training materials and supporting supplies exist for all the major crops in northern Ghana, particularly rice, maize, and soya. These materials should be available on the internet with encouragement for their wide use. Additionally, these materials can be made available on tablets for AEAs and other staff to use and deploy at the village level. Seventh, increase the media development capacity of the MoFA Extension Directorate through training, coaching and learning by doing. Eighth, develop a properly catalogued and shared (via the internet and via a resource library) set of all extension training materials for Ghana. This will lower the costs of material development and will promote information sharing and extension programs.
We recommend that AEAs and other front-line extension workers be able to access in-service training programs through a variety of delivery platforms. Using the MoFA e-extension platform to deliver existing training materials such as the Five Skill Sets and a to-be-developed training program on climate change adaptation should be pursued. Additionally, the ability of Ghanaian university and other extension training programs to offer the strongest possible degree and certificate training programs should be enhanced through faculty-strengthening and exchanges.
In order to promote and strengthen private sector and civil society involvement in the pluralistic extension system we recommend the following actions:
· Establish a program to pilot and enable the ability of farmers’ organizations to directly hire, finance, and utilize agricultural extension agents;
· Build upon existing and previously developed and implemented programs of community extension volunteers (lead farmers, etc.) via strengthening, training, and support so that farmers’ groups and their extension needs are met;
· Develop and promote small-scale independent farm advisors who provide services to farmers on a fee-for-service basis;
· Implement an extension program targeted to mechanization service providers (tractors, combines, threshers, etc.) in northern Ghana to strengthen business skills and technical capacity, as well as their business lines and offerings.
Given what we have observed in our assessment, we hold the view that with sufficient effort and carefully targeted investments, the existing extension assets can be amplified and built upon, and the gaps in the extension system addressed, so that a better functioning and supportive agricultural extension system would be in place to promote improved farm profitability in northern Ghana and concomitant increases in agricultural productivity and reductions in rural poverty. Such a well-functioning pluralistic extension system could quickly become a model for all of West Africa.
 Available at www.meas-extension.org/meas-offers/training/five-skills.