At the request of the USAID Malawi 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 Malawi and to develop recommendations for strengthening extension and advisory services in the country. The fieldwork for the assessment work was carried from 3-27 January, 2012 and included in-depth interviews with Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MAIWD) 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, ascertain respective resources levels, targets, operational modalities, inter-organizational relationships, areas of conflict and gaps. Based upon the information collected and observations the team identified a number of key issues within the pluralistic extension system in Malawi that will need to be addressed in order to develop a more sustainable, farmer-led and market driven system of extension and advisory services.
[For the full report: Click this link or download below]
Recommendations for Consideration:
- As currently structured, the DAES program is out of scale with its budget and needs to be reviewed in light of the resources that are and will likely continue to be available. To do this in a rational manner, the DAES needs to know what its base funding level will be for the next three to five years — only then can it make informed decisions on the type of activities that are appropriate for it to undertake and the scale at which these can be pursued. The ASWAp investment plan appears to be the appropriate platform through which to undertake this review. Key factors to consider are objectives, tasks, human resource requirements (numbers and education levels), material support (EAS materials, communication, transportation) and infrastructure needs at all levels. The need for operational and maintenance costs is typically underappreciated, leading to constraints and decline of services when they are not adequately budgeted for, such oversights must be guarded against. Ideally, organizations should employ only the number of staff members that it can fully support in performing their duties. Given the noted gaps and current vacancy rates, the DAES is attempting to do too much with too few resources and needs to scale its programs appropriately.
- The DAES should review and consider undertaking appropriate actions to transition itself from a service delivery organization to a development facilitation organization. To follow this path, key considerations will need to be given to identifying a core set of practices (e.g., the Five Skill Set modules) that would be introduced at the community and/or association level to enable target groups to organize and increasingly pursue their own development agendas in an independent manner; setting the appropriate sequencing and timeframe for introducing and allowing groups to acquire these skills, with the concept that communities/associations would effectively graduate to a level of higher order but less resource-intensive support; using a rolling staffing plan in which human resources would be concentrated in targeted areas until communities/associations graduated, then would be redeployed in new areas and replaced by a lower density of more highly qualified and equipped “super AEDOs.” Such a strategy would facilitate the organization in operating with fewer but more mobile and better equipped staff members. To enable DAES to monitor and track achievements of such a plan, it would need a more robust monitoring system. A review of monitoring options should be undertaken, including both traditional hard-copy approaches and new computer-assisted systems. The MAES-developed Farmbook system is one example of a system that may be able to provide the needed support to the DAES in this effort.
- The core functions analysis that is being implemented as part of the ASWAp process should be completed and used in reviewing the DAES structure and functioning, especially for its implications at the district level within the DEC, DAECC and stakeholder panels, as well as at the national level and the relationships between DAES and other departments within government and those outside of government. Recommendations for ensuring strong complementarity and coordination between activities of both civil society and private sector organizations and the DAES should be a priority of the analysis.
- The agribusiness section should be reintegrated into the DAES operational structure as a core, cross-cutting function of the Extension Methodologies and Training branch, not formed into a separate organizational unit. Moving the Agribusiness section out to function on its own creates unnecessary operational boundaries with the DAES without apparent benefit. Contingent upon decisions made to the issues raised above, staffing lines with skills in organizational development may be required, as well as more investments in staff members with advanced agricultural business development support capabilities.
- A permanent, formal liaison function with the DARS, working through the DARS Technology Transfer point of contact and offering backstopping assistance through the DAES ADD to the DARS technology transfer efforts at the regional level needs to be established.
- The DAES needs to begin providing all newly recruited (transferred or promoted) staff members with the necessary in-service training before they are posted, even if this means a delay in their posting.
EAS Training Programs
- Commission a labor force needs assessment for EAS professionals in the governmental and private labor markets (including NGOs, producer associations and for-profit companies) so that the programs can appropriately scale their activities.
- Develop an investment plan to bring Bunda College and Natural Resources College facilities up to modern standards and commensurate with projected labor market needs and enrollment levels. This investment plan should reflect results of the commissioned labor study and final decisions, parallel investments in and the timetable for creating the new University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the decision about whether NRC will be included in this new university.
Enhanced Private Sector and Civil Society Involvement
- Establish a formal linkage between the DAES and the national stakeholders panel. The panel should have a clear mandate and relationship with the DAES. If the cost of convening the panel is an issue, consider assessing organizational dues.
- Make area- and especially district-level stakeholder panels a more central feature in program planning and oversight of the DAES field programs. USAID should commission a review of entities best positioned to provide democratization training and continued support of the area- and district-level stakeholder panels. The team believes that FUM is best positioned to play this role, but this warrants further investigation and confirmation. A review should be made of how other organizations (e.g., ZNFU and SACCAU) have managed similar roles. Development of a sustainable financing model (through dues or other revenue sources) needs to be a central feature of the planning process. The team feels that it is appropriate for the DAES to continue to serve as the convening body for the stakeholder panels, but independent smallholder involvement needs to be strengthened if these farmers are to play an effective role in the planning process and with holding DAES accountable. Cost has been cited as the major constraint in holding the district stakeholder meetings, especially the costs of supporting participation of smallholder farmers, who are to make up over 50 percent of the panel membership. There appear to be two critical times for convening meetings at the district level — at the time of annual work plan preparations, so that farmers’ interests are built into the program plans for that year, and halfway through the operational year to assess progress against these plans and to make midcourse corrections as needed. Monthly meetings of the area stakeholder panels may be too frequent. Strong bi-monthly meetings, with opportunity to call ad hoc meetings to address critical issues as needed, may be sufficient to address local needs and ensure that the program remains on track without overtaxing farmer involvement or holding meetings without agenda items to discuss.
The foundation for a strong and effective demand-led and market-driven EAS system exists in Malawi. The team believes that, with a concerted effort and targeted funding, it should be possible to capitalize on the existing potential and develop a highly effective pluralistic national EAS that, over a relatively short period of time, could become a model for other countries in southern Africa.
The full report has been approved by USAID/MALAWI and has been submitted to the USAID Development Experience Clearing House, https://dec.usaid.gov/dec/home/Default.aspx. It is also accessible by clicking this link or for download below.