January 21, 2016

Exchanging EAS/RAS Program Innovations: Resources

Audio Interviews in Spanish and English with Organizers and Participants of the EAS Program Innovation Exchange Action Research Project of the RELASER Network in Latin America

Entrevista/Interview: Francisco Aguierre (RELASER) – Chile (Organizer, English transcript below)

Interview (English): John Priessing (FAO) – Peru (Organizer)

Entrevista/Interview: Lorena Romero (Consultora) – Chile (Participant)

Interview: Maria Isabel Paredes (RELASER) – Ecuador (Organizer)

Interview with Francisco Aguierre on the process and outcomes of the project
by Benjamin Mueller (MEAS, organizer)

Q: Please say your name and organization.

A: Francisco Aguirre, I am executive secretary of the Latin American Network for Rural Extension.

Q: Please provide a background (the role and organization of RELASER in organizing exchanges of countries).
A: I’m working in the executive secretariat from the beginning (5 years ago) and the role of RELASER has always been trying to share experiences, exchange capacities between different countries, to improve extension services. That was our work over the years.
Specifically, for the subject of this exchange, with Isabel we worked on finding the people or institutions in the countries interested to transmit (or receive) experiences from neighboring countries.

Q: Francisco, talking a little about the process, because it is always interesting when a project type as this is done. What could be the lessons or things that were learned organizing and implementing the proposed exchange centers. What did you learn during the development of this process?

A: There are several things in the process that are interesting to note. First, the “exchange” generates enthusiasm, to see a different experience and about showing what they are doing. And that proves one thing: in Latin America we know very little about us. We travel very little, we don’t know the experiences, and therefore we wonder what is happening even in a neighboring country, a short distance from us. It is a first lesson, so I think that sharing all these experiences (well-organized) is positive. They have to be well organized, planned on time, to be enriching, otherwise they become a little vain travel, such as tourism.

The second lesson is that it is important that the group that travels on these experiences is heterogeneous. Not only policy advisers, not only producer organizations, not just the people who work in extension. The heterogeneity of the group is very important, because they are seeing different things. But in this heterogeneity I think there has to be at least three types of areas: there must be a policy advisor, people working on extension to know what are the difficulties and the strengths of their systems to transmit them truthfully. It is not just a theoretical transmission, but their experience, in this way they can identify what is relevant for their reality and bring it back to their country. That is learning. And producer organizations too. In Latin America there are organizations that are very well trained and have ability to raise demand and there are others that are not well off, then this exchange is also very profitable at that level.

Now the addition of the three is what gives us the ability to lift specific policies.

Q: That’s something that I really liked, the exchanges had actors from various sectors and points of view, such as producers, extensionist and policy makers. I think it was very interesting to have this exchange. Speaking of the exchange, which were are the main areas to strength in countries, extension organizations, and other organizations. Do you believe there is potential to strengthen the product of exchanges?

A: I do not know in detail all exchanges. Maybe I know more in depth what was done in Chile. I got to participate in the meeting of Chile-Ecuador, and I know something of what happened between Mexico and Peru. I think the most important things that appeared in these two experiences were: 1) to know the capacity of institutions to do something. And there are no significant differences, the ability of the institution to have good extension services eg. in this case. It is essential to ensure that resources are properly allocated, to convince policy makers to invest in that. In the Chilean case, that was well organized, it was a good experience, and has a large extent in terms of coverage. The participants could evaluate if it was a good experience for their own country and decide if they can replicate it in their reality. They have to evaluate if there is the political support to do it, that gives importance to the coverage, puts the necessary resources to do the job. For example, there are notable differences, some invested $ 90 per farmer and other invested $ 2,000 per farmer per year. Then the strength of institutions has much to do with what you want to do.

The case of Mexico and Peru, Mexico has a very organized extension system, and Peru is in the process of organization but with very low coverage. So learning with what Mexico was very relevant and usefull (from my perspective).

2) It is important to consider that behind the extent there is an ideological thing too. It is not just a technical thing. So this sharing is also important. There are extension systems that are super privatized, the Chilean case, Mexico too. And the Ecuadorians have a quasi-socialist system in terms of political organization. But besides the methodology or approach, what matters is how the system is organized to make it effective. So the idea of the exchange is not to copy the model, but rather is looking at ways of organizing systems that work.

Q: With respect to two cases of exchange, do you think that there is any possibility of resources to follow up? and do you think that RELASER can give any assessment, some follow-up? Because I think, as you were talking, that there is a good start here, enough organization, a combination of actors from different sectors, at different levels, and is not the first or last time that happened, but it’s worth somehow. What role can RELASER, FAO, or another organization follow up on that?

A: I’d have to think a little more what the possible continuity. I think: 1) it is extremely important to give continuity to this, but for us as RELASER it’s interesting to link this with the ongoing strategies that we have and our priorities. So for us it would be very interesting to have continuity in the exchanges, but even more important it would be to achieve results in specific topics where the institutions that participate engage. For example, in the issue of natural resources, we can discuss about the theme of water and soil and the experience between countries. It may be a more concrete discussion to achieve specific learning in terms of a particular product that we want to get.

2) Another example is to work on the issue of extension labor skills, not necessarily the exchange has to be in the countries we are considering now. Argentina has such a great learning experience in terms of training extension workers. And we could look for a country that does not have it, and then start working there as a major theme. Now we had six countries in the project, we should take advantage of those experiences and involve more countries.

3) One issue that is increasingly putting pressure on us, that we know very little about and we think it will be very important for the future is the issue of rural youth. If we do not address the issue now, I think we will be left behind, as this is an urgent issue. We are not only thinking about the subject of replacement farmers. We need to learn experiences in terms of how to give the youth opportunities for making enterprises in the rural areas. I think that today there are many opportunities for enterprises without, for example, being a farmer living of the cultivation of fruit, coffee, or whatever.

I feel that these three issues are very important for future exchanges which can focus and get more specific products.

Q: I agree; I think we have to keep thinking in rural development. Since rural development is not just planting and harvesting. And if we want young people to work there we need a broader vision. The last question I have for you Francisco: there are many that say that the social fabric is more a feeling, it is very difficult to measure its impact. But I support that when good contacts are made between countries or extension organizations there are ways to continue the interaction beyond the exchange. That will grow to be part of the technology, part of the social fabric, where that relationship is formalized. There are many examples where countries are hosts, for example between the United States and Central American countries. Do you think there is intangible value or leave any chance to strengthen, beyond the programs or projects, such as joining a stronger network?

A: I think much of the social capital or social fabric. I think the future expansion or innovation systems is in having stronger networks. Stronger regional networks. And this is not an issue only of extension, or people who are dedicated to agriculture. I think it’s a broader issue. To what extent these exchanges can strengthen the social fabric? They can strengthen rather in intermediate levels. I think we have to see who will be involved in the exchange. Who are permanent: farmers and extension workers. In 20 years you see that producer organizations, farm leaders, and extensionists are relatively stable. But those who are unstable are the policy makers. In Latin America, the government changes and it changes all the political advisers. And in some countries it happens every year. For example, in the case of Bolivia, we had seven meetings with 7 different representatives. Because ministers, secretaries, etc. change and there’s a big problem. Because you can send a policy adviser to an exchnage, and the next month he’s not there anymore, and the new person knows nothing about what happened in the exchange. So the issue is how to strengthen those who are permanent, so they can assume a greater role in the process and may advocate with governments, which are those who manage the resource.