“Public-Private Agricultural Advisory Systems – Lessons for Africa”

10.06.2011
An International Consultative Workshop held in Accra / Ghana (April 2011) The workshop in Accra brought together professionals from Africa and beyond to discuss successes, failures and implications for Ghana of combining public and private efforts in agricultural extension. Major lessons of the workshop were that effectiveness and efficiency of extension increased globally where governments shifted from being the sole provider towards developing more pluriform extension systems. However, to reach especially poorer segments of the farming community, government funds, but not necessarily government service provision, are still required. Experience shows that agricultural advisory services need to be fee-based and demand-driven in order to be sustainable. In addition, extension can only be effective if provided jointly with support services like quality input supply and credit. Connecting farmers to markets needs market-oriented advisory services, with extension staff having a commercial background and business mind-set which provides excellent opportunity for public-private partnerships. This development is only possible with strong policy support from government and an enabling environment. Since 2009 AFC has been an implementing partner of the GIZ supported “Market Oriented Agriculture Program (MOAP)” in Ghana, which, among others, supports farmers and processors in various fruit production and processing value chains. With its mandate to strengthen Ghanaian farmer-based organisations in the fruit sector, AFC together with GIZ organised an International Consultative Workshop on Public-Private Agricultural Advisory Systems in Africa from 6 to 8 April 2011 in Accra. The purpose of this three-day event was to distil lessons for Ghana in the frame of developing public-private partnerships in agricultural extension. In his opening speech Nii Amasah Namoale, Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, stressed the need for Ghana to adopt new approaches in farming to meet the challenges of rapidly expanding populations and decreasing availability of agriculturally productive lands. "The role of the extension service is instrumental to assist the producers and others in the value chain to satisfy consumer demand trends and also to face the increasing competitive and emerging challenges in the context of regional and international trade liberalisation," the Deputy Minister said. At the same time he pointed out that in the future it was difficult to bear the entire cost of effective extension service delivery. This statement follows a global trend from government being the sole provider of agricultural advisory services towards pluriform extension systems resulting in increased effectiveness and efficiency. Experts from Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, US, Canada and the Kyrgyz Republic were therefore discussing best-practice examples as well as failures of public-private partnership extension service delivery. The model of the TES Centre in Kyrgyzstan, which was born out of an AFC-implemented project in 1997, shows that private organisations specialised in agricultural advisory services can play an important role in the sustainability of extension systems if they endeavour from the beginning to recover as many costs of their work as possible. The TES model has been successful because it effectively joined extension with support services like quality input supply and credit. Examples from India (private-public partnership projects), Germany (privatisation of advisory services), Uganda (decentralisation of decision-making in state extension) and Ghana (private extension in commercial maize farming and organic cocoa production and well as State cocoa extension in partnership with large private buyers) gave food for fruitful discussions about strengths and weaknesses of both private and public actors in agricultural extension and led to some basic and hands-on recommendations for the design of an effective and efficient advisory system in Ghana. The about sixty participants, mostly practitioners in extension as well as representatives from research and government, connected numerous opportunities with a public-private partnership extension system which is supposed to increase the extension coverage in the country and lead to a greater quality and a higher efficiency of rendered services through enhanced competition between providers. Farmers will start to demand quality as they will have to pay for services they receive provided that all actors – government and donors – agree on the principle of cost-sharing with the beneficiary. It was agreed during the workshop that only fee-based agricultural advisory services can be demand-driven and sustainable. At the same time, many participants preferred result-oriented payment schemes in which a part of the payment is determined by whether or not the advisory input achieves a visible success. However, experience tells that the farmers’ willingness to pay for extension is low when the entire payment is made after harvest when the crop is sold. A trust fund in which farmers would have to pay when receiving services is therefore the preferred solution. If extension yields less than promised, some of the funds might then be returned to the farmer. The role of the government in a public-private partnership is to build an environment in which a plurality of service providers can thrive. Special attention should be given to those service providers who have vested interests in the long-term success of the consultation they are providing. Champion farmers for example could provide good services to their peers as this might strengthen their market position enabling them to control a larger share of production. One could also support processors to provide embedded services to farmers, which in return gives them the assurance of more reliable supply with raw material. A loose network or a formal association of private service providers was deemed necessary for any interaction with the State. Government funds, but not necessarily government service provision, are still very much required to finance agricultural extension and especially to reach the poorer segments of the farming community. This could be done via mandates which the Ministry of Agriculture issues for accredited private service providers and which are paid according to clearly defined, success-oriented indicators. Donors may also decide to buy into this concept of private-public partnerships and issue mandates at terms that are comparable to those of the government. Some participants even preferred to have only one contracting agency per district or region which would issue mandates – either funded by government or by donors. From the Ugandan example it was deduced that procurement, funding and quality assurance should best be decided on the district level with a strong farmer involvement in committees that have a say in both – extension services provided by private as well as public actors. The role of the State is also to train extensionists and perhaps even to issue certificates for recognised advisors with which they are eligible to work within State mandates. At the end the Ministry of Agriculture should have at its disposal a good database of experts in different fields. The deliberate employment of young graduates as extensionists and the use of the Ghanaian National Service as an entry gate into extension were mentioned as a valuable opportunity. Young professionals have the ability to use the broad range of internet resources available in English. As a backstopping tool for advisors, an internet-based agricultural knowledge centre could be established at the national level. For market-oriented advisory services that connect farmers to markets extension staff with a commercial background and business mind-set is needed. This again provides excellent opportunity for public-private partnerships. There were also a number of risks that have been associated with public-private affiliations in extension. On the one side a possible lack of long-term government commitment to support private extension was feared as well as the disadvantages of strong donor dependency and the danger of “donor fatigue” half-way through the reform process. On the other side, participants realised that there are only very few private service providers in the country who are specialised in agricultural extension. The majority of NGOs and private local consulting firms offer all kinds of services from health and education to relief – being totally dependent on donor funds. They do not yet perceive extension as a service which can be paid for by the beneficiaries – farmers, traders, processors. Some private service providers presently simply do not have the capacity for professional consultancy, and it was seen as a risk that they may poach skilled extensionists from the State extension service in order to build up their own capacity. In addition, commodity-related extension in the frame of value chain support may lead to the negligence of other crops, often staple crops, which are equally important for the farmers’ livelihoods. The Workshop ended with the affirmation to continue the public-private dialogue on extension in Ghana on all levels, from the district to the national level. It was proposed to start with platforms including government representatives, private service providers and value chain actors at the district level for such discussions. It was also deemed necessary to include the donor community in talks on extension reform. That being said, the entire process needs strong policy support from government.