In agriculture, the role of extension officers in the development of the sector across the globe cannot be undoubted. Their roles are as important as the actual processes of ensuring that agriculture is effective. And this has persisted as one of the prime agents in agriculture development, especially in rural settings.
But exactly who are extension officers and what roles at all do they play in the advancement of agriculture and the overall sustenance of extension service approaches through committed and effective management?
In the field, an agricultural extension officer is the one involved in the distribution of agricultural information to rural towns, who in turn, teach rural farmers to become farmers. Their roles improve the farmers’ abilities by supplying information on a variety of things that are important to farmers.
Therefore, they become intermediaries between research and farmers, facilitating and disseminating basic information on the best farming practices to the rural farmer in the areas of resources, animals, crops and on how best to utilise the farmland. They also help to construct proper irrigation schemes, economic use and storage of water, how to combat animal disease and save on the cost of farming equipment and procedures.
This brings the roles of the extension officers to a very important point such that it becomes almost inseparable to talk about agriculture and food security without actually considering the enormous inputs of these officers.
And never in this country’s history has it become more prudent for the education and awareness creation of productive capacities of our farmers to be stressed than now.
Need for new technology
Today, there is increased agricultural productivity that can work primarily when we accept the indigenous cultural traditions and technological changes at the rural farm levels and work with them. This is one sure way of ensuring growth in Ghana’s agric sector.
And this is also where our farmers come in. Their role is to learn and adopt recommended scientific farming techniques to replace their traditional ways of farming to meet up the high demands of today’s world.
Perhaps, the slow development of our agriculture can be attributed to the inability of our farmers to respond positively to new ideas or innovations. For farmers to respond positively to new ideas, they must be properly educated on how best to apply the new ideas or practices to their farming activities.
But the fact remains that mostly, these new ideas are complex, technical and can hardly be understood by most of our farmers of whom majority are uneducated. Ghana cannot achieve increased agricultural productivity on rural farm levels if the provision of basic agricultural education, particularly the non-formal or extension type that will help move millions of these farmers from traditional to progressive farming, thereby improving the overall quality of rural life, is not made readily available.
Extension services are the different programmes/projects recommendations which are available to clientele through the use of extension education processes. They include the provision of timely information, the linking of farmers with sources of farming inputs and credit facilities and most importantly, the provision of education services to farmers.
According to agro e-market www.akuafoadanfo.com, the Ghanaian farmer is making an avoidable mistake of limiting agricultural extension services to only helping them produce their crops’ inputs and other inputs needed on their farms.
However, research has shown that for any agricultural project or programme to succeed, agricultural extension officers must be fully involved in the total outlook of farming undertaken by the farmers from planning to execution.
Modern agricultural extension work in Ghana today covers a wide sector of services, which include improvement in production, marketing, storage, processing, fish farming, agro-forestry, input supply and distribution of manpower development, home economics/women in agriculture, irrigation, land management, farm mechanisation, erosion control, livestock management, human resources/development, administration/management, programmes planning and evaluation, youth development programmes, among others.
It is important to stress here that agriculture extension services is a weak instrument when it stands alone, but it becomes powerful when combined with price incentives, input supply, credit, seed multiplication and strategic marketing.
Sadly, however, the ratio of an extension officer to a farmer in Ghana is one to one thousand (1000) farmers and to improve our farmer education, we need to improve on farmer to extension services.
The truth remains that even with the introduction of the new e-extension services in the country, there has not been an exponential improvement in the outlook of extension services in direct input distribution and local farmer education in rural areas and in the best practices in applying agro farm inputs on farms.
The key function of the extension agent is the continual education and re-education of the farming habits of farmers in accordance with proven new technologies and research recommendation in order to enable the farmers increase their farm production at reasonable costs and to be able to market their farm products to the international community.