Shortage of extension officers crippling farmers
Executive Director of the South Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) Hugh Dixon says the Rural Agricultural Develop-ment Authority (RADA) should move from a teaching to a demonstrative approach as it does not have enough extension officers to adequately serve the island's farmers.
"The cadre of extension officers at RADA are highly trained, but if they don't get the opportunity to demonstrate their level of expertise in a way that gives confidence to the farmer, then it could be an expensive waste of resources," Dixon told Western Focus in an interview last Tuesday. "It is an awkward ratio. Picture one teacher teaching a classroom of more than 2,000 students. Simply ridiculous!
The RADA currently has a cadre of 100 extension officers, which means the ratio of its technical officers to farmers is 1:2,300. The organisation's mandate includes, among other things, the provision of extension services to the 230,000 registered farmers in the island.
"A more effective way going forward is to change the teacher into a demonstrator. My recommendation is that each extension officer should have a demonstration farm in the extension area and he will be required to plant the appropriate crop and utilise the respective technologies while keeping records to demonstrate the effectiveness and the use of inputs," Dixon, agricultural economist, said.
"Even if the farmer is not able to read well, he will trust what he sees and have confidence in what is demonstrated instead of an individual just telling him or her (what) to do. In the course of a week on a demonstration farm, 10 farmers can visit and ask questions while viewing how different methods are applied. The officer would be able to cater to his 2,300 within a year," he added.
It was under the watch of the late former minister of agriculture, Roger Clarke, that the Ministry of Agriculture began refining agricultural extension services by infusing a greater level of technology in the provision of extension services so that the necessary support would be in place to advise and assist cultivators.
According to permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Donovan Stanberry, the RADA is severely affected by the shortage of personnel.
"We have to look on RADA based on the resources they have and the enormity of the task of servicing 230,000 farmers with 100 officers. With 100 officers visiting a farm every day for the 365 days of the year, it will take around three years to get around to every farmer. Only training will solve the problem," Stanberry told Western Focus.
According to the estimates of expenditure for the Jamaica Budget, $1.2 billion was allocated to the RADA for the 2015-2016 financial year, $2 million more than 2014-2015. Agriculture extension services received $891.9 million compared to $748.1 million the previous year; $48.6 million went to in-house training for office and field staff, rising from $41 million the year before.
During the official opening of the Trelawny parish office at Hague in Falmouth last month, Lenworth Fulton, chief executive officer of the RADA, told those in attendance that his entity was moving to revolutionise the sector with the adoption and use of new and modern technologies.
"As RADA continues its effort to improve the quality of delivering extension services, we will seek to employ and explore modern technological approaches in revolutionising agriculture," Fulton said, "Among the strategies to do that are exemplary projects and programmes."