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Youth in agricultural Extension – Challenges and opportunities

Agricultural extension and I
For the past 3 years, I have been studying agriculture with specialization in agricultural extension at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Mauritius. During my work-based placement, I have worked at the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU), where I have got the opportunity to get some work experience in agricultural extension and I have also done my dissertation on the subject. Being involved in agricultural extension, I have seen that youth, as well as experienced professionals are facing several challenges in agricultural extension.

Me and my friends interviewing a farmer in his field for an assignment

Agricultural Extension in Mauritius
Youth involvement in agricultural extension 
Presently, finding youth involved in agriculture is rare in Mauritius, since their main focus are on subjects related to management and engineering. This is so, because the image of agriculture does not appear “attractive” to youth and for many of them, agriculture is not even an option (Read more on attractiveness of agriculture to youth HERE). However, according to the annual report 2009/1010 of the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Mauritius,. However, according to the annual report 2009/1010 of the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Mauritius, each year, there about 120 students who enrol for courses related to agricultural sciences for their undergraduate degree. This also implies that every year, there are about 120 graduates from the Faculty of Agriculture. But how many of these graduates are involved in extension? Probably not many because of 2 main reasons; (a) there are not many job opportunities in agricultural extension in Mauritius and (b) extension involves working in the field with farmers, requires several skills and it is a challenging job.

Challenges
When considering the challenges faced by youth in agricultural extension, there are 2 ways in which it can be seen; (a) Challenges faced by young graduates and (b) challenges faced by young professionals.

Challenge 1: No job opportunity in agricultural extension for young graduates
From my own experience, I can say that finding a job or work-based placement in agricultural extension in Mauritius is very difficult since there are only 3 organizations which are engaged in agricultural extension and eventually what happens is that despite having studied the subject, young graduates have to choose other jobs related to agriculture and ends up leaving agricultural extension completely. 

Challenge 2: Training of Extension Officers not done at a regular basis
During a study I conducted at the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU), it has been revealed that 57.1 % of the extension officers of the organization are aged between 30-34 years. This means that the majority of the extension officers at AREU are youth.
It was found that training of the extension officers is not done on a regular basis, but as and when required or when there are some training opportunities (e.g when there is an expert in a specific field in the country). As a result, since trainings are not based on the needs of the officers, they are not effective and do not have a considerable impact on their performance. 

Challenge 3:Training needs – Skills and knowledge gaps
During the same study, It has been found that the first priority for training of the extension officers is in their computer skills, more specifically on their ability to use web 2.0 tools. Another important area where they require training is their knowledge on food-crop/fruit production and their pest control.

Challenge 4: Need of better equipment 
The main factor preventing the extension officers from working effectively is that their offices are badly equipped . Extension is related to information dissemination and communication, but some offices are not even equipped with a basic tool like a computer.

Challenge 5: Research officers do not take the feedback of extension officers into consideration
The second major problem is that research officers do not take the feedback of extension officers into consideration.  Consequently, the information generated by research may not be appropriate for the farming community and the farmers will not adopt the new technology, resulting in the failure of the extension process.

Challenge 6: Other factors preventing Extension Officers from working efficiently
Other factors preventing the officers from working effectively are: Personal problems, low salaries, lack of motivation from supervisors and the client-group of extension officers are not well defined (e.g one extension officer has to provide assistance to around 750 farmers, comprising of both farmers who practice agriculture as a hobby and also experienced large farmers. Very often this leads to a problem of time management to the extension officer).



What should be done?
Making Agricultural extension more attractive 
Agricultural extension has the ability to solve many of the challenges that agriculture is facing, but it needs to be made attractive. Indeed, the nature of agricultural extension itself is challenging since it involves working with the farming community (which is not easy as we need to understand rural life and human behavior), have a good knowledge on agriculture (pest and disease management, market prices and opportunities, other stakeholders in agriculture and their role etc.) and have specific skills (good communication skills, listening skills, be a trainer and learner at the same time etc.). Furthermore, being in agricultural extension also includes working in marginal areas to meet farmers, which is not attractive to many youth as it is not that “cool”. 

Showing the real image of extension, its importance and objectives
Despite the negative image that agricultural extension may have, the role of the extension officer is that of a “change agent”, who has the responsibility of assisting the farmers in improving their farming system and bettering their life. 

Giving opportunities of trainings
Creating an interest of youth in agricultural extension is not enough. Those who have studied the subject and want to work in this field should be given opportunities like [b]training in the field with farmers[/b] so that they are able to learn about the “real” extension and acquire the knowledge and skills required for a successful extension process.

Provide proper training and framework
Today, youth in Mauritius are being encouraged by the Government to become entrepreneur by setting up their own agri-business. But are the extension officers well-trained and equipped to work with this category of farmers? Are they able to provide them with latest and accurate information that they require on time? Currently, we are talking about using ICTs in agriculture, but are the extension officers using them in agricultural extension? Considering the present situation, what is required is that all extension officers are trained at regular intervals so that they are aware of the latest technologies that have emerged in agriculture. They should also be provided with a proper framework so that they can perform effectively and provide information that their clients are seeking. And if we want a change in agriculture, it is possible to make it happen through agricultural extension.

As a student and trainee in agricultural extension, the above is my experience and observation in my country and these are only few examples of the challenges youth are facing in agricultural extension. But is the situation the same in other countries? Are youth involved in agricultural extension? Are the youth or professionals involved in agricultural extension facing the same problems?

Read the complete document HERE.

About Nawsheen Hosenally

Nawsheen Hosenally, a national of the Republic of Mauritius, has over 6 years of experience in the agricultural sector, specifically focusing on the engagement of youth in agriculture through the use of ICTs. Currently, Nawsheen is the co-Founder of Agribusiness TV, a web TV that features success stories of young agricultural entrepreneurs in Africa. Nawsheen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Extension from the University of Mauritius, and a Master’s degree in Management and Information Systems from the University of Manchester.

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