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Improving the competence of agricultural extension in Mali: The SAFE programme of the University of Mali

MercyAkeredolu

Abstract

Malian agricultural extension has been considered ineffective over the years, and one likely reason is the lack of training for its extension staff. Before the IPR/SAFE approach to extension education, extension work was learnt through practice with no prior training in extension methods. The Malian authorities, through the Ministry of Agriculture, expressed the need for a training programme in agricultural extension at different levels, and showed a readiness to support this type of training and job guarantees for graduates at the end of training. Responsibilities for conception, planning, training, supervision, evaluation, financing of the SAFE programme were shared between a donor, a university, the Ministry of Agriculture and rural farmer groups.

This paper reports on an evaluation of the SAFE/Mail programme since its inception.

Three key learnings: (1) Synergy through partnership with and participation of recipient community can help ensure sustainability of an extension-training programme. (2) Supervised field experience can enrich curricula and teaching scheme for mid level extension staff. (3) Mid-level extension personnel in Mali are an enthusiastic but yet to be fully exploited group of learners.

Key words

Training, partnership, participation.

Introduction

Low competence level of human resources has been identified as a major hindrance to attaining food security in Africa. This is particularly evident in the field of Agricultural extension where a majority of the staff presently engaged in ministries of agriculture or extension staff in non-governmental organisations neither have university-level education nor the practical exposure needed to move agricultural productivity forward in Africa (Mutimba et al, 2004)..

For example, there are few traditional tools in extension training in Mali and a training scheme itself is barely discernable, as officials from various areas of agriculture are usually sent to the field to carry out extension work without the barest professional skill. Key skills such as facilitation and co-ordination and are missing in the Malian traditional extension agent’s kit (Cisse, et al 2004). The problems of poverty and food insecurity in Mali are complex and so an improved level of education is considered a very crucial requirement to achieve social and economic progress (DNAMR, 2004).

A recent approach adopted in Mali to develop the capacity of its staff is the Sasakawa African Fund for Extension Education Approach (SAFE) using the following means:

  • Serving as a catalyst in creating awareness about the critical role of human resource development for mid-career staff working in agricultural and rural development in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Assisting the stakeholders, especially universities and colleges, to carry out strategic training needs assessment and to develop responsive training programmes that meet the unique needs of mid-career staff working in agricultural and rural development.

In 1989 the Sasakawa African Fund for Extension Education Programme (SAFE) existed in many African Anglophone countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zimbabwe. The adoption of SAFE type programme in the Francophone African countries has however, been slow because of its unique nature which made it different from the regular university programme, especially in two key areas. The first was a training programme aimed at mid-level career extension personnel and the second was the inclusion of the supervised off-campus project enterprise as a vital part of the programme.

Mali is the first Francophone country in Africa to adopt the SAFE programme to improve the level of education of her agricultural extension personnel. It is therefore considered important to analyse the extent to which this programme is sustainable and adaptable in Mali. Specifically, this paper addressed the following:

  • Present and analyse the various aspects of the SAFE programme in Mali
  • Identify the major partners in the SAFE programme and their contributions to programme
  • Analyse the level of stakeholders’ participation, sustainability issues in the programme as well as it’s strength and weaknesses.

This study was conducted using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative method, and the findings revealed that SAFE programme in Mali has received high participation in all ramifications from the local partners and that it is to a large extent sustainable.

Background

The Institute of Rural Polytechnic (IPR) is the main institution for the training of personnel for rural development in Mali, and employed three major approaches in improving the competence of extension staff since its inception.

The first approach consisted of training technicians in the different areas of agriculture and after which they are sent to the field for extension .The problem of this approach to training was the high rate of incompetence of these extension staff especially at the field level.

The second approach was based on extension work and appreciation of farmers needs in which IPR lecturers and staff of the Ministry of Agriculture constituted a technical team in agriculture and rural development that went into villages to conduct field trials, test production technologies and improved practices based on sound indigenous knowledge, improved yields and net income. However, this extension experience and training was limited to the staff of the Institute and a few extension staff of the Ministry of Agriculture. After some time, the external funding for the training ended and it became impossible for the Institute to continue with the programme. This left Malian Extension personnel without good grounding in agricultural extension for years with adverse effect on agricultural productivity of the country.

The third and latest effort adopted is the Sasakawa African Fund for Extension Education Approach (SAFE).

Agricultural and environmental situation in Mali

Mali, the world’s fifth largest landlocked country, is ranked in the top ten poorest nations in the world and among the lowest in other human development indicators such as, adult literacy school enrolment, (high) birth rate and low average age of the population. Malian cities of Timbouctou and Araouane are among the top six hottest places on earth. All and many other unfavourable indices undoubtedly adversely affect the productivity and standard of living of its populace.

For example, more than 70% of its about 11million inhabitants survive on less than one dollar per day and 91% on below $2 a day. (Strategic Plan Against Poverty, 2001). Of most concern is its rural population with about 76% poverty rate, a situation further aggravated by Mali’s static economic growth rate, low per capita income of under $275 and moderately high population growth rate (WDR, 2000). Although its main industry, agriculture, offers employment to almost all its 80% rural population and paradoxically presents the highest potential for growth and better standard of living for the rural populace, it is still largely dependent on rainfall. The result is very low agricultural productivity that is susceptible to vagaries of nature. As such, Mali is still bedevilled with problems such as risk of low rainfall, soil erosion, deforestation, unsustainable technology – that can only be addressed through a societal learning process involving land operators, agricultural scientists, adult educators, policy makers sponsors, people with non-agriculture interests, as well as non-governmental organisations, who are key players.

Agricultural extension, research and training in Mali

Higher-level agricultural educational institutions in Mali are expected to supply the requisite human resources to carry out rural sector development programmes. Hence, any training programme in agricultural advisory services must involve not only the academic community in its conception, planning and implementation but also, the employer and the producer communities, for its suitability and adaptability (Malian Educational Policy, 2000). This also requires that researchers and extension agents are trained in the same institutions so as foster their collaboration in the field; various studies in the country have highlighted significant disparity between the educational qualifications of the researchers and the agricultural extension officers. The extension officers are not only considered inferior to researchers in the technical aspect of agriculture but also lack sound methodological approaches in the field (Diane, 2004).

According to DNAMR (2000), Malian Agricultural extension service personnel need, among other skills, to urgently improve their communication and advisory skills, so as make technology transfer (and other means of influencing practice change) more effective. In addition, because of the wide farmer-extension agent ratio in Mali, it is considered necessary to train generalist extension officers so as to facilitate a wider and more efficient coverage by each agent. (DNAMR, 2000). The re-orientation of the Malian agricultural advisory sector can only be effected through a training programme that is demand driven and focused on all levels of agricultural extension staff (Education and Poverty in Mali, 2001). It is increasingly clear that extension workers need better training in both technical agriculture and in the extension methods required to disseminate production technologies information to the thousands of small-scale farmers who need the information. The training of extension workers should emphasise skills and knowledge for sustained crop production and strategies for the prevention of food losses during harvest, storage, marketing and processing (Lindley, W, 1999). The content of the training programmes should be determined by the needs of the rural people that they are going to serve (Education and Poverty in Mali, 2001). Kon (2000) had it that integrative planning and implementation will make extension programme sustainable in Mali.

Local Participation for sustainable Agricultural Development:

Historically, development projects have operated using a blueprint approach in which all objectives and activities are specifically defined and programmed at the outset. This constrains programme development, limits abilities to respond effectively to changing conditions and opportunities and learn from experiences.

Traore M.(2004) declared that the process of mobilising local participation for sustainable development initiatives depends very much on a consultative, problem solving approach. He went on to say that a participatory strategy for promoting sustainable agricultural and development proceeds on the assumption that rural people have more to contribute to the development process than just their money or labour power. They have ideas, management skills, technical insights, and organisational capabilities that are needed for development. They are to be regarded as partners more than beneficiaries or worse target groups. Once groups, communities or localities have made serious efforts to solve priority problems by their own initiative and with their own resources, they are in a stronger position to get assistance from higher levels to deal with the problems that cannot be redressed locally.

Participatory methodologies involving dialogues, need analysis, negotiations and collaborations were among the key tools employed in the SAFE approach to ensure sustainability from the outset. Participatory approaches were used in the context of the SAFE learning process to improve communications and understanding among all key actors. Such a participatory approach is often described as ‘bottom up’.

Forms of programme sustainability

There are many forms of sustainability that are integral to implementation of development initiatives. The continuity of a development programme initiatives should be viable on the basis of local capacities and resources. Sustainability also alludes to the permanence of the benefits that development projects bring to the local population and institutions. The possibility for the programme to operate in a sustained, continuous way depends on a number of interacting factors. Bateman (1996) identified the following forms of sustainability:

  • Political and social sustainability
  • Legal sustainability
  • Technical sustainability
  • Economic sustainability
  • Financial sustainability

Political and social sustainability depend above all on the extent to which local actors have made the programme their own. The member organizations have to feel that the SAFE programme is a tool for improving local living conditions. Legal recognition is from the outset a prerequisite for operating as a programme and undertaking obligations, with full powers to enter into contracts, the possession of all required skills, and chiefly, the capacity to organize and obtain the resources needed especially from outside the programme (ILO/TURIN 1996). Technically, SAFE must be able to provide advanced and specialized services. This means training, build-up of internal know-how as well as the formation of a network of relations with institutions, professionals, universities, on which to draw as needed. An agency has a small nucleus of technicians who must be able to take care of strategic activities themselves - planning, local resource coordination, economic animation, financial assistance and business creation, organizing the response to emerging needs.

A financially self-sustainable institution is one that is able to cover all of its operating costs and the imputed cost necessary to maintain the real value of its capital without subsidies (Bateman 1996). There are two hurdle to scale in attaining financial self-sufficiency:

  • Operational (internal) self-sufficiency, which requires the programme to cover all non-financial expenses (administrative costs, salaries, depreciation and loan losses) out of the programme fees and interest charges.
  • Full self-sufficiency which demands that programme revenues cover both non-financial and financial costs on a commercial basis so that subsidies are no longer required.

An investment model for sustainable training programme in agricultural extension

A “three-legged milking stool” investment model for education and training of agricultural extension staff is the model adopted by SAFE as an investment strategy for Agricultural extension training in Africa. The three legs in this model form a base that is stable and unshakable even in the most difficult situations (Lindley, W, 1999). Extension education and training projects supported by a triad of the donor community in collaboration with the technical assistance organizations and the educational institutions bring the strengths of each partner to bear on the problem of preparing and up-grading extension staff. Kon (2000)asserted that successful alleviation of poverty will happen when key players share and exchange knowledge and resources to create ideal poverty alleviation programmes tailored to the needs and capacities of all. This can be achieved using reflective dialogue, change of attitudes, prior experiences, and worldviews, with respect to poverty alleviation and management.

Method of the Evaluation

Over the years a series of strategies were mapped out to improve the competence of extension personnel in Mali without success. Recently, the SAFE training approach was adopted and is continuing, but there is need to verify the suitability and adaptability of this approach. This (evaluative) study was conducted in three stages:

Stage one:

Documentation of research in the Ministry of Agriculture and IPR where information on the SAFE programme and agricultural extension in Mali were collected. The technical dossiers on the programme provided information on the various stages undergone prior to the adoption of the SAFE programme in Mali, the results of the needs evaluation of the SAFE programme in Mali and the Memorandum of Understanding between the partners of the programme in Mali. The analysis and interpretation of the data from the documents helped to realise a pre diagnosis of the existing situation as well as complement some of the results from the primary data.

Identification and elaboration of instruments for data collection: These were developed in relation to the different areas covered by the study and included:

  • Interview schedule for selected villages currently involved in the SEPs programme
  • Questionnaires for the Ministry officials, lecturers, students, and NGO representatives

The instruments were content validated by a team of experts (IPR lecturers and resource persons). A mixture of partially closed, open ended, and close-ended questions was set in the preparation of the questionnaires and the interview schedule, which constitute a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research method. (Ratcliff, 2005)

The questionnaire and the interview schedules consisted of the sub headings:

  • Relationship of the respondents to the SAFE Programme - essentially a closed type of question and respondents were made to choose the option appropriate.
  • Uniqueness of the Programme - an open-ended question.
  • Expectation of students from the programme - measured on 5 point Likert scale. The numbers 5,4,3,2 and 1 represented strongly agreed, agree, somewhat agree, disagree and strongly disagree, respectively.
  • Issues in sustainability of the programme - items measured on a single yes or no response.
  • Levels of participation of stakeholders – respondents indicating yes or no to the various levels of participation.

Stage two:

Stage two involved sampling of respondents. All current participants in the programme implementation were included. The primary data were collected from 10 officials of the Ministry of Agriculture currently involved in the various programme committees, 12 lecturers of the University of Mali teaching technical courses in the programme, 8 officials from non governmental organisation, 24 farmers randomly selected from Kati (a SEPs village) and all the 82 students currently in the programme.

Stage three

Stage three involved data collection and analysis: The questionnaires were distributed by the researcher since most of the respondents were within reach. The villagers were, however, interviewed by four enumerators trained within one week to understand the items and to translate them accurately into the Bambara local dialect of the villagers. The collected data were analysed with simple statistical tools such as: frequency counts, percentages, means and standard deviation.

Results

The SAFE/Mali programme started in 2002 with three programmes previewed, namely; The Professional B.Sc degree programme; The Diploma programme for field technicians and; the in-service training programme. To date, only the B.Sc degree programme has started and is on going. Other programmes previewed are yet to start, due mainly to the novelty of the training programme in the Malian setting and the preference for a gradual and learning approach to its implementation. Table 1 summarises some data on this topic.

Currently, the focus of the SAFE programme in Mali is only on the training of Agricultural extension staff at the middle level and the field level. This in a way is complementary since the middle level staff are supervisors and the field level staffs are in direct contact with the farmers.

Table 1: Reasons for the uniqueness of the program mentioned by students, Ministry staff and lecturers .

Items

Students

Ministry Of Agric.

Lecturers of the University

Focus on extension personnel of the Ministry of Agriculture

100%

100%

100%

The 50/50 practical theory ratio

100%

98%

65%

The SEP component

100%

100%

100%

Participation of all stakeholders

100%

100%

100%

The agreement signed by students to return back after training

100%

100%

88%

Adult training programme

100%

98%

78%

Training the trainers component

78%

80%

94%

Follow up in the field after training

80%

100%

89%

Continuous review of programme

88%

100%

100%

Technology village component

100%

100%

100%

All the items in Table 1 have made the programme different from other training programmes adopted in Mali so far. Respondents claimed that there is a high ratio of practical component of SAFE programme because it is a training programme for adults who seem to learn better on the job.

The programme’s Supervised Entreprise Project (SEPs) component also makes it unique because this is the aspect that helps to carry the rural population along in the course of its implementation as well as ensure their participation. The trainers (lecturers in the programme) have regular training on identified areas of deficiency for competency improvement.

The expectations of the students from the programme

Apart from the opportunity of acquiring a degree in agricultural extension, the expectations of the students are high as this is the only programme of its kind in the University of Mali. Table 2 shows that apart from various socio-economic advantages, acquisition of necessary skills is a very important expectation of students from the training programme.

Table 2: Students’ expectation from SAFE/Mali programme

Item

N

Mean

Sd.

Obtain a professional degree in Agricultural Ext.

81

3.97

0.92

Gain promotion at work

81

3.89

0.91

Acquire skills in communication methods

81

3.89

0.94

Acquire skills in research methods

81

3.88

0.83

Acquire facilitation and negotiation skills

81

3.79

0.72

Acquire conflict resolution and management skills

81

3.79

0.767

Develop rapport with the rural world and rural people

81

3.78

0.821

Gain some technical skills

81

3.78

0.802

Acquire skills in critical thinking

81

3.75

0.932

Develop skills in resource mobilisation

81

3.74

0.912

Become computer literate

81

3.74

0.711

Acquire basic knowledge of English language

81

3.73

0.812

Source: Primary data, 2005

Table 2 shows that students have various expectations from the programme and there is little variation in their responses. This affirms that the students registered in the SAFE/IPR/IFRA programme have been non -degree holders and as such they need a degree for upward mobility in their individual ministry. As technicians, the students recognise the fact that they are deficient in extension communication skills, which they need to get the technical messages across to the rural people. Also, the students agreed that they need skills in research methods to help them in their relationship with researchers. Added to these, the students claimed that they expect that the SAFE programme will also equip them with skills in facilitation and negotiation as well as conflict resolution and managerial skills.

How SAFE/Mali programme is meeting participants’ expectation

Most students (94%) strongly agreed that the programme meets their expectation. They claimed that the curriculum content, the high volume of field trips, the SEPs component, and the active participation of the Ministries of Agriculture and Education were factors that contributed to this. The 4% of students who disagreed that the programme meets their expectation, explained that it will only be when they finish their studies and return to their work that they would be able to assess the programme.

The major partners of the programme and their roles

The five major partners shown in Figure 1, have jointly participated in its conception since 1998 when SAFE introduced the programme to the Malian authority. Their activities included a series of inter ministerial meetings, study trips to similar SAFE programmes in Anglophone countries, workshops and conferences, as well as needs analysis for the programme.

Figure: 1: Major partners of the programme and their roles (Source: Secondary data)

Various inter-ministerial (and university) planning committees were set up at the start of the programme. Presently, co-ordination and management of the programme are effected through the inter-ministerial management and technical committees set up to run the activities of the programme.

Sustainability issues in the Safe/IPR/IFRA programme and attempts at achieving it:

Stakeholders identified various issues of programme sustainability, and discussion of these issues was made using findings from the secondary data information. These are summarised in Table 3.

Table 3: Issues in sustainability of SAFE programme in Mali as indicated by Ministry officials, lecturers, students, rural people and NGO representatives

Indicators of programme sustainability

Officials of the Ministry of AG

Officials of the Ministry of education

Lecturers

Students

Rural people

NGOs

Active Participation of all stakeholders at the national level

100%

100%

100%

100%

79%

89%

Adequate Finance at local level

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

100%

Review of programme curriculum

98%

92%

93%

100%

100%

96%

Regional representation in student selection

100%

84%%

90%

100%

100%

82%

Evaluation and follow up of programme

100%

100%

100%

100%

78%

88%

Innovations and adaptation to Malian context

100%

88%

90%

86%

89%

79%

Performance of graduates after training

100%

100%

98%

88%

89%

92%

Effective alumni association

72%

78%

88%

100%

42%

56%

Primary data: 2005

Review of programme content and programme evaluation

Programme conception was essentially based on the results of the need analysis conducted in Mali and the programme content evolved as a result of the needs that were identified. Yearly since the programme commenced, supervisors of students’ SEPs have tried to evaluate programme content in terms of current needs and areas of defects, and these are usually discussed at the technical committee and modifications duly effected.

Regional representation of students

It is an essential concept of the programme that all the regions of Mali are represented in the training programme to ensure uniform development, participation and sustainability. So far, all the regions of Mali are represented in the programme although representation is not even, as some regions have more students in the programme than others.

Financing

Finance is a critical issue to the sustainability of any programme or project, especially in Africa where most projects collapse after the departure of the external partner(s). It is mainly for this reason that the stakeholders in the SAFE/IPR programme have tried to mobilise local funding (direct and indirect) for most of the activities of the programme. Financial aspects are summarised in Figures 3, 4 and 5.

Figure 3, 4 & 5: Current financing pattern of SAFE/IPR/IFRA programme (from secondary data)

Innovation and adaptation to Malian context

The technology village and the supervised enterprise projects are important concepts in the programme that are fully adapted to the Malian context. The technology village consists of simple processing and transformation technologies that are developed within and adapted to the Malian context for teaching purposes and adoption by villagers and young entrepreneurs in the University host community.

Supervised enterprise project

The Supervised Enterprise Project is a fieldwork conducted, in the rural villages, by students during the holidays in collaboration with villagers using participatory approach to evolve feasible projects that both parties can work on to help solve some of the farming problems faced by the rural farmers.

Alumni Association

While on campus, SAFE students organise themselves into a Union, membership of which would be carried on after their training. They pay monthly dues as well as elect their officials. Winrock International is currently compiling a database of all SAFE students in the region to help in the regional alumni association.

Level of participation of stakeholders in the programme

The response is shown in Table 4 of local partners’ perceived level of participation in the SAFE programme, using a continuum adapted from Pretty (1995). The results (all at the highest two levels) implies that they are involved in joint analysis, development of action plans and formation or strengthening of the SAFE programme. These partners considered participation as the ideal and a right, not just the means to achieve project goals. The process involves interdisciplinary methodologies that seek multiple perspectives and utilises systemic and structured learning processes. As groups take control over local decisions and determine how available resources are used, so also they have a stake in maintaining structures or practices. Local stakeholders participate by taking initiatives independently of external institutions to change systems. They develop contacts with external institutions for resources and technical advice they require, but retain control over how resources are used.

Table 4: Stakeholders indication of their level of participation in the SAFE/Mali programme

Participation/engagement type

Ministry of Agric. officials

Ministry of educ. officers

Lecturers

Students

Rural people

NGOs

Manipulative

-

-

-

-

-

-

Passive

-

-

-

-

-

-

Consultation

-

-

-

-

-

-

Material Incentives

-

-

-

-

-

-

Functional

-

-

-

-

-

-

Interactive

+ (1)

+(1)

+ (.90)

+(1)

+(.96)

+(.94)

Self mobilisation

+(1)

+(1)

+(.98)

+(.90)

+(.98)

-

Source: Primary data, 2005

Perceived strengths and weaknesses of the SAFE/Mail Programme

The scores for various aspects of the programme (out of 5) are shown in Table 5. The four main strength of the SAFE programme in Mali were in its sustainability, supervised enterprise project, partnership model.

Table 5: Response of students and Ministry officials to the indicators of strength and weakness of SAFE/Mali programme

Indicators of strength

N

Mean

SD

Program sustainable

105

3.98

.91

Supervised enterprise project

105

3.79

.97

Partnership

105

3.74

.89

Field visits

105

3.71

.92

Financial support by partners

105

3.68

.90

Material support by partners

105

3.67

.77

Experts from various sectors

105

3.64

.81

Training the trainers’ program

105

3.60

.99

Technology village component

105

3.59

.78

Professional exchanges

105

3.56

.67

Indicators of weakness

     

Low % of female students

105

3.72

.86

Few external partners

105

3.66

.79

The diploma programme for field level technicians yet to start

105

3.61

.92

Source: Primary data, 2005

According to the data, weaker points of the programme in Mali were: Low percentage of female students (about 16% of the present student population), low number of external partners and the failure of the training programme for the low level Extension officers to start yet.

Conclusion

The evaluation indicated that (in the eyes of the participants) the SAFE training programme approach to the education and upgrading of agricultural extension personnel is proving to be valuable and sustainable in Mali. Its successful take-off in Mali may have implications for other francophone African countries with similar problems in their agricultural extension service. However, in Mali, a wider coverage of the programme should be urgently considered in order to cater for the technicians that are in direct contact with the farmers.

Also, review of the curriculum should be periodically undertaken so as to keep in touch with and meet ‘market’ demands, as well as be in tune with the various structural changes going on in the country. Finally, greater effort should be made to attract on the one hand, more partners, and on the other hand, greater numbers of female candidates into the programme. The latter can be achieved through intensive search for scholarships.

From this evaluation three key lessons learnt were:

  • Synergy through partnership with and participation of recipient community can help ensure sustainability of an extension-training programme.
  • Supervised field experience can enrich curricula and teaching scheme for mid level extension staff.
  • Midlevel extension personnel in Mali are an enthusiastic but yet to be fully exploited group of learners.

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