Rural extension is now a common activity in most countries of the world including Tanzania, and it is a basic element in programmes and projects formulated to bring about change in rural areas. Extension services are similarly a common feature of the administrative structure of rural areas and these services have the responsibility, in partnership with the farmers, of directing programmes and projects for change.
Since research-based agricultural extension services were begun to be provided to the surrounding farming communities by universities, the country has implemented several agricultural extension systems at different times aimed at supporting rural communities. Under Tanzania's current agriculture development-led industrialisation strategy, the extension system remains a critical tool.
The government firmly believes that an effective and efficient extension system plays an important role to transform smallholder subsistence agriculture to commercial agricultural production system. This will be realized through facilitating the adoption and utilization of yield- and quality-increasing agricultural technologies.
In fact, the extension system inTanzania has great potential to help farmers throughout the country.
Extension is a term which is open to a wide variety of interpretations. Each extension agent probably has his own understanding of what extension is. In other words, there is no single definition of extension which is universally accepted or which is applicable to all situations. Furthermore, extension is a dynamic concept in the sense that the interpretation of it is always changing. Extension, therefore, is not a term which can be precisely defined, but one which describes a continual and changing process in rural areas.
Although farmers already have a lot of knowledge about their environment and their farming system, extension can bring them other knowledge and information which they do not have. For example, knowledge about the cause of the damage to a particular crop, the general principles of pest control, or the ways in which manure and compost are broken down to provide plant nutrients are all areas of knowledge that the agent can usefully bring to farmers.
The application of such knowledge often means that the farmer has to acquire new skills of various kinds: for example, technical skills to operate unfamiliar equipment, organizational skills to manage a group project, the skill to assess the economic aspects of technical advice given, or farm management skills for keeping records and allocating the use of farm resources and equipment.
The transfer of knowledge and skills to farmers and their families is an important extension activity and the extension agent must prepare himself thoroughly. He must find out which skills or areas of knowledge are lacking among the farmers in his area, and then arrange suitable learning experiences through which the farmers can acquire them.
Extension also provides advice and information to assist farmers in making decisions and generally enable them to take action. This can be information about prices and markets, for example, or about the availability of credit and inputs. The technical advice will probably apply more directly to the production activities of the family farm and to the action needed to improve or sustain this production. Much of this technical advice will be based upon the findings of agricultural research. In many instances, however, farmers are also sources of valuable advice and information for other farmers, and agents should always try to establish a farmer-to-farmer link.
As well as knowledge, information and technical advice, farmers also need some form of organization, both to represent their interests and to give them a means for taking collective action. Extension, therefore, should be concerned with helping to set up, structure and develop organizations of local farmers. This should be a joint venture and any such organization should only be set up in consultation with the farmers. In the future, these organizations will make it easier for extension services to work with local farmers, and will also serve as a channel for disseminating information and knowledge.