I’m puzzled by a report on SciDev.net about last week’s 3rd African Green Revolution Conference in Norway. Two speakers told the conference that although new technologies have been developed that can increase yields, farmers are not adopting these technologies. The speakers said one reason is that there is no funding to promote these new technologies to farmers, and a Vice-President of AGRA told the conference that AGRA was spending US$50 million to fund a network of agro-dealers that will make the technologies available closer to the farmers and arrange for demonstrations.
Here’s the puzzle: is a network of agro-dealers really the solution? Or would an equal investment in extension services be a better use of the money? Countries tend to be neglecting extension right now, possibly because they are lured by technological solutions that are more glamorous than spreading best practices. What if there were a transnational service that put an army of barefoot extension workers into the countryside? Equip them with a bicycle and some communications technology. Give them access to one another’s experience and a global network of experts. Give them access, too, to those technological developments, if they think those are worthwhile. Maybe even give farmers vouchers that they can exchange for advice.
If the result is improved yields, stability, nutrition and all the rest of it, wouldn’t that be more sustainable than new technologies that — for whatever reason — languish on the shelf?