New Trends In Extension –Privatization
Extension has been, and still is, under attack from a wide spectrum of politicians and economists over its cost and financing. As a result, Extension Systems have had to make changes, by restating the system’s mission, developing a new vision for the future, and formulating plans for the necessary transition to achieve the desired change.
At least three scenarios have been suggested by government and farm organizations with regard to privatization of extension:
1. Public financing by the taxpayer only for the kinds of services of direct concern to the general public.
2. Direct charging for some individual services that produce direct return in the form of improved income, with the possibility of differential rates for specific situations or target groups.
3. Mixed funding shared between public and private professional association contributions for services, with delayed return or collective services, such as applied research, training of farmers and agents, and improvement in Extension methods and tools.
Extension service has been traditionally organized and delivered by the public sector all over the world, which led to a situation wherein, whenever one refers to extension, it denoted public extension service. Similarly, whenever private sector is referred to, there is a tendency to consider only the corporate sector in the category. However, private extension has a broader canvas including all relevant private groups than the narrow canvas of corporate sector.
Privatization of extension services does not aim at substituting private sector for public extension service. In fact, privatization has adopted a variety of forms involving different stakeholders. The paper portrays the major stakeholders, viz, private corporate firms, credit institutions, farmer’s associations non-governmental organizations and media organizations and analyses their participant configurations.
The success of an extension service depends on the effectiveness of planning at four levels policy, programmes, projects and strategy. Policy and programmes must be decided by the public extension system, while projects and strategy can be formulated by the private extension organizations. When the private extension organizations get involved in providing extension support to farmers, it is likely there will be competition among the various extension providers, which will result in more efficient and demand-driven service. Both technical and allocative efficiency which are basically economic in nature are well take care of by the private extension agencies, resulting in cost minimization, profit maximisation and optimal use of resources, which are warranted in a competitive environment.
Public extension service often views sustainability of programmes only in terms of continuity. Sustainability is different form continuity, which has both ecological and equity dimensions. The private extension agencies, especially NGOs and media organizations provide valuable service in ensuring sustainability of programmes in terms of the above two dimensions.
The private extension system in India offers the following services for farmers – terms of sharing, augmenting and supplementing the public extension efforts besides offering unique and innovative initiatives, which the public extension service can also emulate. Some of the Services are:
1. Cost sharing by farmers’ groups
2. Cost recovery on selected services offered to farmers
3. Contracting services to small groups
4. Paid extension services for affordable farmers
5. Value addition by agro-processing firms
6. Consultancy services (both technical and managerial)
7. Privatised service centres for farmers
8. Self Help Groups of farmers
9. Information support through media organizations
Private extension system can offer a variety of services for farmers in a competitive environment which the public sector may not be able to. Hence, it is suggested that public sector extension may limit its activities only to regulatory and enabling functions, and should mainly focus on educational activities, which are unattractive to private sector delivery.