Reframing Agricultural Extension Education Services in Industrially Developed Countries: A Canadian Perspective

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  • Some of the material discussed in this paper was initially presented to a group of professionals in the Cooperative Extension Unit of the American Association of Adult and Continuing Education. In keeping with the theme of the session 'Extension's Odyssey to the Future' it became necessary to start with a definition of the term odyssey. As you all know, Odyssey was the title of 8th Century B.C. Greek poet Homer's epic poem recounting the adventurous journey of Odysseus on his way home from the siege of Troy. In modern day usage, the word odyssey is used to denote any of the following: \"a long wandering, a series of adventurous journeys usually marked by many changes of fortune, or an extensive intellectual and spiritual wandering or quest\" (Webster's Third International Dictionary). As one reflects on the history of the development of extension one concludes that extension has had an interesting past -- something in the nature of an odyssey. The identifiable roots of extension activity perhaps go back to the renaissance period (Swanson, 1990:9) in European history and similar events in other cultures, when concerns about relating education to human needs were expressed. Historically, there has been an interest in the application of knowledge to problems of daily life. The more recent and specific expressions of this activity were embodied in the efforts of Cambridge University in 1873 (Blackburn and Vist, 1984:2) when the term extension education was first used. The origins of agricultural extension education in North America are diverse. Blackburn and Vist (1984:2) report that in 1606 Marc Lescarbot grew the first experimental seed plot in North America at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, Quebec, according to these authors, already had its first agricultural school in 1670. True (1928) and Scott (1970) have documented the early history of the development of agricultural extension services in the United States. The Canadian experience in this respect needs a detailed compilation. Blackburn and Vist (1984:9-10) have taken the initial steps in this direction by providing some source material on the history and development of extension services in the Canadian provinces. From the information available, it is clear that the early efforts of individuals, farmers' organizations, chambers of commerce, banks and railroads led to the development of publicly supported institutionalized agricultural extension services both in Canada and the U.S. Hagarty's data on manpower and financial resources invested in Canadian agricultural extension services in 1991 and information presented by Warner and Christenson (1984:5) and Ameur (1994) are indicative of the way in which the extension enterprise has flourished in North America. In the post WWII period, the extension principles and methods were transferred to developing countries for application to problems of food production and agricultural development. In December 1989, the FAO of the United Nations held a global consultation on agricultural extension \"to debate about the future of agricultural extension, especially in developing countries.\" Based on an international survey of 113 countries, they estimated that \"in excess of six billion U.S. dollars are expended annually on extension worldwide, involving more than 600,000 trained workers... reaching about 1.2 billion people\" (Swanson, 1990:1). If one compares the mid-1800s humble and ad hoc efforts to establish extension in Canada and the U.S. with the size and extent of the spread of extension services worldwide today, and reflects on the trials and tribulations involved in such a phenomenal growth and development, one cannot escape the conclusion that extension has truly been on an exciting odyssey. Many professional workers, I am sure, have personally experienced the highs and lows of this odyssey as I have done. I am, of course, reflecting on my personal experience in Punjab, India, of the 1950s when extension was newly introduced and I worked as a young extension agent. I often used to reflect, in the evening, on a day's work with illiterate and poor farmers, trying to unfold to them the mysteries of NPK, and wonder if I had made any appreciable difference to their well-being that day. My faith in extension was reinforced during an extended visit to the same area in 1983, after 25 years of absence, when I noticed the positive effects of the power of education on their thinking processes, farm practices, incomes and well-being. These illiterate and poor farmers, with extension's assistance, had mastered the mysteries of scientific agriculture so well that every time I asked a peasant why was he using a given technology at a given time and crop phase, I received a very coherent and logical answer.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International