Farmer experience of pluralistic agricultural extension, Malawi
To link to this article DOI: 10.1080/1389224X.2012.735620
Purpose: Malawi’s current extension policy supports pluralism and advocates responsiveness to farmer demand. We investigate whether smallholder farmers’ experience supports the assumption that access to multiple service providers leads to extension and advisory services that respond to the needs of farmers. Design/methodology/approach: Within a case study approach, two villages were purposively selected for in-depth qualitative analysis of available services and farmers’ experiences. Focus group discussions were held separately with male and female farmers in each village, followed by semi-structured interviews with 12 key informants selected through snowball sampling. Transcripts were analysed by themes and summaries of themes were made from cross case analysis. Findings: Farmers appreciate having access to a variety of sources of technical advice and enterprise specific technology. However, most service providers continue to dominate and dictate what they will offer. Market access remains a challenge, as providers still emphasize pushing a particular technology to increase farm productivity rather than addressing farmers’ expressed needs. Although farmers work in groups, providers do not seek to strengthen these to enable active interaction and to link them to input and produce markets. This limits farmers’ capacity to continue with innovations after service providers pull out. Poor coordination between providers limits exploitation of potential synergies amongst actors. Practical implications: Services providers can adapt their approach to engage farmers in discussion of their needs and work collaboratively to address them. At a system level, institutions that have a coordination function can play a more dynamic role in brokering interaction between providers and farmers to ensure coverage and responsiveness. Originality/value: The study provides a new farmer perspective on the implementation of extension reforms.