By Muhammad Ali

AGRICULTURE IS the bread and butter for small landholders. They face numerous problems which have not been resolved by approaches pursued so far. It is a dire need to shift to sustainable agriculture approach, changing the priority from farms to farmers development.
The suggested approach relies on three fundamental components of extension activities – dialogue with stakeholders, organisational development and knowledge management. In addition, capacity building and awareness raising, monitoring and evaluation are the additional building blocks.
The approach requires stakeholders dialogue as an alternative to common approaches like top-down and bottom-up approaches either existing or having been implemented in different political regimes, NGOs etc.
The learning for sustainability (L for S) approach presents permanent forum for information sharing discussions and negotiations at different levels, with the principles and overall goals including (a) all relevant actors must be included in the extension activities and dialogue process (b) information, views and opinions must be regularly exchanged among all stakeholders (c) connections between current problems, available potentials and new window of opportunities are made transparent (d) brainstorming of views and solutions are developed together with stakeholders and the solutions devised are tested for medium- and long-term impacts so that risks can be trimmed down.
To build with stakeholder, dialogue is the need of the time for information and capacity- building that must be met at various important levels. In order to cope with the difficult themes, this exclusive approach provides specially developed learning methods and tools like multi- and trans-disciplinary learning groups, experience-oriented social learning methods and simulation games. With the help of the mentioned methods and tools they can opt for new ways while pursuing the road to success.
On the other hand, extension personnel and other service providers must, on a regular basis, update their knowledge regarding extension methodology, didactics and knowledge of organising and moderating negotiation and learning processes.
Indeed, knowledge management, organisational development and stakeholder dialogue are the key elements of learning for sustainability approach in which continuous action is required to be kept up independent of specific themes.
The extension themes are implemented through proper steps of activities like awareness-raising, capacity-building, social mobilisation for proper implementation and monitoring and evaluation.
Moreover, this particular approach can be applied at different levels including the region or district with particular development goals, the local small landholding communities and farm and households with their individual potential related to livelihood.
Last but not least, the fact cannot be denied that small landholders are themselves decision makers who ultimately decide whether to act or not and they are builders of their own fate. If they utilise their proper potential in terms of available human and natural resources, they can improve their lot. Small farmers can develop their own successful livelihood strategies. Now there is a need to change the priority from farms to farmers development.
The growers have to develop alternative sources of income. New income generation activities should be devised for the small landholding community by public and private sectors. Short training courses can be introduced keeping in mind the resources of the areas and assessing the need of the farming communities.
Actually, small landholders do not have enough capital to purchase inputs (seeds, fertiliser and pesticides), do not get water at the right time for sowing and are unable to get good price for their commodity. They lack access to micro or macro credit, suffer gender discrimination, energy crisis and inflation. They do not get sufficient government support and suffer from negative impacts of trade liberalisation etc.
The mandatory role of extension is to change their mindset and motivate them to get familiar with the changes in the ecological, economic and social environment for their own benefits. The government and its functionaries should pay sincere heed towards the development of small landholders.
Courtesy: The Dawn

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