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A consensus exists that extension services, if functioning effectively, improve agricultural productivity through providing farmers with information that helps them to optimize their use of limited resources. Variations in management practices and husbandry skills among small farmers in Kenya are very great. Tremendous poverty-reducing benefits could be reaped by bringing the production costs of the most inefficient farmers to mean productivity levels. Achieving these gains in maize production efficiency will depend on many factors, but extension is likely to be among the most important. Therefore, the costs to the nation of having an underperforming extension service – in terms of smallholder productivity, incomes, and poverty reduction, and the ability to survive or even thrive after the reduction in import tariffs as implied by impending COMESA and EAC trade agreements – are very high. The objective of this study is to assess the range of alternative food crop and livestock extension services currently operating in Kenya, what works, what doesn’t, and why. The report is fundamentally descriptive, providing knowledge on the nature of the existing extension providers, their characteristics, approaches employed and the challenges they face. Based on successful cases, we identify attributes that may be important for future discussions about extension service provision in Kenya and the role of the government in such a scenario. The study covered 16 districts representing the various agro-regional zones present in Kenya. It employed qualitative methods and focused on the private and public extension service providers. Discussions were also held with other stakeholder in the agricultural extension service realm about their experiences and perceptions of the existing extension systems and approaches. The study highlights five (6) important findings: (1) private extension provision is generally skewed towards well-endowed regions and high-value crops. Remote areas and poor producers especially those growing low-value crops with little marketable surplus are poorly served. Non-profit private providers are targeting them. But their scope is limited. (2) The public extension service appears to be high-cost compared to private commercial and non-profit extension services. (3) Since public resources for extension are very constrained, it may make sense for public extension not to duplicate or overlap in the same areas that are being provisioned more efficiently by commercial and non-profit systems. This would leave more public resources for concentrating extension services for farmers in areas that are remote and poorly served by the commercial systems. (4) However, the commercial and non-commercial systems benefit from the presence of the public extension service. The alternative systems rely on public extension workers for training and appropriate management advice, so even if the public system was to withdraw to the more remote areas where private extension is unprofitable, it may be appropriate to institute some type of commercial contracting of public sector extension system staff so that the latter can impart needed skills and capacity building of the commercial extension systems. (5) The government should consider contracting the private sector to offer extension services in the disadvantaged regions. Contracting out extension services makes it possible to take advantage of all of the talent and experience existing in the field but does not eliminate a government role which, in addition to funding, ensures quality assurance, oversight, and provision of training and information to contracted services providers. (6) The weight of evidence suggests, in most cases, that private extension is not a substitute for public extension and the public sector should funding extension significantly but in ways that do not duplicate services already being provided by sustainable alternative extension providers.


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