A consortium led by the UI College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences received $9 million to improve the livelihoods of rural farmers in the world's poorest nations by modernizing and strengthening their agricultural Extension systems.
The UI was selected as the lead institution to undertake the Modernizing Extension and Advisory Systems project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development. This five-year project will involve a strategic analysis of the activities and investments needed to strengthen the pluralistic Extension systems in 20 of the poorest developing countries.
"This is the first significant investment that USAID has made to help strengthen national agricultural Extension systems in poor developing countries in several decades," said Burton Swanson, director of the MEAS Project and a UI professor emeritus. "Extension systems in the poor countries of Africa, Asia and Central America need to undergo a significant change to effectively serve the needs of small-scale male and female farmers. Our goal is to transform these Extension systems so they can play a key role in both increasing farm incomes and improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, especially farm women."
The changing global economy has created many new market opportunities for agricultural producers worldwide, Swanson said. The MEAS project will help train and support local Extension workers to be "knowledge brokers" and link farmers to markets by drawing on the expertise of innovative farmers that are already producing and marketing profitable agricultural products.
The project's goal is to help farmers with limited resources in 20 of the world's poorest countries identify emerging market opportunities while using their land and labor resources to more efficiently serve these markets. In addition, they will utilize sustainable natural resource management practices.
"Most public Extension systems in these developing countries are very poorly financed and have a very limited impact on the rural poor," said Schuyler Korban, the director of the ACES Office of International Programs. "This project will have a significant transformative effect on Extension and advisory services in developing countries around the world. These efforts could impact millions of people in these countries as availability of products through increased market channels assist in alleviating poverty through economic development."
The MEAS team will focus on three major key areas in order to strengthen and transform these Extension systems.
"Our first goal is to develop training materials for development specialists, policy makers, Extension directors and Extension field staff," Swanson said. "We plan to complete case studies and pilot projects to validate and replicate good Extension practices as documented in other countries. We will also conduct in-depth assessments of the Extension systems in the target countries, with a goal of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of these existing systems."
Finally, recommended investments will be developed that can help strengthen these Extension systems. Then plans will be submitted to the USAID Mission in each country for additional funding and implementation.
"We are elated that we have been selected to receive this major USAID grant," Korban said. "This effort will continue to engage the College of ACES and the University of Illinois in the arena of international agricultural development."
MEAS is a consortium of several strong partner institutions, including Michigan State University, Cornell University, University of California at Davis, University of Florida, North Carolina A&T University, Catholic Relief Services, Cultural Practices LLC, International Food Policy Research Institute, Winrock International, Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education, Sasakawa Africa Association, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. u