Discussion panel comments
L-R: Rowan Reid, Lauren Rickards, Anna Roberts, Zse Flett, Kevin Goss
Here is a summary of some of the key points made during the panel discussion at the Symposium in Melbourne on 14 Nov 2008.
Some things that hit home for me were the concepts “convenience agriculture” and “attention scarcity”.
We are seeing the role of advisors becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity.
Farmers increasingly need a different sort of extension -- more of a case-management approach rather than information provision.
In the context of drought we are not just talking about scarcity of time but also scarcity of attention, scarcity of resources … all sorts of resources.
Extension for drought proofing (self help) is different to extension for public benefits (natural resource management). NRM may be at the self actualisation end for some farmers, but for many it isn’t.
Adoption of practices for NRM is very complex
Usually, it is impossible to expect landscape scale change in use of NRM practices as a result of extension. That is pretty sobering if you are working for NRM outcomes in a public department.
Farmer trust of extension has been eroded with the move from individual extension to Landcare to purchase-provider to output given government organisations.
The extension agent’s job in that new environment is extremely difficult.
There are enormous pressures on modern extension agents.
Extension is about preparing farmers to make appropriate choices. We can’t predict the required changes.
The basic ideas and insights we are working to don’t change. What you heard to day is calling on a long and proud tradition of information, starting in the 1930s. There were graphs up there from the 1970s and 1980s, and they are still valid today.
The interaction between the technology and the person is crucial. The laggard concept, which focuses only on the person, not the technology, is not useful at all.
When you actually try to apply these insights in the context of a research centre, it gets extremely difficult. Tensions arise between the desire to develop big breakthrough technologies, and the need to get those technologies adopted.
I learnt something from a neighbour … she had been there all your life. “I’ve noticed that the landscape has changed but the people haven’t.”
If you measure change on the basis of what you thought the innovation was, you might miss something important.
Don’t have a silo mentality.
Don’t use incentive payments in a way that will undermine the “doers” in our community.
Lauren is one of 30 consultants we have here today.
Remember, we should not assume that extension is the appropriate policy mechanism to encourage practice change. Sometimes it is, but particularly for NRM, other policy mechanisms can often be more appropriate, such as positive incentives, regulation, or technology development. Practice change is not synonymous with extension. Some of us assume that it is.