How to use this site?

    This web site has been prepared for farmers, extension agents, policy advisers and project planners. It can be used in many combinations to suited their varied needs.

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    The great advantage of an internet site is that it can be written for many audiences and the individual readers can choose the material relevant to their needs.

If this site was produced in book form it would be written for a specific group.

I would then have to choose what I though was relevant to that audience group. Instead you as the reader can cut and paste as you wish to form your own book, brochure or fact sheet.

    The principal audiences for this site are:-


    * Access.

    Obviously few farmers in the WANA region read English but translation into Arabic is easier than rewriting material.

Nor are they connected to the internet in any substantial numbers.

Farmers will need intermediaries to provide the information from this site. This will be discussed in more detail later.

The core of the site is    FARMING ZONES.

    The columns are indications of the audience.

    The rows are the farming zones.

    The column marked "Guide for farmers and extension agents" provides the bulk of the material for farmers.

  * Start in cereal zone.

    The "Guide to cereals and pastures" is a good starting point for all farmers. Even those in zones with higher rainfall and with lower rainfall would benefit from starting in the centre.

    Spreading into other columns takes the information to other audiences but many of these topics will still be of interest to farmers.

    Local extension agents and district extension leaders.

    They will be the main intermediaries to provide the information from this site to farmers.

They will begins with the column marked "Guide for farmers and extension agents" but will also dip into the "Overview" column to obtain a broader perspective to their extension campaigns.

    Senior policy advisers and project planners.

    They will concentrate mainly in the "Overview" column and "Policy and tenure" but one of the great advantages of the internet is that they are able to refer to the practical side as well.

For example "Buyer's guide to scarifiers" is essential reading for farmers interested in converting to shallow cultivation.

It is also essential reading for senior staff planning an extension campaign on shallow cultivation or people in research centres undertaking cultivation research.

The failure of senior staff to understand the fundamental design principles of the scarifier over the last 50 years has been a major weakness of shallow cultivation programs.


    The contents of the site can be cut and pasted to suit each audience in a most specific manner.

    * Case studies

    For farmers the site should be supplemented with local case studies.

Farmers in general relate better to case studies than to general laws.

Most information that trickles down from research centres is in the form of general laws.

For example we have provided a Budget for farmers adopting medic . This should be used in the field with a number of case studies by applying it to actual local farms.

    * Flip charts and posters.

    Flip charts and posters are one of the oldest and lowest technology means of providing information.

Their great disadvantage in the past was they tended to be very expensive or inflexible.

To keep the cost down large print runs were necessary.

Now printouts (even in colour) are cheap and easy off computers.

An extension agents can make their own flip charts from this site or the CD.

They can cut and paste the material into a format that suits their needs.

For example Measuring medic pods  is already in a form that can be turned into a flip chart or poster for farmers.

    * Background notes.

    Some of the material (for example the section "Rotations Compared") will be used as background notes by extension agents.

Rather than printing off numerous copies they can use the material in group discussions with farmers on the relative costs and benefits of each rotation or as the basis for a series of talks on radio.

    * Fact sheets and brochures.

    These can also be prepared from this web site or CD.

For example "Buyer's guide to scarifiers" would make an excellent small brochure for distribution to farmers.

The "Budget for medic" could be printed and photocopied for farmers as a fact sheet.

The Farmer Training Kits contain about 150 photos of farming operations.

These can be printed off using cheap colour printer and stapled into brochures or used as posters or flip charts.

Down loading from the internet will take time and a CD copy of the site is recommended.

     * Wider information range.

    Ministries of Agriculture have traditionally been concerned with plants and animals as the basis of farm production systems.

More recently they have expanded into economics and farm management but farm machinery and marketing remain neglected areas that are of vital importance to farmers.

In this site I have attempt to plug some of the farm machinery gaps but marketing is an important area that is not at present included.


    * Spoken or written?

    A fundamental division is the spoken word and the written word.

Farmers prefer the spoken word.

This is nothing to do with literacy but simply a cultural preference.

People with university or college training have become accustomed to using the written word.

The spoken word should be the starting point for information exchange.

Radio, group discussions and field days are all excellent means of providing extension advice.

The written word is then used to support and reinforce the spoken message.

    * Pay or free?

    Generally government extension services have provided written material free.

The difficulty is that extension success means financial failure.

Funds are allocated for printing etc.

If the facts sheets are popular they run out and more funds are needed.

The extension agents who are successful are criticised by the financial controllers and must go and beg for further funds for reprints.

Government services are not generally good at wide distribution.

Commercial interests who distribute papers, magazines and books will not distribute free material.

They have a good network but must receive a commission.

It does seem necessary to charge for printed material at least for the production costs.

Charging also allows the material to enter the much larger commercial network.

There must however be room for flexibility.

If an extension agent spends an hour with a farmer explaining medic grazing management he should be able to provide a copy of "Measuring pods" to reinforce the hour of time provided free to the farmer.

To refuse because the farmer has forgotten to bring a little money with him will undermine the investment of time already spent and be a poor economy.

This web site is free although a charge is made for CD copies.

    * Full commercial distribution.

    There are considerable opportunities for commercial partnership in the distribution of information.

For example Budget for medic  would make an excellent page in a rural newspaper or farmer magazine.

The government achieves wide distribution that is completely free and the commercial interest are able to surround it with valuable advertising.

The extension service

    The above discussion is based on a farm extension service or advisory service.

The model adopted in North America, parts of Europe, Australia and some countries in the WANA region was based on the District Adviser who had a two or three year degree or diploma in agriculture from a university or special purpose agricultural college.

The advisers organised group meetings and field days.

They also made individual visits to farmers.

In some countries such as Denmark, USA and some states of Australia they were supported by farmers' clubs (quite separate from the farmers' political associations) interested in technical information.

Generally this model is in retreat.

Governments have adopted more free market ideologies. Information is another commodity that should be sold to farmers rather than provided free. (Making a charge for printed material only covers basic paper and printing costs. The information is still free. )

Governments have also turned their bureaucracies away from providing free advice toward the administration of their complex subsidy schemes.

As subsidies on commodities are reduced and converted to subsidies for the environment or animal welfare more inspectors and administrators are required.

Why is an extension service important?

    * Social justice.

    Farmers, particularly small farmers, are workers, managers and capitalists.

They are different from most other businesses in the economy as they employ mostly family labour.

The most cost effective means of improving the welfare of the small farmer is to improve the profit of their farm business.

For example we will show in the web site that a farmer with 80 to 100 sheep will earn an income greater than the average weekly wage.

At present small farmers have less than 80 sheep - much less - but with pasture improvement and the Zaghouan 4 rotation it is not an unrealistic target.

To achieve a 80 sheep flock requires investment in inputs such as phosphate fertiliser, medic pods etc.

Farmers will use their own savings or borrow money for these expenses.

To kick start the investment requires some encouragement and to manage it requires information and training.

Government investment in encouragement, management and training will have a very high pay back. It is more effective means of improving farm income than making direct family support payments which are costly to administer and continue without end.

    * Community benefits.

    Many farming improvements have large community benefits.

Eliminating the fallow from the cereal-fallow rotation is sound farm economics but it also reduces erosion.

The silt that runs off is deposited in dams and the dust that blows away pollutes the whole country.

If these can be reduced the community as well as the farmer benefit.

Community support through the provision of information is a small cost to pay.

    * Reduced migration.

    From a national viewpoint the migration of small farmers and farm workers to the larger cities is creating increased unemployment.

It is also putting more and more pressure on urban housing and other services.

If the migration push can be reduced by improving the profitability of small farms there will be considerable benefits to urban areas.

    * Economic efficiency.

    Agricultural policies in the WANA region in the past have not been driven by economic efficiency.

Neither are they in the northern temperate regions of America and Europe.

Food self sufficiency and support for farmers have been the motives for the lavish subsidy programs. This is unfortunate as agriculture can be economically efficient in the WANA region.

The high price of sheep meat in particular provides the opportunity to improve pastures and make good profits.

Huge areas in Australia have been developed using annual pasture legumes and phosphate for livestock development.

While Australia farmers received some government support through the tax system the investment was private and profitable.

Generally returns from livestock in the WANA region are three times higher than Australia while pasture improvement costs using legume species are similar.

    * Free information - cannot be patented.

    Of course the economic efficiency argument can be used in another way.

If investment in pastures and sheep is so profitable why do farmers need government supported extension and information services?

Why does not the market provide the information for sale?

The difficulty for the commercial providers of information is that agricultural information is often not protected by copyright and by it very nature cannot be.

An industrial design is protected. Information in the design is sold to a manufacturer who pays a royalty.

Grazing management for medic pasture or phosphate fertiliser application rates cannot be patented in the same way.

It is therefore difficult for commercial interests to sell this information at a profit.

This argument for public information applies even more strongly to government sponsored research.

Most governments have accepted that large areas of agricultural research must be done in the public domain.

Publicly funded  information must follow to gain a pay back for this research.

The steps are as follows:-

The public research improves agricultural efficiency and profits.

These benefit farmers but also the whole economy.

If farmers are going to utilise the results of the research they must be informed.

Hence the public support of information services.

What is the future for extension services?

    * Continue the same model.

    The dominant model over the last 50 years has been the District Farm Adviser based in the Ministry of Agriculture.

In spite of the powerful arguments in favour of government supported information services this model is in retreat.

The reason for the decline in extension has been reduced government staff numbers generally and an exaggerated belief that commercial interest can fill the gap.

While government support for information services is a most worthwhile investment the old model had its failing and was in need of reform.

    + It was top down model.

Ideas developed in research institutions were supposed to filter down to farmers through the extension service.

Whole areas of agriculture that interested farmers such as farm mechanisation were generally ignored by research centres and hence by the extension services.

The record of extension in the WANA region on shallow cultivation and more efficient harvesting of cereals has been particularly poor.

The top down model also forced the extension service to give priority to government policy rather than farmers' needs.

The most striking example has been the emphasis on cereals, particularly wheat, in the cereal zone.

Farmers could make greater profits from livestock but government policy favoured cereals.

Even with the change in government policy on self sufficiency there is a generation of administrator who find it difficult to grasp the need for farm profits.

They find the Zaghouan 4 rotation difficult to understand as it does not attempt to increase cereal output. The fact that farmers' profits from cereals could double is outside their field of experience.

    + The extension service was easily distracted onto other tasks.

The situation is much worse in Europe where the payment of subsidies has virtually taken over the Ministry of Agriculture.

Even in the WANA region the district advisers were often given other tasks.

The problem is that extension is easy to postpone.

Advice on grazing medic pasture is not critical this week or perhaps not even next but continual postponement means it is not done at all.

    * Totally private. Small farmers excluded.

    There has been a great expansion in private farm consultants and they provide a valuable service.

They are unable to provide a service to small farmers at a price that small farmers can afford.

There are economies of scale in the provision of information, particularly on an individual basis and small farmers cannot be serviced within a completely private system.

The totally private system can be economically wasteful.

Consultants build their client lists as they can. There is rarely a rational pattern and a great deal of time is wasted in travel that over laps the travel of other consultants.

This can be justified as the ultimate in consumer choice but in many cases excessive choice leads to unjustified costs which are passed onto the farmers in higher charges.

    * Public - private mix.

     Farm Improvement Clubs offer the opportunity to provide a mixed system that may have advantages over both the existing government dominated model and the completely private system.

Farm improvement clubs are not a new idea.

They exist in many countries and worked closely with the Ministry advisers.

Their major weakness is that they are purely voluntary and depend on an active and enthusiastic committee to maintain membership participation.

We have taken the concept further and suggest that the clubs actually employ the advisers.

Farmers must join and participate to receive advice.

The government would provide a voucher for each farmer representing the basic fee for a small farmer. 

Farmers with more land would pay additional fees on a pro rata basis.

British National Health Service

The concept is used in Britain for their health service.

Patients enrol on a doctor's list.

The doctor receives a fee. The doctor is not a government official. They need to have a list of patients to receive their income.

The paid adviser would have a strong financial incentive to keep the club membership actively participating.

The adviser's salary from the club would come mainly from the vouchers assigned by individual farmers to the club and redeemed in cash from the government.

    The Farm Improvement Clubs provide a balance between consumer choice and efficiency.

They would be based locally but farmers would have the choice of perhaps two or three local clubs that covered their farm.

There might be some over lap in travel by farm advisers but considerably less than purely private consultants.

    * Different role for government service.

    The implementation of such a system would mean a totally different role for the government extension service.

There would be less direct contact with farmers.

The government service would interact with the clubs and their staff.

If the changes are seen as a positive development by the ministry staff there could be a very positive inter change of people.

The ministry should relax its rules to allow staff to take extended periods of leave without pay to work for a club.

They could for example take on a five year contract without resigning or losing their government position.

Government could also recruit experienced club advisers for positions in the ministry.

    * Adviser may be different.

    The traditional model of the government advisory service has been based on full time professional advisers with a general training.

Clubs may decide to employ part-time advisers with more specialist training.

They might be in addition to a general adviser.

For example grazing management for medic pastures could be organised on the basis of selecting a few successful farmers within the group.

The farmers would be sent on a course organised by the ministry.

This could be a few days or weeks depending on the topics.

The farmers would then become a paid part time advisers on these topics.

Weed control in cereals, fertiliser requires for cereals (including the use of NIR analysis), modifications to cereal harvesters, the use of shallow cultivation and the administration of animal vaccines are all specialist topics that could be handled by part time farmer/advisers.

    * Clear objectives.

    The Farm Improvement Clubs must have a clear charter of objectives and not become distracted into other fields.

It is important that they do not become involved in politics.

They cannot support candidates for election or pass resolutions opposing the government.

To do so with the aid of government funds would create enormous tensions.

They must concentrate on information exchange.

That is the exchange of information between members of the group, with other groups and with government and research institutions.

The Farm Improvement Clubs need to remain distinct from other farmer cooperatives or associations.

Farm machinery cooperatives and buying or marketing groups provide advantages for farmers but the Clubs should remain independent so they can provide critical advice to farmers.

Their advice should not be linked to a possible sale of an agricultural input such as fertiliser or herbicide or even a farm machinery service.

Some practical advice on copy and paste from this site

This site is written in html. Html is the universal computer language of the internet and runs on all types of computers.

These computer come in all shapes and sizes so html has to adapt. It does not have a fixed page size or page break.

To print off the internet is therefore difficult.

My advice is to copy the section you wish to use.

Paste it into a word processing program such as AppleWorks or MS Word.

Edit the text to fit pages and page breaks. Insert headers and page numbers.

The other problem with html is that it does not support photos.

The photos on the web site page are in another program .gif and in another file.

The web page has a hidden link that brings the photo up on the page. When the page is printed the photos is usually left blank.

To insert the photo it is necessary to drag it off the page and save it on the desktop.

From there it can be saved into other files.

When the text has been transferred to a word processing program the photos are copied and pasted in.