Developing a strategy for Extension or Rural Advisory Services (RAS) is essential so that resources, services and systems are all able to meet the current and future needs of the Pacific Islands agriculture sector, a sector that is key to economic development and to food Security. In the Pacific, this means working out how agricultural services can best meet the needs of food security, climate change, and new demands for commercially viable and export driven food systems. It means understanding the unique needs of the Pacific, with all its diversity in culture, climatic conditions and geography. It also means finding a balance between ways in which agriculture has occurred in the past, its links to social obligations, ensuring food security and developing farm systems with capacity to meet export requirements and support resilient development.
Evidence based models of RAS are needed that are appropriate for service delivery now and in the future to ensure effective use of resources and funding. A range of stakeholders have contributed to designing this Pacific Islands Regional Extension Strategy (RES). The RES ensures that the principles identified by stakeholders are built into all future systems and that by 2020, the Pacific Islands is achieving a vision of ‘Extension Excellence, Prosperous and Resilient Communities’.
A broad range of actions will be required to bring the vision to reality. “Extension Excellence” will require a multilateral focus on issues such as quality improvement, safety, education, research, staff development and training, and institutional support, to embed best practice and extension excellence in advisory service practice. “Prosperous and Resilient Communities” will be achieved by placing farmers at the heart of service delivery, where stakeholders engage with farmers using a range of extension models, facilitated by Rural Extension and Advisory Service agents that understand ‘best fit’ models for different types of problems (simple and complex), contexts, and cultures. Centres of excellence will facilitate best practice service
delivery, and embed research and education into extension practice. Institutional support and conductive policy frameworks will be required to ensure that extension staff are equipped to facilitate these multi stakeholder partnership models.
Teamwork and partnerships will grow from an understanding of farmers’ (and other stakeholders’) needs and values, with a shared aim of providing seamless continuity of support. “Innovation” will require a culture of inquiry enhanced through evidence based practice, exploring new approaches to service delivery, while understanding of the drivers and opportunities for future change. Individual PICT Ministries will support this culture through systematic evaluation of advisory service practices, active encouragement of extension research, rewarding workplace initiatives and service redesign focused on solutions to local needs.
A focus on equity will be at the forefront of service design and practice, including (but not limited) to people living in poverty, agriculture land tenants, aging farmers, women and youth. A fundamental focus will be on building the capacity of communities to identify their own needs, and engage other stakeholders to address these needs. The purpose of this strategy is to bring the vision to reality, ensuring that the Pacific Islands is a leader in the complex processes required in Rural Advisory and Extension Services to address agribusiness development, food security, food safety, poverty alleviation and climate change at the international scale.
Ensuring ownership has been a key to the success of developing this strategy, and will continue to be a key in its implementation. Although commitment from many stakeholders is needed for successful
implementation, the Pacific Islands Rural Advisory Services (PIRAS) Board is logically placed to oversee
this process. Members of this Board have not only been instrumental in contributing to the
development of the strategy, but also in providing leadership in RAS across the Pacific.