The survey looked at the way in which each extension system was organized, the type of agriculture it served, and the source and distribution of technical information. Since the Center is making increasing use of the Internet to disseminate information, the Center was also interested to see how many extension staff have access to computers. Finally, extension staff working with farmers were asked to identify the type of technical information which they feel farmers most need, and the extension medium preferred by farmers. The results will guide the Center in its future information programs.
Western Samoa is a small Pacific island nation with a largely traditional agriculture based on root crops, particularly taro. Land tenure follows the traditional communal land ownership. Sea fishing is the main source of protein foods, and the second largest foreign exchange earner.
Agriculture in the Philippines and Vietnam is diverse, but rice is the most important crop, and Vietnam is a major rice exporter. In all three countries agriculture is a major industry, employing at least half the population
In all three countries, the Department of Agriculture is the main source of technical information. Each Department has a special section which is responsible for selecting information, producing extension materials and distributing it to farmers. This task is also actively performed by provincial agricultural extension centers when special materials are needed for local farmers. Samoa and Vietnam both have a centralized agricultural extension system. In the Philippines, the extension service is administered by Local Government Units of the provinces and towns.
The survey found that literacy rates were high among farmers in all three countries (80% or more). Extension leaflets were a favored source of technical information, because farmers could keep them as reference materials and use them over a long period of time. Mass media were also favored, mainly TV and radio rather than newspapers. Most rural villages in Vietnam have a communal center with a TV set, and Vietnamese farmers liked TV because it is easy to understand and presents "hot news".
Radio was popular in the Philippines, partly because most radio programs for farmers are in local dialects. Both Samoa and the Philippines include interviews with leading farmers in their radio programs. Two advantages of radios is that they are cheap and they are portable. Farmers can take a small transistor radio with them to the field or to market. Also, TV reception is sometimes poor, but radio reception is satisfactory just about everywhere.
The Center disseminates information mainly in printed form, including extension leaflets. The results of the survey made it clear that in each of the three countries, farmers and extension staff liked extension leaflets and would have liked to have more of them.
Looking at the areas in which farmers and extension staff felt that more technical information would be useful, a common topic mentioned was postharvest technology and marketing. This was especially true in the Philippines and Vietnam, both of which are large countries with long marketing chains. Samoan farmers also have marketing problems. The domestic demand is small, and the country lies at a great distance from world markets. Transport costs are high.
Postharvest damage to crops was seen as a major problem, because it means lower prices, especially if there is a market surplus. Farmers often seek technical information on ways of preserving perishable crops, how to lengthen the shelf-life of harvested produce, and how to improve the quality of crops taken to market. Extension staff interviewed in Vietnam would like more information about marketing and price information, since farmers often ask for this.
A common need in all three countries was more information about pest and disease control. In Samoa, taro production has been devastated by taro leaf blight caused by Phytophthera. Samoan farmers wanted more information on pest and disease control for taro and other crops, particularly control of taro leaf blight and multiplication of a variety resistant to this blight. They were also interested in knowing more about control of the African snail, and integrated pest management.
Farmers in the Philippines and Vietnam shared the need for more information about pests and diseases: how to identify them, and how to control them.
Chemical pesticides are expensive in relation to the average incomes of small-scale farmers. Farmers are very interested in biological pesticides and other cheap alternatives which give good results. When farmers have decided to use chemicals, they would like more information about what chemical they should use, how much they should apply, and when is the best time to apply it.
Just as they are looking for biological alternatives to chemical pesticides, so farmers are very interested in biological sources of plant nutrients. There is a growing interest in organic fertilizers and microbial inoculants. Extension staff in the Philippines who were interviewed about information needs of farmers felt that low-income farmers tend to follow fertilizer recommendations blindly, without considering the level of organic and inorganic nutrients already in the soil. They felt that farmers need more information about soil analysis and its value, including the proper way to take soil samples for analysis.
More information about disease control is a major need of livestock producers as well as crop farmers. Small-scale livestock producers often keep a few cattle and pigs, or small flocks of goats and poultry. They often find it difficult to diagnose symptoms of disease. The main need is for technical information on how to diagnose and treat animals diseases, particularly common conditions such as scour and pneumonia.
Finding a good alternative to expensive commercial feeds is another major concern of livestock raisers. In all three countries, the high cost of feeds and feed supplements causes many farmers to ask about feed substitutes and the formulation of feed rations. Samoan livestock raisers would like more information on pasture management.
Like crop producers, livestock producers are also interested in marketing information and the prices paid for livestock products.
In all three countries, staff working in extension centers at a national, and regional/provincial offices had access to computers and the internet. Since it is staff at this level who are responsible for selecting technical information and using it in extension materials for farmers, the Internet would seem to be a viable medium for disseminating the Center's technical information. This would serve as an information resource for staff in national extension systems who are responsible for selecting technical information and adapting it for extension use.
With regard to the information needs of farmers, pest and disease control was a major concern of farmers in the three countries surveyed. This applied to both crops and livestock. Farmers wanted more information that would enable them to identify a pest or a disease, and tell them the best way to deal with the problem. Farmers also wanted to know how to reduce their production costs through better management of purchased farm inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides, and the use of low-cost biological alternatives.
In all three countries, staff working in extension centers at a national level, and in regional or provincial offices, had access to computers and the Internet. Since it is staff at this level who are responsible for selecting technical information and developing extension materials for farmers, the Internet would seem to be a viable medium for disseminating the Center's technical information. However, printed materials seem to have a high value among farmers and extension staff. Electronic media should complement the Center's publications work, not replace it.
Members of the survey team were:
Ms. Velma Encanto, Dept. of Agriculture Region 6, Ilo-ilo, Philippines
Dr. Ken Lameta, Institute for Research, Extension and Training in Agriculture (IRETA), University of the South Pacific, Apia Campus, Western Samoa
Mr. Le Van Du, University of Agriculture and Forestry, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Figure 1 Extension Specialist (Left) Talking with Mango Grower in the Philippines
Figure 2 Korean Farmer Using a Computer and Modem to Search the Internet for Technical Information