By sheer coincidence, in the last two months, I have attended several agricultural production workshops. The main themes have been dwindling agricultural production against an increase in demand for food. Off course, reasons are many for the current state which is not unique to Kenya because of a changing climate against a farmer that has failed to change their mindset.
This points to the importance of agricultural extension and for the sake of our column – Veterinary extension. You may wonder why I am talking of veterinary extension? One reason is that the depth and breadth of agricultural extension are great and cannot be covered within such a small column.
History of extension
Extension borrows its name from medieval times when educated people took it upon themselves to educate those in their environment. Extend the knowledge so to speak. This has evolved over time and today we have professionals like me whose specialisation is in extension.
Good as it is as a solution; vet extension is yet to get its rightful share in many counties even those whose main economic mainstay is livestock production. And this explains the dwindling fortunes in livestock production with climate change and accompanying challenges like pests, diseases, and poor diets.
Importance of Veterinary Extension
Livestock production comes with a lot of technical challenges and can require professional information which the farmer may not have. Take an example of housing, herd health, improved breeding, or better feeding. Or the much talked about commercial livestock production where economic principles of profit and loss and gross margins, and management of labour comes in. What about legal issues?
Effective communication is required if livestock production should make sense to the farmer to an extent that there is an action – change in behaviour. Such change begins with the intake of information in the right form.
Experts as Credible Sources
One of the prerequisites of effective communication is source credibility and one of the traits of a credible source is an expert source of communication. Livestock production and health professionals fall here. Unfortunately, our university courses do not teach communications instead heaps technical information – which remains just that – technical and in a form that can not reach the farmer.
What can effective veterinary extension produce?
Effective vet extension delivers a transformational message to the heart and mind of the farmer. It dares them to try new techniques, to adopt climate-smart agriculture and to emerge victorious. Times are changing very fast, and the farmer must follow suit failure to which they will not be able to produce.
(Dr Othieno is a vet surgeon and currently the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations )