Saturday, November 3, 2012

Walker's National Winning Essay - Agricultural Development: Selfish gain or altruistic service?

Agricultural Development: Selfish gain or altruistic service?

Submitted by:
Josh Walker
2013 Student Teacher at Mohawk High School
 Josh Walker,
2013 Student Teacher
America has a substantial role in providing agricultural extension support to developing nations across the world providing more than 1 billion dollars (USAID, 2012). While there can be a persuasive, logical discussion that the nation’s moral obligation is to provide support in the norm of extension and education in and about agriculture, there is also an ethical responsibility to not push products and services from large American organizations to these countries for purely profit reasons (Brown, 1981). The American agricultural education and extension service should strive to provide the best solutions that promote long term independence and sustainability to the development of these nations while honoring the indigenous knowledge of the communities alive. The challenge is: how?

Agricultural extension should not be fueled by personal agendas.
For effective extension in developing countries, America’s sincere intention and priority should be on bettering the livelihoods of the communities. As a nation, we cannot let our own agendas and self-interests dictate the support we provide to these countries (Brown, 1981). There is an interesting case study that leads insight to this with Kenya under British control. Before Britain realized the potential Kenya had as a strong tea leaf supplier, Kenya produced a wide variety of native fruits and vegetables that would sustain them throughout the year (Thurow & Kilman, 2009). However, Britain’s obsession with tea and the money involved in the markets forced Kenya to become a major supplier of tea leaves. In exchange for tea leaves, Britain would provide the Kenyan people with a food supply.

The manipulation by the British with Kenya indicated that Britain did not put Kenya’s interests first. Britain profited over the trade agreements with other countries for tea leaves and provided Kenya with a scarce, barely sustainable food supply. Kenyans lost their capacity to grow their own food as they were so dependent of Great Britain to provide their nourishment. Over time, the climate in Kenya changed, creating less and less optimal land to grow tea, which lead to a diminishing Great Britain’s food support. Currently, thousands of Kenyans do not receive the needed daily caloric intake for survival.

Agricultural extension must be aware of indigenous knowledge The lesson is that as a nation, we must learn the indigenous knowledge with the area that services are intended to be provided. The goal of any agricultural extension service cannot be to supplant native culture and replace it with American culture. As extension service agents, insights into the traditions and customs of a native community and look for ways of improving methods are essential (Brown, 1981).

Agricultural extension services must take a bottom up approach combined with indigenous knowledge to provide the most effective services. Agricultural extension agents who do this will go out into the community and discover the wants and desires of the community they are serving. These agents, who have a strong awareness of what is available to the communities (i.e. resources, inputs, markets) can tailor sustainable solutions to real community issues.

So, what can be done by the American agricultural extension service?
In developing nations access to premier seeds, chemicals, and markets is severely limited or unreliable. Giving farmers access to maximum yield seed and chemicals is immoral when there is no guarantee of being able to secure them the following year because of unstable connections to these suppliers.

One service that should be provided by every agricultural extension service is the creation of a Farmer’s Field School. Farmer’s field schools are tried and true in providing ways for farmers to seek problem resolution. A relevant example can be found in Indonesia. During the 1960’s, Indonesia faced a serious food crisis from reduced rice yields. During that time, Farmer Field Schools (FFS) were just taking shape to combat the White Stem Borer, an insect that affected the rice plant, and educated the farmers about the options available to them to combat the pest (Ooi, 1998). When the information taken from the FFS was effective, farmers were more than willing to share with their neighbors and the information spread.

American extension services need to take a planned approach when providing aid. While this brief article only describes one approach the extension service provides aid to developing countries, there are many more that can be considered. When providing services to areas of need, it is vitally important to tailor solutions that match the indigenous knowledge and needs of the community without nationalistic agenda’s influencing options.



Brown, L. (1981). Innovation Diffusion: A New Perspective. London, UK: Methuen Young Books.

Ooi, P. A. C. (1998). Beyond the Farmer Field School: IPM and Empowerment in Indonesia. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) Gatekeeper Series No. 78. London. 16 pp. (Originally presented at the International Conference of IPM - Theory and Practice, Developing Sustainable Agriculture, Guangzhou, China June 15 - 20, 1998)

Thurow, T. & Kilman, S. (2009). Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

United States Agency for International Development. (2012). Where does the money go?. Retrieved from

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