Preparing Traditional Providers for Delivery of Sustainable Agriculture Information

Final Report for ES00-051

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2000: $8,976.05
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Rex Dufour
National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)
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Project Information

Abstract:

A diverse group of agriculture practitioners was brought together to discuss and identify barriers to implementing sustainable agriculture programs within the PDP context, and to develop ideas about how to overcome the barriers. The planning meeting resulted in two outcomes: a letter to the PDP coordinating committee outlining a project to train PDP coordinators about sustainable agriculture which also requested that the target audience for PDP funding be expanded to include those not directly working with farmers (i.e. those who are responsible for “institutionalizing” PDP programs). Secondly, a draft proposal was developed to facilitate making linkages between Consumer and Food faculties and Cooperative Extension faculties.

Project Objectives:
  • Increased collaboration and information exchange among representatives of stakeholder groups (e.g. CES & NRCS staff, farmers and non-government organizations (NGOs)).

    Establishment of belief (“buy-in”) by stakeholders, through information exchange with their representatives in the planning process, in the objectives of the implementation proposal.

Objectives/Performance Targets:

The primary objective of this project is an implementation proposal (a draft proposal is attached). Secondary objectives include the following:

The objectives of the implementation proposal are tentatively identified as:

  • That traditional information providers (CES, NRCS field agents) become a primary delivery system for sustainable agriculture information.
    That traditional information providers and non-traditional sources of sustainable agriculture information interact more effectively and make more frequent and effective use of each other’s published materials.
    CES agents in particular, consider out-of-state educational materials as usable resources to support their educational work in sustainable agriculture.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Owusu Bandele
  • Barbara Bellow
  • Nancy Creamer
  • Luke Elliott
  • Ralph Harris
  • Roger Jones
  • George Kuepper
  • Jim Lukens
  • Steve Muntz
  • John Spain
  • Mickie Swisher

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

This was a planning project. A team of stakeholders (CES & NRCS agents, farmers, Land Grant (both 1890 and 1862), University researchers, and personnel from agricultural non-profits and the Farm Bureau) was identified and convened for this planning process. The original purpose (later modified by the stakeholders present) of the planning meeting was to examine the resistance by traditional information providers to the distribution of sustainable agriculture information. The planning proposal authors felt that this resistance could be at least partly ameliorated through three actions:

1) increasing interaction and collaboration among traditional information providers and non-traditional sources of information,
2) increasing familiarization with the breadth and depth of sustainable agriculture information from both traditional and non-traditional sources,
3) improving access to prepared sustainable agriculture information.

As originally conceived in the planning proposal, discussions during the meeting were to focus on: 1) Assessing the potential of the electronic media¾especially the World Wide Web¾as a means to increase field agent access to prepared sustainable agriculture materials, and, 2) Examining training options for field agents in the use of electronic media. In order to provide background information needed for this meeting, a survey was sent to participants asking for the following information: where CES/NRCS agents go to find sustainable agriculture information and, the current and anticipated state of computer resources and web access for CES/NRCS agents. The survey results were sent out to all participants prior to the meeting and then again discussed again during a “Review Feedback” session during the meeting.

Initial stakeholder discussions changed the course, and outcome, of the meeting. The participants, who have a long and diverse experience within and outside the agricultural extension system, examined the resistance by traditional information providers to the distribution of sustainable agriculture information. They concluded that the PDP focus on providing training to those that work directly with farmers was flawed in that it did not address CES and NRCS administrators’ lack of understanding or support¾of sustainable agriculture practices and of the role of small-scale producers in the food system. As a result of this administrative culture, the participants felt that SARE and other grant-funded projects in sustainable agriculture are typically implemented at the periphery of CES’s and NRCS’s other work, rather than becoming an integral component of their activities. As a result, these activities are not institutionalized with CES and NRCS, and require continued infusion of outside (i.e. SARE) funding.

The participants identified possible interventions and prioritized two concept areas that needed further action: administrator training, and collaboration between agricultural and consumer science educators. They then divided into two groups and further refined these concepts in preparation for proposal development.

As an action step on the first item, the group decided to write a letter to the PDP to strongly encourage the leadership committee to include administrators as a target audience for PDP grants in the next call for proposals. Within this letter (attached) a concept for a CES/NRCS administrator training was outlined.

The second concept proposes to re-establish collaborative working interactions between agricultural and Food and Consumer Science educators. This collaboration could strengthen their current programs while allowing them to address critical concerns (i.e, dependable and fair agricultural markets, and access to healthy, nutritious food, respectively) that their clientele have in common.

Outcomes and impacts:
(Results and Discussion/Milestones: )

As this was a planning proposal, the main accomplishment was holding a successful planning meeting in which barriers to preparing traditional providers for delivery of sustainable agriculture information were identified. A letter to the PDP leadership committee recommending a change in target audience was written (and followed up by email) and a draft proposal targeting agricultural and Food and Consumer Science (FCS) educators was also written. It should be noted that this draft proposal is appropriate for submission to the SSARE Research and Education grant program, or the SSARE Sustainable Community Innovation Grants. Because of the FCS component, it was not considered to be appropriate for submission to SARE PDP. The proposal targeting agricultural and Food and Consumer Science (FCS) educators, the planning meeting agenda, and the letter to the SARE PDP leadership committee, and are attached as Appendices A, B and D, respectively.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

Areas Needing Additional Study:

The barriers to institutionalizing SARE initiatives should be evaluated. All participants of the planning proposal effort agreed that there are systemic barriers, within the agricultural extension system, to successfully institutionalizing the sustainable initiatives that the SARE program supports. As planning meeting participants noted in the letter to the SSARE PDP leadership committee, it seems clear that if the administrators of the state CES programs do not understand or support the goals of the SARE program and if they do not understand the relevance and applicability of biological and social concepts central to sustainable agriculture-such as soil quality, nutrient management practices, and market access and development-to their own state programs, then the lessons learned from the 14 year SARE effort will fail to be institutionalized.

Potential Contributions

(Impact and Contributions/Outcomes: )

This planning proposal process had a positive impact on the diverse participants and produced a viable draft proposal, but a project champion is still needed. Though the outcomes have had less than the desired impact beyond the participants at the current time, elements of the proposal have been incorporated into a proposal submitted to the privately funded Fires of Hope project. The SSARE PDP leadership committee did not respond directly to the letter and there was no change in the target audience of the most recent SSARE PDP call for proposals. The draft proposal that was written is a viable concept, and received good reception from a follow-up meeting held in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the tentative implementation site. However, a champion and project leader has not yet emerged from that group. The primary author of the draft proposal (Bellows) has been assigned to other work and the PI of this planning proposal (Dufour) has moved to a different SARE region and is unable to follow-up on the draft proposal.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.