Agricultural research and extension services in the country achieved momentum during the green revolution campaign that started in the early 1970s with strong support and guidance from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who envisioned the expedient development of Bangladesh as a nation free from hunger and poverty.
Since then, with the help of new research-extension knowledge and paradigms, the agriculture sector has played a crucial role in national economic development and alleviation of hunger and poverty in the country.
Today, the growing demands for food and other necessities require the agriculture sector to deliver further by substantial production boosts through intensification and strengthening of agricultural education, research and extension by the universities, National Agricultural Research System (NARS) institutions, extension departments, NGOs and private organisations.
The agricultural research is getting more complex, knowledge-intensive and demanding now under the circumstances of challenges.
Lack of coordination among the actors involved in research extension system is highlighted in most of the policy documents of the government.
A formal, well-organised institutional mechanism for coordinating the education-research-extension (ERE) functions is essential to meeting the diverse needs in crop, fisheries and livestock subsector as well as emerging agro-entrepreneurs to improve productivity, enhance farm incomes and foster agribusiness in Bangladesh.
The country along with the world is facing sudden shock due to pandemic.
Climate change, a slow-acting process in one hand, and current pandemic on the other extreme are impacting the production and post-production system.
Considering this, it is high time to accelerate the dissemination process of farm solutions, thus reducing the time lag and quick application of technological interventions through the participation of all actors.
Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) has been established to coordinate research and allocate resources to NARS and universities.
It also has the mandate to review the extension process of farm technology and promote technology transfer.
For this, the Technology Transfer and Monitoring Unit (TTMU) has been introduced. However, it is constrained with inadequate staff.
Different countries have developed ERE coordination mechanisms in keeping with their needs and aspirations.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) provides research and extension support to State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) and coordinates agricultural education, research and extension.
At the zonal level, the Agricultural Technology Application Research Institutes (ATARIs) oversee the performance of KVKs (Krishi Vigyan Kendra — farm science centre) through ICAR.
The mandate of KVK is technology assessment and demonstration for its application and capacity development.
At present, there are more than 700 KVKs in operation with SAUs, ICAR institutes and non-governmental organisations.
Technology refinement, validation and dissemination for all sub-sectors of agriculture are looked after in this mechanism.
Recently, it has been made mandatory for the agro-input dealers to get a diploma from KVKs to qualify as the dealership.
The Agricultural Technology Management Agencies (ATMA) works at the district level with the support of the government of India.
Initiated by the National Agricultural Technology Project (NATP) in 2004, the ATMA’s mission is to implement the agricultural technology plan of the government of India under the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare.
The ATMA has a state-level management committee and working committee where state agricultural universities (SAU), KVK and ICAR institute and farmers’ advisory committee are the part of the decision-making and implementation plan with different ministries at the state level.
There is a successful model in the US where land grant universities provide cooperative research and extension services.
In Bangladesh, agricultural universities are provided with research funding from different sources like BARC, Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), University Grants Commission (UGC) etc.
This supports universities in their development of knowledge and technology, which is useful for addressing production constraints. This service needs to be utilised to the fullest by the extension system.
Bangladesh has experience of developing research and extension coordination through project support since 1996 involving crops, livestock and fisheries.
However, the nodal platforms at the upazila level did not sustain.
A model for formalising agricultural education-research-extension coordination is proposed here.
In developing this model envisaging active participation of the universities having knowledge, expertise and technologies, past and present experiences have been reviewed.
Also, past lessons on coordination and linkage systems in Bangladesh and experiences of some other countries have been taken into consideration.
The proposed model seeks to pool the knowledge, skills and technologies at the disposal of the research centres, i.e. the universities and NARS institutions into one platform and utilise these through the extension services and to ensure pluralistic, participatory, quick and reasonable returns from the huge investments the country makes in the universities as well as in the NARS institutes and private sector.
The ERE will mostly be responsible for the efficient cycle and recycling of technology development, refinement, validation and feedback among research, extension and education centring the producer.
STRUCTURE OF THE NODAL PLATFORMS AT DIFFERENT TIERS
In the ERE mechanism, the National Executive Body (NEB) will be the central framework with the authority and responsibility to formulate policies and plans, set research and extension priorities and provide implementation guidelines to field level actors through the regional executive body for ERE linkages and coordination in agriculture.
The national executive body will be chaired by the executive chairman of BARC.
The director (proposed to be upgraded to member director) of TTMU will act as member secretary, director generals (DGs) of NARS institutes, DGs of extension departments (Department of Agricultural Extension-DAE, Department of Fisheries-DOF and Department of Livestock Service-DLS), a high-level academic representative of UGC, Department of Marketing (DAM), Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC), development partners, relevant NGOs and private organisations will take part.
TTMU of BARC will coordinate the affairs of the national executive body, including the planning and execution processes, fund accumulation and distribution, guidance for the regional executive body.
The major function will focus on the following:
· Coordination among different actors
· Set research/extension priorities
· Evaluation of the technology transfer process and identify constraints
The Regional Executive Body (REB) will be represented and coordinated by TTMU of BARC, regional research stations under NARS, director of research and extension of a regional university, extension departments in the region, BADC, DAM, Agricultural Information Service (AIS), NGO and private sector.
REB will have the structure and authority to oversee ERE coordination at the regional level in light of the guidelines and directives provided by the national executive body.
The prime job will be to strengthen BARC with adequate financial and institutional capacity and upgrade TTMU to be supported by leadership capacity.
The REB will focus on the following function:
· Technology and or knowledge transfer to end-users through line departments until grassroots (union).
· Act as a common platform for coordination among universities, research institutes, extension organisations and other development actors
· Management of REMU and budget accumulation and disburse to REMU
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Agricultural education, research and extension (ERE) deliver best in terms of boosting agricultural production and net farm income when they function in a coordinated and complementary way.
The existing ERE linkages in Bangladesh need to be strengthened and the agricultural research and extension systems are functioning mostly under separate administrative and management units.
There is a compelling need for strengthening the ERE linkages for bringing accountability and efficiency of research resources through better coordination of the actors under a rational and functional coordination mechanism.
It is evident that policymakers and education, research and extension leaders are keen to develop a formal structure to establish a meaningful ERE coordination.
Performing its routine jobs, line departments and actors will continue one additional responsibility to serve in the linkage mechanism for technology refinement, validation, feedback and dissemination.
The agricultural universities are the centres of agricultural education, are makers of the professionals who ultimately man the NARS institutions and extension agencies, they generate knowledge and develop technologies, the faculty members are involved in agricultural research projects entailing huge investments from domestic resources and international assistance.
Yet, the universities have so far remained rather alienated from the national research-extension continuum.
It is high time that the universities are brought under the umbrella of an ERE linkage-coordination system to tap the potential, add value to returns from the investments.
With the lessons being learnt under present pandemic and consequent impact in agro-based livelihood and future food security, it is essential to utilise all frontiers of innovations, including innovative marketing to win the battle of today and tomorrow.
Reviewing the existing institutional arrangements related to agricultural ERE and considering the need for strengthening the linkage for agricultural development, a model for coordination is proposed.
With the mandates notated in BARC Acts 1996 and 2012, BARC is authorised to coordinate overall agricultural research across different disciplines.
It is proposed that BARC through its TTMU take the lead role in coordinating research and technology transfer across all disciplines of agriculture.
The TTMU of BARC may be supported with strong scientific manpower with managerial skills and adequate funding to coordinate education, research and extension.
As a pilot test of the model, a regional university (say Patuakhali University of Science and Technology and or Bangladesh Agricultural University) may house the REMU partnering with regional research stations and public, NGO, private extension agencies and assist in the coordination work.
The technical, financial and managerial support for this may come from TTMU of BARC.
The writer is the former executive chairman of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council