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The Flow of Information in the National Extension System, and Current Information Needs 1. Vietnam
L.V. Du, T.C. Thien and T.V. My
Dept. of Soil and Water Fertilizer Sciences,
Faculty of Agronomy,
Univ. of Agriculture & Forestry, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2000-01-01

Abstract

This paper describes the national extension system of Vietnam, where agriculture is the most important sector, employing about 70% of the population. It describes the flow of technical information to both extension agents and farmers and their information needs. Many of the extension agents surveyed would like to improve their professional skills and methodology. The extension media preferred by farmers are printed leaflets and television.

Introduction

This paper presents a brief description of the institutional structure of the Vietnamese extension system, the information flow in this system, and the information needs of extension agents.

Methodology of Survey

A survey of the information flow in the extension system was conducted at four levels, at central, provincial and district offices, and at a village level. A prepared questionnaire was sent to selected agencies, followed by a field trip for in-depth interviews of key extension agents to cross-check the information collected, and to obtain secondary data.

The organization of the national extension system is shown in Fig. 1(1216). The survey covered four provinces and the Department of Agricultural Extension (Southern Office). The organization of this Office is the same that of a Department. It consists of nine offices (Technical, Communication-Information Transfer, Administration, Financial Offices etc. (see Fig. 2(1158))). It has responsibility for all agricultural extension centers in the south of Vietnam (21 provinces/cities). The four provinces surveyed were:

Binh Phuoc

This is an upland province, with 270 thousand hectares of arable land. The soil is fertile but sloping, and is cultivated only during the rainy season. The major crops are coffee, rubber, cashew nut, cassava and pepper. The average annual income of farmers is US$163. The agricultural Extension Center has 23 employees (in the provincial office and six district stations).

Binh Thuan

This province covers a total area of 132.5 thousand hectares of mostly unfertile soils on the coastal plain and in the mountains. The average annual income of farmers is about US$100. The major crops are sugarcane, dragon fruit, cashew nut, sweet potato, and some rice and peanut. The raising of livestock such as cattle and goats is also an important activity. The extension center has 32 employees (in the provincial office and seven district stations).

Lam Dong

This is a highland province with an area of 1,017 thousand hectares, more than 70% of which is forested. More than 800,000 people live in this province, about 20% of whom belong to one of several ethnic groups. The major crops are vegetables, tea, coffee and upland field crops (corn, beans etc.). Cattle and poultry raising is also an important activity. The average annual income of farmers is about US$200. The Agricultural Extension Center has 40 employees (in the Provincial office and 11 district stations).

Daklak

This is a highland province with an agricultural area of 400,000 ha. The soil is fairly fertile (a red soil containing basaltic materials). The main crops are rice (upland or rainfed lowland) rubber, corn, sugarcane and coffee. About 40% of the people belong to one of a number of ethic groups. The average annual income of farmers is quite low, at about US$100. The Agricultural Extension Center has 54 employees (in the Provincial office and 18 district stations).

Agriculture in Vietnam

Vietnam has a population of around 80 million people (1999). Most of the country in the north is mountainous, with lowlands in the Red River Delta and coastal plain. The south is dominated by the Mekong River system, with the vast Mekong Delta. The climate ranges from tropical in the south to temperate in the north.

Agriculture is the most important sector in the economy of Vietnam, employing about 70% of the population. Vietnam is a major exporter of rice. Small-scale farmers constitute the backbone of the whole system. A family farm on average is around 0.3 - 0.6 ha in the north, and 0.6 - 1 ha in the south. In both lowland and upland areas, farmers often follow a mixed (or integrated) farming system e.g. a crop together with livestock and/or aquaculture (fish, shrimps).

After the Vietnam war ended in April, 1975, the Vietnamese government applied a centrally planned policy to agriculture. More than 70% of the cultivated land and farmers were under cooperative or state-farm management. In 1988, the government carried out fundamental reforms, with a rapid shift to a market economy and land holdings farmed by independent farmers.

The official extension system was established in 1993. It is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), as part of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry Extension. The system is organized on four levels: the national, (central) Department, the provincial (Extension Center), the district level (Extension Station), and the village (extension agents/Extension or Farmers Clubs). The institutional structure of the extension system is shown in Fig. 1(1216).

Beside the official extension system, other organizations such as agricultural colleges, research institutes international organizations and NGOs (e.g. projects of Hevitas, Danida, IDRC etc.), private enterprise (e.g. companies selling agricultural chemicals, seeds, veterinary medicine etc.), and other organizations (i.e. Youth groups, Women's organizations) also provide information and support technology transfer to farmers, either directly or in cooperation with the official extension system.

At a local level, the District Extension Station employs two to four agents who are specialists in crop production, livestock or aquaculture. About 70 - 90% of extension agent at a district or higher level have a university degree.

Flow of Technical Information

The Flow of Technical Information to Extension Agents

In-service training courses for extension staff are sometimes held by the School of Agricultural Management (under the Ministry of Agriculture). Other courses may be held by agricultural research institutes, colleges or as part of an international special project. The course is usually funded by the government. The topics of training courses are selected according to the needs of the institution concerned and/or its special objectives.

The main constraints in holding training courses for extension agents are:

  • Financial limitations. Only a few extension agents can attend any particular training course, especially if it is a long course which is held some distance from the home towns of the participants.
  • Lack of language and computer skills. The lack of foreign language skills prevents many extension agents from enrolling in training courses in which lecturers are foreigners, or which are held overseas.
  • Lack of training in PTD. The participatory approach to technology development (PTD) attracting much interest. However, this approach is still rather new for many participants, and sometimes even for the lecturers.

Extension Material for Farmers

The main sources of technical information that is transferred to farmers are:

  • Published books and journals — from both Vietnam itself and abroad;
  • Training courses for extension staff;
  • The results of field trials, and
  • Meetings and presentations organized by private companies.

The Department of Agricultural and Forestry Extension, and in some cases the Communication-Information Office of provincial centers, are responsible for selecting the technical information used for extension, and processing the extension materials.

Technical information is transferred to farmers by various media: TV programs, newspapers (local and national), printed leaflets, field guides and manuals, and radio programs. Of these, most farmers prefer TV programs and printed materials.

The small budget for extension materials, the lack of trained professionals to write and film TV programs, and the lack of equipment (e.g. no video cameras) are the main constraints to using the media preferred by farmers.

Technical Back-up

The lack of good linkages between provincial extension centers and research institutes or universities means that the latter institutions often provide the extension services with little or no technical backup. Lack of transport and long distances also discourage close contact between extension agents and research institutions. However, many research centers do provide good technical back-up to extension agents and farmers, e.g. the University of Agriculture and Forestry in Ho Chi Minh City, Cantho University, the Institute of Agriculture in Southern Vietnam, the Eastern Highland University, the Cuu Long Rice Research Institute, etc.

Facilities and Skills of Extension Agents

Most extension centers and extension agents still lack computers and computer skills. Besides the cost of the computer itself, the cost of an Internet account and telephone service is too high for most district offices.

Language is a barrier for the majority of extension agents, most of whom are fluent only in Vietnamese. In particular, those who work in villages have no chance to study or practice English. In each provincial extension center, only a few staff have a good understanding of written English.

The Information Needs of Extension Staff

In-Service Training for Extension Agents

In areas where there is a close relationship between research and extension centers, extension agents from the provincial center have more opportunities to participate in training courses organized by research institutes, colleges etc. The duration of each course varies from a few days to several months. The extension agents from district stations often attend short training courses held by the provincial center or the local office of the Department of Agriculture.

The topics of training courses may be general (e.g. sustainable agriculture for upland areas, extension methodology, administrative management) or specialized (e.g. tropical fruit and vegetable production, biogas, improved cattle/pig/poultry production by breeding, sugarcane production etc.).

In addition, extension agents often obtain new technical information from TV programs (broadcast by both central and local stations), daily newspapers, or the special newsletter " Nong Nghiep" (which means "agriculture"). This is published every week by MARD and sent to all extension stations.

Topics of articles in the Nong Nghiep newsletter are often related to the introduction of new crop varieties, cultural practices for certain crops (fertilizer, pest control etc.), disease control of livestock, and the experiences of leading farmers.

The limited time available, poor facilities and low salaries of extension agents are all constraints to their further studies. Their most important training needs are: to acquire better extension skills and methodology (e.g. how to organize a training course or meeting, how to communicate with farmers, how to assess the needs of farmers demand, how to conduct a field demonstration), and how to produce extension materials, (i.e. how to write and design leaflets, booklets and posters, how to prepare slides and transparencies how to film videos etc.). Their third major need is for regularly updated technical information.

The Information Needs of Farmers

There are many types of training courses held for farmers. Sometimes they are held for leading farmers, who are expected to spread the information to other farmers in their village. Training courses usually last for half a day or a day, and may consist of a village meeting, a field visit or a field discussion. Training courses are often organized in a hamlet (in one large house) or at the People's Committee office. Leading farmers may be invited to the district extension office for a meeting there.

The topics of these training courses are what farmers are interested in, or new technical information that is to be transferred to farmers: e.g. cultivation practices for specific crops, livestock health care, animal production, pest identification and control etc.

In these training courses, extension leaflets, and sometimes technical handbooks or even samples of fertilizer or pesticide, are distributed free of charge to the participants. The financial support for these materials usually comes from the budget of the provincial government or the Ministry of Agriculture.

Beside extension materials prepared by the provincial extension center, leaflets and posters prepared by commercial companies are also an important source of information for farmers. Many of them are of high quality, with good color pictures and clear guidelines.

Some programs focus on special groups of farmers, such as livestock for women (local chicken raising, pig production) or agroforestry techniques for those living in the highlands.

Leaflets and TV programs are the media preferred by farmers for technical information. Farmers can keep printed materials (especially leaflets with good, clear pictures) as a reference and use them for a long time. TV is another favored medium because it presents "hot news" and is easy to understand. In some areas, TV is less popular because of poor programs or reception difficulties, especially in mountainous areas. Radio does not seem to play an important role in extension. Field visits and meetings with extension staff are popular, but their number is limited by financial constraints.

Abstract

Index of Images

Figure 1 Organization of the Agricultural Extension System in Vietnam

Figure 1 Organization of the Agricultural Extension System in Vietnam

Figure 2 Organization of Agricultural Extension System in Vietnam (Provincial Level)

Figure 2 Organization of Agricultural Extension System in Vietnam (Provincial Level)

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