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The Flow of Information in the National Extension System, and Current Information Needs 2. Samoa
Kenneth Toetu Lameta
Institute for Research, Extension, and Training
in Agriculture (IRETA),
University of the South Pacific, Alafua Campus,
Apia, Western Samoa, 2000-01-01

Abstract

The paper describes the national extension system of Samoa, a Pacific Island nation made up of two large islands and a number of smaller ones. Land ownership and village administration in Samoa follow the traditional pattern, and most of the people living in rural areas depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The extension service follows a farming systems approach, and works with farmers' groups in each extension district. Farmers would like to receive more information on improved production of important crops such as taro and banana, and on pest and disease control, particularly of taro leaf blight, banana leafspot and rhinoceros beetle.

Introduction

The independent State of Samoa is a small Polynesian island nation in the South Pacific. It consists of two main islands, Savaii and Upolu, plus eight smaller islands. The total land area of Samoa is 2,830 km 2, supporting a total of around 157 thousand people.

The island are of volcanic origin. Beyond the coastal plains, the mountain ranges rise steeply to over 1000 meters. Samoa has a tropical climate with abundant rainfall.

Agriculture in Samoa

The economy of Samoa is based on agriculture, and on remittances from family members working overseas. The traditional social and cultural institutions of the Samoan community are strong, and Samoa still retains the traditional system of communal land ownership. The system of village government is particularly well organized. However, Samoa is no longer a society of self-sufficient households. Imported foods, which are usually of low nutritional value, are now established as basic household necessities. To pay for these imports, there is an urgent need to improve agricultural performance.

Agriculture plays a critical role in the Samoan economy, accounting for almost 50% of the GDP. Most (70%) of the population living in rural areas depend on agriculture for a livelihood. The development of agriculture is therefore vital for improving the living standards.

Samoa's farming system is still largely the traditional system of mixed cropping. Root crops are the most important staple food, and are produced in sufficient quantities to ensure adequate carbohydrates for the population. Taro is traditionally the main root crop, and was the preferred starchy staple until the cyclones of 1990 and 1991, followed by the devastating effect of taro leaf blight caused by Phytophthera colocasiae.

Taro is well adapted to the high-rainfall conditions of Samoa, and before the blight was an important export commodity. The leaves of taro are eaten as a vegetable, often cooked with coconut cream. Further carbohydrates are supplied by bananas and breadfruit. Coconut is an important source of food, and also the predominant cash crop.

Cocoa is another important cash crop. Banana is an important food crop, and in the past, large quantities of banana were also exported. Diseases and nematodes were largely responsible for the decline of a once lucrative export business. The situation was made worse by recurrent cyclone damage, the low profitability of export sales, relatively high prices on the domestic market, and competition from taro as an export crop. Most farms are small, producing various mixtures of food and cash crops.

Livestock production is also small-scale, mainly of pigs, poultry and cattle. Fishing is important in the village economy, and provides the major source of protein in the diet as well as being an important source of cash income. With today's advanced fishing technology, this is currently one of the highest foreign exchange earners. Forestry is an important export industry, and also provides building materials and firewood for domestic use. However it is widely accepted that logging should be kept to a minimum, considering dangers of erosion and the limited amount of timber available.

The Information Needs of Extension Staff

This paper describes the structure of the agricultural extension system in Samoa, the flow of information, and the information needs of extension officers.

Methodology

The survey involved personal interviews with extension officers based on a standard questionnaire. For a representative sample, an equal number of extension officers from each of the two main islands (two Agricultural Officers and three District Field Officers on each island) and one of the senior members at national headquarters were interviewed. Consideration was given to ensure that the survey included both highland as well as lowland areas.

The Organizational Structure

The Agricultural Extension service was established in the early 1950s under the Department of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (see Fig. 1(1157)). Its major function is to act as a link between the farmers, and researchers or government. Extension officers are responsible for all extension activities in the farming community.

Some structural changes were carried out in the 1990s, and in 1997 the Department became the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests, Fisheries and Meteorology (MAFFM). Under the new structure, the Ministry has seven divisions on Upolu plus one on Savaii. Each division is under the direct control of the Chief Agricultural Officer. The organizational structure ( Fig. 1(1157)) follows the division of the two main islands into extension regions and districts. The extension service on each island is headed by a Senior Agricultural Officer (SAO) and three Agricultural Officers (AO), each responsible for a region (East, Central and West), plus 11-12 Direct Field Officers or Field Assistants.

Institutional Links

There are no agricultural co-operatives, but most farmers belong to a village-based farmers' group. The extension service follows a farming systems approach, and works with farmers' groups in each extension district. Farmers' groups are based on the Participatory Rural Approach (PRA). Each has 10-12 members who share mutual interests. They meet with an extension agent once a week to discuss new methods and assess their overall progress. This system has proven very successful.

In the past, each extension officer dealt with almost all aspects of agriculture. Under the new structure, each division has its own research and extension teams. This has the benefit that farmers come into direct contact with subject matter specialists. Unfortunately, there are not yet enough staff members in each division to carry out the necessary work. Additionally, staff in these divisions will have to undergo intensive training in extension methodology if their programs are to be successful.

At the time of reporting, only 20% of extension officers have a university degree, while a further 10% have a Diploma of Agriculture. All the rest are high school graduates.

Flow of Technical Information to Extension Staff

Training Courses

The initiative for holding local in-service training courses for extension staff almost always comes either from the Ministry or from the University of the South Pacific (the School of Agriculture (USPSOA) and the Institute for Research, Extension and Training in Agriculture (IRETA). In addition, Samoan extension officers are sometimes invited to international training courses and workshops.

The selection of topics of training courses or workshops is usually based on the immediate needs of the farmers, particularly with regard to disease and pest eradication and control. Sometimes there is an urgent need to eradicate an introduced pest or disease.

Priorities in holding training courses are: the economic and environmental impact of a pest or disease; whether there is a new control method; whether new technology is available such as feed formulation or composting; and whether new and highly productive, disease-resistant crop varieties or breeds animal have become available.

The main constraints to holding training courses for extension agents are limited funds, the scarcity of resource persons and the lack of necessary materials or equipment.

Information Needs of Farmers

The main source of technical information for farmers is the Ministry of Agriculture's Research Division. All information extended to farmers must first be approved by the Research Division and its Director before release. This is to ensure that farmers receive only the best available technology.

The Information Section of the Extension Division, headed by the Senior Information Officer, is responsible for the preparation of printed materials, and of radio or television programs containing technical information for farmers.

Extension officers provide farmers with leaflets and brochures, while villages are provided with video films. On issues of exceptional importance, such as a new introduced pest or disease, local newspapers are also used to disseminate information.

Our survey found that printed leaflets, television and radio were equally favored by farmers as extension media. Farmers prefer leaflets and brochures to be in the local language, Samoan, rather than English. Farmers like printed materials because they are easy to understand, and can be kept for future reference. Radio is favored by many farmers, because a radio is cheaper than a television set and has satisfactory reception just about everywhere in Samoa. Farmers can participate in weekly radio programs, discussing their successes and failures, which is an incentive for other farmers to listen. A television set is expensive, but most farmers like television, on the basis of "Seeing is believing". One limitation of television is that reception in more remote places is poor or non-existent.

It is important that the material in extension leaflets should be consistent with the content of radio and television programs. The majority of extension officers interviewed indicated the need for more leaflets on various topics. For example, farmers are eager to receive leaflets on taro production (multiplication, pest and disease control); coconut production (recommended varieties, planting and management, including fertilizer application); banana production (all aspects from planting to marketing); control of taro leaf blight; multiplication of a taro variety resistant to taro leaf blight; advantages of the banana variety Goldfinger, which is resistant to banana leafspot) and control of the rhinoceros beetle. Farmers also feel they need leaflets on record keeping, integrated pest management, control of African snail, budding and grafting, pruning fruit trees and cocoa, crop selection, improvement of beef cattle production, pasture management and livestock husbandry practices.

Index of Images

Figure 1 Organizational Structure of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries &Amp; Meteorology

Figure 1 Organizational Structure of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries &Amp; Meteorology

Table 1 Local in-Service Training Courses for Extension Officers in Samoa

Table 1 Local in-Service Training Courses for Extension Officers in Samoa

Table 2 Training Courses for Farmers, 1993 - 1998

Table 2 Training Courses for Farmers, 1993 - 1998

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