This paper explores the changing role of agricultural extension services and the growing focus on the marketing and business needs of smallholder farmers. Key issues in this debate include finding better means of coordinating and sustaining services, and generating policies that build the capabilities of farmers to raise incomes by linking to various types of markets — such as informal domestic and regional markets, traditional cash crop markets, formal and higher value markets, and emerging food aid and structured public markets (Poulton, Dorward and Kydd, 2010).
This paper is useful for development practitioners who are involved, directly or peripherally, in agricultural projects or programs because it outlines how agriculture can, over time, provide a pathway out of poverty. The gains achieved by project beneficiaries are often lost when the project ends and support is no longer delivered, but practitioners can avoid this by taking the proactive steps of building farmers’ capacity, creating links with local supply chain actors, and coordinating services with other actors and developing fee-for-service field agent networks. Extension delivery systems have the heavy burden of helping various farmer types to improve their production and market linkages despite having vastly different needs and capabilities. Oftentimes the farmers have very few resources to invest, which can create long-term dependence on extension systems and other service providers. The techniques outlined in this paper can empower decision makers within extension systems, as well as extension agents, to seek new ways of assisting smallholder farmers through business-oriented approaches that build the capacities of farmers so they can become self-sufficient. Those studying international development, agricultural extension or development economics will benefit from learning about the market options that are available to various types of smallholder farmers, as well as the obstacles they face and what it takes for them to enter and remain in those markets. They will also learn how Information and Communication Technologies, ICT, and business services can complement the role that extension plays and how savings groups can be a viable gateway to more formal financial services.