Resourceful, creative, and committed : the day-to-day work of agricultural extensionists in Kenya : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Agricultural Extension at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Broadly, the role of public extension and advisory agents is to facilitate and support access to technical knowledge, information and technologies by farmers, farmer organisations and actors in the agricultural sector, through trainings and demonstrating appropriate technologies and innovations. This study challenges the view of extensionists as simply transferring technologies to farmers and has explored more broadly the day-to-day, lived experiences of extensionists. The research has focused on public extensionists who serve smallholder subsistence farmers who engage in diverse farming activities and are dispersed across a large geographical area. The research was completed using a qualitative case study research design, based on data collected through in-depth interviews, documents and participants’ observations. It emerged from this research that over 80% of the extensionists in this case were locals, and knowledgeable of and known by the community. They were familiar with local livelihoods and political dynamics and, therefore, were strongly embedded in the community. Over 90% of the extensionists who participated in the study had been doing extension work for all their working lives. Extensionists emerged as having strong networks among actors in the local and national extension, and agricultural systems. The extensionists’ work emerged as a hybrid of a demand-supply driven extension system where they respond to direct farmer inquiries, as well as supply services to farmers in accordance with projects and government accountabilities and goals. This research highlights the extent to which much of what extensionists do in a developing country context in a government extension service, dominated by project work, is not directly working with farmers to service their needs. This research shows the huge extent of work undertaken by extensionists behind the scenes (referred to as back-office work) and the interconnectedness between activities extensionists do with farmers and what they do with other extension actors. Primarily, the day-to-day work of extensionists included servicing smallholder farmers’ needs and gathering solutions from multiple sources to contribute to addressing these needs. Extensionists emerged as resource brokers who glean, leverage, optimise, haggle, barter, piggyback, coach, lobby, and advocate for financial and physical resources to support their extension work and to support farmers. Extensionists negotiated and collaborated with farmers to translate, adapt, transfer, and implement farm technologies to meet farmers’ contextual challenges. Extensionists worked to deliver on multiple projects and optimise project benefits for farmers within the project timeline. The study shows that extensionists deliver on employment commitments as government employees and work to meet their expected Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and work to maintain and build legitimacy in their roles as extensionists with government, local politicians, NGOs, and the wider community. Extensionists leveraged on their networks to access information, knowledge, technologies, and physical and financial resources. A significant contribution of this study was the finding that extensionists are resource brokers and the illustration of the creativity and the amount of effort they put into resources financially and physically, their work, and for the farmers. A further contribution this research makes is to highlight that Kenyan extensionists work to maintain and build legitimacy of their role. While extensionists emerged as working with smallholder farmers to reduce the impact of and build resilience to climate change, there was no evidence of the way they work with farmers or the broader extension system. The work of extensionists is deeply embedded in the traditional designs and ways of doing extension. These research findings clearly show the extent of resourcefulness and creativity of extensionists and their ability to develop strategies to navigate the multiple demands and the accountabilities placed by farmers, the employer, projects, funding entities and other actors in the extension system. Resource brokering and networking emerged as key strategies which enable extensionists do what they do. These findings will inform education and extension policy on the training of extensionists to include imparting capabilities and skills about resource brokering as it is a significant part of their job. These results suggest the need for further studies which explore new, positive, and meaningful ways of engaging with farmers to assist them to learn and change as needed.
Agricultural extension workers, Agricultural extension work, Farmers, Education, Kenya