Academic journal article Rural Society

Agricultural Extension: Building Capacity and Resilience in Rural Industries and Communities

Academic journal article Rural Society

Agricultural Extension: Building Capacity and Resilience in Rural Industries and Communities

Article excerpt


Resilience is a discourse that is gaining considerable attention amongst researchers in both the bio-physical and social sciences (Adger, 2000). It is also attracting the interest of public policy makers, politicians and rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) as they struggle to confront economic, ecological and social challenges across regional and rural Australia (Macadam et al., 2004; McIntosh et al., 2008).

Resilience has been defined as the capacity of an individual or community to cope with stress, overcome adversity, or adapt positively to change (Rolfe, 1999; Luthar et al., 2000; Kaplan 1999; Varghese et al., 2006). This paper will consider resilience by utilising 'the capitals' framework of assets: (1) human capital (the knowledge, skills, and health status of the population); (2) social capital (relationships and social groupings within the community); (3) produced capital (financial resources of the community and the equipment and infrastructure driving the local economy); (4) natural capital (the state of the natural bio-physical environment); and (5) institutional capital (i.e., the public, private or not-for-profit organisations and institutions that can be drawn on as local capacity), (Carney, 1998; DFID, 1999; McIntosh et al., 2008). The extent and availability of these capitals influences the relative resilience of a community. Decline in or absence of stocks of one type of capital may lead to diminished resilience; or alternately, increases may bolster the overall resilience of a community (Carney, 1998; DFID, 1999; Adger, 2000; Ellis, 2000).

For the purposes of this paper, extension is defined as:

... the process of enabling change in individuals, communities and industries involved with primary industries and natural resource management (NRM). Extension is concerned with building capacity for change through improved communication and information flow between industry, agency and community stakeholders. Extension seeks outcomes of capacity building and resilience in individuals and communities. Extension contributes to protecting, maintaining and enhancing the landscapes, livelihoods and lifestyles of all Australians (SELN, 2006, p.3).

Marsh et al. (2007, p.1) described the particular value of extension within the Research, Development and Extension (RD&E) system in Australia by suggesting, "The economic benefits from extension include accelerated benefits from earlier research and faster rates of adoption of improved new practices; reduced risk because of accelerated learning about new practices; and better informed non-adoption decisions". Macadam et al. (2004) further supported the value of extension arguing that farms require good information flows for effective management, operation and innovation. Paine et al. (2007) believed that extension supports resilience through bolstering adaptive capacity of rural producers, primarily through the use of learning relationships with farmers. They cited strong links between resilient farming systems and extension, claiming that learning from the past, people factors, technology evaluation, integrated designs, participation by farmers, and information systems, are integral to adaptive capacity and building resilience (Paine et al., 2007).

Historically, the farming sector in Australia had access to an abundance of government sponsored information via extension services that assisted with production, farm management knowledge and skills development, but were largely focused on technology transfer perspectives rather than system knowledge and understanding (Williams, 1968). Government investment in agricultural RD&E in Australia has declined since the early 1990s (Vanclay, 1994, 2003; Vanclay & Lawrence, 1994; Mullen, 2007), with a shift in preference towards funding environmental extension priorities (Marsh & Pannell, 1999). The assumption that the private sector would fully compensate for these withdrawals, was not the case in all situations, and there is some evidence of market failure in the private sector to meet different industries' knowledge needs (Fulton et al. …

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