Agricultural extension in Vietnam is mainly based on a topdown approach. Its contents are determined by government planners, officials, politicians, researchers and social leaders. Often, the selected topics do not respond to the immediate and urgent needs of the farmers or are incompatible with the situation and financial means of an ‘ordinary’ farmer. In line with the government’s intentions, this programme wants to contribute to an extension system that adequately addresses the real needs of the farmers.
Technically, the agricultural extension system seems to function rather well. Observers have however pointed out that the system has important shortcomings in the areas of methodology and capacities of extension workers.
The programme intends to convey skills and attitudes to farmers, extension workers and government planners in view of the development of an extension system based on real needs. As such, the programme wants to attune the planning process of agricultural extension to the real needs of the farmers.
The programme is implemented in three provinces of the Mekong Delta (An Giang, Hau Giang en Soc Trang) and two provinces in South-East Vietnam (Ba Ria, Vung Thau and Binh Phuoc). In every province, the programme collaborates with the Provincial Extension Centre and the Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Women’s unions and farmers’ associations are also involved in the programme.
The Mekong Delta Research Institute (MDI) in Can Tho and the Institute of Agricultural Science of Southern Vietnam (IAS) in Ho Chi Minh City are the operational partners of the programme. Field staff of these institutes assist in liaising with the provinces. They organise trainings in extension methodology and provide coaching to government planners, extension workers and beneficiaries (farmers and farmers’ associations).
As a means to implement a bottom-up approach, Farmers’ clubs were initiated. Through these clubs the extension workers deliver and receive information in a participatory manner.
Training of extension workers and club leaders was planned to be central but the idea to use core groups of trainers in each province seemed to be more sustainable. During 2009 and 2010 the ‘Trainers of Trainers’ were trained. They will train the extension workers from the provincial to the village level in the use of participatory extension methods. The training ranges from participatory development of new technologies and innovations to more administrative and managerial aspects with respect to the Farmers’ clubs (leadership, administration and direction of Farmers’ clubs; setup and follow-up of experiments,…).
The programme helps extension services and Farmers’ clubs to identify and execute experiments. Close cooperation with the provincial extension centres should ensure that a participatory approach becomes a constant factor of extension activities. We advocate that the provinces allot sufficient time and means for training and courses in participatory methods and that the system takes into account the real farmers’ needs during the planning.