The Jakarta Post
Recent global issues such as liberalization, privatization, democratization and decentralization determine the policy process for agricultural and rural development.
Many parties believed that the agricultural and rural sectors shifted toward more diversification, commercialization and had focused on the issue of sustainability and efficiency.
The central government should prepare the appropriate strategies to improve facilities to ensure efficiency in agricultural production, distribution and commercialization.
The consequence of the phenomenon made it necessary for a paradigm change in agricultural development, including agricultural extension practices. Agricultural and rural extension played an important role in shaping the success of agricultural development.
The pivotal roles of agricultural extension encompass the communication and transfer of new knowledge and innovation; technical and non-technical advisories; and the facilitation of clients (producers, input agents, farmer groups, farmer associations, consumer groups).
In responding to the new paradigm, countries worldwide adopted institutional reform for agricultural and rural extension. In Indonesian, farming conditions and farmer resources means a single strategy for agricultural extension institutional reform is inappropriate.
A scheme for funding an extension of public services is still needed, especially for food production and smallholder farming businesses.
However, privatization of services ' to some extent ' began over a decade ago and was mainly for profitable farming commodities. The model of public-private-partnership is likely among the solutions for agricultural extension arrangements in Indonesia. Intensive involvement of private sectors including private corporations, NGOs and community groups in extension practices will be more essential and reduce the burden of the government's budget.
On the other hand, central and local governments could focus the extension of service for less profitable commodities but play important role on national food sector, for instance rice, corn, soybean and cassava.
From the perspective of the agricultural extension system, optimizing of accumulation and distribution of agricultural knowledge and innovation has been acknowledged as triangle knowledge model including research, education and extension; with farmers situated in the center of the system as the best solution for overcoming problems.
To meet the needs of extension services from commodity producers and various distribution and market accessibilities; introducing and combining extension methods will likely be more effective.
Applying conventional extension methods, such as face-to-face extension, group meetings, leafleting and field studies are no longer sufficient.
The commercialization of farming commodities means quick information and innovative services are needed.
The educational background of a young generation of farmers is significant as they need to have higher ability to access more complicated extension service methods.
In regard to new extension challenges, the development and utilization of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agricultural extension has become a promising future strategy.
ICTs in some cases could guarantee high speed and effectiveness of information distribution for new technologies and innovations.
As noted by Sharma ( 2006 ), the use of ICTs for agricultural and rural extension was regarded as 'cyber extension'. In practice, cyber extension is the utilization of online networking, computer and digital interactive multimedia to facilitate the dissemination of agricultural technology.
Cyber extension is regarded as a strategic model since the model could improve information accessibility for farmers, field extension officers, extension managers, researchers, input agents and other related parties on extension practices.
The utilization of cyber agricultural and rural extension is not only performed by developed countries but also by developing ones. Several Asian countries have quickly developed cyber extension for farming.
In 1988 Japan introduced a computer network system, known as the Extension Information Network (EI-net). Fukuda ( 2005 ) described it as an integrated system that combines related stakeholders including central and local governments, research institutes, farming corporations, market, agricultural extension officers and farmers.
The development of cyber extension could facilitate many parties on a real time basis. Databases are a fundamental prerequisite for the development of cyber extension. Thus, information could be accessed through email, short message and interactive discussion.
For example, a database could include information on agricultural policy news, market information, climate information and new innovations. Government agencies provide various farming statistical data and research results, while private corporations display information related to availability, price and quality. Moreover, information would be more attractive if it was not only displayed through text or image but also on video or simulation.
Compared to conventional extension methods, many parties believe cyber extension has advantages ' higher speed of data collection, identification of the most recent farming conditions, communication for information ' meaning, the system could distribute information to huge number of users at the same time.
Cyber extension would suit Indonesia due to its archipelagic regions and transportation difficulties. Cyber extension to some extent could overcome the problem of transportation.
In 2008, the Agriculture Ministry introduced cyber extension for farming through the farmer empowerment through agricultural technology and information (FEATI) to improve and serve the needs of farmers.
At the subdistrict level of the pilot project area, the agricultural extension office, as the home base of agricultural extension officers, are equipped with an online system.
Extension officers can access information on the website and submit important information and experiences through a website administrator.
Cyber extension could facilitate the exchange of information and knowledge on the best practices of farming from various areas, while the success stories could promptly be disseminated and be replicated by other farmers in order to improve farming productivity that will lead to improvement of farmers' life.
Evaluation on performance of pilot project on cyber extension in Indonesia is necessary for future policy making in order to expand and improve the capability of cyber extension in Indonesia.
The writer is a lecturer at the School of Agriculture and a researcher at the Center for Economic and Public Policy Studies (CEPPS), Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.