The implementation of regional autonomy in 2001 seems to have sidelined agricultural extension workers, who had greatly contributed to empowering farmers and increasing productivity for nearly three decades since the late 1990s.
But President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo revisited the vital role agricultural extension services played in boosting the productivity of farmers at a national gathering in Semarang. Central Java, last week. He pointed out that “we need 40,000 agricultural extension workers to train farmers in best farming practices, but the government’s capacity for recruitment is severely limited by the budget”.
He cited the Agriculture Ministry’s 2018 data, which showed that the government had recruited only about 6,000 extension workers as permanent employees, while 17,000 others had been employed as temporary contract workers with daily or monthly wages. Jokowi promised to discuss the additional recruitment of agricultural extension workers with the civil service, agriculture and finance ministers in view of their critical role in boosting agricultural productivity.
Revisiting this issue is indeed timely in view of the upcoming second round of the presidential debates on Sunday, which will discuss food, energy, natural resources, the environment and infrastructure.
Agricultural extension workers aid farmers by disseminating new technologies like high-yielding seeds and crop varieties, as well as by guiding them on best practices in fertilizer and pesticide management. Their provision of farmer education improves productivity and produce quality to meet the standards of overseas retailers and buyers.
In addition to permanent employment, however, the government also needs to provide agricultural extension workers with continued access to new technologies and innovative research, whether through training, seamless connectivity or better linkages to research and development institutions. Agricultural extension workers also need continued training to broaden their knowledge and horizons, so they are able to expand their capabilities from the narrow focus on increasing the yield of a limited number of crops to a broader view of farms as agribusiness units.
This is in line with the broader objective of allocating increased village funds from the state budget for rural and agricultural infrastructure to strengthen farmers’ welfare and empower rural communities. This is a highly strategic plan, as more than 50 percent of the population depends on rural farming as their livelihood.
The government should also encourage the expanded role of private seed companies that employ a large number of extension workers. These companies also contribute greatly to boosting agricultural productivity, notably in food crop farming and horticulture, by promoting their high-yielding seeds directly to farmers.
A national program to boost agricultural productivity should also be supported by improved logistics and market access, not least because most farm products are highly perishable. Smooth logistics also facilitates linkages between on- and off-farm activities and between rural and urban areas for driving sustainable growth in our rural economy.