I am Umair Talib, a visiting scholar in the Department of Agricultural Communication, Education and Leadership (ACEL), Ohio State University from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad (UAF) in Pakistan.
Through the International Research Support Initiative Program (IRSIP), Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission awarded me funding to complete a six month research fellowship abroad from October 2016 - April 2017. IRSIP seeks to provide opportunities to doctoral students for training/ research at advanced research labs of reputable universities abroad, enhance the quality of doctoral research in Pakistan, and create a critical mass of highly qualified experts to contribute towards the development of Pakistan.
As a current Ph.D. student at UAF, this experience at Ohio State is enhancing the quality of my research in Pakistan, as well as strengthening the linkages between Pakistani and foreign institutions.
Pakistan is a largely agrarian country, where agriculture contributes 21% in gross domestic production (GDP); 46% in employment generation; and 65% in foreign exchange earnings for the country. Therefore, the Government of Pakistan considers agricultural extension vital to sustaining a strong and resilient agricultural sector.
Since Pakistan's independence in 1947, different agricultural extension programs have been introduced like the Village-Agriculture and Industrial Development program (V-AID, 1952-1962), Basic Democracy System (BDS, 1960-1970), Rural Works Program (1965-1970), Integrated Rural Development Program (IRDP, 1970-1978), and currently the Decentralized Extension System, which began in 2001. Private organizations (i.e. pesticide companies, fertilizer companies, etc.) have also rendered extension services along with public sector extension since 1988.
Despite all these efforts, the extension system is confronting challenges like lack of coordination among development departments (i.e. Agriculture, Health, Education), a high farmers-to-extension ratio (1 extension worker is covering almost 5000 farmers); and inefficiency of extension workers. Pakistan is concerned with improving extension work in the country and is sending extension scholars to developed countries to learn more innovative strategies for strengthening the extension capacity.
Dr. Robert Agunga, Associate Professor in ACEL and an expert on international extension and development, is guiding me in my research, which is looking at the effectiveness of public versus private extension systems in providing services to rice farmers in the Punjab Province, the most fertile rice-cultivating area in Pakistan. My study asks groups of farmers to indicate which system they find more useful or whether there are benefits from both systems.
The program gives me the opportunity to observe first-hand the extension system in Ohio, as practiced through Ohio State University Extension. I find the land-grant model highly invaluable as it focuses on the farmer—the essence of extension and research is meeting the needs of the farmer. In Pakistan, we have this same idealism—serving our smallholder farmers; however, we are hardly able to achieve that due to the challenges specified above.
In my dissertation, I have proposed Communication for Development (C4D), a communication strategy proposed by the World Bank to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), as a means to enhance the extension system in Pakistan. I am learning from Dr. Agunga of the importance of agricultural communication in not only disseminating information to farmers, but also in mobilizing and empowering farmers so that they can make demands on the government and donor community, thus, turning top-down into bottom-up communication processes. I believe that participatory extension is the key to turning our extension system around and I will try to promote that upon my return home.
With Dr. Agunga’s guidance, I also have identified missing areas in research articles and completed a research paper on “Resource-poor farmers and environmental degradation: how extension can help”. I’m also working on a review manuscript entitled “Communication for Development (C4D) as a way forward for agricultural extension in Pakistan”.
Since I have been here, I have also taken time to travel a bit to see different parts of the country. In particular, I have been to New York City and Washington, D.C.
I had the opportunity to have Christmas lunch with the ACEL Department and Christmas dinner with Dr. Agunga and his family, as well to attend his daughter’s graduation at Ohio State on December 18, 2016.
I feel very much at home because of the strong support I have from Dr. Agunga and other faculty, staff and students in the ACEL. Dr. Tracey Kitchel, ACEL Department Chair, is someone always willing to share his time with me. Ms. Trina Beebe, the ACEL Administrative Associate, has been so kind and helpful. I hope we can work out a program whereby Ohio State ACEL faculty can visit Pakistan to see how peaceful and friendly we are. I also like the friendly manner in which faculty and students interact here. I hope to become closer with my students in Pakistan, given what I am experiencing here.