Agricultural extension officers are intermediaries between research and farmers. They operate as facilitators and communicators, helping farmers in their decision-making and ensuring that appropriate knowledge is implemented to obtain the best results with regard to sustainable production and general rural development.
Agricultural extension officers need to communicate to farmers agricultural information on natural resources, animals, crops, on how best to utilise the farmland, how to construct proper irrigation schemes, the economic use and storage of water, how to combat animal disease, and how to save on the cost of farming equipment and procedures. They need to ensure that farmers understand this information and use it on their farms in order to obtain the best production.
Agricultural extension officers often propagate new farming methods. This always takes place in conjunction with the farmers, who make the final decision. They also research food, fibre and animal products in conjunction with agricultural scientists. They assist cattle farmers, and guide and assist veterinary surgeons in the treatment of different animal diseases. Each agricultural extension officer is linked to one of the agricultural development centres throughout the country, which renders agricultural services to farmers.
Agricultural extension officers encourage farmers to adopt new, improved methods of farming, using a variety of methods to reach the farmers i.e. organising study groups for farmers, ‘farmer days’, demonstrations, lectures and literature, as well as informing the media. The best method though, is through personal contact with farmers on their farms.
It sometimes happens that an agricultural extension officer must re-plan a farm in conjunction with the farmer. All the resources on the farm are then thoroughly investigated. Sometimes it is necessary for agricultural extension officers to develop recovery programmes for eroded soil, protect cultivated land against erosion and develop a new pasture system.
They propagate farming and development programmes aimed at reaching marginalised farmers or those who have little access to information and extension services. They do this in collaboration with farming communities, helping them to help themselves to become more self-reliant and independent.
They usually work within a community and are expected to have a wide knowledge of agriculture, or they may choose to operate from a more central locality and provide, as subject matter specialists, more specialised services within specific farming enterprises.