September 1984 // Volume 22 // Number 5 // Feature Articles // 5FEA6

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Extension - A Citizen of the World

An international emphasis is basic to effective Extension programs. This article discusses why and what can be done to implement such an emphasis.

Michael Quinn Patton
International Programs Specialist
Agricultural Extension Service and Office of International Agricultural Programs
University of Minnesota - St. Paul

"I am a citizen of the world."
4th Century B.C.

An international dimension is basic to effective Extension programs. Not secondary. Not a luxury. Not an afterthought. Not an add-on. But basic.

An international dimension is basic to Extension because the future of American agriculture is inextricably linked to international markets and world development. United States agricultural exports increased fivefold in value from 1971 to 1981 and more than doubled in physical volume. Schuh, head of Agricultural and Applied Economics of the University of Minnesota, recently commented on the importance of international markets to American agriculture:

Our farm economy is in bad shape now, but think of where we'd be without the tremendous increase in exports during the past 10 years. Agricultural exports to centrally planned countries increased 740 percent and those to lesser-developed countries 650 percent in the last 10 years.... We live in a dramatically different world now compared to 10 years ago. The U.S. economy, and particularly agriculture, has become internationalized. That's why things like exports, budget deficits, currency exchange rates and interest rates are so important to U.S. farmers.1

Today, the United States is the world's largest exporter of agricultural products. Our share of the world's export of major farm products demonstrates our dependence on international markets: wheat, 40%; feed grains, 72%; soybeans, 80%; tobacco, 20%; and cotton, 30%. Of the total value of world agricultural exports, the United States accounts for nearly one-fifth. In fiscal year 1981, we exported $43 billion of agricultural products, equaling 19% of total exports, and imported just $17 billion for an enormous $26 billion net surplus from agricultural trade.2 We export the output of about 40% of the total cropland of the United States.3

The economic prosperity of American farm families is directly linked to the world economy. That's why an international development perspective is basic to effective Extension programs. Freeh, director for International Development with Land O'Lakes, has consistently made this point. In a 1981 speech to Minnesota Extension staff, he said:

All of the plans, programs, and personal aspirations we may have in the area of international development will continue to be relegated to a position of secondary or minor importance until and unless we are willing to make our own international development efforts an integral part of our total Extension commitment and then reflect that commitment in our plans, in our programs, in our budgets, in our reports, in our materials-and in our requests to the Legisiature-the same as we do for our domestic programs.4

Local International Connection

Santayana said, "A man's feet must be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world." Building support at the local level for an international dimension to Extension means educating participants in Extension programs on issues of international importance. The remainder of this article is a modest agenda for international Extension education efforts at the local level. Extension specialists and county agents will need to educate themselves on these issues if they're to incorporate an international dimension into all phases of Extension activity.

I'll purposefully illustrate these issues in the context of Minnesota, my own state, to show how the local-international connection can reduce the seemingly abstract and distant nature of these international dimensions by placing them in a context close to home.

International Markets

The statistics on American agricultural exports document the importance of international markets to the prosperity of American agriculture.5

In Minnesota, for example, 1 of every 3 acres is producing for international markets; it exported $2 billion of commodity exports in 1981. State and local Extension staff should have up-to-date statistics on the extent to which local products are exported. They should use statistics to demonstrate the international importance of local activities.

World Hunger

Hunger is a fact of life for over 500 million people in the world-twice the total U.S. population. Every minute, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), 200 people are born on this planet. Half will die before they're a year old. Of those that live, half will die before their 16th birthday, most from hunger, malnutrition, and disease. Twenty-one people die of starvation every minute of the day and night.6

Hunger is a complex issue with serious moral, political, and economic implications. Extension can provide opportunities for increased understanding of world hunger. Extension nutrition and food preparation programs can include information about the nature and dimensions of world hunger. World Food Day is a special opportunity each October to plan subsistence meals to educate homemakers and youth about the realities of a famine diet. 4-H groups might participate in a "Walk for the Hungry." Minnesota's walk last October was a 20-kilometer effort coordinated by the Hunger Action Coalition and Church World Service with funds designated for specific places. The American Freedom from Hunger Foundation publishes a guide to materials and organizations involved in combating hunger.7

Global Interdependence

Extension staff can help make awareness of our global interdependence more than a tired cliche. Lifestock special- ists, for example, can make farmers aware of the foreign origins of "American "breeds; few originated in the United States. Young people need to understand the global roots of local populations and the continuing international move- ments of people. Minnesota Extension is working intensively with over 50 recent Hmong refugee families from Laos, helping them become economically self-supporting. EFNEP nutrition educators in Minnesota include special assistants to Hmong, Laotians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Hispanics.

In addition to these recent immigrants, Minnesota's interdependence with other states and the world is reflected in the state's historically diverse population origins and the fact that, despite being an agricultural state, only 11 % of the produce unloaded in the Twin Cities in 1979 was grown in the state.

What happens elsewhere in the world, as with the Mideast oil crisis, affects life in local communities. Extension staff can help build international awareness and understanding by deliberately looking for and building into programs local evidence of our global interdependence.

Resource Distribution & Consumption

Our global interdependence is partly a function of the world's finite resources and the uneven distribution of those resources. United States energy consumption per capita is 10 times higher than the world average and more than 100 times greater than that of most developing countries.8 With roughly 5% of the world's population, the United States accounts for about 40% of the world's annual resource consumption.9 In opening a 1983 conference on "Youth Home Economics, Agriculture and Third World Development," Magrath, president of the University of Minnesota and board member of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BI FAD), observed that "the disparity between wealthy and impoverished nations has led to 43 wars and the loss of 8.3 million lives over the past 14 years."10

Philosopher and futurist Fuller was one of the earliest writers to analyze the problems of uneven resource distribution and consumption using the metaphor of "Spaceship Earth."

We're at a point now where we have one spaceship earth, and the only way you can possibly run it is on behalf of everybody. The way it is now we have 150 admirals-the 150 nations of the world and the admirals who happen to have the stateroom on board that's nearest the dining room of the ship say that they own all the food; and the admirals near the dynamo claim all the electricity and the admirals near the lightbulbs claim all the light. But nobody's paying attention to where the ship's going! All of them are fighting over the ship' and it's going nowhere. We are going to have to look at our planet as a total ship: the resources are where they are most logically positionable by nature, but they belong to everybody.11

Extension staff can help build a community sense of responsibility for wise resource and energy use in the context of global needs and shortages. We're determining now how well Spaceship Earth will operate in the future. As Fuller notes: "The most important fact about Spaceship Earth: an instruction book didn't come with it."

World Diversity

An international perspective on Spaceship Earth includes a recognition that the American way is neither the only way nor, necessarily, the best way. American agricultural systems may be generally the most productive per unit of labor but are decidedly not the most efficient in terms of total resources used per unit of yield or outcome. American farmers would be surprised to find that many small farming systems in less-developed countries are more efficiently integrated in the use of resources than large-scale American commercial farms. Of course, such comparisons depend on the definitions used, criteria applied, and values held. And that's precisely the point! People with different values will judge the same thing in different ways.

An international perspective helps us examine our values and lifestyles with a f uller appreciation of the rich diversity of choices the world offers. Nations, peoples, and cultures vary tremendously in the relative value they attach to time, wealth, family, land, youth, the elderly, religion, law, freedom, tradition-and life itself.

The Western industrialized way of life includes only 24% of the world's population of 4.5 billion people. By the year 2100, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities estimates that the world's population will stabilize at 10.5 billion people with only 13% in industrialized societies.

American ignorance about the rest of the world is legend. Among modern nations, the United States stands out in its neglect of language study, a neglect which is symptomatic of our larger international ignorance. The Educational Testing Service surveyed high school seniors the year after the Middle East War of 1973: half the students were unable to identify which of these four countries is Arabic-India, Israel, Egypt, or Mexico. Although the 1973 Middle East War precipitated our own energy crisis, a 1977 Gallup poll showed that half the U.S. population was still unaware that the United States imports petroleum. There is no shortage of data documenting the extent to which Americans are woefully ignorant about international facts and issues, and our global interdependence.12

An international dimension is basic to effective Extension programs. Not secondary. Not a luxury. Not an afterthought. Not an add-on. But basic.

Increasing International Awareness

Many opportunities exist locally for Extension to help increase international awareness and understanding. Exchange programs, presentations by foreign visitors, and involving international students and faculty in local Extension activities can help build global awareness. One third of the graduate students in the University of Minnesota's College of Agriculture are international students-nearly 250 from 53 countries, most of them from developing countries.

All land-grant colleges have similarly significant numbers of international students who can serve as windows to the world for people in our local communities. I found these students are anxious to get out in the state, share perceptions, and learn more about the United States while sharing their own perspectives and experiences. But they have to be invited!

There are myriad ways Extension staff can build international awareness into their programs: international food and craft fairs; pairings of U.S. and foreign groups for exchanges of information and visits, for example, farmer organizations, homemaker groups, or 4-H groups being paired with similar units abroad; featuring foreign holidays to enliven and add an international dimension to routine Extension meetings; and regular use of visual displays to educate people about global issues related to food, agriculture, nutrition, child care, and young people. Such efforts to increase international understanding are most effective when consciously and fully integrated into basic Extension activities, not as an afterthought, but as an integral part of Extension's larger educational mission.

Making the International Dimension Real

Taking seriously the idea that an international dimension is basic to Extension has important implications for Extension at all levels of effort:
  • Staff policies are needed that reward and recognize international efforts.
  • International elements should be incorporated into annual plans of work.
  • International specialists in agriculture, home economics, community resource development,and 4-H are needed to help plan and support an international dimension at the county level.
  • In-service staff development is needed to increase knowledge about global issues and enhance skills in internationalizing local programs.
  • Extension materials should incorporate an international dimension.
  • An international focus could be added to annual conferences.
  • Exchange programs with Extension organizations in other countries can be developed. The University of Minnesota Agricultural Extension Service has established such exchanges in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Recognition is needed for staff who excel in international efforts. The Minnesota Chapter of Epsilon Sigma Phi initiated an award for international Extension service in 1983.
  • Clear institutional goal statements should forcefully express the international commitments of land-grant institutions. The University of Minnesota has made the "International Character of the University" one of five major planning themes in keeping with its land-grant mission.

The actions outlined above are aimed at making internationalism a basic theme in Extension programs at all levels of activity. While we often feel helpless to affect the global course of history, Extension has a tradition of belief in education as the most powerful force for shaping the future.

The story is told that Einstein was once asked what the scientific antidote was to the atom bomb. "There is no scientific antidote," he replied, "only education. You have got to change the way people think. I am not interested in disarmament talks between nations. What I want to do is disarm the mind. After that, everything else will automatically follow. The ultimate weapon for such mental disarmament is international education."13

I don't know where Einstein made these observations, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that he was talking to a group of Extension people.


  1. Minnesota Agricultural Extension Service press release, October 1, 1982.
  2. USDA Economic Research Service, U.S. Foreign Agricultural Trade Statistical Report, Calendar Year 1982 (Washington,D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982), Table 2.
  3. Commission on International Education, What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us: The Shortfall in International Competence (Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1983), p. 6.
  4. LaVern Freeh, "Title XII: Agriculture, Extension and the World" (Speech given at Minnesota Annual Extension Conference, Brainerd, Minnesota, October 6,1981).
  5. An excellent resource is Arthur B. Mackie, The U.S. Farmer and World Market Development (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983).
  6. C. Peter Magrath, "Context for Youth, Home Economics, Agriculture, and Third World Development," in Youth, Home Economics, Agriculture and Third World Development, Miriam Sletzer, ed. (St. Paul: University of Minnesota, College of Home Economics, Center for Youth Development and Research, 1983), p. 12.
  7. Who's Involved with Hunger. An Organization Guide, Patricia L. Kutzner and Timothy X. Sullivan, eds. (Washington, D.C.: American Freedom from Hunger Foundation and World Hunger Education Service, 1976).
  8. 1979 Statistical Yearbook of the United Nations, 1979 Year-book of World Energy Statistics, and Information Please Almanac, 1983, 37th ed. (New York: Information Please Publishers, 1983), pp. 133-34.
  9. Thomas S. Barrows, John L. D. Clark, and Stephen F. Klein,"What College Seniors Know About Their World," in Education and World View (New York: Change Magazine Press, 1980), p. 29.
  10. Magrath, "Context for Youth, Home Economics, Agriculture, and Third World Development."
  11. R. Buckminster Fuller, "A Fuller World View," Passages, XIII (September, 1982), 42.
  12. For example, Barrows, Clark, and Klein, "What College Seniors Know About Their World"; Magrath, "Context for Youth, Home Economics, Agriculture, and Third World Development"; and Kenneth Seib, "How the Laws of Acadynamics Work To Prevent Change," The Chronicle of Higher Education, XXVII (January, 1984),72.
  13. James B. Holderman, "The Need for an International Perspective" (Plenary address to the Council on International Programs, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, February 25,1983).