Summer 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA5

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International Programming Issues for Extension Education

This article discusses the results of a recent survey of Extension educators in the South about their perceived needs and the role of Extension in developing educational programs with international content. Program topics, methods of delivery, and implications for Extension programming are presented.

C. Parr Rosson, III
Extension Economist-International Trade
Department of Agricultural Economics
Texas A&M University-College Station

Larry D. Sanders
Extension Economist-Public Policy
Department of Agricultural Economics
Oklahoma State University-Stillwater

Cooperative Extension faces perhaps no greater challenge than to keep constituents updated on the events shaping change in today's global economy. International forces often provide the impetus for these changes. During the 1970s, international trade was a key to farm prosperity. However, in the 1980s, international forces contributed to a declining farm sector and the subsequent resource adjustments in agriculture. For the 1990s, global events will continue to place a high level of uncertainty into farm and rural community decision making. In many instances, political and social concerns may override sound economic logic. Yet, as educators, it's Extension's responsibility to ensure constituents understand the importance of international events and issues that affect their daily lives and their long-term business planning needs. Presently, Extension training may not be adequate to address many crucial concerns related to international forces and events as they affect U.S. agriculture.

This article discusses the results of a recent survey of Extension educators in the South about their perceived needs and the role of Extension in developing educational programs with international content. Program topics, methods of delivery, and implications for Extension programming are presented.

Survey Results

Extension educators in the South were surveyed during 1988 and 1989 on their perceptions of program needs in international agriculture. The first survey was conducted in June 1988 during the trade conference "Southern Agriculture, International Trade and You" at Williamsburg, Virginia. A total of 106 responded-48 university faculty, 20 area/district specialists, 24 county staff, and 14 others including federal Extension personnel. Survey results show that 90% of the respondents rated their own knowledge of international issues moderate to high. Yet, three- quarters involve Extension clientele in international programming very little. One reason for this low involvement may have been the respondents' low degree of familiarity with international resource materials. Another could reflect the fact that almost 40% believed Extension wasn't supportive of international programming efforts (Table 1). At the same time, 86% agreed that Extension programs should include more subject matter related to global issues and that their clientele could benefit from such programs (77%).

Table 1. Conference participants' perceptions of Extension.

Agree Disagree Not sure Total
1. Extension programs should include more global issues 86% 1% 13% 100%
2. Constituents could benefit from programs with international focus 77 6 17 100
3. Extension not supportive of programs with international focus 37 25 38 100
4. To what extent are you able to: Not at all
2 Little
4 Very much
    a. Design educational programs with international focus 8% 22% 41% 23% 6% 100%
    b. Use public affairs/policy analysis framework 13 28 35 21 3 100
    c. Understand domestic linkages to international issues2 10 33 42 13 100
106 respondents: 48 university faculty, 20 area/district Extension specialists, 24 county agents, and 14 government researchers and others.

Almost 75% of the respondents indicated they weren't able to design programs with an international focus or had little or no ability to use a public affairs/policy analysis framework in presenting international issues. Yet, as Table 1 shows, 55% of the respondents felt they understood international issues and linkages to the domestic economy.

Conference attendees were surveyed again almost one year after attending to determine if their perceptions about Extension's role in international programming had changed. Strong support for international efforts was still evident. Almost 85% of the respondents indicated Extension programs should include global issues. Further, strong support existed for the educational role of Extension in international trade and development programming. Forty percent of the respondents believed their constituents would not be supportive of international trade programs, while 36% felt they would be. Almost three-fourths indicated their administration would support programs with an international focus. Finally, 40% believed Extension had more important priorities than international programming.

The survey results have several important implications. First, knowledge and understanding of international issues seem fairly high, with a strong educational need to do more Extension programming with an international component or focus. Second, confidence in resources, Extension abilities, and constituent acceptance of international programming is weak. This suggests a need for more, high quality educational support materials and additional inservice training on how international issues affect constituents and how to best help them in adjusting to these impacts.


While these results suggest some general perceptions about the direction of international programming, they give little insight into specific topic areas and what the critical research and training needs might be. To answer some of these questions, a second survey was completed in July 1988. Conducted by Oklahoma State University, this survey questioned Extension personnel in the South about specific program needs in international trade and development. Questionnaires were mailed to 71 potential respondents, resulting in a 69% response rate, including 25 Extension economists, 10 county agents, 10 non-economist state specialists, and four area/district specialists.

Among all respondents, 80% felt more programming was needed in international affairs. This sentiment was strongest among non- economists and weakest among county/area personnel (50%). A strong need exists for information about the impact on state economies of international trade and aid to less developed countries. Programs on the global competitiveness of southern agriculture were supported by 94% of all respondents, all of the non-economist specialists, and 89% of county/area personnel. Strong need was expressed for programs explaining the relationship between state economic development and other countries and the impact of the U.S. trade deficit.

Method of program delivery is of crucial importance to the overall success of any educational effort. All survey respondents indicated any material on international issues should be integrated into existing programs (69%). Almost two-thirds of the non-economist and county/area personnel supported this method of program delivery over developing a separate, stand-alone international programming thrust.


Global competition, and its implications for southern agriculture, was identified as a key program area. However, data relating the international competitive position of crops and livestock products important to many southern states are lacking. Another high priority area identified was the impact of international trade on state economies. Much of the South is trade-oriented-large shares of major crops move into the export market and many producers of regional specialties face strong import competition for the U.S. market. As these trends continue, southern agriculture will undergo a continual process of adjustment to forces abroad. Much of the stimulus for this adjustment will be brought about through international trade. Many of the questions producers have about what and how much to grow go unanswered. Agribusinesses, facing critical investment decisions, are experiencing a similar dilemma.

The U.S. trade deficit and its impact on state economies was identified as a high priority area. A related topic was the federal budget deficit and the interrelationship between the two. As policymakers formulate plans to deal with these twin deficits, education about the impact of alternative scenarios on important sectors of the economy will be crucial. For constituents to make informed policy choices, this information must be both accurate and timely.

The importance of non-economists as a key group must be recognized to ensure the overall success of the program efforts. Many Extension personnel and their constituents have little or no training in economics. They're often reluctant to conduct or attend programs with a high degree of economic content. Adding an international component only compounds the problem. To effectively "train the trainers," educational materials must be developed with a non-economist audience in mind. This will ensure maximum use of the resource materials developed and enhance the chances of successfully educating non-economists and their constituents about key international economic issues and problems. Extension in a Global Context

Editor's Introduction: One of the major challenges facing Extension is how to provide staff and clientele with a global perspective. This special section presents three articles on this issue. The first looks at programming needs and Extension's ability to deliver appropriate programming that includes an international perspective. The second article describes one state's efforts at staff development on global issues. The third article describes a participatory evaluation approach to community development in Argentina. This article demonstrates what we can learn from our Extension colleagues in other countries.