Summer 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA6

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Expanding Our Horizons Internationally

The impact from the international arena on our lives and the decisions we make provide vast opportunities and challenges for Extension. How do we meet these challenges effectively and efficiently? Realistically, our only viable means is for current Extensionists to retool or upgrade their competencies to include an international dimension.

John G. Richardson
Extension Associate Professor and Extension Specialist
Educational Programs
North Carolina State University-Raleigh

Fred Woods
Public Policy Specialist and National Program Leader
Washington, D.C.

In this changing world, Extensionists can no longer educate effectively by functioning the same way their predecessors did. Today's environment is no longer confined to a county, state, or even the nation-it's global. To deal programmatically with worldwide technological advancements, mass communications, and the complex intermeshing of markets around the globe, Extensionists must be prepared. Such preparation can help clientele understand the internationalization of issues or concerns that were once viewed in a national context.

The impact from the international arena on our lives and the decisions we make provide vast opportunities and challenges for Extension. How do we meet these challenges effectively and efficiently? Realistically, our only viable means is for current Extensionists to retool or upgrade their competencies to include an international dimension.

Staff Development

To meet the challenge of programming in a global context, many state Extension Services are beginning to identify important relationships between the international arena and domestic program thrusts by adding international dimensions to their staff development programs. But much more needs to be done to integrate a global perspective.

Many Extension staff recognize this need: 75% of field staff responding to an 11-state survey in Winter 1985-86 felt Extension had a responsibility to increase clientele's awareness of international issues. Respondents also supported strengthened staff development efforts to prepare Extension agents and specialists for this task. Led by the Extension Services of Georgia, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Utah, fully half of the states have made significant strides toward meeting this challenge. In recent years, North Carolina has made a major commitment to professional staff development in the international arena.

North Carolina Approach

The international staff development programs in North Carolina have focused on both field- and campus-based Extension faculty. In addition to two major programs, sabbaticals for Extension specialists and administrators have resulted in a greatly enhanced knowledge base in the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service about forage production techniques in New Zealand, crop diseases in France and Spain, and computer systems in Western Europe. Agent exchange programs with other developed countries are currently being explored as another way to provide an indepth international perspective for selected personnel. Also, inservice international training programs are now offered annually.

One of the major programs, North Carolina in the World, was initiated in 1988, and annually provides 10 agents or specialists training in Third World development; economics, agriculture, youth, and family in developing countries; technology transfer issues; Extension and research systems in other countries; and the benefits of development help to North Carolina. This program culminates in a two-week assignment in a developing country where participants work directly with local citizens in leadership development, volunteer training, or identifying technical assistance opportunities.

On a much larger scale, an international staff development opportunity called North Carolina Agriculture in the World (NCAIW) was conducted during 1989 and 1990 for 36 agents, specialists, and administrators. The program had four parts. Part one included three multiday training seminars on political and economic aspects of international trade, cultural and language differences, and developed versus underdeveloped economies. In evaluating usefulness of information, program participants gave the three seminars a rating of 4.01 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating useless and 5, very useful.

A second component focused on the international involvement of multinational corporations and U.S. trade policies. In Washington, D.C., participants learned about the interests and involvement of the U.S. Congress and agencies of the executive branch in developing and implementing international trade policies. Using the same rating scale as with the seminars, participants rated this experience at 3.89 for usefulness. Some participants felt several speakers used too much jargon and approached their subjects on a scale too broad to be of much value to program participants.

European Field Experience

The third part of the program was a two-week study in six countries of the European Community (EC): Belgium, the Netherlands, West Germany, Luxemburg, France, and Spain. Issues studied included EC agricultural trade and research policies, plus a wide array of issues in the individual countries such as animal welfare, plant protection, water quality, the changing patterns of agriculture, declining numbers of farmers, agricultural research capabilities, and changing agricultural information systems, that is, Extension Services.

In rating the international experience for information gained, on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 as useless and 10 as outstanding, the mean rating was 9.39. Analysis by job classification showed 11 specialists rated their experience 8.91, while 18 agents gave the experience a higher rating of 9.55. The four state administrators in the program were most pleased as indicated by their rating of 10.

Four months following the international travel, the formal part of the program concluded with a two-day review and program development session. In this fourth segment, participants reviewed and discussed their newly gained international knowledge and developed ideas and specific plans for educational programs for relevant publics in North Carolina. Participants gave this session a positive rating of 4.01 on the scale of 1 to 5.

In an evaluation of the total NCAIW program, on the scale of 1 to 5, participants gave the entire program experience a rating of 4.33 for value and usefulness of information gained.

Conclusions and Implications

Developing a global perspective makes us realize many other nations have highly sophisticated systems of agricultural technology development, research, and education. Indeed, reverse technology flow is now becoming the norm rather than the exception for the United States. Technological advances abroad have resulted in a technology flow to the U.S. whereby in 1990 we depend on sources abroad for 60% of our basic technological needs.2

Research and education systems integrate programs that deal directly with pressing public issues such as food safety, the environment, and animal welfare.3 These issues receive considerable public resources for research and regulatory activities.

As a result of the North Carolina extensionists gaining direct international experience, increased programming dimensions on issues such as animal waste management and pesticide application are evident. Successful programs expanding international markets for North Carolina farm products have been implemented, and programs that focus on product quality reflect the knowledge gained. The impetus for rapidly integrating newly gained international knowledge into current programs can best be summarized by the way one NCAIW participant described his changed attitude: "What most sticks in my memory is the destruction of my stereotype of European agriculture. I had the notion that European farmers weren't as technically and scientifically advanced as U.S. farmers. If anything, maybe U.S. farmers are lagging a little behind. Those people are dealing with problems (animal waste, pesticides) we're only beginning to place emphasis on."

Such obvious enlightenment underscores the impact an international professional development opportunity can have. Yet, with the already pressing needs and demands for limited resources, is the addition of a significant staff development program in each state to address global issues and opportunities feasible? Or would a multistate cooperative program be more efficient? Is there an opportunity to establish a national program? Who will be the focus of training programs and how will they be financed?

The North Carolina programs were funded by grants from USAID, a major multinational corporation, and the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service.

Whether through public or private funds, the demonstrated changes in knowledge of program participants and resultant educational programs that have broader dimensions as a result of international staff development emphasize the needs that exist for Extensionists to seek opportunities for a comprehensive global perspective.


1. Mary Andrews and Michael Lambur, International Programming in the Cooperative Extension System (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1986).

2. William R. Furtick, "U.S. Agricultural Science: Its Shrinking Global Impact and Strategies for the Future" (Seminar presented to university faculty at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, April 24, 1990).

3. John G. Richardson, ed., North Carolina Agriculture in the World Program Description and Daily Summaries of National and International Experiences (Raleigh: North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service, 1990).