Winter 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 4 // International // 4INTL1

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China's Extension Reform

The first reform was to establish a new type of extension system that combines (1) technology experimentation, (2) demonstration, (3) extension, (4) training, and (5) commercial services (mainly supplying inputs)....A second reform to China's extension system was to implement payment for extension services such as "diagnosis and prescription" (clinical services) and "technology contracts."

Yang Yinghui
National Agro-Technology Extension Center
Ministry of Agriculture, Beijing, China

The rural reform started in early 1980s was mainly due to the implementation of the Rural Household Contract Responsibility System (RHCRS). This reform not only is essential to agricultural production and rural development, but also has great impact on agricultural extension. First of all, with RHCRS, the old "People's Commune System" was abolished, farmers have the right to make independent decisions on using the small piece of contracted land, so they no longer have to listen to the directives of the cadres and government. The clientele of extension becomes millions of rural households instead of the small number of communes, brigades, and production teams. That implies previous extension methods are no longer relevant. Meanwhile, the extension system is seriously affected by financial shortages and lack of viability and other factors. To sustain and strengthen the extension system so it can play an important role in agricultural development, significant reforms have been carried out.

The first reform was to establish a new type of exten-sion system that combines (1) technology experimentation, (2) demonstration, (3) extension, (4) training, and (5) commercial services (mainly supplying inputs). Over-scattered extension agencies have been merged to build technical strength by using all available resources. The priority of reorganization is to set up "County Agricultural Technology Extension Centers " (CATEC) by merging different stations of crop cultivation, plant protection and soil/fertilizer, and research institutes of county agricultural sciences and others. Another goal was to improve and set up "Township Agricultural Technology Extension Stations" (TATES) and at the village level create "Agricultural Technology Demonstration Households" (ATDH). Some villages, especially in developed areas, have also established service organizations.

Through 1992, 1,469 CATECs and about 45,000 TESs have already been set up. They have played a substantial role in China's agricultural development.

This new system has four basic features:

  • It's under the leadership of government agricultural departments/bureaus.
  • The system has two key functions-to provide technology extension and social services to the farming community.
  • It has CATECs as its focal point and works through supporting extension and farmer organizations at the townships and village levels.
  • The system is implemented by state extension personnel and by technicians paid by farmers and collectives (townships and villages).

A second reform to China's extension system was to implement payment for extension services such as "diagnosis and prescription" (clinical services) and "technology contracts." Once a contract is signed between extension agencies and farmers (or sometimes townships and villages), the extension agencies are responsible for technical guidance, input supply and the yield (sometimes for marketing), and pay the loss due to technical failure. Farmers are to do what is required by extension agents and pay the service fee to extension agencies according to the contract after harvest. This extension approach of technology contracts is unique to China, and is popularly applied nationwide.

This tightly combines responsibility and economic interests for both extension agencies and farmers. The advantage is that farmers are assured of applying the techniques, and extension agents gain an incentive to serve farmers. Extension agencies at the grassroots level also organize paid services such as unified plant protection and tillage through which technology is fully applied to farmers' land. Through these essential reforms in methodology and management, China's extension services have gradually shifted from being administrative or instruction- oriented, to motivation- or service-oriented and from directing to influencing or advising farmers to adopt technologies to obtain higher production and profit.

Still, to further vitalize extension organizations and overcome severe funding shortages, extension agencies, especially under county level, have found a way to "self-finance" or "self- develop" by running enterprises themselves. Most of these are agriculture-related businesses, but some have nothing to do with agriculture especially in developed areas, like the Yangtse Delta. Rather than just relying on government financial allocation, extension organizations are able to accumulate economic strength to support or subsidize extension services delivered to farmers as well as to motivate extension agents.

Even when the government can't afford to finance all extension organizations completely, when there's not much strict supervision or monitoring, and when farmers have little to say in extension, both farmers and extension agents can cooperate successfully because of the material incentive. Practices show that in China, free extension services aren't only too expensive to be funded by the government and create more bureaucracy in extension system, but also, even with very strict discipline, such services can't guarantee success.

The third reform to China's extension system is a shift from government monopolized extension to cooperative extension. That means, from the point of finance and organization, government- financed extension agencies are still the mainstay of the system. Collectively financed (paid by townships, villages, and farmers), extension staff and organizations at a grassroot level also play an important role. Some related government agencies such as the Department of Education, the Commission of Science and Technology, and the Department of Commerce, associations, farmers' technology clubs, and some agriculture-related enterprises, such as pesticide and plastic film manufacturers, also participate in agricultural extension. But, of course, "cooperative extension" here is different from that of the United States.

Mainly because of low profitability, agriculture in many parts of China has become the sector for "the old, weak, sick, and disabled," for "early morning and late evening," or for "employed farmers from poor regions." As a result, agriculture is continually diminishing. However, agriculture in the Yangtse Delta isn't on the wane, but is on the synchronous increase with rural enterprises. The basic reason is that under the guidance of related national policy in recent years, effective measures have been implemented to solve the problems that can't be solved by rural households individually and to keep the farming sector updated by strengthening agricultural extension and rural social services.