“How can Rural Advisory Services (RAS) reach millions of smallholder farmers in a poverty-oriented, ecological and financially sustainable way?” This was the starting question of a one-year learning process undertaken by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s (SDC’s) Agriculture and Food Security Network.
The process began in September 2014 with a review of project documents and selected key informant interviews pertaining to long-term SDC-financed rural advisory projects in Vietnam, Laos, Bangladesh, Nepal and Kyrgyzstan. RAS systems in China and India, where development partners play a smaller role, were also considered.
The second step was the ‘Reaching the Millions!’ workshop, which was attended by 68 RAS experts and practitioners in Hanoi in March 2015. The goal was to share, discuss and prioritise the conclusions of the review with participants from government organisations, the private sector, NGOs and farmer, research and international donor organisations. They explored how rural advisory services can help large numbers of producers develop skills for improving their livelihoods and well-being, the financing of RAS, and how providers decide what services to offer and to whom.
The synthesis of the workshop discussions, group reflections and prioritisation exercises is ‘the Hanoi Statement on Rural Advisory Service Systems’. Its purpose is to increase the capacity of future systems to reach out to large numbers of agricultural producers and to support the development of improved RAS programmes. The statement describes core aspects of RAS systems and the factors that support them and recommends how international co-operation can strengthen these systems.
Finally, the key insights were shared and further discussed at the 2015 annual conference of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) in Kyrgyzstan. The book “Rural Advisory Services and International Cooperation” is a compilation of the nine documents published during this “capitalisation” of experiences.