Reinventing agro-ecological extension (15166)
The reinvention of ‘agro-ecological’ extension, that is extension which incorporates both agriculture and natural resource management, is essential for the sustainable management of landscapes. This paper has been informed by two PhD studies into sustainable agricultural practice change. These PhDs studied the biophysical, socio-cultural and psychological elements of practice change and concluded that irrationality, creativity, and intuition were key drivers of the change process. With agricultural extension still heavily focussed on scientific innovation and information delivery, which in certain industries in specific landscapes is required, there is a broader focus needed to sustainably manage the majority of Australia’s landscapes. These PhDs pointed to an underlying gap in the skill-sets possessed by extensionists, which (often unconsciously) sabotage sustainable goals and inhibit sustainable change.
Agro-ecological extension requires an understanding of human behaviour and thought processes, and further, how to interact and induce change at the level of ‘hearts and minds’. This paper presents on two current research projects which the authors are involved in. The first is the Australasian Pacific Extension Network (APEN) sub-committee for Extension Education, Training and Accreditation, which is aiming to explore current educational opportunities for extensionists and identify opportunities for addressing the gap in skill-sets. The second is an honours project, which is exploring the current state of extension in a specified landscape to determine strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for organisational change.
In conclusion, this paper is arguing that the role of extension in sustainable practice change needs to be reinvigorated, redefined and ultimately, reinvented to align broadly with strategies for change management which integrate agriculture and the environment, and incorporate irrationality, intuition and creativity.