Finland is where the first seminar  for professionals in extension was being held, way back  in 1973 (see video post  "Professor Anne van den Ban: One of the Founding Fathers of Extension Education"). Hence Leena Savisalo, the organiser of the 20th European Seminar on Extension Education (ESEE), was very eager to get it back to her home country for the jubilee edition.

 

This network started with three universities offering courses on extension in agriculture: in Helsinki (Finland), Wageningen (the Netherlands) and Hohenheim (Germany). Later on, professionals from ministries and advisory services joined the seminars. Today it offers insight into the state-of-the-art and current practices in rural extension and advisory work in Europe and beyond.

 

I was involved as member of the scientific committee. Some 60 participants attended, coming from West and Eastern Europe, Israel, Turkey, Iran and Tanzania.

 

The seminar started with an interesting tour of Estonia, well organised by participants from the Estonian Ministry of Agriculture. From Helsinki to Tallinn is three hours by ferry (or ninety minutes if you take the fast one). Rural extension there has been privatised, and many advisors now operate in commercial units or on their own. Farmers can obtain vouchers from the Ministry, with which they pay their advisors.

 

TALIN

 

By the way, the old city of Tallinn is beautiful and well worth visiting.

 

The theme of the seminar was “Public - Private Partnerships in Advisory Services: Lessons Learned in Europe and Elsewhere.” The papers that were presented reflected the current trends:

 

In most West European countries advisory services to farmers are no longer provided by the public sector. In those countries where advice was part of the services delivered by farmers organisations the systems sustained much longer. Demand for advice has diversified, along with the recognition of different farming systems, from highly productive and specialized to multifunctional systems with smaller enterprises. Coping with the administrative duties related to farm subsidies has become a branch of advice in itself. How to provide services for multifunctional agriculture was one of the issues raised.

 

Three papers from Germany and The Netherlands addressed the emergence of networks for innovation, and the role of advisors in facilitating such learning processes.

 

Mine was one of them: “Lessons From Scaling Up”. The approach of facilitating networks of innovative farmers has become mainstream in the Netherlands, and I was interested to learn about conclusions drawn after scaling up an experiment to policy. I interviewed a number of key persons who were involved in the follow-up of the successful experiment on networks in animal husbandry (2004 – 2007).

 

The discussions were interesting, but the participants had to cope with a few surprises because of the organisation of the seminar. The organiser had not managed to get institutional support, which made it difficult to ensure everything ran smoothly.

 

In the final discussion, the issue of the future of ESEE as a network came up. Some proposed to merge with another professional network: IFSA (International Farming Systems Association) to which many former participants of ESEE had shifted. Others were against this, feeling that the IFSA has grown too big and the focus on extension and advice would disappear.

 

When Dr. Orhan Ozçatablas from Antalya University (Turkey) offered to organise the next seminar in 2013 the plea was won in favour of continuation. It was also decided to change the name from Seminar to Society, opening up the road to professionalising the network, eventually with membership.

 

Articles:
Wielinga, H.E., (2011): Lessons from scaling up the success of networks for innovation. In: Savisalo, L. (ed) (2011). Proceedings of the 20th ESEE conference, Helsinki. Finland. September 2011.
Wielinga, H.E., Zaalmink, B.W., Bergevoet, R.H.M., Geerling-Eiff, F.A., Holster, H., Hoogerwerf, L., Vrolijk, M. (2007): Networks with Free Actors: encouraging sustainable innovations in animal husbandry by using the FAN approach (Free Actors in Networks).  Wageningen University and Research.