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Workshop in Uruguay focuses on efforts in rural Latin America

Published October 24, 2014
Group shot of participants
Participants visit the San Ramon Dairy Cooperative outside of Montevideo to talk with smallholder farmers.

URBANA, Ill. – Agricultural extension specialists, researchers, economists, Ministry of Agriculture representatives, including 16 delegates from almost every Latin American country from Mexico to Chile, gathered in the capital of Uruguay earlier this month to understand and develop new concepts of extension and to share experiences across country lines. The five-day workshop was hosted by the USAID-funded Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) project led by the University of Illinois and the Latin American Network for Rural Extension Services (RELASER).

“I especially appreciated the time leaders from each organization took to meet with our group of participants and to socialize with us as we worked on our training course,” said Paul McNamara, director of MEAS and a U of I associate professor of family and consumer economics. “The time given by researchers and staff from the Instituto Interamericano de Cooperación para la Agriculturato to explain some of their activities related to extension and family farmers in Uruguay was very helpful and high quality.” McNamara presented various methods and lessons throughout the week, one of which explored financing extension sustainably.

Participants at the workshop discussed ways to strengthen extension to integrate practices to lift up family farming in rural Latin America at the financial, social, and political levels, to affect agricultural policy at the country level, and to encourage stronger networks among movers and shakers in extension policy.

Dumar David Guevara of Colombia shared that the week brought “a place to expand knowledge and a space for reflection.” One idea gleaned from the workshop that he foresees utilizing is “to propose a more participator extension scheme” in Colombian extension practices.

All aspects of the workshop centered on the opportunity to strengthen and modernize extension service provision in the participants’ home countries.

As Chilean representative Leticia Rojas Araya explained, healthy practices embrace “the integrality of the extension; we cannot consider the productive factors without incorporating the human, cultural and environmental. I gained new knowledge related to extension and the qualities of extension, which helped me to reflect on how the model operates in Chile and to identify opportunities for improvement that can be implemented in the short term.”

John Preissing, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations representative in Peru, worked with participants to realize the crucial elements of the “new extensionist,” the man or woman assisting smallholder farmers to acquire new knowledge and work together in more effective ways to increase farmer incomes.

“It was inspiring and insightful,” Preissing said. “To realize that there are similar concerns and goals as well as interesting differences in program delivery was quite valuable.  I believe that the workshop helped to forge learning networks between the Latin American extension professionals, which will serve their countries well in the future. Bringing MEAS and RELASER together demonstrates the power of the expertise of MEAS with the networking strength of RELASER for the betterment of extension programs in the region.”

María Isabel Paredes from RELASER said, “Gathering such a high-level group of people that is directing extension systems in our region, sharing experiences, tools, approaches, and identifying how to collaborate in the future was a privilege. The workshop brought great partners for RELASER and has definitely strengthened the network."