Extension can be understood as providing a link between research and farmers. However, this only works if an appropriate method of communication is used. This project aimed to directly ‘translate’ scientific research outcomes in an understandable manner to the local village chicken owning community in Myanmar, and to use appropriate communication strategies. For example large, single-page calendars are often used as decoration in farm houses in Myanmar. We attracted farmers’ interest in the vaccination program by incorporating a photo of a famous Myanmar actress posing as a veterinarian in a calendar. Vaccination against Newcastle disease using I-2 vaccine is usually conducted three times per year, although the natural brooding in village flocks and the thereby continued introduction of susceptible young birds has to be considered in the vaccination scheme (Spradbrow 2014). Therefore LBVD of Myanmar recommended village chicken vaccinations four times per year and we incorporated this frequency in our extension messages.
General extension material on clinical signs of Newcastle disease and vaccination practices have been produced previously (Ahlers et al. 2009), but we developed extension messages that reflected specific published results obtained from our own village poultry research conducted in Myanmar. When preparing extension messages using cartoons or drawings, country-specific characteristics, religious and traditional beliefs have to be considered (Alders and Bagnol 2007). Extension messages developed for situations in other countries often do not work and have to be modified (e.g. poultry markets differ substantially between developed and less developed South East Asian countries). Furthermore pictures or cartoons should provide only single messages or limited information in local surroundings and ideally they should be colourful and entertaining. As with questionnaire development, pilot-testing of extension pictures and materials is an imperative. An important request made by farmers during the pilot testing of our images was that ‘bubbles of souls moving on’ should be incorporated into images showing dead birds, describing the goal of the Buddhist path that death is not the end of life, but the end of the body and the spirit will still remain.
The major tool to deliver our extension messages were village meetings. Other means of extension that we considered using in our project included radio, television and marionette theatre. In contrast to most African societies, where many local radio stations exist, radio transmission is not so common in Myanmar. Only government owned and controlled radio stations existed at the time of the project and Myanmar farmers were not accustomed to listening to radio programs. Therefore we evaluated that the use of radio as an extension method was not valuable. In contrast, television (TV) programs (two Myanmar government owned TV stations existed at the time) are often watched by village people in local tea shops or, if available, in the house of the TV owner in the village (although most villages had no or infrequent power supply) and could have been a useful medium for our extension messages. However, because ‘foreign’ involvement in TV advertisement at the time of the project was discouraged by government officials, we decided not to produce a TV advertisement on village chicken health.
Marionette theatre has a long tradition in Myanmar and Myanmar people have a great respect for an expert puppeteer. A puppet play would have been a useful tool to deliver a message on improving village chicken health to a wider audience as travelling puppeteers often visit even remote villages. In particular children who are often looking after chickens in a village household could be reached via this method. However, within the time frame of the project it was not possible to deliver a puppet play on village chicken health.
Communication, defined as the sharing of ideas and information, forms a large part of the extension worker’s job. Passing on ideas, advice and information to influence the decisions of farmers is a bi-directional process in which the extension worker has to listen carefully to the farmers’ needs. Farmers might be reluctant to engage in innovations as they might be perceived as too risky (Berdegue 1992). Thus it is necessary to explore farmers’ perceptions in a close collaboration between different disciplines such as veterinary science, social science, anthropology and agricultural science (Forno 1999; Swanson et al. 1997). We believe that epidemiological survey methodology and participatory approaches are important not only to explore current perceptions, attitudes and practices, but also traditional beliefs. Therefore a combination of quantitative and qualitative survey methods is essential to understand what extension message might work or won’t work for a farmer and/or for a village or community under the current conditions.
The spoken word is a key communication tool, but, whether the person delivering the extension message is speaking to a large village meeting or is discussing a problem in the field with a group of farmers, its impact and effectiveness can be greatly increased by the use of suitable audio-visual aids (Oakley and Garforth 1985). Sophisticated audio-visual aids might require electricity and complex equipment such as projectors or televisions, which are often not available in villages of low income countries. Simple aids that can be made locally such as flip charts have several advantages over audio-visual equipment: they do not require a power source, they do not cost much to produce and they can be made to suit the precise needs of the farmers.
Often epidemiological research studies provide a variety of outcomes, but identifying the most important messages to be communicated to farmers can be a challenge. Interventions will only be acceptable by the farmer, if they satisfy the farmer’s need; they have to be technically, economically and ecologically sound. Some needs perceived by farmers might be inappropriate (e.g. upgrading domestic village chicken breeds with exotic breeds that perform poorly in the same scavenging environment) and this has to be carefully discussed with farmers. Also commercial operations will have different constraints than small-scale producers, and preventive messages might not be applicable to both enterprise types in the same way (e.g. fencing-off areas for scavenging village chickens to improve biosecurity might not be feasible for small-scale family poultry farmers).
Sumberg (2005) indicated that research outputs that are not used by farmers are, by definition, not relevant to farmers, and the reasons for this ‘irrelevance’ must be further examined. Hence the adoption process is the procedure in which farmers choose or choose not to use new ideas (or interventions) on their farms (Luukkainen 2012). It is a process that involves gaining new information (usually provided by the extension advisor), a development of interest by the farmer in which he/she changes their attitudes towards the idea, an evaluation and decision making process in which the farmers decides to use or not use the idea, a trial and implementation phase in which the idea is tested, and finally the adoption and confirmation phase, in which the farmer decides if the new idea is preferable over the old methods (Luukkainen 2012). What drives farmers to change or not to change farming practices depends on factors associated with implementation of the idea (e.g. costs and saved expenses, marketing opportunities for the additional product produced, time commitment for implementing the new idea), characteristics of the individual (e.g. age, education level, occupation), community and ecological variables (e.g. disease situation in the village or region, actions that neighbours or relatives implement related to the new idea) and larger social, administrative and political variables (e.g. government, pricing and trade policies) (Leeuwis 2004). All these variables, including the varying adoption outcomes (e.g. short-term, long-term, and perhaps unintended adoption) should be explored in epidemiological-sociological investigations to evaluate the success of the adoption process. Although farmers were eager to adopt the simple interventions in our project, the long-term adoption could not be accessed within the timeframe of the study. The availability of the intervention equipment was probably the most limiting factor for the successful adoption of our promoted interventions. This included the continued production and availability of the I-2 vaccine manufactured by LBVD and the availability of small packages of chick starter feed for village chicken farmers.
Several economic factors are important to both the scope of the activity and the perception of extension assistance to farmers. The first is the profit opportunity available to farmers who improve productivity by applying new technologies brought to their attention (Swanson et al. 1997). Farmer response to new agricultural innovations is directly related to financial advantage from applying such recommendations. We had shown that management changes applied in the intervention study resulted in increased productivity and greater income for the farmer (Henning et al. 2009, 2013) and this higher income was directly shown in extension messages. A second factor is the existing marketing system. Marketing represents the process by which an individual farm or family produce is transferred from the farm to become a value-laden commodity. Mostly live birds are sold in Myanmar for cash to middle men or they are sold by farmers directly in local village markets. Therefore including the marketing of birds in the extension messages was essential. The third factor relates to the general economic environment in which a nation’s agriculture finds itself. The more prosperous agriculture is, the less interest there may be in seeking assistance from an extension service. Myanmar is an agriculture dominated economy and the income per capita is one of the lowest in the region. Hence we experienced very strong interest by village chicken farmers to learn about methods to improve village chicken productivity.
In addition to the factors described previously, we identified a number of specific variables that can influence the success or otherwise of veterinary extension programs in small-scale agricultural settings.
Role of women
Specific livestock species are often managed by a specific gender in a farmer’s family. In the baseline survey we identified that in 78% of our study households, women were the people working with chickens (Henning et al. 2007). Therefore we actively encouraged the participation of women in the farmer meetings.
Level of illiteracy
Extension services must operate at the local community level and must address the levels of literacy and education as they affect extension directly (Bagnol 2012). As most village chicken farmers in our project areas were illiterate we used pictures and cartoons rather than complicated written explanations in our extension messages.
Suitability of interventions to farming conditions
Sufficient knowledge and understanding of the farming system is essential to make it sustainable. We used household surveys to identify farmers’ circumstances in the target area (Henning et al. 2007), then new technologies/intervention strategies were planned, designed and followed by on-farm testing for a period of one year (Henning et al. 2009). In transferring new technology, it is important to understand a farmer’s own evaluation of its performance during early adoption. Feedback from farmers on the research methodology used and on equipment promoted was collected and recommendations given by farmers during pilot-testing and extension workshops were followed up. For instance creep feeders for chick feeding were modified based on the advice given by farmers early in the project.
Farmers’ resources to adopt interventions
A serious limitation in rural development is the lack of available capital on which to develop a base of economic activity (Swanson et al. 1997). For successful adoption, interventions promoted have to be affordable for farmers. In our project most village chicken farmers could afford the equipment promoted. However, in the beginning of our extension program farmers were able to purchase chick management equipment from the project at subsidized prices to encourage its use. If larger investments are required to adopt interventions, credit opportunities for farmers need to be explored.
Farmers’ resistance to new technology
Farmers are usually reluctant to accept changes. Methods to reduce resistance include a) encouraging farmers to feel that interventions are partly their own and not devised by outsiders, b) providing support from village leaders or from influential people to farmers, c) ensuring that proposed changes reduce rather than increase the farmers’ burdens and have practical or economic benefits, d) supporting a group consensus on adoption of a new practice and, e) providing realistic and convincing demonstrations in the interventions used. In our project, for example, farmers with positive experience in the use of the interventions were invited to farmer meetings to share their knowledge and experience with other farmers.
Availability of extension resources
If trainers cannot confidentially support and explain the interventions promoted, farmers will lose interest in the extension program. In our project, training workshops were conducted with LBVD veterinarians on the delivery of extension messages. There were no official livestock extension services in Myanmar during the period of our project. The only existing extension service in Myanmar was the Myanmar Agricultural Service which focussed on extension messages for crop production. Therefore LBVD township veterinarians, who usually only advise smallholder livestock producers on livestock diseases were trained and actively engaged in delivering the projects’ extension messages and became ‘extension workers’ in this project.
Mobility of farmers to attend extension workshop
Poor farmers may be unable to travel to meeting places far from the village. In particular women, who are involved in the daily food preparation for the household are often unable to travel. Therefore all farmer meetings were conducted in the farmer’s villages in locations easily accessible by farmers (e.g. monasteries).
Extension programs can be evaluated by focusing on (1) inputs, (2) activities, (3) participation, (4) reactions, (5) individual change, (6) organizational change, (7) community change, and (8) national change, but rarely can all of these areas be covered in an assessment (Swanson et al. 1997). Extension effectiveness may also be determined by the number and the regularity of training workshops held with farmers and the number of farmers’ trained (Agbarevo 2013) and in this context we were able to reach a large number of farmers in a wide geographical area with our extension program. Overall, we experienced that extension work can be more challenging than research. We believe that preventive veterinary training and extension programs generally require more time than research studies, in particular when the long-term effectiveness and impacts of extension messages delivered need to be evaluated.