Guest Post: Lighting the path toward a more sustainable world

05/02/2011 at 4:20 pm Leave a comment

I’m still fighting ant invasions (they’ve moved from the ceiling to the floor), frost, old plumbing, and high water tables. I’ll be back in a few days with an update and some thoughts on what we use and what we throw away. In the meantime, a guest post from our writer, the Zetetic, on how we learn and what we can do with our earned knowledge.

Lighting the path toward a more sustainable world

I was recently at an international conference where I learned a few new words: al-ershad in Arabic; song-suem in Thai; gostaresh in Persian. All these words refer to promoting knowledge through extension, perhaps most eloquently described by the Dutch as voorlichting  or “lighting the path.”

 As we celebrate 100 years of OSU Extension in Oregon, I had begun to think that the whole idea of extension started here, with clever Oregonians eager for knowledge. But after a few days spent with extension agents from around the world, I realized that the global community of learning is much, much bigger.

According to the FAO, Chinese officials were providing advice and training to farmers almost 2,000 years ago, offering practical methods of fish farming and crop rotation. Today, 90 percent of extension workers in the world are located in developing countries, over 70 percent in Asia alone.

During the 19th century, when so much of Indochina was under colonial rule, extension in Asia grew to include agricultural experiment stations with a focus on export crops such as rubber and tea. In the mid 20th century, after independence, such technical advice continued for valuable commodities. But few programs met the needs of small farmers until the 1970s when the World Bank introduced the Training and Visit system, promoting the adoption of Green Revolution technologies. All of this was one-way education, with experts (often foreigners) promoting particular technologies to increase local productivity.

Things have changed in Asia and in extension worldwide. The extension agents I met from around the world are talking about local participation rather than global promotion. The buzzwords have changed from “technology transfer” to “experiential learning.” But what does that mean?

Experiential learning means learning by doing. It requires no teacher, but it does require purpose, information, and communication. In the Philippines, for example, extension agents are helping fish farmers to test different combinations of fish, seaweed, and mollusks that work together to keep pond water clean and diversify farm incomes. Research stations are testing combinations, too, and extension agents report those research findings. The farmers add their experiences to the mix of information and make their own choices.

Extension is entering its second century in Oregon and its third millennium in Asia, and everybody’s at the table, learning together. Research is no longer expected to provide universal truth, and common sense is no longer asked to wait outside while decisions are made.  At a fish farm in the Philippines, I saw people using research and experience to plan their own futures and light the path toward a more sustainable world. — The Zetetic

Entry filed under: Current Events.

An Honest Day’s Work What it Means to be Hungry: Getting by on $1.50/day

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