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NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 22) – Helping rural communities become involved in all stages of identifying and analyzing agricultural problems, as well as planning, and developing solutions, is the aim of the first regional agricultural Extension Summit held in Tonga this week.

"Promoting participatory agricultural extension in the Pacific", is the theme of the five-day Extension Summit hosted this week by Tonga’s Ministry of Agriculture at the Janfull International Dateline Hotel.

The Extension Summit is the first of its kind in the Pacific region and it aims at promoting participatory approaches to identify problems and needs within agriculture sector.

Access to learning processes in rural communities helps to empower people to make good decisions to improve their livelihoods in a sustainable way. And PAE achieves this through activities such as farmer field schools, participatory technology development and participatory plant breeding.

Dr Siosiua Halavatau from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) said the main concern in the Pacific is the claim that the adoption of extension services is not effective, so the main purpose of this workshop is to improve extension services and operationalised it so that it involves everyone from decision makers to farmers.

"It is quite challenging but hopefully at the end of the workshop we can be able to develop a guideline or elements that can be put through to countries to adopt," said Siosiua.

Siosiua also said a participatory approach to agricultural extension is effective because it encourages sustainability through developing skills of people and the benefits are not confined to the farmers but they also develop the skills of local agricultural staff.

Through PAE rural communities become involved in all stages of the extension process, which is identifying and analyzing problems, planning, developing solutions and implementation to monitor and evaluation.

Summit participants will review approaches to extension in the Pacific Island countries, highlight the successes of participatory approaches in the region and expose participants to the innovative approaches of farmer field schools (FFS) participatory technology development (PTD) and plant breeding.

The summit is sponsored by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research, the Technical Center for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation, (CTA), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the SPC.

The summit from November 21-25 and is attended by 120 farmers, university lecturers, government and non-government heads of extensions, and research and extension practitioners from the Pacific region.

November 23, 2005

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