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Many see rural advisory services (RAS), also called ‘extension’, as indispensable in efforts to improve agricultural production in smallholder farms in developing countries. However, development specialists have lamented that, bogged by infrastructural and logistical challenges, traditional RAS, such as the old ‘training and visit’ systems, have mostly failed to reach rural smallholder farmers. (1,2)In these traditional systems, the extension agent–farmer ratio is typically very low.

Higher agent–farmer ratios are critical, especially given the renewed global focus on sustainable, climate smart agriculture. Effective RAS could enhance the resilience of smallholder farmers, who are most vulnerable to production shocks resulting from socioeconomic, climate, and environmental catastrophes. (3)

New RAS approaches that complement traditional systems are thus being explored and pilot-tested in many countries. One of these, the community knowledge workers (CKW) approach, which started as part of the Grameen Foundation’s economic development outreach to rural communities in the developing world, has been tried in Uganda and elsewhere. It entails fielding CKWs who reside and work in clientele communities to expand the reach of extension workers. For example, under the Uganda traditional RAS system through the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) extension agents serve between 3,000–9,000 households across 15–40 villages within a 50–300 km radius. On the other hand, a CKW serves 500–900 households across 4–6 villages within a radius of 5–10 km. (4)

 Because the CKWs are community members themselves, they can help in providing feedback on community perspectives to decision-makers.