Access to specialized information is a key element in the long-term development of small farmers. RAF and partner organizations propose a framework for testing, learning and adapting models of consulting services for farmers, as complementary means in an integrated support system for small farmers in the context of Romania.
Romanian agriculture is going through a period of deep transformations and besides the challenge of increasing productivity and profitability, there are new issues caused by climate change but also new opportunities through innovative technologies or business models. To maximize their potential, farmers and agribusinesses need to constantly update their agribusiness and business management skills.
Compared to other E.U. countries with a strong agricultural potential, Romania has a very low percentage of farmers (less than 1%) who underwent a form of specialized training, compared to 38% in France or 26% in Poland (Eurostat, 2020). The vast majority learned agriculture from hands-on experience. Moreover, most farmers are disconnected, with little access to specialists, to scientifically validated practical information or to demonstration farms where they can see the latest advances in the field (new technologies, business models, development of high-value products, ecology and environment, etc.).
Farmers’ access to information is hampered by the lack of an infrastructure that facilitates their connection to the cores of specialized expertise, regardless of the geographical area, the size or the profile of the farm. The agricultural consultancy system is underdeveloped, fragmented and too little adapted to the development needs of small and medium-sized farmers and small businesses.
Under the umbrella term of “extension services”, American universities provide agricultural extension services to farmers, businesses, and other interested residents. Taking on the mission of professionalizing the small rural entrepreneurs in agriculture but not only, these universities have developed functional models through which they connect the need for information with expertise, link research with grassroots practice, and pool funds from multiple sources to provide sustainable extension services.
The American model can be a source of inspiration and learning, so that starting from this experience, universities in Romania can define their role and the model through which they can contribute to rural development and, through this, to Romania’s long-term development.
The Fulbright-RAF Scholar Award for Agricultural Extension Services 2023-2026 is a nationwide program that exposes professors and administrators from Romanian universities in the fields of agriculture, food science and engineering, environmental economics and other related domains, interested in rural development, to an experience in a U.S. university with extension services in agriculture.
Following a selection process administered by the Council on International Education Exchanges, the University of Georgia Extension was designated as the host university for scholars in 2023-2026. The first cohort of five professors from Romania will leave in August 2023 and will represent the University of Agricultural Sciences in Cluj, the “Ovidius” University in Constanta and the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest.
Candidates selected by the Fulbright Commission participate in a customized one-semester annual fellowship program. At the end of each fellowship semester, representatives of the management of the universities that sent fellows join the group of teachers in the U.S.A., to conclude the program with a team perspective on extension services.
Expected outcomes by 2026:
- 30 scholars and administrators from Romanian universities will benefit from the program
- More opportunities for rural development based on matching need with expertise
- More education and support options for small farmers and rural communities