Rural agricultural advisory services to facilitate farmers’ access to information have made a remarkable comeback on the international development agenda. After years of neglect, much attention has recently been devoted to the emergence of pluralistic service systems (PSS), in which advisory services are provided by different actors and funded from different sources. Private companies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and producer organizations (POs) today play more active roles alongside traditional public sector providers.
The promise of PSS lies in their potential to overcome the constraints and failures of previous approaches to agricultural advisory services – ranging from state-led public sector services focused on a linear transfer of technologies to market-based solutions through privatization efforts. While some positive results are documented, neither purely public nor privatized systems evidently reached the vast number of smallholder farmers in need of services by themselves, or demonstrated long-term impacts on improving rural livelihoods. Therefore, having a diversity of service providers through PSS has the potential to make services more inclusive, responsive to demand, context-specific and based on multiple knowledge sources (Birner et al., 2006). This is particularly relevant, as farmers are highly diverse, differing in resources, gender, market access, crops and livestock systems, and therefore require different types of information and services to achieve sustainable productivity growth and better livelihoods.