Blog Post

Reviving public extension for climate-resilient agriculture: Lessons and insights from India, Indonesia, and Nepal

With global temperatures already 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, climate change is having major impacts on agriculture that fall disproportionately on the Global South—from crops, to livestock, to aquaculture. Agricultural systems endure frequent heat waves, flooding, and drought—often all in one season. Climate-related extreme weather events such as intense rainstorms pose a serious threat to crops. The agriculture sector, in turn, continues to be a major global contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, an obstacle to efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

Averting rising crop losses requires developing policies and programs that help the agricultural sector—and particularly small-scale producers in the Global South—adapt to climate impacts and reduce GHG emissions. Public extension services are key to this effort; they can help farmers survive climate-induced disasters and become more climate-resilient. Thus they are crucial both to climate action and to broader agricultural and food system transformation.

Yet public extension systems in developing countries face major challenges. They require strategic reforms, while climate-driven shocks are diverting the attention of policymakers away from long-term development towards emergency disaster response and recovery interventions. And while public extension systems play an indispensable role addressing agricultural disasters and recovery, they continue to be plagued by low operational budgets, weak technical capacity, organizational and coordination challenges, poor research-extension linkages, and unsupportive policy environments for building resiliency to face climate shocks.

National multistakeholder consultations in three countries facing frequent climate shocks—India (September 2023May 2024), Indonesia (December 2022), and Nepal (November 2023)—over the past two years focused on developing solutions to these problems. The consultations examined ways to strengthen and reform extension systems to work with agricultural business entrepreneurs and encourage adoption of climate-resilient agriculture practices. These consultations were followed up by discussions with key individuals in these countries involved with managing public extension systems for further insights and opportunities for their revival.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) flagship program, the Comprehensive Action for Climate Change Initiative (CACCI), through its Asia program led by IFPRI , facilitated the consultations with the aim of translating broad policy ideas into concrete actions to reform extension systems to promote climate resilience and food system transformation. The talks showed considerable promise and offered lessons for other developing countries.

Challenges to public extension reform and reinvention

Recent country-level efforts to support public extension in making vulnerable agricultural production systems more climate-resilient have shown some success. Yet discussions at the global level often seem to have given up on the idea of extension systems as key to agricultural and food system transformation. Alternative approaches such as private sector extension services and efforts to expand farmer access to digital technologies, including artificial intelligence, often get more attention.

To address these challenges, consultation participants recommended evaluating alternative, emerging forms of private sector agricultural extension and studying how partnerships and engagement with public extension systems could empower extension workers to deliver on climate goals. To work, this approach requires public extension systems be flexible enough to provide context-specific governance structures and mechanisms to meet smallholder farmer needs.

Another challenge is the trend in all three countries toward decentralization and devolution of extension operations. This is occurring at the same time that limited staffing and inadequate operational budgets continue to plague public extension systems in almost all developing countries. Yet these systems remain crucial sources of contacts and information for many smallholder farmers vulnerable to climate shocks. They need extension help to convert to climate-resilient practices to stay in business over the long term—and preserve rural economies and cultures.

To provide such assistance, extension systems must get the institutional and human capacity to design and implement programs that help farmers maximize production and achieve climate resiliency goals. Extension workers require adequate pay, resources, and other incentives, especially in areas with limited infrastructure.

Promising approaches to extension reform

The consultations in India, Indonesia, and Nepal produced a number of promising concrete suggestions for revitalizing public extension and orienting it toward climate resilience and food system transformation:

  • Multidisciplinary approach. The consultations showed that policymakers in all three countries see the role of public extension growing in importance, given the multisectoral and multidisciplinary nature of the challenges. In particular, developing climate-resilient agriculture requires a multidisciplinary approach, as crop scientists should work with hydrometeorologists and soil and water management experts. At the same time, disaster management and emergency preparedness officials are engaging more with agricultural sectors. Thus public extension systems need to prepare their personnel for such multidisciplinary roles, which are key to developing resiliency.
  • Role in emergencies and crop insurance. Crop and livestock emergency hotlines to extension offices should be established or revived in areas of climate vulnerability. Such emergencies also require well-developed insurance programs, which depend on the public extension system for verification of claims. Private insurance has not performed well in these countries, and insurance providers are likely go out of business without the help of the local extension system. Developing and strengthening such public-private partnerships is an urgent task for extension systems.
  • Improve the policy process. Addressing climate change requires a policy process that integrates agriculture sector goals with countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) under the Paris Climate Accord. A crucial first crucial step for climate action in this process is bringing together subsectors including crop, livestock, fisheries, forestry, environment, water resources, and soil carbon management in the context of public extension. Extension workers in all three countries need much better access to the latest research on climate resilience. For example, promoting climate adaptation through new farming systems—including crop, forest, and livestock integration, regenerative agriculture, and precision agriculture—will require more training and retraining of extension personnel, along with researchers examining these systems , and more investment in providing better knowledge access facilities and operational costs.
  • Nature-based solutions are promoted in all three countries as a tool for sustainable agricultural development. The success of such measures, including the mitigation and prevention of biodiversity loss, depends on extension systems working closely with farmers. Nature-based approaches have additional benefits—for example, healthier ecosystems can help in mitigating climate change by absorbing GHGs and improving air quality for rural and urban populations. Yet the traditional role of extension services—focusing on technology transfer and distribution of seeds and fertilizer inputs—is not sufficient to meet the multiple and interconnected goals of nature-based solutions. This is another reason for outlining a new vision for extension systems to meet the goals of climate resilient agriculture.
  • Climate mitigation. Each economic sector must work to reduce its GHG emissions and eventually achieve carbon neutrality. The agricultural sector’s outsized GHG contribution makes its role in mitigation even more crucial. For example, while private carbon markets are still emerging and remain in a regulatory quagmire, public extension systems can take a more prominent role in promoting various forms of carbon sequestration and achieving carbon neutral goals.


With climate impacts rising, developing country policymakers and program managers are already in the “firefighting mode” on a regular basis, while working towards integrating resilience-proofing into national and regional development programs. Yet, those latter efforts are falling behind, and the case of public extension systems is typical.

That presents countries with an important, multipronged opportunity to revive and reform extension systems focused on building climate-resilient agricultural systems. This can help in meeting the emergency needs of rural communities after disasters; prepare them for future disasters; help them identify and adopt innovations that will avoid major losses due to climate shocks; and contribute to the mitigation of GHG emissions.

As CACCI’s efforts in India, Indonesia, and Nepal show, integrating policy consultations into climate action and agricultural sector development goals is key to such efforts to meet farmers’ complex emerging information in an era of uncertainty and escalating climate impacts. Governments across the Global South have an opportunity to resurrect their extension systems to meet this emerging challenge and turn it into a transformational opportunity. As a next step for CACCI, IFPRI will be working with national extension systems and the local organizations in these countries to strengthen their capacity for the adoption of climate-resilient agricultural innovations.

Suresh Chandra Babu is a Senior Research Fellow with IFPRI’s Development Strategies and Governance (DSG) Unit and Head of Capacity Strengthening; Yogendra Kumar Karki is President of the Nepal Farmers Advisory Council Pvt. Ltd. (NFAC); Aniq Fadhillah is former Policy Facilitator of the ATMI-ASEAN project and Chief Operations Officer of the Global Quality and Standards Programme (GQSP) Indonesia, UNIDO; Nandita Srivastava is a DSG Research Analyst. Opinions are the authors’.