I am currently wading among travelers at the food court in the Johannesburg airport, awaiting my flight which departs eight hours from now, smelling an eclectic mix of Seafood Bar/Breakfast Waffle/Subway smells, and listening to Lionel Ritchie serenade me with, “Once…twice…three times a lady.” Oh the life of an airport itinerant. The thought occurs to me, “What better way to chip down at my departure time than blog about two of the round table discussions at the AIAEE World Conference?” Are the breaths sufficiently bated?
I began at Table 3, where the theme was the sustainability of privatizing agricultural extension in Namibia. I was attracted to this table because of Dr. Mutimba’s presence. He was the man who threw elbows during the plenary session and called out the AIAEE membership for – and I am paraphrasing here – staying in a Hilton (not in the metaphorical sense), when we could find a simpler place with mosquito nets and invest our savings into a local development project. I vote yea.
The conversation was lively at Table 3 as we debated the benefits of public vs. the costs of private extension. The time ran away from us, but one key point was that private extension can work and be sustainable with commercial farmers, but due to its high transaction costs, will never be accessible to smallholder subsistence farmers and therefore should be highly subsidized. On a rather depressing note, it was mentioned at the table that it is very unlikely – regardless of development strategy- for poor smallholder farms to be profitable and that we can only hope to help them maintain a level of food security.
The bell rang and I was off for Table 9 where Dr. Shinn led us through some interesting thoughts in Post Conflict Development. His take is that the situation in the Middle East breaks down into a short and a long term problem, water access and land tenure respectively. He suggested a stricter recognition of land title to solve the age old problem of poorly defined property rights: land loaned from the government is not as likely to be improved or productive in comparison to private lands. Dr. Shinn suggested that land tenure should be in accordance with ancient tribal property lines and that the dialogue must rise from the ground level and be met with government policy shifts.