Decentralized delivery of public services has been promoted as a means to enhance citizen voice and make service provision more responsive to users. Ethiopia has undertaken two rounds of decentralization, making first the regional states and then the district governments responsible for providing key public services. This paper explores whether decentralization has improved the quality of service delivery and citizen satisfaction with the services provided, focusing on agricultural extension. Specifically, we examine whether services are responsive to the needs and expressed demands of poor farmers, including women farmers. We focus on the institutional arrangements through which agricultural extension services are provided and how these contribute to efficiency, effectiveness, and equity in service delivery.
We carried out qualitative research on these questions in four districts in four different regional states. We interviewed district government officials, community leaders, and representatives of civil society organizations, and carried out focus group discussions with men and women farmers. In all, we interviewed 105 people.
We find that deployment of extension agents to rural communities (kebeles) has increased the agents’ knowledge of local problems as well as access to extension services for both female and male farmers. In addition, rapid expansion of the service has created opportunities for women to become agents. Both male and female agents offer services to women farmers. However, accountability remains almost entirely upward. Until recently, the extension approach in Ethiopia has focused on top-down promotion of technology packages. Agents’ incentives cause them to focus on promoting fixed technology packages rather than on adapting the packages to local needs and desires or integrating modern technology with farmers’ own knowledge.
We conclude that greater emphasis on downward accountability in service provision would improve the quality. This would allow extension agents to adapt their services to the needs and knowledge of the farmers.