About 80% of South Asia’s poor live in rural areas. Most depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Agricultural and rural development is the key to eradicating poverty and creating conditions for sustainable and equitable growth in the region. South Asian agriculture faces several new challenges ranging from deteriorating natural resources base, climate change and increasing de-regulation of trade. Moreover, the sector is dominated by small farmers often with weak bargaining powers and limited political voice. A pluralistic and demand driven extension provision, that offers a much broader support to rural producers, is critical for agricultural development and poverty reduction in South Asia. Commitment to pluralism is central to the discussion on extension reform as it is now widely accepted that no single actor or agency is best placed to offer the wide range of services required by the rural communities. Though South Asian countries have a long history of organizing and reforming extension services, much more needs to be done to strengthen their capacities to deal with the rapidly evolving challenges in agriculture. One of the major priorities identified during the first meeting of the AESA (Agricultural Extension in South Asia) network was capacity development of EAS providers. The first step in this direction was to assess the capacity gaps among the EAS through undertaking a capacity needs assessment at the national level in select countries in the region.

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