In Africa, food and nutrition insecurity is still a critical constraint to economic growth and one of the main causes of widespread suffering. National governments and their development partners can do a great deal on many different scales to facilitate and ensure their citizens’ access to the tools that will allow them to meet their food and nutrition requirements. In order to do so, rural people, and especially women and youth, have to be placed at the forefront of the African agricultural transformation, by engaging them in effective utilisation of available productive resources (e.g. land, labour) if hunger and poverty on the continent are to be reduced sustainably. Among the factors limiting the realisation of these outcome is the weak capacities of Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services (AEAS), which are supposed to be the bridges, linking smallholders to the knowledge, technologies and innovations they need.

The understanding and implementation of AEAS in some countries in Africa is at a crossroads. There has been a shift from the traditional top-down, exclusively public sector led which focuses on technical issues to the more complex innovation systems approach, a focus on facilitation, brokering, knowledge /learning, and pluralism with more inclusive public–private orientations. Utilizing innovations such as information and communications technologies (ICTs) offers much promise; though we should be cautious in viewing them as yet another “silver bullet” to solve the problems of rural development. Moreover, extension in Africa today is pluralistic, with many different providers and models, but still mainly dominated by public extension provision through the ministries of agriculture or similar institutions. The technologies and practices to transform African agriculture are available, but the extension system is a bottleneck in the transformation process because these innovations are not reaching farmers. Whereas each country has a central extension agency, limited resources have meant that the extension capacity at the periphery is weak: understaffed, not comprehensive or able to keep up with emerging innovations and extension approaches.

In light of climate change and variability and market shocks, the need to put in place systems that foster inclusive and sustainable livelihoods for the smallholder farmers is paramount. Climate change is a reality in Africa, yet AEAS capacity to mainstream climate–smart techniques and approaches is very low. The need for climate-smart agriculture cannot be overlooked. This is due to the fact that millions of smallholder farms who provide up to 80 % of food in sub-Saharan Africa and make up the largest share of the undernourished. As the most vulnerable and marginalized people in rural societies – many of them being women heads of household and the youth – smallholder farmers are especially exposed to the risk of climate change and variability. Over the years, youth and women in Africa have proved their potential in promoting and implementing climate change adaptation projects. However, the youth and women face various challenges that include lower education levels, higher rates of poverty and lack of access to financial resources. Within the context of agriculture, youth in Africa continue to battle challenges associated with the negative perception of agriculture as a “difficult” job, with poor returns and also lack of access to land and markets.

AEAS acts as bridges, linking smallholders to the knowledge, technologies and innovations they need: however they are not yet well equipped to perform this bridging function in an inclusive manner. It was against this background that, in 2004, the AEAS African stakeholders formed the African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Service (AFAAS) and set its goal to “enhance utilization of improved knowledge and innovations for improving agricultural productivity oriented towards individual and national development objectives.

The AFAAS is a Continental body that brings National AEAS actors under one umbrella. The AFAAS’ goal is to enhance utilization of improved knowledge, technologies and innovations by agricultural value chain actors for improving productivity oriented towards their individual and national development objectives. AEAS is a key component of the innovation system, playing a pivotal role in promoting productivity, increasing food security, strengthening rural communities, and underpinning agriculture as the engine for pro-poor economic growth. AEAS is one of the key pillars for transforming rural livelihoods and contributing to Africa’s agenda 2063. AFAAS upholds the 2014 Malabo Declaration and the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), whose Monitoring and Evaluation Framework is overarching for the CAADP institutions

One of the main mechanisms that AFAAS has used for pursuing its mission is by promoting lesson learning, sharing of information and increased professional interaction through the “Africa-Wide Extension Week” (AEW) events. The AEW is a key mechanism for AFAAS to pursue its mission and capitalizes on in order to reach its stakeholders and delivering results. This mechanism was demanded and identified by AEAS stakeholders in Africa as a tool to bring together AEAS stakeholders from all African countries to focus on topical issues that need concerted actions including technology and innovation adaptation and scaling up and out, policy advocacy, promoting lesson learning, sharing information on good practices and increased professional interaction – especially to influence AEAS policies and programming in Africa. The AEW is held biennially, and so far, two AEWs have been held. The first AEW was held in August 2013 in Gaborone, Botswana focusing on “Value Chain Approach in Agricultural Development: Coping with new demands for Agricultural Advisory Services”. The second one was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October 2015 under the theme: “Reinvigorating Extension Services for Market-led Agriculture within the Context of the Malabo Declaration”. The 3rd AEW will be held in Durban South Africa from 30th October to 3rd November 2017.