Clear agricultural policies and strategies are very crucial for influencing the performance of agricultural extension and advisory services (AEAS). Malawi has implemented its agricultural extension policy titled “agricultural extension in the new millennium: towards pluralistic and demand driven services in Malawi” for a period of seventeen years. The policy specified seven guiding principles which include provision of demand-driven extension services, ensuring accountability, promoting user participation in extension financing, ensuring resource sustainability, ensuring equal access to extension and advisory services, promotion of pluralism and provision of decentralised but well-coordinated AEAS. The study assessed the effectiveness of four of the seven principles in ensuring user access to quality AEAS. The study used a mixed methods approach which included action research, focus group discussions, key informant interviews and review of various documents. The results show that the four guiding principles which included pluralism, demand-driven services, decentralised coordination and user participation in extension financing had some potential for a positive influence on increasing access to quality AEAS. Pluralism helped in increasing number of service providers thereby increasing farmer access but did not influence the quality of extension. Most of the farmers are not demanding for services and most districts do not have functional District Agriculture Extension Services System (DAESS) structures. Most service providers are not using DAESS structures and this is resulting in poor coordination of services. Malawi should put more efforts in implementing the policy if its fruits are to be fully realised. Particularly, institutionalization of DAESS structures and ensuring their effective operationalization will help to ensure that the benefits of the principles of demand driven services and decentralised coordination are realized. The country also needs to train and engage more extension workers in order to increase farmer access to quality extension services.
Key words: Agricultural extension policy, accountability, coordination, decentralised extension, demand-driven services, extension financing, pluralism.
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