The study examined the perception and knowledge of project participants and extension officers about participation in agricultural projects. Specific objectives of the study are (1) to determine the degree of participation, format of participation, production knowledge, and participants‟ needs, as perceived by project participants and extension officers, and (2) to identify and develop measures for participation essential for future policy development in the North West Province. A questionnaire was designed to collect data, in which structured and unstructured questions were used. To ensure a good flow of ideas, the questionnaire was divided into distinct sections. Data was captured and analysed by the Department of Statistics of the University of Pretoria. The data was collected by means of personal interviews with a total of 129 project participants and 75 extension officers.
Participation is conceptualised as the sharing of power in programme development, coordination, decision-making, cooperation and accountability. The major findings were as follows. (1) Project participants initiated, and volunteered to participate in, projects, and owned and planned them. (2) The major decisions were made and accountability was retained by the project participants. (3) Project participants were consulted during needs assessments and during project development. (4) In terms of support, the community and the extension officers supported the project participants in many ways, such as where the community allowed them to do farming on communal land and DARD provided infrastructure and training. (5) Project participants did not have knowledge at the start of their project, but had acquired knowledge by the time of interviews and there was a clear indication of a need for structured training at the project level. (6) They operated mostly as a cooperative and there were more men than women participating, in the age groups of 50 – 59 and 60 – 69 years. (7) The majority of project participants had grade 7 – 9 education and most were unemployed.
Findings also showed that there was genuine participation in most projects. It is very important for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the North West Province to embrace an extension service that recognises and encourages participatory approach that is need-based, and that relies on need assessments for the purpose of: (a) identifying communities‟ or farmers‟ needs, (b) identifying developmental priorities, and (c) promoting participation of communities in the development process.
Promotion of farmer participation is always essential for ownership, accountability, improved effectiveness and empowerment of farmers, therefore, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development should be committed to a purposeful, priority-focused participatory approach.
Extension should move towards a direction of ensuring that projects or programmes are owned by intended beneficiaries who are involved in all aspects of their development. This requires of the extension officers, competent facilitation, including the necessary motivational support and a systematic and stepwise involvement of programme/project members in the different phases of the process of project development and execution.