As school knowledge is tested by exams, the efficiency of farmer trainings is evaluated by adoption rates. A training is considered successful not when a large number of people attend it, but when farmers start practically applying the techniques they’ve learnt. One of the reasons Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung follows a no-reward policy in farmer schooling is to eliminate attendees who come for a gift or an envelope with money even though such visitors would significantly increase the turnout rates. Bare numbers may impress, however HRNS experts believe that only farmers who are genuinely motivated to improve their agronomical skills will trigger a long-lasting impact in the coffee sector.

Over the years HRNS AP has been training beneficiaries in the format of Farmer Field Schools (FFS), as this appears to be the most common way to approach smallholders. In the traditional FFS a trainer invites 25-30 farmers and they have a morning session to learn about one of the GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) topics such as pruning, irrigation, fertilization, etc. After the session, the farmers go to the coffee field and practice together, being supervised by a trainer. That allows to reach for larger groups of farmers but the observations show that the efficiency of the learning outcome might be not as high as expected.

To increase the efficiency of trainings the management of HRNS Asia Pacific came up with the idea of transforming group schooling into private tutoring. Our experts share their comments on the new approach, called Farmer Coaching Visit.

The Regional manager of HRNS Asia Pacific, Dr. Dave D’haeze:

When we train farmers it’s important that we reach high adoption rates. We are aiming for tangible impact in all our programs. In the FFS Some farmers who were informed by friends and neighbors about the session, might be there but not very interested in that particular topic, so they stay rather passive. The question is – how much of the knowledge they get during that morning input session they really apply in their daily practice.

That’s why we decided to revolutionary replace the FFS by what we call the Farmer Coaching Visit (FCV). One of our trainers visits the household and together with the farmer they go to the field to examine and figure out what goes well and in what areas the farmer needs additional training. All our instructors are now equipped with a set of posters that are used for explaining the theoretical basics of various agricultural problems and solutions, and also with tool-kit that allows them to fix the problem together with the farmer right after identifying it.

FCV is a way to hit two birds with one stone. Once we are in the field we give very practical training. Farmers may have additional question that we try to resolve. But on top of this we are collecting the data on adoption rates on a day to day basis, which allows us to monitor the overall progress of the project and its efficiency. Speaking of turnout figures we understand that in traditional FFS the participation was 80-90%. Participation was never a problem, although the adoption rates were hard to measure. The FCV approach is more demanding. If in FFS a trainer reaches 25 farmers in one session, doing FCV that same trainer would need three-four days to visit the same number of farmers. It requires us to intensify out Training of Trainers (TOT) programs and increase the pool of instructors to achieve the targets.

In the current Water project that’s been implemented in cooperation with Nestle and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, we have a target of training 30.000 farmers in 6 modules of GAP during 3 years. The topics are being introduced throughout the yearly cycle from water management, to fertilization, pest and disease management, pruning, harvesting and so on. Initially we educated 25 trainers in 5 main coffee growing provinces of the Central Highlands, but as the observations show – not all of them have the same capacity and time resource – as they are all farmers and/or extension officers themselves and have to take care of their own plantations and regular jobs – so we started to do extra-curricular TOT sessions for new young and highly motivated farmers to expand our pool of trainers.

The first feedback from farmers is very positive since never before they’ve had an opportunity to have a personal tutor coming to their plantation and then leaving his or her phone number for emergency situations. We work very closely with extension centers and officers who have direct access to farmers, so our program remains flexible in reaching those smallholders who need trainings in all or some of the GAP topics.

The Country director of HRNS Asia Pacific, Do Thanh Chung:

The FFS has always been a major training method in development projects and we are no exception. Bringing farmers into classes of 20-30 people, we can teach them about agriculture, community development and basic entrepreneurial skills. Of course, it’s good to be able to reach for dozens of beneficiaries at once, but observing the training sessions we noticed that not all the farmers were deeply involved into topics or – if they fail to catch up in morning theoretical sessions – they often don’t dare ask for clarification. In Vietnamese traditional education model students are supposed to be silent.

We decided that having a direct access to each household would increase the efficiency of trainings, and transformed the FFS into what we call the Farmer Coaching Visits. When our trainers come directly to households, not only they can thoroughly cover particular topics with farmers, but we are also fully in control of the situation with adoption rates. What’s also important – the cooperation and trust between the project implementers and farmers has improved significantly.

Over 150 trainers are currently working in our project in five provinces of the Central Highlands. One trainer can visit up to 5 households daily. If we mobilize extra 100 people, it would mean extra 700 households daily, which gives us extra 14,000 farmers trained during one month. Based on this calculation, we believe that the project’s ambition to approach 180,000 farmer households in the first three years of the project is realistic. During the personal visits we gather the data about each farmer regarding their living standards, environment, economic issues, and – most importantly – the agricultural techniques they apply.

FCV is a multi-purpose tool for us. Firstly, we provide the trainings in GAP to farmers in more efficient form than FFS. Secondly, we monitor the adoption rates and collect feedback from farmers allowing us to quickly respond and adjust the trainings. And finally, we supervise their economic situation, figure out their struggles related to changing climate, social and environmental issues, etc – to help them with short and long-term planning.

A trainer from Cu Ne: 

I work as a trainer since 2015 and in my opinion both FFS and FCV have their pros and cons. For two previous years, we used exclusively FFS approach and I must admit it’s very convenient for the trainer. Having a few dozen people in one place saves lots of time and effort for traveling and organizing sessions. On the other hand, I never know how much each of them actually learned, leave alone how much they implement in their coffee fields afterwards.

Last year (2017) I was instructed to do individual FCV sessions at farmers’ houses. I quickly noticed that the learning outcome went up to nearly 100%. When you are training someone face to face there is no point for them to hold back any questions they might have – as it often happens during the FFS where people are just too shy to ask – and I can be sure that during the practice session I correct all possible mistakes, so they are confident to start applying the technique in real life. In the same time, all our students are farmers who are busy in their fields most of the daytime, that’s why arranging coaching visits for individual farmers is much more difficult than gathering 25 people in one place on Saturday. I also need to plan my time – some farmers live quite far away. What often happens is that when I’m free – they are busy. For example, they suggest evening time, but I can’t do more than couple of visits in the evening when it’s dark in the field. With all that in mind I must admit, that each such training session has guaranteed result, whereas in FFS no matter how hard the instructor tries, some farmers are focused and some aren’t and there is nothing I can do with it.

When my time allows, I can do around 20 visits in one week. Unfortunately, some weeks I’m too busy with my own coffee fields and other responsibilities, that I hardly have time to run FCVs.  My work in HRNS is only my additional income, not the main one. If trainers had stable salary from the project they’d strictly follow the requirements and fulfill the prescribed number of visits. As for today’s situation, the prerequisite of covering 30 households per month is not always realistic.

If a farmer calls me and asks to help with a specific topic I always do it. In fact dozens of my relatives, neighbors, and friends frequently ask for consultations and that often means not only a phone talk but coming to their fields. Such visits aren’t covered by the project, but I still do it because people need help and I can provide them with expert’s advice. Unfortunately we don’t have any other TOT programs here in Cu Ne, only HRNS project prepares qualified specialists to train farmers.