3 ways technology can enhance training for unconnected farmers

Digital transformation for all: NobuthoThethani, a local farmer works the land at Lawley informal settlement in the south of Johannesburg, South Africa, February 21, 2019. Picture taken February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Digital transformation for all: a local farmer works the land in South Africa Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Dave Hale
Director of TechnoServe Labs, TechnoServe
Katey Finnegan
Global Programme Manager, TechnoServe
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  • The scope and scale of digital transformation has meant that remote training is being increasingly adopted.
  • Levelling the playing field for unconnected farmers to access training tools can be done by digitally training the farmers' trainers.
  • Digital tools can also augment typically in-person training to enhance accessibility and create engaging learning environments.
  • Localized uses of technology can be adopted to effectively deliver training.

Globally, technology has been advancing fast. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated the shift in digital transformation, seeing more companies, governments and civil society carry out remote training, using digital tools to boost the effectiveness and scale of delivery.

These advancements have profound implications for access to skills and capacity building. But what of the farmers and coffee growers in Benin, Nigeria and Central America, for example, who may not have smartphones or access to the internet? Is there still a way to reach them with accessible content and training on the latest agronomic practices for cashew or good farming techniques?

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TechnoServe's programmes have demonstrated the powerful potential for remote and digital training to help address poverty. For example, we’ve been able to help shopkeepers in Nairobi learn record-keeping through a mobile learning management platform and WhatsApp; we’ve assisted entrepreneurs in Honduras to receive mentorship via Skype and farmers in Puerto Rico receive agronomy training with YouTube videos.

We realize, however, that not everyone can instantly receive online training. Just 28% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, uses mobile internet, and rural populations worldwide are less likely to have a smartphone or stable internet connection than their urban counterparts.

So, how can we help ensure that these unconnected farmers don’t miss out on the opportunities provided by evolving training tools? To answer that question, we’ve compiled a report that identifies three approaches to using technology to enhance the training of farmers without an internet connection, supported by research and TechnoServe’s experience in the field.

Digitally train farmer trainers

While farmers themselves may not have access to a smartphone, the teams who train them often do. Traditionally, extension agents and other field teams receive training in person and when these trainers need a refresher or need to learn a new addition to the curriculum, they have to attend another physical session.

However, by building a digital training course for trainers, we can see greater consistency, with field teams refreshing their knowledge on the go. They can easily hand over the training programmes to government extension workers, cooperatives, buying organizations and others when they end, supporting sustained impact.

In Benin, this approach enables information to flow to farmers more consistently and in better time. For instance, the country’s recently rewritten field training manual for cashew production and nursery management incorporates the latest best agronomic practices. The CajùLab programme is now developing a curriculum delivered on a smartphone-based learning platform to help farmers learn the new content efficiently.


Augmenting training with audio and video

Video is a powerful tool to train farmers: research has shown that it can improve learning and practice adoption, help increase the number of farmers reached and enhance the consistency of messaging while making the work of trainers easier. It also creates spillover effects, as farmers often love telling other people what they learned in a video.

But what about farmers who can’t access videos online? In those cases, a low-tech approach of adding offline video and audio to in-person training can be highly effective.

In Nigeria, the Business Women Connect programme worked with women tomato farmers in northern Nigeria who did not have access to phones. To make the training more engaging and accessible for the participants, nearly all of whom were balancing managing their farms with significant domestic responsibilities, the programme screened training videos in local classrooms and community gathering centres using projectors, reinforcing the techniques learned through in-person training at demonstration plots.

The farmers liked that this provided more flexibility. For example, since videos were screened in their communities rather than at more distant demonstration plots, they could bring their children to the sessions.

The programme team also received feedback that participants were motivated by seeing women like themselves, speaking their local language and hailing from their region, represented in the video. One participant, Rahana Umaru, commented that they admire the women they see in the videos: “Anytime they show us the videos, it gladdens our hearts, and we told ourselves, we’ll do it like those in the videos.”

In designing any training programme, it’s important to start with the user’s needs and to continuously test, evaluate, adapt and improve.

Dave Hale, Director of TechnoServe Labs, TechnoServe | Katey Finnegan, Global Program Manager, TechnoServe

Meet farmers where they are

Basic communications technology like a feature phone can still be a powerful tool where farmers don’t have access to smartphones or mobile internet. SMS messages, voice messages, and integrated voice response (IVR) services can effectively reinforce practices, give nudges, and answer farmers’ questions. There’s also a solid evidence base for the use of radio programming to support learning and behaviour change.

Combining these tools, however, yields the most impact and provides personalized, two-way communication. For example, in Central America and Peru, the MOCCA programme uses multiple techniques to encourage coffee growers to adopt climate-smart and regenerative farming practices.

The programme’s technical and communications teams work together to develop a content strategy to reinforce key messages across multiple channels that farmers have access to. These include text messages, WhatsApp chat groups, radio spots, Facebook Live sessions, short YouTube videos, and in-person training where possible, all as part of a structured, integrated training curriculum.

Of course, it’s not just the approaches you use but how you use them. In designing any training programme, it’s important to start with the user’s needs and to continuously test, evaluate, adapt and improve.

By combining good design practice with these approaches, we can ensure that the millions of unconnected farmers around the world are not left behind by the opportunities presented by digital transformation.

Approaches to training unconnected farmers.
Approaches to training unconnected farmers. Image: TechnoServe
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