The challenge of achieving uptake
Farmers’ lack of knowledge on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) lies at the heart of many challenges in the cocoa sector. CPQP has aimed to build knowledge of GAP at farmer level through relevant and accessible training initiatives that improve the efficiency, ‘bankability’, and sustainability of cocoa production.
The key components required to increase yields of cocoa beans are generally well understood: the use of appropriate planting material that has high yield potential, implementing the right inputs at the correct time, and committing to good farm management. The problem lies in whether these practices are taken up by farmers after attendance at a training session. As CPQP progressed, it became clear that training alone (such as the practices promoted in Farmer Field Schools [FFS]) was insufficient to deliver uptake. Both the quantity and quality of adoption has been lower than expected: furthermore, farmers tend not to adopt all three key components at the same time. Some are reluctant to implement them even when all the necessary inputs are made available to them.
The reasons for weak adoption of core practices by smallholder farmers remain largely unclear. Some companies have concluded that adoption is not about technical competency or even access to inputs and finance. Rather, farmers tend to make decisions when they trust that the information and advice provided is reliable and attractive enough to make a long-term (10–20-year) investment. In an industry in which the reality is that most farmers struggle to plan more than one year ahead, motivating such an investment must be the focus of productivity strategy. The question remains: how can we make uptake attractive for farmers working in some of the world’s poorest economies?
The limitations of traditional training
Under CPQP, partners invested in existing, traditional extension approaches as well as more learning-oriented approaches such as FFS. Training has generally been delivered to large groups of farmers and the same curriculum repeated from one year to the next. The curricula used have differed across projects, and there has been a large variation in the number of modules used per curriculum.
Due to the high numbers of farmers involved, training is a big cost driver of service delivery (25 % of costs). Costs of training have varied between USD 4 to USD 38 per farmer, with an average of USD 20 per farmer. On aggregate, around USD 100 million per annum of public funds have been spent on training by the cocoa industry to achieve certification.
Tracing the effectiveness of such significant investment has not been easy. A 2016 study on Service Delivery Models conducted by IDH concluded that there is often no correlation between the level of investment in training costs and the impact on a farmer’s profitability. The truth is that training only has an impact when good practices are put in place at field level. For training to be an effective investment, our central aim must not simply be knowledge delivery, but the promotion of adoption rates and increased availability of inputs.
See also: Service Delivery Models
The evolution of good training: the shift towards farmer-centric learning
Cocoa-sector players have begun to understand that farmers need a training package that encompasses a range of additional services designed to help maximize benefits from inputs. It is through an overall productivity package that return on investment is likely to be secured.
In other words: the industry needs to provide motivation and services to farmers if it wants them to adopt best practices. For instance, farmers need to secure a good price for their beans and to receive appropriate services in order for them to dedicate time and energy to their cocoa farm. Competition between cocoa and other commodities (e.g. palm oil and corn) is high. Farmers need to be fully integrated into supply chains that provide tangible benefits in order to keep the dropout rate low.
To address the challenge of poor adoption of training or trained practices, many companies have initiated stepped changes to their training strategy. The ‘one size fits all’ GAP training for certification (traditionally delivered through FFS) is increasingly being seen as an initial foundation for engagement with farmers rather than a full training package in its own right. Moving forward, GAP training becomes a platform from which different farmer needs and interests are identified: the next steps in the training strategy aim to maximize impact by teaching farmers in a more focused and farmer-centric way. By addressing the issues farmers both want and have the capacity to be trained on, adoption rates are expected to rise. Non-industry, beyond-certification subjects (such as training on HIV/AIDS and the generation of alternative income) have, for example, been reported to improve attendance—a learning passed from the IDH Tea program to the CPQP.
See also: Service Delivery Models
Clustering and selection: improving the focus of farmer-centric training
Farmer-centric or ‘follow-up’ (from GAP) training should work best when it is targeted to farmers who are specifically interested in individual subjects or techniques. Clustering increases the efficiency of follow-up training by grouping farmers around training material from which they will receive real benefit. For example, farmers who are willing and able to make investments in their cocoa farms are invited to work in intensification.
Often, self-selection mechanisms are used to filter in farmers who have the ability to commit to increasing productivity: such as the capacity to provide an upfront investment. Or selection criteria are introduced to determine whether farms and farmers are ready to benefit from the productivity package (see The fertilizer-ready farmer: the anatomy of a good investment in the Fertilizer chapter).
Improved attendance, however, is not the same as uptake. The question remains the same: how do we get farmers to apply the practices they learn in training, in the field? One potential answer—coaching—is being tested by several companies. From Jan 2015–June 2016, IDH co-financed pilot coaching programs with Barry Callebaut, ECOM, Mondelēz, and Cémoi (within the context of the Cocoa Fertilizer Initiative). The approach, which was also piloted by Cargill on a larger scale (see Cargill: the shift from training to coaching, in this chapter), is now being scaled up. Its combination of targeted selection, farm development planning, and ‘big picture’ training issues will make coaching an important element of future service delivery: results-oriented and tailored to individual farmer circumstances and needs.
See also: Fertilizer
Coaching: a hands-on answer to the adoption problem
Coaching represents the final stage in the evolutionary shift from FFS and GAP to farmer-centric learning. Its one-to-one approach aims to improve adoption rates by delivering tailored training to farmers who have been identified as ready to receive and implement the knowledge. Coaching also encompasses support for non-agronomic issues such as access to finance and the business management of the farm.
The process starts with a diagnostic and planning phase, which produces a two-year farm development plan for each farmer. The plan specifies the requirements for training and other services including inputs, pesticide application equipment, and pruning tools. Each requirement is determined according to farm size, level of farm expertise, and investment decisions developed through decision-making tools.
Coaching takes place through regular individual on-plantation visits, training sessions, and demonstrations. The advantage of such an individual approach is that specific challenges faced by a farmer can be identified and addressed. Early farmer and partner responses have been positive, with farmers reporting a perception of coaching as an advisory service that provides direction to their farm maintenance, while at the same time fostering an understanding of the long-term impact of GAP. Farmers who are not being coached are increasingly interested in participating in coaching programs. And in addition to the correct implementation of GAP by coached farmers, training in good business practices has begun to raise revenues from cocoa cultivation and enable them to invest in off-season revenue-generating activities.
See also: Finance
Coaching: costs and challenges
The cost of the coaching model, however, is a challenge. For coaching to work, the intensive extensions needed to deliver one-to-one support must be paid for: and this means finding ways to create and measure results-based investment mechanisms that can best serve farmers, co-ops, public- and private-sector extension suppliers, and finance providers. The same early reports suggest that coaching costs per farmer vary considerably across companies: for example, in Cémoi’s pilot coaching scheme the cost of salaries for coaches was too high for co-ops to cover on their own. Similarly, some farmers are unable to invest enough in their own farm to implement Farm Development Plans—they may have the willing to adopt best practices, but they do not have the ability.
Scalability is a key to cost efficiency: as an innovation (such as coaching) increases its impact without the need to re-invest, it begins to pay for itself even if the initial investment has been high. Scaling the coaching model involves a trade-off between increased reach and the degree to which training, in whatever form, can be tailored to the needs of farmers to produce effective results.
Low farmer literacy levels may also present a problem: for coaching to be effective it must adjust to the actual literacy of selected farmers.
See also: Finance
Farmer selection: choosing training-ready farmers
As CPQP progressed, the concept of ‘farmer readiness’ began to crystallize. A farmer who is ready to adopt training methods, take on finance, or properly use fertilizer is a farmer who is more likely to develop long-term increases in profitability and productivity. The question of how and where to invest in cocoa production became a question of who to invest in.
In training terms, costlier investment in follow-up programs and one-to-one coaching must be directed to farmers who are ready and willing to adopt recommendations and practices. Clear, transparent, and efficient farmer selection strategies are currently under development, partly based on self selection and partly on criteria that indicate a likely return on coaching investment (such as readiness to buy inputs and access credit). A generally applied criterion is the savings a farmer has made from sales of the main crop. The selection process requires support by farmer groups, cooperative-employed farmer coaches, and cooperatives (which can scale it out across the membership).
See also: Fertilizer, Finance
Good data: the key to unlocking coaching’s impact
Good data is vital for measuring the impact and cost-effectiveness of coaching. Current indicators include the rates of adoption of productivity packages and GAP in the targeted farms. These are, however, only the beginning. Farm-data-management systems need to be adapted for regular data collection, including real-time tracking of project performance. And while private-sector players are already utilizing early insights to develop good data mechanisms as they strive to include coaching in their overall training programs, there is much work left to do before data can be reliably compared across the cocoa industry.
Data collection in the field suffers from a low capacity for carrying out accurate diagnostics of farms (see Data diversity: the challenge of poor consistency and reliability of data in the Good Data chapter). Methods of farmer selection are still under development (see Coaching: a hands-on answer to the adoption problem, in this chapter), and there is a similar need to identify the characteristics for selection of effective coaches.
The long-term success of coaching depends strongly on the provision of a comprehensive package of affordable inputs, tailored to the individual farmer. All elements of that package are informed by data collection and interpretation. If we are to create coaching programs that achieve the optimal balance between training and reach, we must first develop data systems and processes capable of informing our progress.
See also: Good Data
Coaching pilot project metrics (2015 until mid-2016)
||· Coaching target: 2,850 farmers from 12 co-ops, serviced by 28 farmer trainers and 70 village coordinators (SACO/Biopartenaire).
· Coaches come from farmer groups/lead farmers and are trained by Barry Callebaut in GAP, adult education, business, and decision-making.
· Number of coach visits: five visits per season.
· Co-ops and village coordinators pay for coaching through their input sales.
· Costs: EUR 40 per farmer.
||· Coaching target: 4,000 farming households.
· Coaching supported by 60 FFS master trainers and farmer trainers, an ECOM-contracted agronomist, and a Cooperative Group Administrator.
· Coaches are lead farmers and are further trained by ECOM.
· Number of coach visits: four visits per season for 1/3 day per visit.
· Costs: EUR 500 per farmer. (Costs include other services. Some costs are recovered from farmers.)
· Session time: 1–3 hours per session.
||· Coaching target: 1,500 farmers from 8 co-ops supported by 20 co-op extension officers and 15 cocoa field agents.
· Coaches have an academic background and are trained by Cémoi on cocoa production.
· Number of coach visits: Every three months
· Costs: EUR 223 per farmer.
· Session time varies.
Explore partner stories: Barry Callebaut, ECOM, PACTS
The future in focus: training for long-term sustainable cocoa productivity
The future focus of training must be to build on the foundations laid down by GAP training for certification: going beyond certification to deepen agricultural knowledge and broaden skills away from the field. Productive cocoa farmers will be trained not only on planting and input use but also on entrepreneurship, business skills, and wider economic and life skills such as adult education and nutrition. It is these topics—which are significant to farmers’ livelihoods, and therefore to their ability to run a productive farm—that will stimulate relevance and attendance.
The quest for adoption remains at the heart of cocoa-sector training. How it can be driven, how it can be measured, and how it can be maintained are the core issues by which we must define our efforts and innovations. The early signs are that coaching is an encouraging avenue. Empowering co-ops to develop coaching departments places the possibility of scalability on the table, and has the added benefit of helping co-ops to better understand their members.
As the Cocoa Learning and Innovation Program (CLIP) takes root, it is vital that we begin to view the farmer as an entrepreneur: and to bring targeted mechanisms both for learning and applying new skills to those who will benefit from them most.
See also: Moving forward
CPQP in the field: partners incorporating coaching in their training approaches
Cargill: the shift from training to coaching
Coaching was a challenging concept for Cargill, where the philosophy was to operate at scale. In 2015, Cargill addressed these challenges by developing a coaching approach that could reach the 80,000 farmers in its supply chain. This was achieved through building a network of Lead Farmers trained on agronomic skills, each of whom takes on a coaching role. Coaching is also embedded in the co-op model by ensuring that an Internal Control Systems Manager organizes the coaching at co-op level (this Manager is financed by Cargill and employed by the co-op).
In Cargill’s coaching model, Farmer Field Schools (FFS) provide a basic level of GAP training, while the coaching process aims to assess on-farm conditions that will drive application and improvement. 1,600 Lead Farmers have so far been selected by co-ops and received high-quality training from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), which intends to visit all 80,000 farmers twice a year. Following an on-farm assessment, which focuses on pest and disease management, a Farm Development Plan will be drawn up to enshrine specific improvements to be made on the farm. A second annual visit checks on implementation of the plan.
Explore partner story:
How Cargill rose to the challenge of coaching here.
ECOM: from certification to farming as a business
ECOM understood that certification-based training (whereby the basic curriculum is repeated annually) is insufficient to ensure high adoption rates. Instead, ECOM designed a field-training system based on factors likely to motivate individual farmers and enable them to improve productivity. Field trainers rolled out in 2015. To encourage good service delivery, trainers are paid according to targets such as number of farm visits per week.
Key training elements include diversification and intensification. Farmers are encouraged to boost household incomes through non-cocoa crops like maize, snails, and cassava. A Farmer Business School was established in April 2016, which offers a five-day training course on farming as a business. The training, which is still in development, includes financial literacy and nutrition and aims to change practice adoption by giving a clearer understanding of the economics behind the different options.
ECOM’s business training model is still in its infancy: but with demand higher than capacity, appetite for expansion is good. Currently, the time commitment required from farmers means the Farmer Business School is self-selecting and slow to scale, but the aim is to cover around 25 % of farmers with scale-up over a period of 3–4 years. After training, many farmers set up a savings account either with a group or with a financial institution: ECOM will be tracking whether farmers change their decision-making behaviour as a result of the training.
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Explore ECOM’s evolving training system here.
PACTS: innovations in training approaches
PACTS began CPQP by coaching farmers on an individual basis: training them on specific post-harvest techniques that would increase the quality of wet beans supplied to the fermentation centers. Adoption rates were very high, but this approach reached only a small number of farmers who lived close to the center and had a specific technical focus. Regular program evaluations by Solidaridad and IDH highlighted the limitations of this model, and PACTS adopted the Farmer Field Schools (FFS) approach to broaden the training to GAP and farm maintenance.
PACTS learned that both FFS and coaching were needed to create impact. The company has recently combined the two approaches into a new strategy, which has been funded in part by IDH. It aims to use FFS to reach a large number of farmers and expose them to GAP, and to bring coaching into play for the most committed farmers. Selection is made according to an assessment of farm maintenance, farm age (less than 20 years old is a requirement), and the farmer’s openness to innovation. The new program aims to select 30 % of the farmers covered for coaching over the next five years.
The PACTS coaching curriculum is based on the common training curriculum developed at national level by the government and other partners (a process that was coordinated by IDH). Farmers are supported on selection of seedling varieties and encouraged to diversify—for example through introducing fruit trees (provided by PACTS).
Explore partner story:
Explore PACTS’ combined coaching-and-FFS training approach here.
Swisscontact: serving farmer needs in Indonesia
As part of the Sustainable Cocoa Production Program (SCPP), Swisscontact implemented the Economic Development Financing Facility (PEKA) project in Aceh Province, Indonesia, from 2010 to 2012. PEKA selected farmers to undergo intensive training through Farmer Field Schools (FFS): alongside demonstration plots, this approach was found to increase adoption and impact positively on productivity. The project trained 12,540 cocoa farmers and increased productivity by 124 % from an average of 330 to 740 kg per hectare per year, thereby increasing average cocoa-farmer income by 101 % to USD 1,400 per hectare per year.
Swisscontact adopted a tiered system in which efficient training is filtered down to selected smallholder farmers at village level. Master Trainers (private sector and SCPP field staff) pass on knowledge and GAP skills to Lead Farmers, who in turn train Village Lead farmers from farmer groups. In order to cover a very large geographical area (over 5,000 km, encompassing the area between Aceh and Sulawesi), only one-third of village farmers are selected, using criteria provided by both public and private sector stakeholders.
The GAP training has been refined to incorporate nursery management, top-grafting techniques, farm rehabilitation for unproductive trees, replanting, post-harvest processing, quality control, and fermentation. The Swisscontact training manual, which was developed together with all partners, drawing on learning from manuals previously developed by Mars Inc. and other stakeholders, and incorporating lessons from the PEKA project, has become a best-practice benchmark for the cocoa sector in Indonesia.
The Master Trainers also guaranteed the quality of the FFS. Key Farmers were identified who could encourage other farmers to join the training and to follow up on the practices trained: the Key Farmers were trained on GAP and farmer group development. This FFS approach is seen as highly successful in Indonesia and has been taken up in an industry ‘cluster approach’ (see Clustering and selection: improving the focus of farmer-centric training, in this chapter) that has provided the basis for scaling up across the country.
Demand has driven Swisscontact’s training innovations in Indonesia: instead of the supply chain determining the type of training farmers are offered, farmers themselves are encouraged to select training topics through discussion. As the Swisscontact model has developed, business and nutrition modules have been added to better serve the needs of farmers. Demo plot training has also served to increase adoption rates: participating farmers are given the opportunity to make farm management decisions before applying them to their own farms, imparting a better practical understanding of new farming techniques, circumstances, and priorities.
Explore partner story:
Explore Swisscontact’s tiered GAP delivery here.
Olam, Blommer, Hershey’s: improving adoption rates
CocoaAction’s work to highlight the need to increase adoption of training practices led Olam to introduce coaching as part of a capacity-building collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Farmers now receive individual farm visits to help them to fully understand the GAP training provided by Olam’s Farmer Field Schools (FFS).
Demonstration plots have been set up for use during FFS training, and Olam has established a month-long intensive course for each farmer trainer on agronomic practices to boost their ability to support farmers.
Olam’s training and coaching system is empowered by good data. In July 2015, the Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS) was launched: a technical solution for collecting, analyzing, and utilizing farm-gate-level data. OFIS generates data through farm mapping and surveying, which enables the system to create individual farm management plans. These plans can recommend the exact amount of inputs to apply each year, and give farmers guidance on when best to apply them based on historic records of disease etc. In coaching terms, the plans are used to help farmers understand how they can potentially cut costs, increase yields, and swell revenue.
Explore partner stories: Barry Callebaut, ECOM, PACTS
See also: Good Data