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Farmer to Farmer Extension Approaches

by Steve Franzel, ICRAF, Brent Simpson, MSU

Many extension services choose farmers to work with them in implementing their programs. Those farmers selected to lead “farmer-to-farmer” extension are often called model, master, or lead farmers and are chosen according to their agricultural expertise. In other initiatives, they are called farmer promoters or trainers, emphasizing their networking or training skills. An additional variant is the community knowledge worker, sometimes equipped with a smart phone to improve farmers’ access to information and advisory services. Surprisingly, as pervasive as these programs are, little has been done to describe them, assess their effectiveness or distill lessons on successful implementation. For the purposes of this proposal we call the farmers involved “lead farmers” although we recognize that many other names are used for them.

Key areas of inquiry about how farmer to farmer extension programs operate include:
  1. How lead farmers are selected to participate, what criteria are used, and who actually selects them? 
  2. What is their tenure, how is their performance assessed, by whom and, if necessary, how are they replaced? 
  3. What tasks do they perform? How are they trained and supported, what are their responsibilities? Are they better at conducting some extension functions than others? 
  4. What motivates farmers to become involved as extensionists, e.g., demonstrating new practices and training other farmers? What incentives do extension services provide, are the incentives sufficient to sustain lead farmers’ involvement? 
  5. What lessons have organizations learned about how to effectively implement farmer to farmer extension? 
Key areas of inquiry about how the farmer to farmer extension programs perform include:

  1. To what degree do lead farmers facilitate the flow of knowledge, information, and materials (e.g., seed) among farmers leading to increased adoption and productivity. How many farmers do they reach, do those farmers contacted take up new practices and what is the role of the lead farmers in this process relative to other information sources? 
  2. To what degree do women and other disadvantaged groups (the poor, youth) participate and benefit? 
  3. What are the benefits and costs of the approach (per lead farmer and per contact farmer (that is farmers contacted by lead farmer) from the perspective of different actors, e.g., the lead farmer, the extension agent, and the extension service implementing the approach? 
  4. What is the degree of accountability of the lead farmers’ performance to the community? Is the community involved in the needs assessment and in managing, monitoring and evaluating the approach and performance of the lead farmer(s)? 
  5. To what degree does the approach strengthen capacities of communities to access information, innovate and solve problems? 
  6. The sustainability of the approach, that is, how feasible it is for communities and local institutions to manage the approach once external technical and financial support ends and what is required and how long does it take to achieve sustainability in farmer-led service delivery? 

We intend to investigate these issues by looking at farmer to farmer extension in three countries, Cameroon, Kenya, and Malawi. Two types of surveys will be done in Cameroon and Malawi and one in Kenya (as the second in Kenya has already been completed).

1. Scoping survey to assess the experience of a range of different types of extension services in using farmer to farmer extension. Extension services sampled will include government, international NGO, national NGO, community based organizations, farmer organizations and private sector. Sampling will be done purposively, that is, we will find out which extension services have farmer to farmer extension programs and visit those that do. Assessment will cover the above questions concerning how farmer to farmer extension operates and how it has performed. More specifically, details will be collected on:

  • Lead farmer numbers, density (ratio of lead farmers to contact farmers), how farmers are selected, what criteria are used, and who actually selects them; 
  • Exact role of lead farmers, their terms of reference, and how their activities fit within the context of other extension approaches the organization uses (e.g demonstrations, field days, exchange visits, farmer field schools), as well as extension programs offered by other organizations that may be working in the same locations, and whether they are they have proven to be better at performing some functions than others; 
  • Technologies/innovations they promote; how they are trained, equipped, supervised, backstopped, monitored; 
  • Incentives provided, reasons they serve, reasons they stop serving; 
  • Achievements, numbers of farmers trained, adoption levels of technologies/practices promoted, their contribution relative to other extension methods, extent to which they are involved in technology adaptation; 
  • To what extent lead farmers are engaged or have been engaged with other extension services; 
  • Whether they are members of producer groups/organizations and whether their activities are part of group activities; 
  • What are lead farmers’ farm and household characteristics and how do lead farmers vary in performance by 
    • personal and farm characteristics (age, gender, education etc.) 
    • types of technologies (e.g., degree to which they are knowledge intensive, risky, require adaptation etc.) 
    • area characteristics, e.g., population density 
  • How has use of farmer to the farmer extension approach changed over time and why? What specific lessons has the organization learned? 

We will also seek information about the 6 performance criteria listed above, specifically: adoption, women and marginalized groups, benefits and costs, accountability, capacity strengthening, and sustainability. We doubt that much quantitative information will be available but even extension managers’ views on these will be useful.

2. Assess the experiences of lead farmers in working with extension providers in farmer to farmer extension. Most of the questions above will be relevant for the lead farmers to answer from their own perspective. Overall objectives will be to:

  • Describe activities and technologies disseminated by lead farmers. 
  • Assess the competence level of lead farmers. 
  • Identify factors that motivate lead farmers and why they opt out. 
  • Identify challenges and opportunities of the approach. 
  • Recommend ways of improving the approach for effective dissemination of technologies.

The results of the scoping assessment will guide the design, sampling strategy, and implementation of the community level survey of lead farmers. To the extent that it makes sense to do so, a process of triangulation will be used in collecting information on the same issues during the scoping assessment and community level questionnaire. Results will be compared across countries, between different types of organizations (e.g., governmental vs. non-governmental faith-based), different types of applications (e.g., dissemination of seeds versus promotion of management practices) and between key variations in use of the approach (e.g., use of different forms of payment versus purely voluntary involvement).