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National Coffee Growers Federation, FNC, Colombia

MEAS collaborated with the National Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) in Colombia (Jan- May 2013) in

Video produced by FNC on the MEAS evaluation ‎(in Spanish)‎

  • conducting an internal organizational diagnosis of FNC Extension and an external assessment of conditions related to FNC and the coffee growers from the perspective of its agents as well as its producer membership, 
  • developing a partnership with FNC administration, its extension agents and the coffee growers to assess, analyze and make recommendations to strengthen its membership and the Federation as an organization, 
  • encouraging dialogue and participatory activities to develop consensus decision-making related to next steps. 

An Evaluation of Extension Services of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation

Executive Summary

[The full report and annexes are available for download below]

The coffee sector plays an important role in Colombian agriculture. It represents about 17% of the agricultural output and for about 2.2 million rural residents coffee is the primary source of income.  Although the extension services provided by the National Federation of Coffee Growers (FNC) have contributed immensely to the wellbeing of coffee growers, recent developments in the domestic and global coffee markets are posing new challenges, which require careful reassessment of the extension services. The challenges are many. Coffee is becoming increasingly differentiated, particularly with the rise of specialty and sustainable coffees. Advancement in information technologies offers new possibilities in the provision of extension services. Climate change is affecting growing conditions and, in the future, the geographic locations of coffee production. Furthermore, the continuous reduction in government support to agriculture, including coffee, makes it critical to allocate scarce resources efficiently.

Given these challenges, the Modernizing Extension Advisory Services (MEAS), a USAID funded program composed of multiple land grant universities and US institutions whose lead institution is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), entered into an agreement with the FNC in 2012-2013 to conduct and in-depth evaluation of the Extension Service, and to offer insights into relevant best practices and key lessons from an evaluation of public and private models of coffee extension.  Specific recommendations for the FNC based on the results of carefully designed action research fieldwork in Colombia and a summary of the key lessons and best practices from our review of outstanding international examples of public and private extension models are synthesized below.

Phase 1: FNC Fieldwork, Extension Agent and Producer Interviews

The investigative team, consisting of a team leader from the UIUC and two researchers from Cornell University, undertook two major tasks to fully evaluate the FNC Extension Service and the opportunities for smallholder farmers and extension providers working in global coffee value chains. The first was primary in-country research and data collection, with targeted interviews with FNC management and research center investigators; and focus group discussions and community meetings with extension agents and member smallholder farmers.  Using this information, a situational analysis of the FNC Extension Service was conducted focusing on internal Strengths/Assets and Weaknesses/Challenges as well as on external Opportunities and Threats. Over three hundred coffee producers participated in the small group discussions and community meetings at fourteen different locales in 8 departments or states over nearly a three week period with an additional 60 Extension agents who participated in separate small group discussions. 

These qualitative interviews and focus group findings provided insights about the FNC Extension Service as an organization and the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats facing the FNC as a provider of critical extension services. These insights are summarized below.

Organizational adjustments:

1)      Flatten the administration of FNC. Extension agents have expressed their interest in having a stronger voice in developing the field programs. It is also apparent that the “pockets of innovation” occurring at different FNC sites around the country should be shared and built upon. Several options may be considered of how to flatten the administration and strengthen the “tejido social” or social network within the FNC Extension Service. One principle to apply is to create stronger channels of communication from the bottom up to central administration decision makers and to use technology and the Internet to create virtual communities of interest.

2)      Consolidate field offices and reduce overhead. The FNC needs to increase extension coverage, and reallocation of resources needs to occur so that more funds are distributed to regional extension hubs and local extension offices.

3)      Support field resource centers. Support and expand the capacity for extension centers to have extension tools and workshop content materials including creative props, videos, cameras, laptops and projectors, and other content resources to easily access, check out and use.

4)      Improve “new hire orientation program.” It is under discussion with FNC administrators to develop a mentor program for new hires to be named the “Padrino” Program. The idea is that each new recruit to FNC field staff will be matched with an experienced FNC Extension Padrino or mentor who can guide the newcomer and help her/him understand how to present the different aspects of the field work such as technical assistance, social work and teaching, as well as helping the producer become fully integrated into the FNC organization. New recruits will be paired with senior extension agents with less computer experience or those who are new to computer technology to teach how to tame and maximize the use of technology. Helping the senior staff to learn how to use the new tablets is an example.  

5)      Create clear career opportunities for extension agents. Individuals should be able to clearly see how they can work towards new opportunities (e.g., supporting extension staff to pursue advanced degrees, language learning or expertise in a specific area) and advance in their career objectives.

Strategic Investments and Necessary Partnerships

6)      Invest in extension field transportation and mobile phones and encourage private sector partners’ investment in these areas. Many extension agents face long, dangerous commutes to producer communities on motorcycles.  Some are without any vehicle access, walking and using public transportation. The lack of accessible and appropriate transportation is a cause of stress and ‘burn out’ for extension agents, and extension coverage (which is already stretched thin) suffers further. Investments and/or a strategic partnership with a transportation/fleet management companies is vital. Some extension agents also do not have resources for personal mobile phones as FNC does not provide phones to its agents.

7)      In an effort to leverage its public partnerships, FNC should continue to dialogue with key public sector officials and stakeholders to increase participation from the government in the building and maintenance of basic infrastructure in coffee producing states, including roads, housing, water and sanitation. Poor transportation networks create a major barrier to improved farm income and coffee farmer profitability. Poor sanitation and housing keep people impoverished and unable to successfully cultivate high-quality coffee at commercial production levels.

8)      Target the development of unproductive coffee farms often owned by older, inactive coffee farmers and build partnerships to offer new growers without land, and young, intergenerational coffee producers the opportunity to access land and access to credit. FNC Extension Service should continue to support more targeted diagnostic and pilot programs for non-productive coffee farms with a roll-out of promotional programs such as “Cafeteros sin Tierra.” A goal for FNC should be working with FNC members so that all have sufficient coffee under production to be able to maintain and improve their quality of life.

9)      Increase and expand investments in communications and knowledge-sharing technology.  The FNC Extension Service has been innovative in its efforts to extend tablets to producers and extension agents. However, technological advancement is a continuum. Integration of these devices with other extension approaches (radio program access through podcast applications, SMS texting to mobile devices when critical production activities are necessary) must continue.

Mobilizing the Community

10)   Develop ‘Friends of the FNC’. Friends of FNC organization can emulate the best features similar to popular Friends of Extension organizations in the U.S. This national program can leverage local, state and federal funding, attract alumni and potential investors to special projects, and keep people excited and aware of ongoing FNC activities.

11)   Recruit FNC volunteers and develop volunteer led programs. Along with working on the creation of a Friends of FNC national organization, the FNC should pilot an initiative to build volunteer-based programs that target the youth (similar to the 4H program in the U.S.) as well as new producers, women groups, and indigenous and relocated communities and families.

Modifying Delivery Model Approaches

12)   Employ ‘train the trainer’ approach and expand peer-learning. Reduce burdens on extension agents and increase coverage by training lead farmers and ‘farmer trainers’ to provide extension-related services to the communities they live in. Certification programs for coffee farmers and FNC members developed by their education and training arm, Foundation Manuel Mejia and their research center, CENICAFE working more closely in the development of field research and farmer led experimental demonstration plots are examples to expand upon.

13)    Develop specialized teams and utilize a ‘circuit rider approach’ where small multidisciplinary educational teams travel together. Each team member specializes in a particular area and teams work together to provide multi-faceted trainings, workshops, or farmer field schools.  These teams would have access to a vehicle to carry educational materials and maximize number of visits and coverage.

 Strengthening Social Capital in FNC Communities

14)    Expand and support the participation of youth and young adults in local organization activities and as peer leaders. There are already a number of successful youth programs in FNC. These programs should be expanded and gear up technology related programs for youth which would include expanded internet website for youth and increased use of social media geared toward children and youth of FNC membership families and their community members. The 4H Club in the US can be a model to build upon for youth clubs and CENICAFE’s expansive website can have certain areas that are geared specifically for children, youth and young adults.

15)    Expand approaches to working with indigenous groups and relocated families.  These families face unique social stresses which can have dire impacts for productivity and profitability. The FNC Extension Service should expand innovative approaches that address mental health, community health and food security as well as community cohesion needs. These will have direct impacts on farmer’s lives and the lives of their families, and indirectly impact coffee production.

16)   Expand approaches that support the increasing leadership of women in all facets of FNC activities. Forty-nine percent of all FNC members are females. Women play increasingly important roles as owners of coffee farms, leaders of their communities and in their leadership roles in local and state committees and as FNC national leaders. This expanded role of women in FNC has been well documented, based on merit and well earned. These successful efforts on the part of women coffee growers in FNC should continue to be duplicated through the pluralist approach of FNC toward the gender and background of its members.

Phase 2: Evaluation of Privately and Publicly Led Extension Models in Coffee

The second phase of the research included reviewing relevant coffee extension models globally.  This meant considering public models for coffee extension in major coffee exporting countries in East Africa, Central America, Latin America, and Asia and considering trends and best practices.  Yet some of the more innovative coffee extension services are being led by private (not-for-profit and for-profit) organizations.  Because these privately-led models are new and most information is not publicly available, the research team reached out to over twenty organizations (private companies, non-governmental organization, research institutes, and consultants) providing coffee extension services and conducted fourteen interviews with organizations doing coffee extension work in over sixteen countries.  Key findings from this review of public and private sector approaches to extension include:

1)      Organizations are moving towards decentralized extension models. Organizations working with the lead-farmer models or ‘train the trainer’ models increased extension coverage and reduced burdens on extension agents. Organizations also benefitted from leveraging established and trusted relationships with individuals already known and respected in the community.

2)      Seeing is believing with your peer group. Organizations using farmer field schools and demonstration plots provide farmers with hands-on opportunities and higher adoption rates of improved practices and varieties are reported as a result.  Moreover, conducting these activities in groups provide the opportunity for rich discussion, active participation, and peer-to-peer accountability.

3)      Organizations are expanding services coverage to include business development services as well as agronomic support. Complex new markets are placing new burdens on smallholder farmers and cooperatives: all surveyed organizations agreed that small business development and management training was a growingly necessary component of extension.

4)      Organizations succeed when they align extension goals with end-markets and educate buyers about extension realities. Successful extension providers align extension goals with buyer needs – but priorities between multiple buyers were often contradictory. As a result, many extension providers were investing heavily on building strong relationships with individual buyers.

5)      Adapting to local context and breaking away from blind standardization. The most innovative extension providers are breaking away from standardizing services/partnerships across regions, contexts, or countries. Local realities were considered and funding needs and priorities were contextualized.

6)      Continuous and frequent communication with ground-level staff is critical. Collecting and analyzing feedback on a regular (at least monthly) basis held decentralized extension management systems together and created a sense of teamwork and mission. Strong monitoring and evaluation frameworks were indicative of organizations curtailing and adapting programs to local contexts.

7)      Everyone is racing towards technological advancement. Many organizations are coordinating information and evaluation of farmers and coffee farmers across a range of platforms. GPS and GIS technology collect critical productivity and quality information at the individual farm level, and overlay of this information with established soil, water, institutions (like schools and hospitals) and weather maps for complete picture. This picture provides a new, holistic method of targeting areas out of sync with production, economic, quality of life, and environmental goals.

8)      Partnerships with research organizations, universities, and other specialized service providers are growing in popularity and importance. In private and public models alike, new and innovative partnerships are being formed around a range of initiatives, priorities, and policies.

The FNC is executing one of the oldest and most comprehensive private extension systems in the world. The FNC Extension Service is skillfully providing critical services to more than a half a million smallholder coffee farmers while facing many of the same serious environmental, economic, and social issues that other organizations working in coffee extension are grappling with.  The recommendations based on fieldwork interviews represent an opportunity to reflect on the perspectives of the people most intricately connected to the FNC’s mission: extension agents and participating smallholder farmers. Their day-to-day experiences in coffee production and coffee extension provide the basis of our recommendations for future areas of FNC attention, activity, and organizational change.  Together with the trends and best practices expressed by for-profit and not-for-profit extension providers and private buyers, the research team is convinced that the FNC Extension Service can strengthen activities, increase efficiency and agility, and better perform critical organizational functions as a provider of relevant and necessary information and education.


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Andrea Bohn,
Jul 29, 2013, 10:42 AM