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What motivates volunteer farmer trainers?

Not only is income an important motivating factor in becoming a volunteer farmer trainer but it seems to gain more importance in the decision to continue being a volunteer farmer trainer. This is according to an article by Kiptot and Franzel, in Agriculture and Human Values, which delves into the rationale behind smallholders’ decisions to volunteer—and continue volunteering—their time and resources to train other farmers, without pay. TrainerFarmers earn money through activities related to their extension activities, such as by selling seed, selling services such as making silage or baling hay, or providing training to farmers outside of their groups. The study also provides recommendations for ensuring the sustainability of such programs.

volunteer farmer trainingA decline in public sector extension services in developing countries has led to an increasing emphasis on alternative extension approaches that are participatory, demand-driven, client-oriented, and farmer-centred, with an emphasis on targeting women, the poor, and other disadvantaged groups. One such approach is the volunteer farmer-trainer (VFT) approach, a form of farmer-to-farmer extension where VFTs host demonstration plots and share information on improved agricultural practices within their community. VFTs are trained by extension staff and they in turn train other farmers. It works because VFTs have an in-depth knowledge of local conditions, culture, and practices, and are known by the other farmers. They live in the community, speak the same language, use expressions that suit their environment, and instill confidence in their fellow farmers.

The East Africa dairy development (EADD) Project in Kenya uses the VFT approach to disseminate information on livestock feed technologies to dairy farmers. The World Agroforestry Centre, the EADD partner leading the feeding systems component, initiated the VFT approach to facilitate the spread of livestock feed technologies. Working with smallholder production systems to boost the productivity and sustainability of forestry and agroforestry, and increase incomes in forested areas, is a key focus of the CGIAR’s Collaborative Research Project 6 on Trees, Forests and Agroforestry—of which the World Agroforestry Centre is a key partner.

A key challenge with volunteer extension programs is to motivate VFTs. A second challenge is to ensure that women participate in and benefit from such programs. Research on voluntarism is a not new but research on voluntarism in farmer-led extension programs is limited. The question regarding what induces smallholder farmers to volunteer their time and resources to train other farmers has not been adequately addressed. While economic models explaining voluntarism have been articulated, they cannot be generalized to smallholder farmers who rely mainly on mixed crop-livestock subsistence farming as a source of livelihood.

This study was conducted to understand the rationale behind the decisions of smallholder farmers to volunteer their time and resources to train other farmers without pay, and to continue volunteering. Data was gathered through focus group discussions and individual interviews involving 99 VFTs.

Findings show that VFTs were motivated by a combination of personal and community interests that were influenced by religious beliefs, cultural norms, and social and economic incentives. Farmers were motivated to become trainers by—in order of importance— the desire to gain knowledge and skills, altruism, social benefits, project benefits, and income from selling inputs and services. After about three years of serving, income from selling inputs and services had emerged as the most frequently mentioned motivation and a new motivation— meeting the increased demand for training—had also emerged. There were no significant differences between motivating factors for men and women VFTs.

The initial investment that VFTs make in terms of time and resources training farmers pays off in the long run in the form of human, social, and financial capital. These three types of assets are, therefore, key to sustaining voluntary farmer-to-farmer extension programs.

The general reasons that motivate volunteers are driven by personal and community interests, irrespective of the subject matter and context. However, the specific motivations critical to successful VFT programs are likely to be context specific; they may vary considerably in different settings. Still, lessons learned here can be applicable to other volunteer programs in other sectors in the region. Further research to understand how the specific motivations vary will help provide insight into the circumstances in which the approach is likely to work best, and how it can be modified to improve its effectiveness in reaching greater numbers of farmers.

Read full article.

Kiptot E, Franzel S. 2013. Voluntarism as an investment in human, social and financial capital: evidence from a farmer-to-farmer extension program in Kenya. Agriculture and Human Values (online first)



Rebecca Selvarajah

Rebecca is a science writer, manager of publishing projects, trainer in science writing, and novelist — working partly from Nairobi, Kenya and partly from Morwell, Australia. With over 15 years of experience in writing, advertising/marketing, publishing and social media, she takes on varied assignments, travelling, if needed, to conduct relevant research and interviews. Originally from Sri Lanka, Rebecca holds a BA honours in Psychology, with minors in Gender Studies and Sociology. Email Rebecca on r.selvarajah@cgiar.org

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