Building farmers’ capacity more effectively and inclusively

Building farmers’ capacity is common in the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics to support innovation and expansion. Monitoring results in the Central Mekong action area has suggested ways of increasing its effectiveness.


The saying goes that, ‘It is better to give someone a fishing rod rather than a fish’. While this principle is the basis of sustainable development, it’s also true that the woman or man with the rod still needs to learn how to fish.

Capacity building in the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) Central Mekong action area is monitored not only by counting the number of participants but also through participatory evaluation and periodical reviews. Monitoring results of action research in the Northwest and Central Highlands regions of Viet Nam and in Nan Province in Thailand has shown that there is room for improvement.

Indoor training in Northwest Viet Nam. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Mai Thanh Tu

Indoor training in Northwest Viet Nam. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Mai Thanh Tu

Conducting capacity-building needs assessments

For example, five out of 30 farmers in a training session dropped out after the first day. Another 10 invited farmers did not even attend. When asked why, they replied that the topic was not what they needed to know.

Further, when asked how they would apply on their farms the knowledge they’d received about fodder-grass processing, some of the farmers who actually attended the course said they would not apply it because they had enough fresh grass for their cattle all-year round.

A capacity-building needs assessment should be carefully conducted to avoid this situation in future. In such an assessment, the current level of capacity, gaps and priorities should be addressed. In so doing, activities will target the right topics and right participants.

As well, work division by gender should be considered when targeting participants. Men are more likely to represent their households at training sessions even though women participate a lot in agricultural production and marketing. For example, coffee pruning is often undertaken by women and if there is training about it, women should be specifically invited.

Aligning with other organizations’ efforts

In Viet Nam, there are agricultural extension centres in every province and grass-roots agricultural extension collaborators in almost all villages. Even in remote and poor communities, there are many resources and effort put into agricultural development.

At one Humidtropics site, training courses were held on topics such as production of vegetables, fruit trees, fodder grasses and livestock. Many of the courses were organized by agricultural extension officers, which shows that when we align our activities with other organizations the capacity-building resource can be used more efficiently.

Western Highlands Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute, farmer, Viet Nam, avocado, shade, coffee

A researcher from the Western Highlands Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute in Central Viet Nam demonstrating to a farmer a technique for planting avocado as a shade tree for coffee/Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Mai Thanh Tu

Selecting suitable capacity-building methods

The methods most frequently used in Humidtropics Central Mekong Research for Development Platform projects are training and establishing demonstration farms. In Northwest Viet Nam, traditional lecturer-centred methods are common.

There are a wide range of capacity-building methods for different purposes. For example, ‘learning visits’ can help increasing farmers’ exposure to new approaches; training workshops can raise awareness or technical skills and; for some specific technical skills, combining in-door training and practical application in the field results in better understanding for farmers. This is particularly the case when there are language barriers, such as with ethnic minorities who are not fully conversant in the national language, real-world practice helps farmers to understand more easily.

‘When I listened to the trainer, I didn’t understand but when I observed their demonstration, I understood’, explained Mr Y Sin H’Duk, a Jhade-ethnicity farmer in the Central Highlands.

In some cases, translation into the local language might be needed.

‘If you give them material in Vietnamese, it won’t do much good because they can’t read Vietnamese’, said Mrs Ha Thi Kinh, a female farmer of the Thai ethnic group in Son La Province.

And it should also be noted that for some ethnic minorities in the Northwest, such as Thai, H’mong or Yao, men often speak better Vietnamese than women.

Capacity-building activities exist in all three Research for Development Platform projects of the Humidtropics Central Mekong. They serve the purpose of either raising farmers’ awareness or transferring research results. When these activities are more effective, adoption of innovations and expansion of the knowledge to other farmers will be more successful as a result.



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This work is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics'

Mai Thanh Tu

Mai Thanh Tu is the monitoring and evaluation officer for the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics in the Central Mekong Action Area. She obtained her Master in Development Evaluation at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Before joining the World Agroforestry Centre, she worked as a researcher in rural development and policies related to ethnic minorities in Viet Nam. She also worked as monitoring and evaluation coordinator for a regional project, Developing the Agricultural Value Chain across the East–West Economic Corridor, in Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Thailand and Myanmar.

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