Scaling Agricultural Best Practices to 800,000 Rural Farmers in Northern Nigeria

working in field

Since 2012, Making Cents has supported the USAID MARKETS II project team in addressing food insecurity in Northern Nigeria by improving the farming practices of more than 800,000 rural farmers in the region.

The challenge – How to transform a traditional “agricultural best practices” training to an applied learning experience where knowledge, skills, and attitudes are successfully adopted by a large number of small-scale rural farmers.

The response – Design of an applied learning curriculum and training system for farmers that provides an innovative solution to the challenge of implementing a high-quality agricultural training at scale.

Critical Steps to Scale:

Step 1 – Implement an applied learning process

The first questions we asked ourselves were: What are the barriers that farmers face to effectively learn and adopt best practices? How can we address those challenges?

Initially, the agricultural best practices training, focused on the cultivation of maize, sorghum, rice, soy, cassava, aqua culture, and cocoa, was being delivered to groups of 200 farmers using power points and booklets in a classroom setting. This training delivery method was largely ineffective due to the lack of opportunity for farmers to apply new skills and knowledge. To address this, we went back to the drawing board to see how we can adapt the training to ensure it has the desired impact and can effectively engage farmers in the learning process.

We made changes both to the training delivery approach and to the way the content is presented. Instead of keeping the classroom sizes at 200, we decided to reduce the number to 50 lead farmers. This allowed for more one-on-one interaction between the farmers and the trainers and provided farmers with a greater opportunity to share challenges and best practices with each other during the training. We were also confident that if we did this correctly, we would be able to scale the program to reach many more farmers even if the classroom sizes were smaller.

We also decided to replace traditional text-based booklets with flip charts presenting technical information in easily accessible colorful drawings. Lastly, to provide farmers with practical training opportunities, we included tours of a demo farming plot that helped farmers literally “get their hands dirty” and practice new farming techniques in a real agricultural setting during Farmer Field days.

Step 2 – Make meaningful connections

Instead of limiting the attendance at Farmer Field days to farmers only, the MARKETS II team decided to invite other key value chain actors to facilitate value chain linkages in real time by enabling these key actors to showcase their products and make onsite sales. Brokering relationships among agro-product and equipment suppliers, sellers, and farmers through this micro ‘farmer’s fair’, helped farmers create linkages that were instrumental to ensuring successful crop growth and sale. Moreover, establishing these connections naturally created a field of inquiry, where parties working at different points along the value chain were able to reinforce best practices and learn from each other.

Step 3 – Leverage the knowledge of lead farmers to help scale best practices to 1,000,000 farmers by 2017

Following these training adaptations, the MARKETS II project wanted to find out how can the implementation structure be strengthened towards sustainability. From the very beginning, our team was intent on implementing a curriculum via an applied learning process that the farmers would be able to deliver effectively to their own farmer associations. After learning and practicing new knowledge, skills, and attitudes during the training sessions, farmers were given a “Lead Farmer” badge and encouraged to share the learning with their farming associations through a cascading training delivery model.

Additionally, the project further engaged agriculture extension agents and service providers in a capacity-building process to adopt the curriculum, tools, and delivery model through trainings and follow-on coaching to farmers and farmer associations. This enhanced role reinforced farmer and support service relationships while embedding the approach into service structures that will last long after the project ends.

Throughout the process of adapting the curriculum presentation and delivery, the MARKETS II team employed Making Cents’ approach of designing the “right tools, for the right hands, for the right jobs”. At the same time, the team ensured that the curriculum and the overall training methodology could be easily adopted and scaled. This dual focus on user adoptability and scale has paid enormous dividends. In the past few months, this model has expanded beyond USAID MARKETS II project to other projects and organizations, such as the Nigerian Government’s Agricultural Development Program (ADP), USAID Feed the Future Nigeria Livelihood Project, and Fadama III.

The result? These new tools and approaches will be improving the lives of more than 1,000,000 Nigerian farmers by 2017.

Making Cents builds the capacity of smallholder farmers – men, women, and youth – through market-driven solutions that facilitate their value chain inclusion and increased incomes. Our capacity-building methodology integrates climate-smart approaches and nutrition messaging to achieve sustainable behavior change and increase farmers’ resiliency to conflict and natural disasters.