Farmer-trainers need training in both technical aspects (e.g. production practices and marketing) and communication. Most organisations start with several days of residential training, involving presentations, field activities (e.g. establishing demonstrations), and field tours. Unfortunately, some organisations only provide training at the beginning of a farmer-trainer’s tenure.
Periodic training, field backstopping, and on-the-job training, when extension staff meet farmer-trainers, are also important for maintaining farmer-trainers’ motivation and ensuring they have something of value to offer others. Farmer-trainers also need to be taught how to access information themselves. The rapid spread of mobile phones and, in particular, smart phones may help facilitate farmer-trainers’ access to information.
Strengths and weaknesses
Strengths: A survey of 80 organisations using F2FE in Cameroon, Kenya, and Malawi found that they valued the approach because it was low-cost, helped extension services expand their reach, and improved accountability to the community. Many also reported that farmers’ command of local languages and culture helped promote uptake of new practices. Some reported that F2FE programmes also promote feedback on new practices to research and extension and help strengthen the capacity of communities to access information. As the approach is low-cost, it is often sustainable, with government extension staff or farmer organisations taking over the backstopping of farmer-trainers after a project ends. F2FE has the potential to improve feedback from farmers to extension staff.
Weaknesses: Farmer-trainers need coaching and technical backstopping; without these they may perform poorly. Some programmes appear to recruit more farmer-trainers than they are able to effectively backstop, reducing overall performance of the programme. If extension staff perceive farmer-trainers as a substitute, rather than a complement, to their own services, conflicts between farmer-trainers and extension staff may occur. Some programmes experience high drop-out rates, requiring extra training for new farmer-trainers. F2FE programmes may simply be an arm of a top-down technology transfer model, in which communication is one-way. Finally, as low-cost as F2FE programmes are, they may not be sustainable following the end of a project if no local institution agrees to support them.