The quality of the advice provided depends mainly on the advisor’s skills. Advisors should have mastery over the content (production techniques, farm management), the modalities of delivering advice (participatory methods, learning processes, facilitation of links with other service providers), and the ability to build personal relationships (listening, empathising, and approachability). Specific training is also needed for farmer-facilitators depending on the tasks they perform.
Due to financial constraints and time limitations, advisors are often trained within the framework of projects. To support more sustainable training mechanisms, MAFF actors need to participate in broader initiatives to train advisors – or, more broadly, rural development agents – within the framework of public and private organisations at the national level (e.g. University of Parakou in Benin). In addition special efforts should be made to train all the actors involved in the organisation of MAFF, including office managers of advisory services, who implement and monitor the activities, and elected farmers who guide, assess MAFF, and carry out lobbying activities. Support and training mechanisms are gradually being established to build the capacity of advisory service providers able to implement MAFF but work is still needed to institutionalise this support within sustainable national institutions.
Advisory services have significant costs: costs for advisors and MAFF managers (salaries and operating costs); and costs for training and the various back-stopping activities. Total advisory costs are US$20–80/year/farmer for most MAFF programmes in Africa, depending on the number of farmers per advisor. Where MAFF combines management advice for groups of non-literates and literates or those that rely heavily on farmer-facilitators, the cost is much lower (between US$2 and US$20/year/farmer).
MAFF still relies heavily on international aid for funding when implemented by NGOs and producer organisations. It remains a challenge to get direct contributions from farmers because many of them are not able, or willing, to pay for training. Asking for contributions from producer organisations is more realistic when the latter undertake commercial activities (marketing of agricultural products or sale of inputs to members). But these contributions by producers and producer organisations currently cover only a small part of the cost of advisory services and this situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Currently, the most promising possibilities for funding appear to be: (i) contributions from downstream actors from well-structured value chains (direct contribution or levies at the marketing stage); and (ii) the establishment of national or regional development funds aimed at supporting rural development, including advisory activities.
Strengths and weaknesses
The strengths of MAFF are:
- The point of view of family farmers is at the centre of the approach. This ensures a good match between the farmers’ needs and the provision of advisory services.
- It takes into account all the farmer’s activities, which helps farmers to make more accurate decisions concerning their farms and their families.
- Farmers are empowered by methods that build their strategic and systemic thinking.
- Due to the diversity of activities linked to MAFF, farmer- facilitators can play a significant role with the support of advisors.
- It may provide data at farm level that can be processed and used by producer organisations to improve the provision of other services or to carry out advocacy activities.
The weaknesses of MAFF are:
- Farmers with more resources (knowledge, equipment, innovativeness, land, etc.) are usually over-represented.
- MAFF requires service providers with strong capacities to adapt and implement the method and tools.
- Investment and time are needed to support in-depth training of farmers and advisors to improve their analytical and managerial skills.
- The cost of the advisory services per participant is high except when farmer-facilitators are well represented.
- Due to the intensive level of support to farmers, access to MAFF remains limited and there is a need to complement the MAFF approach with more simple advisory methods and to improve tools for illiterate farmers.