Philosophy and principles
What are RRCs? RRCs are training and demonstration hubs that are managed by grassroots organisations and often operate outside the formal extension model. They create opportunities for farmers to share experiences and to receive technical guidance and services that are tailored to their livelihood needs. Emphasis is put on access to knowledge, interactive learning, and networking among farmers and between farmers and other actors. Farmers are encouraged to learn how to do their own testing, adopt successful technologies, and extend them to their fellow farmers. A ‘typical’ RRC comprises of a tree nursery, demonstration plots, a training hall, a small library, and office spaces. Accommodation, catering facilities, and agricultural processing units may also be part of the RRC depending on available resources, opportunities, and needs.
Roles and services of RRCs? RRCs provide a multitude of services and products (Box 1). In Cameroon, farmers value the training, information, and awareness-raising role of RRCs the most, followed by technical assistance. Young people in particular also expect RRCs to play an active role in rural development in general.
Box 1: Key services provided by Rural Resource Centers
- Seeds, seedlings, and other inputs
- Training of farmers in areas such as nursery practices, tree propagation, soil fertility management, group dynamics, financial management, book-keeping, and marketing
- Information on new technologies and innovations
- Links with market actors, particularly the private sector
- Access to market information and micro-finance opportunities
- Forum for exchange of information among farmers, and between farmers and other stakeholders
How are RRCs different from other extension approaches? Compared to public-run agricultural extension systems, RRCs have the following advantages: greater accessibility, increased relevance of innovations thanks to a technology evaluation and adaptation process, better quality of services, relatively high number of women and youths reached, and better networking with other rural actors. Moreover, activities are not necessarily limited to agriculture, but may include other socio-environmental development aspects such as: infrastructure development projects, watershed management, citizenship, local governance, community empowerment, etc. Their major advantage, however, is that they are rooted in a local context and have gained farmers’ confidence, so that new techniques are readily adopted.
The creation and implementation of the RRC model can be summarised in 6 steps (Box 2). The growth of RRCs is gradual and driven by the capacities and resources available to the centre, but also determined by the needs of the farmer community and other stakeholders. Nevertheless, their ability to build strategic partnerships with other institutions, such as government services, local councils, charity organisations, research centres, universities, non-government organisations (NGOs) and development programmes, is a key element in ensuring the viability and sustainability of the centre.
Box 2: The six steps to creating an RRC
- Conduct feasibility study: diagnose the information and training needs of farmers in the area.
- Raise awareness amongst farmers and identify ‘champions’ for RRCs, i.e. organisations already involved in some farmer training and agricultural extension activities.
- Train RRC staff on technical aspects but also on adult learning, communication, and extension skills.
- Create tree nursery and gradually develop training and demonstration facilities.
- Organise demonstrations, training, field visits, etc. for interested farmer groups; and update and refine extension knowledge to remain relevant.
- Establish links and partnerships with other institutions to increase scope of intervention.