Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Improving Capacity for Small Farmers and their Service Providers

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This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

Capacity Development is the heart of what F2F volunteers do.  It is also central to virtually everything USAID does to promote a sustainable reduction in global poverty.  For the agricultural sector, capacity development spans a wide range of institutions and needs with which volunteers work.  Major areas include: agribusinesses, farmer organizations, extension services, financial service agencies, marketing institutions, land and resource tenure, conservation services, research, ag education, and policy institutions.  Farmer organizations are a main target for F2F capacity building.

Capacity is the ability of people, organizations, and society as a whole to manage affairs successfully, to achieve goals, and to satisfy the rights or expectations of citizens, customers and other stakeholders.  Capacity development refers to a process of change in which people, organizations and institutions improve their performance and refine, strengthen and adapt their capacity over time in response to changing circumstances.  Our current view of capacity development represents a shift from a previous understanding of capacity as something that outsiders build for others.  This is why we no longer use the term capacity “building.”  Today, we understand capacity “development” as an endogenous process in which people, organizations, and societies learn and become ever more effective in adapting to change.  Capacity development is highly adaptive and context specific, involving individual and collective learning and ways of doing.  Capacity of individuals can be understood in relation to the systems in which they are embedded.  Capacity development involves change at multiple levels: 

  • Individual: This level involves change in the competencies, attitudes, motivation, and behaviors of individuals.  This includes both technical and soft skill development that improves the person’s ability to contribute and enhances the effectiveness of any group or organization the individual is associated with.
  • Organizational/Institutional:  This level includes change in the capacity of individual organizations or societal institutions, such as legal and judiciary structures, the educational system, specific government agencies, research and extension entities, economic and social bodies (businesses, commerce chambers, consumer groups, producer associations, CBOs, etc) and universities.  The capacities involved include functions and processes (financial and human resources management, strategic planning, resource mobilization, adaptation, learning and knowledge management), infrastructure (laboratories, libraries, information and communication technologies) external legitimacy (whether the organization is perceived to provide valuable products and services) and internal confidence (whether there is high demand for the organization’s products and services).  Interventions at the organizational/institutional level can cover a wide scope, from setting-up veterinary laboratories, to information or human resource systems, to development of restructuring plans, to interventions at the policy level, and beyond.
  • Enabling Environment: This level involves political commitment and vision; norms, values and institution arrangements; policy, legal and economic frameworks; institutional relations; sector strategies and overall resources. Interventions at this level are directed toward changing or re-aligning incentives, policies, legislation, regulations and accountability for sustainable development, food security and poverty reduction.

Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers and staff support capacity development of our local hosts and partners at each of these levels, especially through work with rural civil society.  Host and partner organizations of F2F may be local and serve community or inter-community levels, or may operate at regional or national levels. Some important types of rural civil society include:

  • Cooperatives and collective marketing groups: Collective action of civil society groups in marketing is common to many agricultural development projects, both for input supply and output marketing.
  • Agribusiness and trade associations: Commodity-based trade associations (e.g, coffee, cocoa, aquaculture), input supplier associations, agribusiness councils, horticultural exporters, seed trade associations, equipment suppliers, business councils, and others play important roles in promoting policy reform and agricultural development.
  • Savings and credit societies: Member-based rural financial institutions, both informal and formal, can be important to reducing constraints on financing agricultural investments and are often venues for teaching women farmers new agricultural practices and building their skills.
  • Participatory agricultural research groups: Various local mechanisms may enable farmers to express their technology needs and participate in designing, testing and disseminating appropriate technologies. Local agricultural research committees involve producers directly in adaptive research. Other client advisory committees and outreach platforms can guide research work.
  • Water users associations: Water users groups empower farmers to manage irrigation and drainage systems and offer potential for reducing costs and improving irrigation services. Following expansion of irrigated agriculture, governments have found it difficult to control recurring costs and collect water charges for irrigation; transferring management responsibility to local water users groups reduces financial burdens on government and helps increase productivity and profitability. Expansion and strengthening of such groups remains important.
  • Natural resource management groups: Forest users groups, pastoral groups, and others involved with production and conservation of natural resources can be critical to addressing management problems with common property resources. These groups are likely to come back into prominence with greater attention to landscape management and global climate change.
  • Land management groups: Traditional land tenure systems operate in many areas under traditional leaders or with involvement of local traditional organizations. In some land tenure reform programs, community-based land reform has improved access to land assets for small farmers with producer and community organizations as key implementing agencies for equity-enhancing asset redistribution (including ensuring that women are able to gain title to their land).
  • Community groups: Community organizations address a wide range of issues—health and sanitation, local infrastructure, nutrition, education, and others. Women’s groups are particularly important to give women a forum to address issues of particular importance to them. These groups have brought together local stakeholders to integrate agriculture, business, government, health, and civil society by addressing food security issues and alleviating tension and conflict.
  • Extension contact groups: Client groups of various types make extension services more accessible to small-scale farmers, by providing economies of scale in service delivery and a mechanism for producers to express their needs for services. Working with client groups may enable extension programs to reach more farmers and rural households (increasing efficiency), facilitate participation in extension activities (increasing effectiveness), and develop human resources and social capital (increasing equity).

While capacity development is inherent in all F2F assignments, the program has made a particular effort to measure the results of our capacity development efforts since 2009, tracking impacts on key dimensions of organizational capacity.  See specific examples of F2F volunteers supporting capacity development in the other blog posts today.

Gary Alex 

From November 16-December 11, F2F program partners are sharing their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share this program experience.

Read more articles celebrating 30 years of F2F on Agrilinks.