3 Key Learnings from a farmer-centric (virtual) training program

Facebook’s Community Voice video featuring BV’s work using WhatsApp for training

Watch the video via THIS LINK

While evaluating our learning from the past year, our team has decided to keep the virtual programming element for our upcoming Care Training program. In 2021–2022, we will be doubling the number of producers enrolled into our program and want to continue providing key learning materials on topics such as Climate Change & Adaptation and Gender. Using Whatsapp allows us to create small communities within the cohort, where our farming partners can access bite-sized learning materials, along with knowledgeable community-based facilitators.

Credit: Alexa Romano
  1. Youth as Bridges: Providing a direct-to-producer virtual learning journey would have been a cheaper, if not easier, option for many. However, after consulting our past producer participants, we learned the importance of having facilitators who are able to bridge the digital divide and provide one-on-one support. This allows the producers to quickly solve technical challenges and continue their learning journey. Thus we implemented community-based facilitators (we call them Care Facilitators) to lead the training while also being a support system to guide producers through the process. Additionally, it creates training and employment opportunities for youths in the region and we had no reason to think otherwise.
  2. Maintaining the Human Element: One of the major drawbacks of virtual programming was losing the face-to-face connections, side chats, and informal conversations. All of these were key elements of our programming in years prior and something that made our approach so unique. It allowed us to develop a relationship of trust and created a space where participants felt safe to share insights and constructive feedback (not only directly with us but amongst themselves). Recognizing the importance of these elements, we kept our commitment to direct-to-farmer engagement by continuing to organize farm visits and connecting with as many producers as safely as possible on a personal level. We believe that however big an organization may be, if the leadership is not directly connected to the community that it aims to serve, there is a major loss of learning (and unlearning) that is key to program improvement. Moreover, we committed to spending at least 15% of the virtual training time on checking in with each other, playing games and asking questions.
  3. Focus on Importance: Over the course of the year, our team found that it was impossible to condense materials from an 8-hour in-person workshop into a 2-hour Whatsapp session. Instead of providing the entire Care Training (which consists of themes on production, quality control, marketing, gender, and finance), we decided to choose only two topics and focus on those each year. In 20–21, our focus was heavily on finance and farm management (soil management, diversification, etc). In 21–22, we will provide training on Climate Change & Adaptation and Gender. Although not being able to share all of the wonderful resources and knowledge materials that the producers were eager to learn about can be frustrating, we realized that moments like these were great times to practice leading with patience. We discovered ways to reframe our thinking and reminded ourselves that we would be able to move through different topics, one week at a time. By cutting down on themes, it prevented us from sending too many materials and potentially overwhelming participants. Instead, we were able to dig deeper into each topic area, creating space for exploratory conversations that lead to productive learning and growth.

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