Farmer training – is it effective?

How to know if cocoa farmer training actually yields benefits.

‘How do you know your farmer training is effective Lyss?’

– Professor David Guest

After 9 years in cacao growing, 4 years in farmer training, this was the first time I was asked this question and it was the epiphany. As with much work in developmental agriculture, we were measuring our success as a social enterprise by activities implemented, and not impact achieved. I honestly did not know how effective our cacao farmer training Ecuador or Philippines was, and at the time, I did not know how to measures it other than looking at positive externalities like improved revenues in farming households, or less social disruption. 

Big Ideas

1 Measuring effectiveness of farmer training 

2 Defining ‘effective’ as implementation of new knowledge

3 We are not measuring impact 

4 Example Indonesia good nutrition practices

5 Impact harvesting and behavioural economics approach

Why is this important?

It is important because as an industry, we spend a lot of money on farmer training and have long-used key performance indicators that occur naturally in business, like costs of training, number of attendees and timeframe. As a social entrepreneur, I can see how this comes easily to organisations who have profit and loss reporting requirements or governance frameworks to be compliant to. However, in our mission to contribute to social protection and contribute to farmers, our organisation was significantly focused on inputs, materials, training nursery development and social visits around the villages we worked, and not as much focused on the effectiveness of our programs. We thought that because farmers asked us for this, and organisations encouraged us to develop and deploy training, that this was sufficient evidence as to ‘making farmer training’.  

Defining ‘effective’ in farmer training

When David asked me that question about the effectiveness of our training I realised, that we, like many of our peers, were focused on implementation and less on impact. Realising this was an evidence question, I enrolled into post-graduate research at the University of Sydney, Australia to study under David and his counterpart in public health, Professor Merrilyn Walton in the area of cacao farmer training and multifactorial impacts. Then set to work to answer the fundamental question of ‘how effective is your training Lyss’ and looking started by looking into a definition of effective training. 

Effective cacao farmer training are programs which create new knowledge with a measurable outcome. There are two large Campbell Systematic Reviews (1) (2) which outline this well from 2014 which were a guiding principle for me to come to this conclusion. Essentially, Waddington et al in (2) looked into farmer field schools (which have been popularised since the 1980s as a method of in-situ training for farmers in various countries). Looking at quantitative data with some qualitative inputs, they conducted a meta-analysis of training evidence from short-term and pilot training programs. They found that farmers learned topics such as pest and disease control. However, the knowledge was not shared with other farmers in the region (who did not attend training).

Even in 2014, it was noted that training impacts were not consistently recorded, and it was difficult to confirm if the training was ‘effective’. Waddington and team suggested that curriculum around pest and disease control were popular in field schools because they were observation and test yourself types of practices to learn.  Fundamentally, the team found that training programs were not being scaled, and longer-term impacts were unable to be defined. 

Following on from this, Stewart et al in (1) worked on defining impacts of training via knowledge learned and new practice implemented when conducting a review on the training concept as an intervention in African countries. 

Cocoa farmer training

Impact Harvesting

While training programs are promoted by chocolate companies as part of their social responsibility and also risk management, there are not public or regular reports on the effectiveness of training such as Cargill (3), Nestle (4), Mars (5) and Lindt (6). Additionally, there has been little research into the effectiveness of farmer field schools by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has built significant resources in Farmer Field Schools (7) in cacao-growing countries (among others), there has not been credible reporting of outcomes in the last five years. 

A good example of a well-documented impact-oriented training in farming was conducted by Swisscontact (2017) (8), who reported the effectiveness of nutrition training in Indonesia among cacao farmers. This was training about increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables through a ‘Good Nutritional Practices’ education, with an intervention group n = 80 farmers, control group n = 43 scenario. It was recorded after the training that ongoing consumption of gardened fruit and vegetables increased by 30%. 

In the last five years, the other key research which documented the effectiveness of farmer training was about diffusion vs face to face pedagogy in pineapple crops Wuepper et al. (2017) (9) and then Dev et al. (2017) in Bangladesh (10) and Kim et al. (2017) in South Korea (11). 

We are in a similar boat

Reviewing the literature of 2014-2019 it became apparent that many of us in the agricultural training sector were missing the point about measuring our effectiveness and thus it became the big passion and purpose of to focus in this area further. 

Interesting ideas

If you are interested in ideas around behavioural approaches to impact harvesting, you might find this 55 min speech from Ruerd Ruben (  from Wageninen University & Research at the 2019 Monitoring and Evaluation Conference interesting. 

What about investigating cacao farmer training via an impact harvesting method? Less about KPIs and more about results.

Suggest an improvement to this article

This topic focused on the topics of cacao farmer health, livelihood and productivity within the context of training.

1. Stewart R, Erasmus Y, Zaranyika H, Silva NRD, Muchiri E, Korth M, et al. PROTOCOL: The Effects of Training, Innovation and New Technology on African Smallholder Farmers’ Wealth and Food Security: A Systematic Review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2014;10(1):1-87.

2. Waddington H, Snilstveit B, Vojtkova M, Anderson J, White H. Farmer Field Schools for Improving Farming Practices and Farmer Outcomes in Low- and Middle-income Countries: A Systematic Review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2014;10(6).

3. Cargill. Cargill Cocoa Promise.  [Available from:

4. Nestlé. Nestlé’s Cocoa Plan  [Available from:

5. Mars.  [Available from:

6. Lindt. The Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program  [Available from:

7. Nations FaAOotU. Global Farmer Field School Platform 2020 [Available from:

8. Swiss Confederation SC, IFAD, Millenium Challenge Account Indonesia. Good Nutrition Practices Impact Study (SCPP). 2017.

9. Wuepper D, Sauer J, Kleemann L. Sustainable intensification amongst Ghana’s pineapple farmers: the complexity of an innovation determines the effectiveness of its training. Environment and Development Economics. 2017;23(1):98-119.

10. Dev DS, Hoque MJ, Miah AM. Problems Faced by the Participant Farmers in the Training Process: A Case of Climate Risk Management Training in Agriculture. International Journal of Social Sciences. 2017;6(2):143-51.

11. Kim JS, Yoon SY, Cho SY, Kim SK, Chung IS, Shin HS. Effectiveness of participatory training for the promotion of work-related health and safety among Korean farmers. Ind Health. 2017;55(4):391-401.