TECHNICAL COOPERATION PROGRAMME
Terminal Statement prepared by
the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
2. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS
Appendix 1: DOCUMENTS PREPARED DURING THE PROJECT
Appendix 2: TRAINING MATERIAL
In Asia, the agricultural input sector, including seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, feed and tools sold at retail shops, has been adversely affected by many factors. These include problems of under-supply, insufficient government support, poor infrastructure and distribution systems, limited credit access, bad repayment records and lack of subsidies. In many cases the result has been an imbalanced use of fertilizers, improper handling and incorrect use of most inputs.
In recent years the increasing use of fertilizers and other inputs has generated a pressing need both for input knowledge and up-to-date input recommendations. In most countries in the region, however, extension and research services have limited resources and consequently face difficulties in transmitting new, upgraded know-how to the farmers. Thus, agro-retailers, people selling agricultural inputs to farmers - either as individuals or as government or cooperative personnel - are in a key position to provide input knowledge and input recommendations.
The experience of FAO with regard to agro-retailers training in Asia goes back to the late 1970s when various workshops and meetings with experts highlighted the need to train retailers selling agricultural inputs to farmers.
The first FAO project to address this need was Fertilizer and Related Inputs Retailer Training in Asia. It was launched in 1984 as a regional Trust Fund project (funded by the Government of Denmark) encompassing three countries, Sri Lanka (1984), Nepal (1985) and Indonesia (1986). In a second phase, Bhutan (1989) and Thailand (1990) joined the project. The planned third phase of the project did not materialize.
The TCP Agro-Retailers Training Programme project began in November 1995 and was originally scheduled to end in August 1996. It was in fact completed in June 1997. A sum of $US 306 371 was allocated to assist member countries in carrying out project activities. The government ministries responsible for carrying out the project were the Ministry of Agriculture (Crop and Livestock Services Division) in Bhutan, Ministry of Agriculture (Fertilizer Association of India- FAI) in India, Ministry of Agriculture (Agricultural Input Corporation) in Nepal, Ministry of Agriculture (Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority- FPA) in the Philippines, Ministry of Agriculture (National Fertilizer Secretariat) in Sri Lanka and Ministry of Agriculture and the Cooperatives (Department of Agricultural Extension) in Thailand. Government contributions varied from country to country, ranging from $US 1 000 to $US 20 000.
The project's objective was to assist participating governments and fertilizer industry associations to meet the need to train agro-retailers in order to reinforce extension services available to farmers.
Training material was prepared and upgraded and trainers were trained so that they could, in their turn, train retailers in input use. Trained retailers were expected to improve their knowledge and understanding of farming practices and, in particular, of input use and handling, so that they could provide their farmer-customers with sound input recommendations, thereby reinforcing and supplementing the dissemination of technical information furnished by extension and research services.
The project focused in particular on making national programmes technically and financially sustainable, reducing the need for external assistance. The training was also designed to establish a regular flow of information among retailers, research bodies and extension services so that advice would be impartial and independent of retailer connections with specific input companies.
For the above reasons, and in order to keep up the momentum gained with the previous project, participating governments promoted increased involvement of the private input sector, which included producers, importers and retailers.
Counterpart institutions and support structures varied a great deal among participating countries. In Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Nepal counterpart institutions were state-controlled and focused on agricultural inputs, while in Bhutan and Thailand they formed part of a government support service. The status of agro-retailers also differed from country to country. In the Philippines and Thailand they were mostly private businesses, while in Nepal and Sri Lanka both private businesses and cooperatives were common. In Bhutan, on the other hand, there were only commission agents.
Economic and agricultural scenarios (including the input sector) also varied considerably within and among member countries. Training programmes were therefore implemented with great flexibility and the project took pains to support participating countries according to their specific needs. In addition, national experts and Technical Co-operation among Developing Countries (TCDC) consultants assisted member countries with advice and training material development.
The project encouraged women's participation in the training programme, by offering specific training for female agro-retailer staff.
It was recognized that in order to make training sustainable, financial dependence on international donors should be kept to a minimum. It was therefore decided to reinforce national training institutions.
Finally, the Agro-Retailers Training Programme supported the concept of inter-country cooperation and the exchange of expertise, know-how and experience by employing TCDC consultants and organizing a regional retailer training workshop.
While working to achieve these objectives, several outputs were produced. These include a national workshop (institution building and sustainability aspects), training materials, training of trainees, retailer courses and a regional workshop.
With more cash crops being cultivated by Bhutanese farmers combined with higher labour costs, there was greater call for external agro-inputs. Fertilizers and high yielding varieties (HYV), but also pesticides and other implements, were being increasingly applied.
In the past, the extension service had distributed all external inputs directly to farmers. This task was then offered to some 40 agricultural commission agents, who were, for the first time, systematically trained. Some of these commission agents, however, were unable to raise capital and had problems with inadequate storage facilities.
Booklets on improved cultivation practices prepared under the auspices of the project supported the Government in disseminating cultivation techniques and input recommendations among the farming communities. The commission agents, together with the agricultural extension officers, were the key figures in this process.
The success of future training programmes in Bhutan will depend to a great extent on the ability of the Government to allocate funds and draw upon expertise from both extension and research.
India was included in the project primarily to share its experience with other collaborating countries and provide expertise in terms of TCDC consultants and training material distribution. The material provided by the Fertilizer Association of India, however, was not easy to duplicate in other participating countries.
The FAI national workshop on Agro-Retailers Training in India revealed that Indian agro-retailers receive fertilizer and other input information exclusively at "retailer meets," which typically take place just before the planting seasons. These "meets" are organized by private or semi-private companies and often last less than a day. Longer-term training rarely takes place.
The counterpart institution, the Agricultural Input Corporation (AIC) was the sole importer of fertilizers and most pesticides and the main distributor of agro-inputs to the districts. Fertilizers were heavily subsidized and, owing to financial constraints within this scheme, the supply of subsidized fertilizers rarely satisfied farmers' demands. As a consequence, the use of fertilizers was increasingly imbalanced, resulting in the soil being mined and becoming infertile.
This situation was a constraint on many agro-retailers in their relationship with farmer clients and it also made it more difficult for AIC to conduct training courses. A training needs assessment survey conducted by national and TCDC consultants showed that there was a strong and continuing need to update input knowledge.
Although funds were allocated to training activities year by year, there were limited human resources in AIC to upgrade training material.
A survey revealed that farmers increasingly relied on agro-retailers when seeking advice on how to use farm inputs. This gave grounds to the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) to increase the target group of trained agro-retailers tenfold from 400 to 4 000. Broad support for the programme was obtained from the University of Los Baños (resource personnel to trainers and training material development), the Fertilizer Industry Advisory Group (training materials development), the FPA (materials development, resource personnel for trainers and support for printing the dealers' manual) and the Organic Fertilizer Producers' Association (training materials development).
In order to ensure that the training programme would be implemented smoothly, a total of 58 meetings was held with provincial retailer associations, who agreed to be co-organizers of the training courses and to collect training fees partly covering course expenses.
The financial and organizational structure of the agro-retailers training programme was expected to be maintained, although a decision was pending as to whether the fertilizer dominated training course should be merged with a training course focusing on pesticides.
The abolition of village extension officers gave greater importance to the role of agro-retailers in giving farmers input recommendations. The Government of Sri Lanka strongly supported the efforts of the National Fertilizer Secretariat in streamlining the agro-retailers training programme by allocating funds to training activities. New fertilizer recommendations were incorporated into an updated dealers' handbook, into booklets on the use of straight fertilizers and soil sampling, and into a new slide series.
At the national workshop it was decided to place greater emphasis on cropwise recommendations, organic fertilizers, soil testing, Integrated Plant Nutrition Systems (IPNS), liming and plant nutrition deficiency symptoms. However, a one-day training course for agro-retailers might prove to be too short for the extended curriculum.
The private input sector, with the aim of financially assisting the training programme supported the National Fertilizer Secretariat (NFS) by contributing SL Rs 10 per ton of imported fertilizers.
In the past Thailand successfully carried out the agro-retailers training programme and developed excellent training materials. In order to sustain these training activities, the Department of Agricultural Extension made preparations to create a nationwide Fertilizer Agro-Retailers' Association of Thailand (FARAT). The association was expected to be given the task of organizing training activities.
In order to extend the training programme, additional funds were requested from the Government. The private input sector and agro-retailers have already committed funds to contribute to the programme.
During the project, there was increasing awareness of, and demand for, inter-country cooperation. The Regional Workshop on Sustaining the Agro-Retailers Training Programme in Asia was a first step in this direction. The workshop made two significant recommendations: a plan of action for a sustained national agro-retailers training programme, and an outline for a network to develop agro-retailer services for farmers in Asia.
The drafted plan of action and the network outline were submitted to the private sector and to the governments concerned for approval and endorsement.
The Government of Myanmar asked to be included in the project. As a consequence, a two-day workshop on planning and implementing an agro-retailers training programme in Myanmar was held. Other countries such as Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia and Pakistan also showed interest in participating.
In order to fulfil these demands, an outline for a regional Trust Fund project to implement the recommendations of the regional workshop was sent to potential donors for consideration.
In order to keep up a successful training programme it must be both technically and financially sustainable. Several general recommendations can be made in this regard. An advisory body with broad representation from the public and private sectors should be set up, and ample human and financial resources should be provided to maintain and further develop the programme. Furthermore, training needs assessments should be conducted regularly so that adjustments can be made as the needs arise, and an evaluation and monitoring system should be developed. Experience gained in other countries should be exploited, while significant policies, input recommendations and environmental issues should be clearly identified and transmitted from government to trainers, trainers to retailers and retailers to farmers. It is also important to constantly update information such as input policies, pricing and recommendations, the environmentally friendly use of fertilizers and other agro-inputs. Finally, the varying agro-ecological conditions in different countries should be taken into account, and an appropriate, balanced and safe use of agricultural inputs should be stressed by including specific agro-ecological recommendations or by promoting the concepts of IPNS and Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
In order to support the agriculture commission agents it is important to permit them to sell all agricultural inputs under one roof. The Government should provide soft loans to agents to purchase inputs and improve storage facilities.
In order to continue the project successfully, the Government should appoint a committee to advise on all aspects of business improvements, including proper storage and handling and the updating of information. International donors and projects such as the kitchen garden project and the horticulture development programme could be approached for assistance in developing training materials, a retailers' handbook and additional booklets.
Coordination of input recommendations between research and extension should also be improved. Extension services could be given more responsibility in formulating input recommendations.
As much of the information on specific input recommendations is provided by the private sector, there is room for the Government to provide independent general input information. Individual state governments, rather than central government, should take up this task in cooperation with FAI.
A pilot agro-retailers training programme targeting village-based agro-retailers could be conducted to provide an in-depth understanding and general knowledge of the correct, balanced and sound use of agro-inputs. This programme should extend over a few days and the cost should be shared among trainees, the private sector and state governments.
It has been recognized that agro-retailers have contributed significantly to the safe and correct use of agro-inputs. Therefore, government cooperation and support for the AIC to provide trainers and further develop training materials should be extended. In future training activities extra effort should be made to ensure that women sales staff and illiterate agro-retailers are trained.
In order to streamline the training programme the recommendations of the national workshop should be followed up. In particular, key agencies should be increasingly involved by means of the technical and coordinating committees on agro-retailers training that have already been set up.
A suggestion put forward by agro-retailers that the license fee deposited by private agro-retailers be placed in a savings account and the interests accrued allocated to the Agro-Retailers Training Programme should be implemented in order to generate additional funds for training activities. In the long term, the introduction of training fees could be considered.
Although agro-retailers training on the correct use of fertilizers has reached a high level of sustainability, with adequate support from retailer associations and the private fertilizer sector, there should be greater emphasis on ensuring that materials on input information and input recommendations are continually updated. As well as fine-tuning the manual, new materials and training aids should be developed. Topics that should be covered include comparative pricing of inputs, the cost-effective use of mineral fertilizers combined with organic fertilizers and the concepts of IPNS and IPM. As the further development of the successful training programme in the Philippines depends on sufficient human resources within FPA, in addition to continued support from the private sector, procedures for fund-raising and overall coordination should be established. Ways to conduct regular training of provincial trainers should also be found.
With the extension of the training curriculum and better, more up-to-date training materials, a training fee should now be introduced. The training session should also be extended by one or two days. This would allow for in-depth training and give trainers more time for each subject.
Although the NFS has established good connections with the private sector, a fertilizer importers' association should be set up. An association of this kind would be in a better position to support the training programme. Its tasks should include providing advisory and financial services to the training programme and conducting an in-depth training assessment and impact survey.
In its efforts to make the training programme more sustainable the Department of Agriculture has provided initial financial and technical support for the new agro-retailers' association, FARAT, in its starting phase. Closer attention, however, should also be paid to services other than training courses, such as providing regular information on input pricing, marketing aspects and the safest and most cost-effective use of inputs.
While further developing the agro-retailers training programme, specific expertise and experience should be exploited by participating countries as well as by countries which have yet to join, such as Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Inception Report, Jan. 1996. H. P. Singh.
Agro-Retailers Training Programme, First Mission Report (Field Document No 1), Feb. 1996. H.P. Singh.
Inception Report, Second Mission, June 1996. Ole S. Pedersen.
Report on Training Needs Assessment Survey, Nepal, Aug. 1996. G.B. Pandey and R. Maliwat.
Agro-Retailers Training Programme, Second Mission Report (Field Document No 2), Sept. 1996. Ole S. Pedersen.
FAO Agro-Retailers Training Programme, Nov. 1996. Ole S. Pedersen.
Proceedings of Agro-Retailers Training (ART) in India, Nov. 1996. FAI, India.
Proceedings of National Workshop on Agro-Retailers Training in India, FAI, Nov. 1996. Compiled by FAI.
Framework (outline) for a Regional Agro-Retailers Training Trust Fund Project, May 1997. Ole S. Pedersen.
Training Compendium, Bhutan, Aug. 1996. D. B. Rai.
TCDC Consultancy Report, Sept. 1996. R. Maliwat.
TCDC Consultancy Report, Sept. 1996. B. Biswas.
Report on Retailer Survey of Training Needs and the Need for a Retailers' Association in Thailand (in Thai), Nov. 1997. K. Soitong.
Policy Paper on FAO Agro-Retailers Training Programme, December 1996. A. Angé, FAO, Rome.
Outline for Regional Trust Fund Project, May 1997. Ole S. Pedersen.
Outline for a National Agro-Retailers Training Programme in Myanmar, June 1997. Ole S. Pedersen and R.C. Gupta.
Handouts on Training of Commissions Agents, Aug. 1996. Compiled by D.B. Rai.
Exhibition Set on Fertilizers, Seeds and Feeds, Aug. 1996. D.B. Rai.
Five Booklets on Improved Crop Production Practices i.e. Rice, Wheat, Maize, Mustard and Potato, June 1997. D.B. Rai and Ole S. Pedersen.
Revised Dealers' Handbook (under preparation). G.B. Pandey.
Exhibition Sets for Dealer Training, Aug. 1996. Compiled by G.B. Pandey.
Training Assessment Survey, Sept. 1996. R. Maliwat and G.B. Pandey.
Compendium for Training Trainers, Feb. 1996. Resource personnel.
Manual for Agro-Retailers, Dec. 1996. FPA and I.C. Bolo.
Leaflet on Organic Fertilizers, Aug. 1996. OPERMANA.
Transparencies for Trainers (ongoing). FPA.
Slides for Trainers (ongoing), FPA.
Booklet on Straight Fertilizers (in Singhalese), May 1997. NFS and G.S. Kumara.
Booklet on Soil Sampling (in Singhalese), July 1997. NFS and G.S. Kumara.
Revised Dealers' Handbook (in Singhalese), July 1997. NFS and G.S. Kumara.
Slide Set, July 1997. NFS and G.S. Kumara.
Revised Retailer Training Handbook (in Thai), Sept. 1997. Department of Agricultural Extension.
Translation into English of the Thai version of Agro-Retailers' Handbook on Soil and Fertilizers.
Reprint of the Guide for Organizers and Trainers of Fertilizer and Related Inputs Retailer Training in Asia.
Outline of Regional Trust Fund Project, Agro-Retailers Training Programme for Balanced and Safe Use of Agro-Inputs in Asia.