In many developing nations, agriculture still holds the key to reducing poverty and increasing the security of livelihoods. The diverse challenges for the rural poor continue to grow, however. In attempting to deal with these issues, the importance of training cannot be underestimated. The skills to improve productivity, increase adaptability to deal with change and crisis, and facilitate the diversification of livelihoods to manage risks are at a premium in rural areas. In many cases, these skills are an issue of survival. Providing these skills effectively is one of the key challenges of rural development, but it has not always been well met, usually because the contextual factors that prevent small farmers from accessing and applying training have not been addressed.
Over half of the world’s agricultural producers are women, yet men still tend to receive more and better training, and women training is often inappropriate.
Women now make up the majority of the agricultural sector in developing countries. But recent evidence suggests that not only is their productivity constrained by a lack of appropriate skills training but also that they are vulnerable to environmental changes. In the face of changing and increasingly erratic agricultural conditions, there is a huge premium on women’s ability to respond innovatively and to be adaptable, in order to ensure food security and the productivity of the agricultural sector in developing countries. The right kind of training is highly important in supporting women to adopt forward-looking, responsive attitudes and actions.
Integrating agricultural training with enterprise training helps women smallholders to manage and market their farm production more effectively, to take advantage of new agricultural opportunities, and to diversify their income by engaging in non-farm enterprises, thereby protecting themselves against erratic agricultural conditions. Training in financial management, pricing and marketing can help women benefit more from their interactions in local markets.
Women face significant barriers in accessing training, including literacy, domestic obligations and training which is targeted primarily at men. Projects need to make training accessible to illiterate women, build literacy skills, ensure that training takes domestic duties into account, and help women realise the value of training in both the short and long run.
Women’s groups, particularly self-help groups, play an important role in helping women smallholders share training information, collectively press for better training, save, and support each other in applying new techniques and technologies. Training in group formation, record keeping and group leadership can build the capacity of groups to fulfil these functions.
Lack of credit and capital, insecure land tenure and inadequate rural infrastructure make the application of new agricultural and enterprise strategies risky for women smallholders. Training organisations can play an important role in mitigating these risks by facilitating access to credit, helping women manage capital, working towards more secure land tenure, and helping women lobby local government for the provision of better infrastructure.
The groups were a critical feature in reducing the poor’s susceptibility to crisis and reducing aversion to risk, and their importance was overwhelmingly evident. The integration of credit, financial management and enterprise development training meant that the women were able to understand and take ownership of the process, rather than relying on the project to support them in times of emergency.
Integrating the project into the local governance structure and linking the women to this was key to the success of the projects in India. It was also a key constraint for the projects in Ghana, which they are now actively looking to address. Both also had a primary goal of increasing the number of women representatives at local government level.
This was particularly important in India because of the power of the local government structure, it also had a key role in empowering women to voice their needs in both domestic and village affairs, as well as in campaigning for investments and support for their agricultural and enterprise development.
Training in marketing, packaging and pricing In addition to financial management, smallholders also require marketing training. This was frequently noted in the interviews as one of the women’s most important concerns, well ahead of technical skills. Improving production techniques, although important, was not sufficient to create significant changes in their circumstances. Achieving more efficient production and increasing yields did not address one of the most serious problems for small producers, and especially women smallholders: their lack of market power. In this respect, the experiences of the women in four case study projects echoed the finding of the literature and project reviews: problems with accessing markets forced women to sell their goods on disadvantageous terms, and prevented women reaping the full benefits of their work.
It is clear, then, that even some generic skills must be adapted to local circumstances to ensure relevance. On the other hand, when the training is relevant, the benefits multiply. The evidence suggests that marketing training cannot be separated from training.