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What do numbers tell us?

Posted by daniela cuneo Monday, July 18, 2011


Training and skills development play a key role in many sectors but when it comes to the difference that capacity-building, agricultural education, vocational training and skills development can make in offering a route out of poverty to rural poor people the debate becomes more serious. Why? “Today, about 34 per cent of the total rural population of developing countries is classified as extremely poor…” and agricultural education is 1 of the 6 policy and institutional measures “ that governments can take to provide an enabling framework for sustainable agricultural intensification “ …… agricultural education is “fundamental to enable women, men, young people and children to develop the skills they need to take advantage of new economic opportunities (source IFAD RPR 2011)” . In this context, it is extremely important for IFAD to assess the role and scope of capacity building, training and skills development in IFAD portfolio. The 2 days international consultation "Skills development for poverty alleviation: sharing IFAD experiences in technical and vocational skills development”that took place in IFAD on 22 and 23 June was an opportunity to:


  • understand the potential of training in IFAD supported projects
  • discuss the results achieved in the framework of the Initiative to Mainstream Initiative (IMI - a DFID supported initiative to promote innovations
  • identify successful and innovative training approaches in IFAD supported projects (six field studies conducted in on-going IFAD projects in Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana, Madagascar, Rwanda and Sudan were presented), and
  • pave the way to strengthen the impact of training on poor rural communities in order to give the rural poor the individual and collective capabilities to overcome poverty.


In terms of numbers, results are impressive! Since 2005, more than 4.3 million people have been trained (40% on agricultural technologies and production and 23% on enterprise development and employment) through IFAD programmes. But numbers, as rightly pointed out by panellists at the international consultation, need to be interrogated to give a sense of the impact of the 4.3 million trainings delivered on the lives of those people in terms of empowerment. Unfortunately data is not collected systematically and consistently; participants agreed that more efforts should be made to improve the quality of the data collected in order to answer crucial questions such as: Who are the people trained; are they men, youths or women? and most importantly are they the rural poor we need to reach? What is the use of these trainings? Did the trainings make any difference to the quality of life of the trainees?

Definitively, this is the experience of the women trained in the context of Gash Sustainable Livelihoods Regeneration Project (GSLRP) in Sudan . For them “the training on nutrition, food processing and home economics was the first opportunity to socialize and acquire new skills, said Aisha Sheik GSLRP Programme Officers in Sudan.

Kudos to GSLRP project for:


  • campaigning for women’s participation in training
  • influencing men and having men support the participation of women in training (it wasn’t easy…it took 2 years but they did it!!)
  • overcoming barriers like the lack of venues where women could be trained
  • optimizing the techniques acquired by those who benefitted from the project training on brick making and having them build the training venues with green bricks
  • sharing with us during the conference the thoughts and the feedback of the beneficiaries of the training. Their words:
"Before the training, we were just sitting in the house, meetings have broadened our thinking."

"We learned how to speak Arabic and how to pray and cite the Koran"

"Before the training, our meals were sorghum porridge or Kasha, now we cook vegetables and meat; prepare special meals for children and pregnant women."

“Before we did not care when the vaccination team came for our children, now we all go out and know how important it is”
  • and for awarding certificates at the end of the training. Trainees value certificate!!!

Certificates are building blocks for further training, for social recognition and self- esteem of the trainees and Sudan is not the only example: the Rural Enterprises Projects in Ghana did the same! . But training programmes are not always successful, the field study in Bangladesh shows that skills development and acquisition of new technologies does not happen only through formal training!! This was the interesting finding of the Bangladesh field study.

The experience of the Micro-Finance and Technical Support Project (MFTSP), shows that 16 trained women operators out of 32 trained operators have never operated Mini-Hatcheries. An other 16 MH operators successfully operate MH but did not receive formal training: they “learned by doing” thanks to hands-on training delivered by Livestock Technical Assistants! According to the experience in Bangladesh , formal training can be less effective than a practical approach, as the time required to attend the formal training may be a serious constraint for many women: 30 days away from their daily duties is a significant amount of time and the women that could benefit from the training could not afford it! . So definitively duration of trainings should consider the needs of the target group but this is not the only element that contributes to designing effective training.


To be effective, training sessions must take into account a number of factors among which: the cultural strengths and weaknesses of the trainees, the ability of the trainers, the suitability of the training, the market demand and the national challenges .For examples, Madagascar and Colombia have different challenges, while Madagascar has 70% of its population in rural areas, Colombia is extremely urbanized. Moreover Madagascar has a population growing rate in terms of youth while the population in Colombia is stabilized. So, the challenge consists in mainstreaming projects into the national plans and managing project sustainability, but how do we measure the impact of IFAD project assisted trainings in the context of enabling a national framework for sustainable agriculture intensification?

Are IFAD project assisted training initiatives sustainable? will the government support them once the project is completed? Participants confronted their experiences and challenged the theories of their colleagues. Academics highlighted the need for linking projects to a wider context and challenged IFAD projects. But IFAD projects are not in a vacuum; they are discussed and approved by the Government. Dialogue among different stakeholders is key to working out balanced national strategies, and IFAD experience in Madagascar shows how, by working together, different stakeholders namely the Ministry for Agriculture, Ministry of Education and Research with IFAD advising on implementing a not too theoretical approach, can lead to balanced and concrete strategies.


The format of trainings varies and has to adapt to the national peculiarities. Apprenticeship on sewing, carpentry, welding, reparations, basketry, hairdressing and shoemaking worked perfectly in Rwanda for the Enterprise Promotion Project (PPMER II) . 51% of the apprentices managed to run their own business and 33% did get a job ! Home-based apprenticeship offers a number of advantages among which: ability to reach a critical mass of vulnerable youth , ability to transfer skills in a limited time, making rural life more attractive, mitigation of the risk of migration from rural areas and high impact with limited resources. No doubt rural poverty can be overcome if the rural poor are empowered and given the capacity to generate their incomes. Transfer of capacity and skills can happen in different shapes and formats, through apprenticeship, hands-on training , learning by doing formal trainings and skills development definitively can contribute to empowering the rural poor. However, more needs to be done to:


  • be more effective during the design and implementation phase
  • boost project impact
  • link private and public policies
  • link the training to the market to create concrete job opportunities
  • share experiences and have strong networks
  • keep good records and statistics to assess results
  • define the skills to be a good skills developer
  • link training, policy and research- too little attention is paid to research , but research is a way to produce knowledge
These were the challenges and the opportunities that inspired the discussion. The consultation was quite intensive, it was an opportunity to understand where we are, what needs to be done and to put on the table concrete proposal to reach the rural poor, to give them the tools to get out of poverty. How can we do better? Some concrete suggestions:
  • map skill requirements during the design phase of the project
  • change mind-set and develop an entrepreneurial mentality
  • mini-surveys to get evidence of good results, KAP survey presented in the Bangladesh field study could be a useful tool. Not familiar with KAP?

K for Knowledge……, did the student understand what was explained?
A for attitude… was it useful?
P for practice……..did the student adopt it?? if not go back to attitude!!!!
  • produce learning notes on training
  • simplify the message….if we want to reach our beneficiaries let’s simplify the language of publications and articles they may be interested in!!
  • and use more powerful tools....... what about the radio???

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