Importance of Capacity Building in Promoting Better Postharvest Management
By Bradley Brinkley, Global Food Security Fellow, ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss
Research institutions, non-profit organizations, and farmer cooperatives all play a critical role in extension, knowledge sharing, farmer training, and enabling change. Strengthening institutional and human capacity, however, is a frequently overlooked topic in promoting better postharvest management practices. To reduce losses and improve postharvest management, we need to focus on capacity building at the individual, community, and institutional levels.
ADMI recently hosted a webinar on the importance of capacity building in promoting better postharvest management which created a conversation between three thought leaders who shared examples of capacity building with farmers, with trainers, and with research institutions in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The panelists highlighted three key lessons:
1. Understanding subsistence marketplaces and contextualizing training for farmers
Frequently, development interventions that address postharvest losses focus only on providing farmers with access to better technologies that reduce losses and training to use the technologies.
Panelist Dr. Madhu Viswanathan, however, discussed the importance of adopting a marketplace approach rather than a market orientation – viewing farmers as individuals, communities, and pre-existing marketplaces to learn from rather than just sell to. The Marketplace Literacy Project, founded by Viswanathan is currently engaged in promoting better postharvest management amongst farmers by addressing postharvest losses in the context of agricultural value chains. Observing a macro picture with micro-level details allows farmers to engage directly with the value chain. The trainings also address entrepreneurial literacy, consumer literacy, and sustainability literacy by using a “bottom-up approach” – the process of getting information and gauging knowledge from the farmers while the program is being designed.
Recently, Viswanathan’s team created digital content to send via Whatsapp to local farmers. The short videos not only aim to educate viewers about postharvest loss reducing practices and technologies (know how), but also engage viewers in understanding why it is important to reduce losses in the first place. Referred to as the “know-why” approach, the videos help viewers to learn the information and understand the reasoning behind it.
2. Create accessible education for trainers
Extensive published research exists with information on better postharvest management, but accessibility remains a key issue. Dr. Lisa Kitinoja discussed how she founded The Postharvest Education Foundation (PEF) to make valuable postharvest training resources available to a wide global audience. Building upon the idea of accessible education, PEF ensured its educational materials existed online even before the COVID-19 pandemic. PEF’s materials feature a mentor-guided training program with a certificate of completion. Moreover, PEF ensures that the training content is regionally customizable and contextually appropriate by curating their research to apply directly to a targeted area, which they have found valuable in creating dialogue with their audience.
PEF has immense impact by using a “train the trainer” model that targets community trainers and extension workers who share information with community members. Kitinoja shared the example of Angelique Uwamaharo, who participated in PEF training in 2017. Uwamaharo is utilizing the information by training, sensitizing, and providing services to farmers, sellers, transporters, packers, storage operators, and all people involved in postharvest handling on good postharvest technologies and management in Rwanda.
3. Invest in institutional partnerships for long-term capacity building
Frequently, NGO interventions are short-term and have narrow scope, but Dr. Paul McNamara shared the value of long-term relationships through the example of the partnership between Njala University in Sierra Leone, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). In 1964, with USAID funding, UIUC helped launch Njala University and continues to work directly with the university. Students and faculty members collaborate between institutions to pursue bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, and participate in exchange programs. This longstanding connection has created trust and lines of communication that led to McNamara and other professors continuing to teach classes in Sierra Leone through a mix of Zoom and in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This partnership has allowed UIUC and Njala University to work together on USAID-funded projects, developing funding proposals, and creating additional higher education opportunities.
McNamara founded AgReach, through which he has worked with key faculty and stakeholders in Njala University to help set up the university’s PHL Experimental Training Hub. The PHL hub engages organizations, policymakers, and private businesses in discussion on reducing postharvest losses. Furthermore, it serves as a training ground for farmers, trainers, NGOs, and extension workers to learn new postharvest-reducing technologies and adapt them to the local context. As part of the hub’s activities, students from both universities are engaging with the hub by studying post-harvest interventions implemented by NGOs in the cocoa sector to learn lessons on what works for sustained adoption.
To summarize, sending educational materials directly to farmers can help build capacity at the local level, as Viswanathan demonstrated. Training extension officers and community leaders can help information reach a wider audience, as shown by Kitinoja. McNamara showcased the importance of targeting valuable players through institutions with trust and open lines of communication. Each panelist emphasized the need for education to be accessible and regionally specific. Viewing marketplaces as a place to work within, instead of recreating them, also permits implementers to learn about the behavioral patterns of the marketplace. A holistic approach to training and instruction that understands the constraints, accessibility, and values of a community will more effectively build improved capacity for postharvest loss prevention.
Bradley Brinkley is a senior in agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Global Food Security Fellow working with the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss.
The Reducing Postharvest Loss: A Food System Approach webinar series hosted by the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss commemorates the institute’s 10-year anniversary. Register for the next webinar on March 24 at reducingphl.eventbrite.com