The ACE Marketing School is a comprehensive training course for smallholder farmers delivered by the ACE Rural Marketing Advisors. This participatory training course on agricultural marketing, founded on the principles of the Farmer Business School, features five modules which provide in depth details about all ACE services. To ensure maximum impact, the training course is delivered over four mornings.
ACE is all about linking farmers to markets; given the inherent complexity of the services that ACE offers, the training of farmers is key to increasing the understanding and adoption of services. In the past, ACE trainings to farmers consisted largely of mass sensitisation meetings: one-off activities aimed at reaching large numbers of farmers, and not tailored to different rural audiences. While farmers were told the potential benefits of ACE services, the mass sensitisations largely failed to equip smallholder farmers with the necessary understanding of how to use them for their own benefit.
In order to provide the smallholder farmers with a more in-depth training to enable them to gain a better understanding of ACE services, ACE developed the ACE marketing school (AMS), with technical and financial support from GIZ.
Development of AMS training material was a comprehensive process that involved several internal workshops and consultations with other stakeholders.
Whilst the content and material for the AMS was being developed the Rural Marketing Advisors (RMAs) capacity to develop high-quality trainings was also developed. In 2016 the RMAs were invited to several trainings both to gain a better understanding of the ACE services and to develop their analytical skills and ability to assess their audience and adapt and respond to it appropriately. At the beginning of 2017, the RMAs came back to Head Office for a 10 day training on the ACE Marketing School. During this time they also had the opportunity to try and deliver the content of the AMS to their colleagues.
As the AMS involves basic calculations and reading, not every farmer can enrol for training as was the case with the previous mass sensitisations. Thus the RMAs and Head Office had to conduct an assessment to help determine the FOs to whom the AMS could be delivered to. The executive committees of these FOs were then asked to select members that would be suitable to be trained via the AMS. There were numerous aspects that were considered in the selection criteria; for example literacy levels, geographical location, and the requirement for the participants of the AMS to be active members of the FO.
In February 2017, ACE started implementing the Marketing School. Accompanied by a staff member from Head Office, all ACE RMAs got the opportunity to conduct their first AMS on the ground. They then continued implementing the AMS without support from Head Office. By the end of the month of March, a total of 775 Smallholder farmers were trained on the ACE Marketing School. These smallholder farmers were members of 26 different FOs, in 13 districts throughout Malawi.
Overall the first round of the AMS was a success.
Ganizani Malango, RMA from Kamwendo, Mchinji states: “The ACE Marketing School was a very good exercise. It enhanced the relations with the farmers, it became easier to interact with them. We created a bond – this will make it easier to facilitate trade”.
Pearson Phiri, RMA from Ntchisi, states: “The ACE Marketing School is an enjoyable way to conduct training, the farmers are noticing the improvements and both ACE and the farmers are learning where they can improve more”.
Through the AMS, ACE expects to produce farmers that will not only be aware of the any changes in the grain trading environment but also react by making an informed decision. The expectations of the AMS are that smallholder farmers will be able to have a thorough understanding of ACE services, and thus be empowered make an informed decision when it comes to what they want to do with their commodity.
As one might have guessed already, this comprehensive training comes with a cost which is estimated at ***$. In mitigation, at the moment, is cost sharing with the beneficiaries and also marketing the concept to other partners. Through RMAs and other communication channels ACE is sensitizing farmers on the importance of AMS so that farmers should understand the importance of paying for this training. Moreover ACE is working on adapting the content of the AMS to include the needs of the traders and vendors.
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