Updated on May 8, 2020

Training is key to success at the UTZ program. It’s through training that farmers learn about sustainable agricultural practices and how to improve yields, protect workers and look after the environment. But how does training work in practice? Who gives those trainings? And with more than 1.1 million farmers and workers part of the UTZ program in 2019, how do we make sure they all get the right training? Time for a chat with Paul Schep, Senior Manager of Training.

Who trains who?

“With so many farmers joining the UTZ program we can’t train them all ourselves. That’s why we use a ‘train-the-trainer’ approach,” explains Paul.  This means that our field representatives in each country provide training to local NGOs and technical advisers working for traders and companies in the supply chain. These trainers in turn train farmers, giving them the knowledge and skills they need to comply with the UTZ Code of Conduct.

We work with hundreds of passionate, qualified trainers with many years of experience, passing on their first-hand knowledge and expertise in more than 30 countries and 10 languages.

Training material for UTZ cocoa farmers in Ghana about the use of agrochemicals.

Training material for UTZ cocoa farmers in Ghana about the use of agrochemicals.

Farmer field school – a practical way to learn

To have maximum impact, farmer training combines theory with practical application. “For most small farmers,” says Paul, “trainings are given via the so called farmer field schools combining discussion sessions and time in the field. The trainer works with the local farm group leader, using his or her farm as a demonstration plot to show sustainable practices in action. Issues are discussed at the relevant time, for example, harvest topics are taught just before harvest, so farmers can quickly apply what they learn.“ The trainers are paid by farmer groups or the cost may be shared with the trader or organization buying the crop, depending on local circumstances.

One size doesn’t fit all

Smallholder coffee farmers in Lam Dong, Vietnam, attend a Farmer Field School session to learn about these techniques to adapt to climate change.

Coffee farmers in Vietnam, attend a farmer field school session about techniques to adapt to climate change.

Each crop, country and season is different, so training courses must be adapted to local circumstances. For example, explains Paul, “In Vietnam lots of shade trees are used to protect the coffee plants from the sun. So coffee farmers can also grow pepper, avocado or banana. This improves resilience and means farmers get additional income. We now train people on this multi-crop system as a more sustainable approach even though it means farmers grow less coffee overall.” Training is also adapted to the different needs of small farmers and large farms. For example, “If we train a big company we provide more training on social and working conditions, on motivating staff and how to give workers a voice to discuss any issue with the management of the large farm,” says Paul. Above all, Paul stresses that dialogue with farmers is essential: “It’s very important that training is a two-way process. We need to bring farmers into sustainable production through training but we also need to listen to farmers so we can understand their challenges, which are different in each region.”

Reaching more people as the UTZ program grows

As UTZ grows we need to reach even more people and keep costs down for participants. That’s why we launched the UTZ Academy Online in 2014. Colleague René Pieneman, Coordinator UTZ Academy knows everything about it. He explains: “The UTZ Academy Online is a platform for trainers and learners to share information, follow online courses, and supplement face to face training with extra tasks and exercises. It will make our training more scalable.” Already over 9000 people are enrolled on the Academy (July 2019) and we expect many more people in the next few years. This includes internal and external trainers, employees and certification bodies. But the Academy isn’t just about the quantity of training but a way to improve quality too.

By launching the UTZ Academy online we will be able to take a more ‘blended’ approach to training. We can combine webinars, e-courses and face-to-face training courses to give participants more flexibility in how they learn.

“Trainers in different locations can collaborate more easily on planning, designing and rolling out training. We can more easily track participation in training courses, communicate with trainers and participants and get feedback on courses to help us improve,” adds René. For now, most small farmers will continue to be trained in the more traditional way. But with more and more farmers using digital and mobile technology there is plenty of scope for growth and further training innovation in the future. Want to know where all those trainings lead to? Find out about how farmers benefit from joining the UTZ program and read about the impact of the program.