Substantial portion of the population in developing Commonwealth countries depend on agriculture for food and livelihood security. However, the agricultural sector in most of these countries have continued to record a steady decline. One of the major reasons for this is the inadequate human resource development. Many countries still follow the conventional one-way extension model, which demands greater infrastructure and resource bases than what most developing countries can afford. The situation is aggravated by the disproportionate ratio of extension officers to farmers in most countries. COL believes that capacity-building can only help improve farmers’ livelihoods when it is linked to social capital in the form of mobilised farmer groups and financial capital in forms of credit.
Lifelong Learning for Farmers (L3F) is a holistic model which emphasises continuous learning among farmers using information and communication technologies (ICT), horizontal and vertical learning and networking with stakeholders. The L3F initiative focuses on linking human capital with social and financial capital. The initiative presents a model that is premised on the belief that an effective linkage of these three capitals will help in spiraling a self-sustaining development process. By leveraging on the power of ICT and open and distance learning (ODL), L3F has been able to evolve a socially acceptable, economically feasible and financially viable farmer extension system.
Studies conducted during the period 2012-2015 showed that the L3F model was effective in reaching a large number of farmers at a lesser cost. The model enhanced the empowerment and livelihood security of marginalised farming households, particularly women in countries like Ghana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Uganda. These studies further established that every $1 invested in the programme yielded $9 worth of social returns to the farming communities. Financial institutions discovered that they earned eight times more income from L3F participants and the cost of capacity-building using ODL was six times lower than that of conventional face-to-face training. These results have attracted the attention of major government and international agencies who have adopted the model. Similarly, financial institutions and other private sector agencies have responded by investing in the programme on a win-win business strategy.
For the period 2015 to 2021, the programme is focused on enabling the national and sub-national government institutions, as well as civil society and the private sector to establish models in their countries and constituencies. The macro level scale up is focused on integrating L3F in policies and programmes of Ministries of Agriculture, Ministries of Technology, Ministries of Trade and Industry, as well as the cooperative and financial sectors. Efforts are also being made to influence the adoption of the model by international development agencies. These institutions are being encouraged and facilitated to reach large number of smallholder farming communities, particularly the marginalised women and youth, and provide them with opportunities for strengthening their livelihoods in a sustainable manner.