Increased prices of energy and other commodity products have increased the costs of production and therefore the price of food. Macedonia also faces these challenges parallel to the challenges posed by its undeveloped agriculture. In such a situation having the right information and knowledge is crucial.
Training and Education (T&E) in the agricultural sector is becoming increasingly important and this following analysis starts with a general statement of the sector’s experts that certain changes regarding T&E are required. Therefore, the two problems that are identified are:
Does the Macedonian agricultural sector need a formally organised institution that will provide non-formal T&E based on the specific needs of Macedonian farmers?
Can it be sustainable?
Based on the above-developed decision making problems, the purpose of this research is:
- To perform an analysis of the current supply of agricultural T&E and to compare it with the results of the analysis of Macedonian farmers’ demand for T&E;
- To identify the GAP.
Variables used in the analysis of training supply:
- Providers – entities that are offering some kind of T&E in the agricultural sector;
- Methodology of identifying farmers’ training needs – used by individual providers, e.g. survey, observation, Training Needs Assessment, etc.;
- Type of training provided by different providers of training and their target audience;
- Provider’s delivery mode (trainers, duration, training materials, proportion of theory and practice, interactive lecturing, location);
- Price and willingness to pay – the price levels used by providers and their opinion regarding farmers’ willingness to pay for T&E;
- Communication channels – how providers communicate with their target audience;
- Evaluation practice – what type of methodology providers use to evaluate the training they have provided.
When we look at the organisations as providers of T&E like Foundation Agro Center for Education (FACE), FOROP (Foundation for Reconstruction and Development of Ovce Pole Sveti Nikole), and CISPOS (a sector within the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Food that provides non-formal education), the positive side is that their core activities are providing T&E services in the agriculture sector. One of them, FACE, has excellent competence for providing technology training, because the entire staff and the equipment of the Institute for Agriculture is available to meet their needs. This is a significant competitive advantage in comparison to the other entities in this group. A serious problem of these organisations is that the financial support is coming by international donors (projects) in the agriculture sector.There are projects such as MAASP, Agbiz, USAID and other projects working on temporary basis. Even though these sources of financing cover large extent of their activities and allow for training with high level of quality, they come with very high indirect cost. The current situation has two consequences: unstable long-term financial sustainability and building perception among farmers that education is for free. Other significant disadvantage of the current organisations as providers of T&E is the absence of individual farmers as their main target audience. As we saw in the analysis, with the exception of FOROP, current organisations are mainly focusing on building capacities among potential trainers and future consultants. This is a model that can promise long-term sustainability. On the other hand, FOROP faces serious problems of not having stable financial sources (donors) and having limited human resources, bearing in mind that activities done in the organisation are on a voluntary basis. Their strategic orientation to start additional activities such as agricultural production, consultancy, etc. can solve the problems of financial sustainability but at the same time it can result in defocusing FOROP from providing T&E services.
With regard to high quality, focus on individual farmers and financial stability, projects have shown excellent results. Some of the projects are: Land O’ Lakes (completed), Macedonian Competitiveness Activity – MCA (completed), IFAD – International Fund for Agricultural Development (in a closing phase), Agbiz (ongoing), MAASP (ongoing); SFARM (ongoing). These are organisational forms that have stable financial sources which allow for extensive investment in T&E and training focused on the individual farmer. Projects, such as IFAD and Land O’ Lakes, have paid special attention to the individual farmer and technology training, which points to the use of efficient training needs assessment methodologies. This conclusion can also be confirmed by the fact that the elements of the T&E service (period of delivery, mode of delivery, location) are consistent with farmers needs and preferences.A model, which was identified in the group of organisational providers (eg. FOROP), is a model that promises good results bearing in mind that it is based on direct communication as the most suitable one for farmers. Projects have brought a lot of international trainers, who in turn brought international experience and modern perspective in every agriculture sub-sector. Projects have played a significant role in the process of capacity building, creating a generation of competent local trainers and consultant. The strongest disadvantage of these providers is their temporary nature. Also, even though they have set high standards regarding the T&E service quality, they have had strong influence in creating perception among farmers that training is for free.
The National Extension Agency (NEA) and the Ministry of Agriculture are a group of providers of T&E supported by the government. NEA is an organisation financed by the government and operates separately from the Ministry of Agriculture. The purpose of this organisation is to support rural development in the Republic of Macedonia. A significant advantage of this group of providers of T&E is that they have the government and its financial and human resources as their stable support. These bases enable easier T&E commercialisation. With a guarantee of financial base encourages intense usage of the cost-sharing model and even the “whole pricing” model. More precisely, having stable financial grounds makes it easier to tackle farmers’ perceptions “not to pay” for T&E. Additional advantage for this group of providers is their focus on the individual farmer. Of course as disadvantages we have lack of marketing skills among this type of providers, lack of competent staff and absence of strategy for T&E. Most of the resources (both financial and human) of these providers are focusing on direct financial support for farmers such as subsidies or use of financial funds such as the program for support to rural development or IPARD. Instead of going parallel, activities for financial support in agriculture are not consistent with the efforts in the area of T&E. This indicates that governmental organisations have not made a strategic connection between investments in education and efficient use of financial support, both governmental funds and EU funds. Therefore, we can say that long-term strategy regarding T&E is missing and T&E is not delivered on a regular basis. Another significant disadvantage of this group of providers of T&E is the lack of experienced staff. Especially in the case of NEA, the current staff consists of young and inexperienced public officers.
Companies have also played a role in the process of T&E in the agriculture sector. What is very clear in this segment of providers is that their educational involvement has very precise purpose because it has the goal of satisfying their own interests through farmers’ education. This stands both for companies selling agricultural raw material and companies that represent the agricultural industry (processors, traders). Having in mind that their results depend on the quality of information they deliver to the farmer, they invest a lot of time and money in order to deliver this information to the farmer. This type of training is entirely focusing on the technology of agricultural production and directly impacts the results of farmers.
As a conclusion of the analysis summary we give a clear answer to the research question that a formally organised entity which will provide T&E in the agriculture sector is not a realistic scenario. Facing the situation of all four groups of identified providers of T&E with the current needs and preferences of the farmers does not promise a financially sustainable model. The fact that all four groups have their advantages and disadvantages indicates that combining the role of each of these providers would be a more rational scenario for a model of T&E in the agriculture sector.