Agriculture Technology Assistant
Technology and extension are the key determinants of productivity in agriculture. The challenge, however, lies in improving farmers' access to the right kind of timely information and then ensuring that farmers adopt the proposed package of practices. Syngenta Foundation India (SFI) has been implementing successfully a range of models designed to improve the farming practices and livelihoods of resource-poor smallholders. To scale up these models SFI, in association with various partners across seven locations, trains young people from rural areas to become Agriculture Technology Assistants (ATAs). This training enables ATAs to become extension service providers, usually employed by agri-business companies or Agri-Entrepreneurs (AEs).
The ATA program runs in seven centers across India: Nanded, Jawhar, Pune, Ahmednagar, Hyderabad, Kalahandi and Ranchi. The primary reason for starting an ATA training initiative was to train a cadre of young people from rural areas to be ‘agri-entrepreneurs’, who can provide services to smallholder farmers. Students follow an intensive 45-day residential program, emerging as competent and readily employable ATAs, with skills relevant to their particular region. The model is built on the assumption that from a group of 25 ATAs, approximately 7 or 8 will be shortlisted for the Agri-Entrepreneur (AE) program. Efficient “last mile” agents/extension workers are vital to the effective implementation of development projects.
Students receive a little more than half their training in the classroom, focusing on interactive classes, individual and group assignments and presentations. Topics include the region’s agro-climate, soil health, seed and water management, weed and pest control, extension management, types of farm implements and machinery, and the law and regulations affecting the industry. There is a strong emphasis on practical experience, of being in the field; students have the opportunity to spend time with an Agri-Entrepreneur, learning to understand the practical aspects of supporting farmers. Prominence is also given to the teaching of workplace skills. These include communication and interpersonal skills, use of IT and social media, and how to behave at work and have a positive attitude and self-confidence. Staff members include existing personnel from SFI who are specifically trained to teach students using different methodologies. There are at least two trainers per center.
By the end of 2017:
- A total of 1337 young people applied for the ATA program
- Training of a total of 436 students in six batches
- Of the candidates who graduated, 114 were recruited under the campus placement program
- 170 of the candidates were selected to be SFI Agri-Entrepreneurs
- 82 of the selected candidates decided to take up farming as an occupation of choice