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An Invaluable EWS-KT Resource: The Technical Support Hub

Posted On: December 15, 2022
Nov Menghort training extension workers on grafting
Technical Specialist Nov Menghort (center), a Technical Support Hub member in Cambodia, trains extension workers on grafting techniques.

The EWS-KT Technical Support Hub aspires to be the center of excellence on vegetable production training in the tropics, and it is well on its way.

Led by Lysette Lacambra, the Technical Support Hub provides expert technical farming guidance and advice to EWS-KT’s country teams, as well as to farmers and other stakeholders.

“Our easy-to-understand guides for farmers and agriculture students help them to build a strong foundation in vegetable production,” explained Lysette. “And since many farmers rely on agribusiness and extension workers for advice, we have also developed resources to assist these professionals in providing accurate recommendations to farmer customers and clients, particularly regarding crop protection and fertilization.”

The Technical Support Hub works in close collaboration with Wageningen University & Research and East-West Seed to ensure that the latest information is available to EWS-KT field teams and smallholder farmers. It brings together country-based technical expertise in sustainable vegetable production, resulting in practical and evidence-based recommendations from action research, extension materials and training modules tailored to local audiences, and direct support in person and through digital platforms. The Technical Support Hub’s role as a central knowledge resource helps EWS-KT to address complex challenges such as climate change, soil health, and water scarcity.

The Technical Support Hub shares its expertise in a number of ways:

GrowHow: A Farming Knowledge Website

The Technical Support Hub’s GrowHow website is a one-stop shop for verified information on vegetable farming. Easy-to-use crop guides, available in a wide range of languages, explain how to grow over 30 crops, specifying everything from land preparation to pest management. Technical guides cover techniques like drip irrigation and mulching, as well as topics like essential nutrients for plants. Management guides for four common crops offer tips for preventing and managing plant diseases and disorders, helping farmers to identify what is affecting a plant and how to treat it. All of these guides can also be printed for easy sharing with farmers, agricultural-input dealers, and other interested parties.

Printed guides at an EWS-KT Field Day in the Philippines
Printed guides at an EWS-KT Field Day in the Philippines.

Through GrowHow, the Technical Support Hub also offers three free General Vegetable Production certification coursesVegetable Production Beginner for smallholder farmers and others who want to learn more about vegetable production, Agrobusiness for agricultural-input shop owners and employees, and Crop Advisor Trainer for EWS-KT technical staff and other professionals in the vegetable sector. Agro-input and extension workers can reach farmers well beyond EWS-KT project areas, spreading this knowledge to new locations.

Digital Learning

To reach more farmers, especially in areas where accessing the internet is difficult or expensive, EWS-KT has been introducing new digital learning options. The Technical Support Hub team supports the country teams and digital team in these initiatives, making sure that the technical content is accurate and up to date. A General Vegetable Production course, for example, is now available on the SkillEd platform for use with android phones, with options in English, Tagalog and Bisaya, and Burmese.

Developed in partnership with the Arifu learning platform, entire courses can be delivered to Tanzanian farmers via SMS text messaging. These short text messages in Swahili guide smallholder farmers through the whole crop cycle—from land preparation to post-harvest handling—for five crops. Through a collaboration with Funzi, the Crop Advisor Trainer program is being digitized and gamified to improve mobile learning and access in Nigeria and will soon be available in English and Hausa.

These extensive online and digital resources, along with YouTube videos and social media channels, extend the Technical Support Hub’s reach, enabling many more farmers and other stakeholders to benefit from EWS-KT’s expertise. 

Learning Farms & Action Research

To share—and gain—more knowledge, the Technical Support Hub has established learning farms in Thailand and in eight of the ten countries in which EWS-KT works. (Learning farms in the remaining two countries—Ghana and Indonesia—are planned for next year.) These farms showcase best practices and enable EWS-KT staff, outside agricultural extension workers, and other stakeholders to study and learn practical skills directly in the field. 

Virtual and in-person tours at the learning farms expose farmers, General Vegetable Production course participants, agriculture sector professionals, and community members—from school groups to dignitaries and funder delegations—to EWS-KT horticultural techniques and the impressive results they produce. 

Learning farms are also hubs for action research that contributes to the development of evidence-based recommendations for smallholder farmers. Comparison studies on subjects as varied as the effects of pruning in bitter gourd production, the impact of using spunbond fabric for crops during the dry season, and the long-term impact of vegetable crop rotation and mulching on soil quality are just a few examples of action research at the learning farms.

Action research is often undertaken in collaboration with East-West Seed, Wageningen University & Research, local universities, and local farmers. The results are shared across the EWS-KT country teams and with East-West Seed, posted on social media and the GrowHow site, and presented to the wider vegetable production sector at meetings and conferences and through publications. 

The Technical Support Hub team also utilizes data collected by EWS-KT country teams and at the learning farms to enhance their farming recommendations. Much of this data is available on the EWS-KT dashboard, which shows production and economic data from farmers’ demonstration plots in each country.

Supporting Country Teams in the Field

A key Technical Support Hub role is providing day-to-day guidance to EWS-KT field teams. When country team members need help in areas like pest and disease diagnosis, validating a suitable area for vegetable production, or nutrient and water management, they know they can turn to the Technical Support Hub for assistance. 

Their first stop is their Technical Support Hub country representative, who provides backstopping and practical training support and assesses the placement and management of demonstration plots. (Crop demonstration plots, which are set up by local farmers with intensive coaching by EWS-KT field staff, showcase improved agricultural techniques. Demonstration plots also serve as hands-on learning sites to train other farmers in the community, spreading knowledge throughout the area.) 

If the country representatives have questions or want a second opinion, Lysette and other members of the core global team are standing by. Technical Support Hub core members also periodically travel to each country to provide tailored support to the field teams. 

Leadership Across EWS-KT

Establishing guidelines, protocols, and support frameworks is also within the Technical Support Hub’s purview. In July 2022, after more than 2 years of virtual meetings due to the pandemic, the Technical Support Hub core team met in person at the EWS-KT learning farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There, the team reviewed the farmer demonstration plots and learning farms in the different EWS-KT countries, focusing on objectives, best practices, places to improve, and how to best support the technical field staff in each country.

At the end of the workshop, the team developed a starting framework for a field decision tool to help the field staff establish better and more sustainable farmer demos and learning farms. The core team also works to offer recommendations in response to larger issues such as changing weather patterns and climatic conditions. 

From high-level planning to everyday support of the EWS-KT field teams, from creating extension materials to developing vegetable production courses, and from hands-on training at learning farms to sharing action research with the broader vegetable sector, the Technical Support Hub is an invaluable resource.

The Technical Support Hub Team

Core Members:
Lysette Lacambra, Technical Support Hub Manager
Sylvie Desilles, Knowledge Manager
Epaphras Milambwe, Technical Specialist Africa
Piyawan (Palm) Phuphong, Technical Research Lead
Marie Pelletier, LMS Training Coordinator
Davoin Dy, Data Analyst 
Georgi Georgiev, Digital Media Specialist 
Jonathan Devarrewaere, Art Director

Marvin Martin, East-West Seed
Michelle Cobrado-Robel, East-West Seed
Phan Bich Diep, Wageningen University & Research
Herman de Putter, Wageningen University & Research
Johann Bonnand, Wageningen University & Research

Country Representatives:
Eamad Mustafa, Technical Manager, Bangladesh
Nov Menghort, Technical Specialist, Cambodia
Zakari Musah, Knowledge Transfer Manager, Ghana
Bhagyadhar Swain, Deputy Technical Specialist, India
Rika Bhernike, Team Leader, Indonesia
Han Ni Swe, Technical Program Officer, Myanmar
Yusuf Dabai, Technical Specialist, Nigeria
Aila Arizsa Ibañez, Technology Transfer Specialist, Philippines
Mganga Togolai, Technical Specialist, Tanzania
Bosco Omedi, Technical Specialist, Uganda

Core Technical Support Hub members in July 2022
Technical Support Hub members at the workshop in Thailand in July 2022.