How might we better enable customized learning for farmers for continuous improvement?

What is our innovation goal for this challenge and what does success look like?

We want to identify innovations that will lead to Better Cotton farmers receiving customized trainings based on their specific needs, preferences, and knowledge gaps. We recognize that this outcome can be driven through multiple pathways and are indifferent and non-prescriptive to the pathway innovators propose.
What we will be measuring are outcomes such as farmer satisfaction, incremental adoption of Better Cotton practices, and minimization of Type I & II errors in training relevance (training content that is included in a session but is redundant and not useful or could have been useful but was not included).

Why is training needed?

A farmer in the BCI program makes multiple decisions during a growing cycle, such as the selection of pesticides / seeds, time for harvest and duration of remedial measures, and ways of increasing efficiency of farming practices. To do this, Field Facilitators deliver trainings on what ‘better’ cotton is and how farmers can grow it. Training and on-going supports helps farmers improve their agricultural practices, often in the face of extreme and unpredictable weather condition – while reducing costs and increasing yield of cotton.

© BCI/Khaula jamil 2018

How is the training being given currently?

Training content: Trainings modules conducted with farmers include Integrated Pest Management approach, responsible pesticide usage, awareness on decent work, water usage practices and soil health among others.

Delivery Methods: The mode of delivery varies from being trainer-led instructions, printed collateral, field visits and sometimes via videos.

Delivery Process: Farmer discussions are held before the start of the crop cycle where field facilitators understand farmer needs. Training content is then delivered by Field Facilitators via in-person group trainings consisting of ~35 farmers (LG level) each.  Field Facilitators conduct follow-up meetings to allow farmers to clarify any doubts or request for more information on a certain topic.

Dalberg Field Visits

© BCI/Khaula jamil 2018

What is the challenge and why is there need for customization?

While current methods of training have positively affected farmer knowledge and incomes, the impact has been limited due limited training time and content repetition. We found that farmer needs, and aspirations vary significantly depending on factors such as farm-holding size, previous experiences, skills, and attitudes. Each farmer requires a slightly different form of support and at different times. Since the needs of each farmer are unique, they can benefit significantly from customization.

What are some drivers limiting customization?

While there have been significant advances in digital education and training across the world and customized learning is becoming the norm in many classrooms, on-ground farmer training is still largely static and complex as it has both “know-how” and “know-what” dimensions and gets carried out in field environments with several external limiting factors.


Some of these factors include:

  • The absence of a real-time assessment of (diverse) training needs of farmers in a training cohort.
  • Standardized core training content that does not cater, sufficiently enough, to the different needs and learning goals of farmers.
  • Limited flexibility of the channel (field facilitator sessions and farmer visits) to deliver customized farmer training.
  • Limited training related feedback systems from farmers to trainers and implementing partners.

What kind of innovations and innovation pathways are we looking at?

Innovations over the years have made it possible to provide customization in different ways that are intuitive and adaptive. These include ‘adaptive customization’ where algorithms provide unique advice to each farmer, ‘personalized training tools and coaching’ where each farmer is provided access to practical non-tech field based tools and on-going support, democratizing content creation where local and applicable content is created through a participatory process for face to face and / or online use, remote video-based engagement to drive adherence, voice / speech-based learning technologies to increase ease of use and many others.


We are looking for the next big innovation across the value chain of providing customized learning – be it improving the segmentation process of farmers, matching content to appropriate segments or actually delivering content.

© BCI 2018

Your innovation may follow one (or more) of the pathways mentioned below:

  • Farmer segmentation based on demographics / needs / aspirations. (i.e., land holding size, maturity within BCI, future goals)
  • Customizing modules of training content. (i.e., bundling modules to suit farmer needs)
  • Customizing the delivery channel of content. (i.e., in-person meetings, IVRS, mobile app)
  • Customizing the timing of content delivery. (i.e., providing more mature farmers training on specialized modules at the beginning of the season instead of foundational training)

Note: This list of pathways above remains non-exhaustive and illustrative.

What key constraints should the solutions operate within?

The Better Cotton Initiative is a real world program operating at scale and it is essential that innovations identified or created through the Challenge operate within some key real world constraints of the program. These include:

  • Cost effectiveness: The training solution should not cost more than USD 4 per farmer on an annualized basis.
  • Inclusive: The solution should be inclusive and ensure that the most marginalized / at-risk farmer is not left worse off than as-is.
  • Alignment with the ecosystem: The solution should work with the existing responsibilities and incentives of implementing partners and should not require any significant shifts in role or incentives.
  • Alignment with skillsets and capabilities at the last-mile: Solutions should not require a more advanced skillset from Field Facilitators (than is locally available) or skills/ literacy from smallholder farmers than is the average for the location.

© BCI/Paulo Escudeiro 2018

To know more about challenge 1, download 'Challenge 1 Knowledge Pack'.