MAF-SoL’s Communication and Facilitation Skills (CFS) pilot for Suco Extension Officers, or SEOs, has been a triumph for the ministry, reaching the targeted districts of Aileu, Ermera, Baucau and Bobonaro, with many more now requesting training.

The two-day training sessions aimed to begin a discussion among SEOs, not about what we communicate, but rather how we communicate.

Extension officers are Ministry staff who share information with farmers about improved seed varieties and agricultural practices.

SEOs are already knowledgeable of the technical aspects of farming and agriculture, but many are unsure of how to pass this information on to farmers.

Sol Communications Advisor and Master Trainer Rick Jacobsen, believes the best way to overcome this uncertainty is with CFS training.

“Several SEOs have told me they feel shy sharing new information with more experienced farmers,” he said.

“The CFS program deals with such issues. We do role plays and build confidence and work on the process, on how the content can be delivered.”

As their title suggests, the master trainers were the drivers of the training sessions, but the ideas and information shared had more to do with the trainee input.

The learning process in CFS focused on self-reflection and idea sharing among participants, rather than top-down rote learning.

“We hardly provide new information on how the participants communicate with other people,” Jacobsen said. “Instead, we encourage participants to look inside and analyse their own skills.”

“We do this by asking open-ended questions like, “how do you show another person that you are listening and heard what they said?” With the help of their colleagues they are able to develop a list of skills together.”

The outcome of all this discussion and teamwork is a group of skilled SEOs who are confident in their ability to relate with farmers.

SEOs thought the training was informative and entertaining.

The majority of the feedback gathered from SEOs was unqualifiedly positive, and master trainers noted trainees were, “engaged, and happy to discuss CFS topics.”

Participants were so pleased with the program that demands for more CFS trainings have already reached MAF, with Extension Chefés reporting to the National Director that the workshops address a clear need.