From 1968 to 1973, Mr Jan B. Orsini of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) worked closely with Mr Poom Siri of the Rubber Division of the Royal Thai Government Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, to establish an extension system for rubber smallholders in South and South-East Thailand.

One objective of the extension system was to assist smallholders to market their rubber. During a three year experimental period, the two developed a system of rubber Group Marketing Organizations (GMO) which enabled groups of 15 to 30 smallholders to market bulk amounts of improved rubber at weekly intervals. This system achieved an average income increase of 14 percent for members when compared to non-members selling in the same market. The GMO groups operated on a voluntary basis, employing participatory methods. They established their own rules and marketing procedures.

Once the GMO concept had been proved, an expansion programme was developed with 16 agricultural college graduates being trained to establish new GMO. Expansion of the new programme was slow, with high failure rates, until field officer Mr Suwit Saenakul tried using leaders and members of long established groups to help organize and train new groups. His system proved so effective that its use greatly accelerated the expansion programme, while significantly reducing the failure rate of new groups. In addition, as the new groups often marketed in the same market town as the mentor groups, they learned to combine their sales and thereby gained additional bargaining power. This increased the rate at which individual groups amalgamated to form large organizations – some with more than 300 members – that blossomed in the 1970s and 1980s.

Using success case groups to conduct training reduced the workload of field officers and the risk factor that they faced when they introduced this new approach.

In addition, because the officers were young, inexperienced with rubber, and came from higher social levels, the smallholders  instinctively distrusted their ability to provide effective advice concerning rubber marketing. By utilizing the leaders and members of established GMOs as peer group trainers, these constraints were automatically removed.

The methodology was not “discovered” in Thailand. The system – which Mr Orsini termed Farmer Trains Farmer or FTF – has been in use since the dawn of history and is related to various forms of apprenticeship.

This phenomena, farmers teaching one another, occurred in Thailand when farmers responded to the European demand for cassava as livestock feed some 30 years ago. The farmers, against advice, changed Thailand from a non-exporter to the world’s primary exporter.

The expansion benefited poor farmers, used idle land, and earned foreign exchange. It is notable that the transformation occurred entirely on a Farmer Trains Farmer basis as individual farmers learned about cassava by working as labourers in their neighbour’s fields. Cassava buyers did not assist with finance or advisoryservices and government recommended against expanding the crop because of its detrimental impact on soil fertility.

In 1976, Mr Orsini, then employed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and working in cooperation with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, began a series of tests of this methodology, then still called  Farmer Trains Farmer or FTF. Experimental programmes were conducted on group farming, group marketing and rural women’s income raising in many countries from 1976 to 1979. These efforts proved promising for group-based activities mainly dealing with farm enterprises. Further experimentation in the 1980s substantiated that the methodology was equally applicable for transfer of knowledge between  individual rural entrepreneurs, and for groups such as cooperatives, provided that training programmes were properly organized, comprehensive, and included adequate follow-up to overcome unforeseen problems.

To accommodate the change in focus from farming to general income earning activities, the name of the methodology was changed from Farmer Trains Farmer to the more general Success Case Replication (SCR).

The philosophy behind SCR is that among the rural poor are farmers and groups that have achieved a remarkable level of success at their occupations, whether in agriculture, animal husbandry, micro-enterprises or management of participatory groups or cooperatives. In achieving such success, they have gained valuable experience overcoming varied constraints. In a manner of speaking, they have become experts in their chosen field. These successful people have much to teach their peers and, because they are fully familiar with local language, customs and markets, they can become effective instructors.

SCR methodology, although simple in concept, has advantages that make it an unusually powerful and flexible tool for a development worker. Field trails in many countries conducted during the last decade by ESCAP and its counterpart agencies identified the following strengths of the methodology.

Success case replication:

Relies on positive human attitudes and behaviour;  It is a widespread human behaviour for less successful persons to admire and seek to have the wealth of their more successful peers. And parents everywhere, no matter how poor and uneducated, strongly desire a better life for their children. SCR harnesses both common aspirations to accelerate the adoption of skills and technologies that have proven successful.

Reduces risk in technology transfer; SCR micro-enterprises are chosen specifically because they have already proven successful in the local market. Consequently, the risk of failure due to a lack of raw materials or an absence of local markets is precluded. When entirely new technologies are introduced, both raw material and market limitations can appear.

Farmer trains farmer; In the SCR system, the trainer is just another farmer coming from the same social strata as his trainees. Because of their shared background, trainees are able to believe that they can imitate the trainer’s success. When the trainee is from a different social class, the trainees may feel inferior and unable to emulate the trainer.

Availability of follow-up assistance after training; When outside expertise is utilized, the trainer will usually complete the training and move on to a new site. If a problem arises when the trainees begin to put the training to practical use, they are left to their own devices to find a solution. If their efforts fail, then the enterprise fails. However, when SCR methodology is applied, the trainer is a local person and agreements are struck so that he will be available on call to assist new enterprises if and when such problems arise.

Enhancing local self-reliance; Centrally planned programmes tend to lead to community dependence on outside assistance. Constant dependence reinforces perceptions of inferiority among community members. Eventually, farmers may believe that government assistance is essential for any progress. SCR methodology, however, reinforces self-reliance at two levels: first, it enhances the self-reliance of the successful person who is transformed into a teacher in the eyes of others in the community. Second, the community sense of self-reliance is strongly reinforced because it is seen that there are local successes which can be replicated to promote community progress without relying on imported technology.

Rapid expansion through multiple replications; When an extension officer works individually with farmers, adoption of the technology may be painfully slow. With SCR, once training is completed, the new generation of successful trainees can conduct yet another generation of SCR training. Provided there are no market constraints, generation after generation of success replicators can be trained. The multiplier effect can be very powerful. In Sri Lanka, for example, SCR training in mushroom cultivation has reached 13 generations in three years, providing more than 300 families with higher incomes.

It is suitable for farm-based technology;  SCR is technology neutral. It can be used to transfer knowledge about farming technology or micro-enterprises. It may also be applied to group formation and management.

It is suitable for any level of organization; SCR is institutionally neutral. It can be used to replicate at any level of organization: an individual enterprise, a participatory group activity or even large institutions.

Very low cost; For the benefit it produces directly in the hands of the poor, SCR methodology has proven to have an unusually low delivery cost. On average, for all eight participating countries, each unit of cost to conduct SCR training generated 12 units of income in the first year. The lowest Cost/Benefit ratio was 1 to 4 and the highest was 1 to 54. For example, when Mrs Nilmani in Sri Lanka conducted mushroom training, all costs totalled US$718.82, while the net income gain for all successful trainees amounted to US$61 074 for the first year of marketing. In other words, for each dollar invested, US$85 were produced. It is difficult to fault a methodology that has produced so many measurable benefits to so many poor people at such low cost.

Despite such positive aspects, it must be cautioned that SCR is not a panacea for all the ills of rural development.  It is best applied to accelerate conventional extension and employment training.