HORIZONTAL: Open education and innovative practices in a digital era
ADULT EDUCATION: Increasing the demand and take-up through effective outreach, guidance and motivation strategies
ADULT EDUCATION: Improving and extending the supply of high quality learning opportunities tailored to the needs of individual low-skilled or low-qualified adults
Agriculture faces a number of challenges in Europe, most importantly producing more food, preserving the natural resources and building resilience to climate change, adapting to the widespread use of information of communication technologies in the society and also provide a high quality of life for farmers. Agriculture that answers all these challenges mainly called sustainable agriculture. Tackling these challenges means constant adaptation and learning by the farming community which is consisted of mainly family and smallholder farms as the most common type of farm in the European Union, which are operating in specific economic and social contexts.
This is particularly true to Central Eastern and South East Europe where farms are smaller and more fragmented as in Western Europe and the level of trust, cooperation and cohesion between farmers are also generally lower.
According to the latest farm structure survey in EU, two-thirds of the 10.3 million farms in the EU are less than 5 ha. The farming population in Europe is aging, as the average age of the farmers are above 50 years and the education level (despite showing some increase during the last decade, but according to the farm structure survey, still only 11% of farm managers are under the age of 40) is also low and the majority of the farmers are lacking any agricultural qualifications, which means they are relying on their practical experience only.
The digital divide is also affecting farmers heavily as the main underlying determinants of the digital divide (the inequality with regard to access to and use of digital technologies) are education, age and geographic location (urban-rural). A great proportion of farmers are still excluded from digital literacy. In the advent of Smart Farming (the application of digital technologies into agriculture) new, innovative learning methods are needed, as information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be seen today as the foundation of a universal technological system, embedded in all other and earlier technological systems. As a “general purpose” technology, ICT penetrates into every aspect of farming from production, farm management, marketing – and knowledge management of the farmers.
The changing farming environment requires new knowledge and skills from farmers, but the efficiency of different information transfer methods depends on the ability of the end-user farmer, his or her practices in terms of problem identification and analysis, information gathering, critical thinking and evaluating outputs. All the listed components are also context dependent that is why tailored learning opportunities and effective guidance and motivational strategy is needed. Farmers adopt more easily external ideas and practices which are already accepted and successfully applied by other farmers. There is a significant need for learning opportunities that acknowledge farmers not only as recipients of information but also the creators and owners of local-specific knowledge. Experiential knowledge plays an important role in sustainable agriculture practices (sustainable agriculture-related knowledge creation and dissemination often happen through informal mechanisms) and may have more utility in given situations than scientific knowledge or generalized solutions new to the market.
Involving local farmer knowledge into the learning process can also play a role in validating innovations or discovering and communicating local innovation-needs. Smart farming related research showed that one barrier to the adoption of these solutions is the contradiction between the general outputs of ICT-tools and local practices. Needs-based education can help to boost digital literacy and the usage of smart farming applications among smallholders and family farms. Informal learning relating to farmers’ private interest is one of the most important aspects of farming, because of the locally relevant and meaningful knowledge can be acquired through community ties and personal relations and peers.
The chosen methodology of the project (peer-to-peer learning based on locally relevant needs) also can strengthen farmers’ identity, confidence, and motivation to farm. Increased problem-solving capability gained through self-made knowledge strengthens the farmers’ ability to find new solutions for farming-related issues. Transnational and regional cooperation is one of the crucial element of increasing the efficiency of agricultural advisory services and agriculture knowledge systems, with the exchange of knowledge and innovative practice. It contributes widely to the quality and relevance of the project results and guarantees dissemination of them.
To summarise, the project main aim is to develop and implement a new and innovative learning solution to help farmers improving their professional and digital skills while also increasing their motivation for further progress and this is clearly reflected in the chosen priorities.