SMART Skills for Smallholder Farmers

Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for CRS

Research shows that farmers need a set of five core skills in order to connect effectively and sustainably to markets. We strengthen these skills through our SMART Skills curriculum. Our ICT4Ag Suite of ICT tools facilitates delivery of this training at scale.



What skills do smallholder farmers need in order to succeed? We studied this question with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the Agroenterprise Learning Alliance.

The research revealed that farmers who live in the poorest areas around the world were all trying to acquire the same five skills.* We call tthem Skills for Marketing and Rural Transformation (SMART Skills).

Traditional development interventions often focus on helping farmers strengthen their capacity in just one skill at a time. In contrast, our SMART Skills approach aims to strengthen all the skills farmers need in order to create effective and sustainable linkages to markets.

The curriculum presents an integrated and sequential approach to strengthening the capacity of farmers—both men and women—to link with markets and manage their resources.



CRS created the curriculum with the support of 132 practitioners from 19 organizations and 12 countries. These partners helped us to develop, test and refine the modules, which we published for further beta testing.

USAID’s Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) project provided financial support. The SMART Skills curriculum has also been endorsed by the Technical and Operational Performance Support (TOPS) program, funded by USAID/Food for Peace.

Each module has four parts:

  1. Lessons that provide the necessary technical information and guidance on delivery methods that field agents should use to teach the SMART Skills to farmers
  2. Quizzes for field agents to test their own knowledge
  3. Staff exercises that give field agents the opportunity to practice their skills
  4. Field exercises to use when training farmers




We developed the CRS ICT4Ag Suite of ICT tools to facilitate large-scale capacity strengthening. The suite consists of three components:

  1. The SMART Skills e-learning modules, which provide instruction in the five skills that farmers need to increase production, income, and effective market engagement.
  2. The Business Planner/Profitability Assessments, which help farmers analyze costs, production and revenue to increase profitability. The software collects comprehensive data to generate reports and facilitate participatory analysis.
  3. The Map & Track application, which allows registration of field agents, farmers, and farmer groups, while tracking and mapping activities in real time via Arc GIS.

The three components work together to promote holistic development for transformative and sustainable results.



We are applying the SMART Skills curriculum and the ICT4Ag Suite at scale in three USAID projects in southern Africa. Two of the projects are Development Food Assistance Programs. We plan to continue refining the approach as we roll out the SMART Skills curriculum in projects around the world.



For more information about the SMART Skills, contact [email protected].

Learn more about our work in sustainable growth and capacity strengthening for agriculture.


* J. Ashby et al., “Preparing Groups of Poor Farmers for Market Engagement: Five Key Skill Sets,” in Innovations as Key to the Green Revolution in Africa: Exploring the Scientific Facts, ed. Andre Bationo et al. (New York: Springer, 2011), 103–11.