Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (7) 2010 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Small ruminant producers’ training needs and factors discouraging participation in agricultural education/training programs

E D Lioutas, I Tzimitra-Kalogianni and C Charatsari

Department of Agricultural Economics, School of Agriculture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, P.C. 54621


The purpose of this study was to investigate small ruminants producers’ training needs, in the region of Thessaly, Greece. The research also sought to determine producers’ perceptions on issues related to causes of non-participation in agricultural education/training programs.


Results highlight the weakness of agricultural education/training programs offered to meet farmers’ demand for specific knowledge. Subjects related to the health management of animal capital and issues referred to reproductive management placed high on livestock farmers’ list of training priorities. Perceived training needs influenced by factors such as farmers’ age, educational level and size of livestock. Agricultural education/training programs’ inconsistent with farmers’ felt needs, producers fear that educational/training programs create an uncomfortable environment for them and their low level of confidence towards extension agents, explain 92.5% of their unwillingness to participate in educational/training activities.

Key-words: agricultural education, agricultural training, categorical regression analysis, livestock, willingness to train


Small ruminant production represents an important productive sector in Greece and of other Mediterranean countries. In Greece, the total farmed livestock amounts to 14,231,748 animals, 62% of which are sheep and the remaining 38% goats. Greece ranks sixth worldwide in the production of goat milk and fourth in the production of sheep milk. The total financial revenue from the sheep and goat milk’s production comes up to 380 million U.S. dollars (FAO 2007).


Small ruminant breeding has a high environmental value, since the breeding of indigenous breeds, especially goats, allows the use of many mountainous areas, which would otherwise remain untapped. Sheep production is also a crucial sector of human activity and in case the industry declines, large areas will be adversely affected, leading to the loss of a culture that has survived virtually unchanged for centuries (Zygoyiannis 2006).


Livestock industry in Greece is characterised by numerous features, including: a) the, often, extensive exercise of livestock, b) the transition of farms together with the methods of exercising the profession from one generation to the next, c) the recent entry in the industry of young farmers who do not have prior contact with the performance of livestock d) the entry of new breeds of animals that vary widely and have different management requirements of the breeds being fed today and e) the extremely low level of farmers involvement with education (Folinas and Lioutas 2008). In this constantly changing environment, the problems that farmers face are numerous and focus mainly in the production cost, the low prices of agricultural products and their distribution and issues affecting the quality of agricultural products (Charatsari et al 2009).


Moreover, livestock is one of the most management-intensive sectors of agricultural production. These parameters suggest the high importance of agricultural education and training for the producers of small ruminants.


Numerous studies confirm the positive effects of agricultural education and extension in farms productivity (Alene and Manyong 2007 and Atreya 2007), poverty alleviation (Dercon et al 2009), chemicals use (Bury et al 2005 and Salameh et al 2004), decision-making capacity (Yang et al 2008), acquisition of general knowledge about new methods and principles in agriculture and animal husbandry (Karbasioun et al 2008), development of environmental behavior (Balakrishnan 2010). However, farmers’ participation in agricultural education/training programs (AETP) remains low in Greece. Exceptions can only be found in some specific rural population’s sub-groups, such as IPM farmers and organic growers (Siardos and Lioutas 2008). One of the main causes of criticism in AETP by farmers is the lack of their content’s responsiveness to the real farmers needs (Charatsari and Papadaki-Klavdianou 2008). However, AETP’s content is the most important parameter determining their perceived quality (Lioutas et al 2009).


Halim and Mozahar-Ali (1998), argue that curriculum development is the most important part in a training program, after a need for training has been identified. Learning must build on previous knowledge and experience. There is an expectation of respect for the learner and their rights to set their own goals and outcomes (Roberts 2000).


Linear models of knowledge transfer have been challenged, and new forms of cooperation among farmers, extension agents, scientists and other stakeholders proposed (Cristóvão et al 2009). The success of any project will be strongly influenced by local attitudes and environmental conditions, and by how the design and planning of the project accommodate variations in these factors. Projects that choose techniques and policies that are appropriate for the local social, economic, and environmental conditions are more likely to succeed than projects that impose a single monolithic solution everywhere, without attempting to account for the unique needs of the people and the environment (Cao et al 2009). The success of the training was attributed to the farmers’ interest in topics covered (Laurense 2000). Absence of training need assessment and shortage of training time are the most important problems identified in the training process (Tesfaye et al 2009).


In order to sustain the interest and motivation of the rural population - particularly women - towards their economic empowerment, their felt needs should be addressed (Farinde and Ajayi 2005). AETPs’ failure to adapt farmers’ perceived training needs led them to seek information from unofficial sources. Rezvanfar et al (2007), discovered that most of the farm women depend on friends, husband, neighbors and other native sources like local leaders and educated people for their information needs. Besides, other studies (Chalermphol and Shivakoti 2009 and Kibwika et al 2009) confirm that information exchange within rural communities is indicated as one of the most common responses to farmers’ cognitive needs.


Although the importance of local knowledge should not be underestimated, these channels of information are unable to supply farmers with new knowledge, focused on specific production’s issues. Knowledge is constantly getting old, besides learning is a continuous process. Therefore the demand of farmers for new knowledge should always remain provided the spread in the seminars and trainings is really new (Jasinskas and Simanaviciene 2008).


Aim of the study


The principal objective of this research is the identification of educational-training needs of small ruminant producers in the region of Thessaly.


In the secondary objectives included: a) the identification of producers' perceptions that inhibit their willingness to participate in AETP and b) the assessment of influence's degree of the most important of them in willingness to train.


Methodological approach 

Research was carried out in the province of Thessaly, Central Greece. Thessaly, composed of four provinces, plays an important role in agricultural production of Greece. The cultivated area represents 11.2% of total cultivated land in the country and more than 140,000 people derive income from agricultural or livestock sector. The above referred population, representing 25.3% of the economically active population of this region (National Statistical Service of Greece 2009).


The data collection was carried out with the use of a questionnaire prepared specifically for the purpose of the study. The part of the questionnaire presented in this work includes questions about producers demographic characteristics, data relating to the ranching operation, farmers’ involvement with agricultural education and information and also seventeen proposed training subjects and ten perceptions on factors discouraging livestock farmers’ participation in educational/training activities.


All variables analyzed below correspond to closed-ended questions. For the rating of the proposed training subjects were used four-point Likert type questions. The measurement of issues that explore the factors discouraging farmers’ participation in training activities was carried out by using the five-point Likert scale.


The questionnaires were completed by personal interviews with stock-breeders in the province of Thessaly - Greece. The interview process lasted six months from June until November 2007. As a sampling unit used a person from each stockbreeding family, whether that member was the leader of the farm or not, as the object was to explore training needs of all those involved in the production of small ruminants and not only of the heads of farms. After a random sampling procedure, the total sample amounted to 58 small ruminant producers.


The data collected processed using PASW Statistics18.0 for Windows. Binary analysis was carried out by using Spearman’s correlation coefficient (referred in the text as “rho”) and Mann-Whitney tests (U).


A model of categorical regression analysis was created to investigate the relative importance of each factor that influence producers’ willingness to train. The goal of categorical regression with optimal scaling is to describe the relationship between a response variable and a set of predictors. Model’s explanatory power indicated by the R² value. Regression coefficients (beta) and Pratt’s measure of relative importance were reported in order to express weights of independent variables.



For the purposes of this survey, 35 variables were analyzed. Of these, 17 refer to the scoring of training subjects proposed to farmers and ten concern factors that discouraging livestock farmers’ participation in educational/training activities. Remaining eight variables are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Variables referred to producers demographics, characteristics of ranching operation and farmers’ involvement with agricultural education and information



Percentage %



















Educational level

Primary school


High school






Principal occupation





Communication with veterinarian

Every 15 days


Every month


Every 3 months




Animal capital (number of productive animals)







Participation in a training program





Willingness to train

At all








1: Institute of Vocational Training

The majority of the sample are men (81%), while age follows normal distribution, with a maximum in the category of 41-50 years. Livestock farmers’ educational level is low, as only 19% of the total sample has continued their studies after high school. Livestock production is the main source of income for most producers. The survey highlighted the low level of farmers involvement with information sources. Only 13.8% of respondents have monthly contact with veterinarians, while only 2 stockbreeders (3.4%) have participated in training programs. Willingness to train is generally low. One in four farmers indicate a negative attitude towards the possibility of participating in an educational activity. However, it is increased in younger (rho=-0.384, p=0.003) and well educated producers (rho=0.435, p=0.001), and in farmers who often communicate with veterinarians (rho=-0.503, p=0.000).


According to respondents, the main causes of non-participation in educational programs (Table 2), are: the lack of content’s response to their needs, the lack of time, their low level of confidence towards the extension agents and their belief that their participation in an educational process will make them feel uncomfortable.

Table 2.  Perceptions on factors discouraging livestock farmers’ participation in educational/training activities


Mean score*

Standard Deviation

I think that the content of education programs does not meet my needs



I do not have free time to devote to training activities



I do not trust the extension agents who offer training programs



I think I will feel uncomfortable in an educational program



I believe that educational programs are targeted to well-educated farmers



I believe that not all farmers have free access to educational programs



There aren’t educational programs for livestock farmers



I do not think that the methods used in educational programs are tailored to farmers’ characteristics



I am not able to cover the potential cost of participation



I do not believe that my participation in a training program will really benefit me



* 1: Strongly disagree, 2: Disagree, 3: Neutral, 4: Agree, 5: Strongly agree

Four above mentioned variables were used as predictors in a categorical regression model, in order to identify the weight of each variable in forecasting the dependent (willingness to train). The variables considered could explain 69.7% of the variance of target variable (R²=0.70). The results of categorical regression further showed that the F-value is 10.693, and it is significant at 0.01 level of confidence, confirming the good fit of the model. The results of regression analysis (standardized coefficients, F-ratio, importance), are summarized in Table 3.

Table 3.  Coefficients and relative importance of predictors introduced in Categorical Regression Analysis model







Importance, %

I think that the content of education programs does not meet my needs







I do not have free time to devote to training activities







I do not trust the extension agents who offer training programs







I think I will feel uncomfortable in an educational program







As table presents, regression coefficients of variables “I think that the content of education programs does not meet my needs” (beta=-0.552) and “I think I will feel uncomfortable in an educational program” (beta=-0.386), are the highest. The aforementioned variables could explain 81.2% of the variation in willingness to train.


Training subjects marking delineate the importance of matters referred to health management of livestock and also those referred to reproductive management of herds. Products disposal is also a training priority (Table 4).

Table 4.  Livestock producer’s perceived training needs


Mean Score*

Standard Deviation

Treatment of animal diseases



Oestrus’/births’ synchronization



Prevention of animal diseases



Crossing Systems



Products’ disposal



Feeding animals



EU programs for livestock



Genetic improvement



Managing pasture



Use of hormones/growth promoters



Ration’s formation



Waste management



Artificial insemination



Improve carcass quality



Use of modern technology



Stock-housing conditions






* From 1: Indifferent to 4: Very Interesting 

Binary analysis revealed that:



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Received 7 May 2010; Accepted 19 May 2010; Published 1 July 2010

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