The East African Sub-Regional Pilot Project for Farmer Field Schools, Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM FFS)
The Farmer Field School (FFS) training method was first developed by the FAO-assisted Indonesian National IPM program in 1989. The concept behind an FFS is that groups of farmers meet on a regular basis to do practical learning that is based on a season-long curriculum. The learning combines local knowledge with scientific ecological approaches. All lessons are hands-on and field based with a few lectures on special topics. Farmers carry out experiments on study plots which they establish and manage as a group. In FFS the extensionist’s role changes from that of a primary knowledge source to that of the facilitator of a learning process.
The East African Sub-Regional Pilot Project for Farmer Field Schools started in 1999 in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania with activities based in 8 pilot districts. The goals of the project were to:
- Expand the capacity of governments, NGOs and the private sector to respond to the knowledge and information needs of resource-poor farmers
- Reduce food insecurity and enhance sustainability of agricultural land use through farmers’ improved understanding and control of determinants of farm performance
- Increase the competence of extension systems to provide farmer education that responds effectively to local resources and conditions
- Establish a networking capacity for exchange of FFS experiences within and between countries
- Contribute information on the replicability and effectiveness of FFS as an alternative and sustainable extension method
The pilot project is administered as a regional project under the execution of the Global IPM facility of FAO in collaboration with national Ministries of Agriculture. The local area extension staff of the host government carries out FFS field based operations and receives overall guidance from the project assistant in each country. A regional co-ordinator from CAB International Africa Regional Centre provides technical backstopping to the project assistants.
A FFS is a group of 25 farmers who meet weekly through an entire growing season to learn through practical experience about integrated production and pest control. The groups are facilitated by both government extension staff and farmers. Following training each extension worker runs between 2 and 4 FFS in his duty area for one season. Farmers who graduate from the first FFS volunteer to facilitate new FFS in the neighbourhood with close guidance of the extension staff facilitator. Such FFS are referred to as farmer–run. To date there are over 1000 FFS within the project area (Kenya 481, Uganda 490 and Tanzania 167) with close to 25,000 beneficiaries. FFS focus on different crops in each country. In Tanzania FFS focuses on cooking bananas, cassava and vegetables (local and exotic); in Uganda on cotton, groundnuts, sunflower, cassava, vegetables (local and exotic), sweet potatoes and beans; and in Kenya on vegetables (local and exotic), maize, beans, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes. In all three countries, small livestock and HIV/AIDS have been included in the FFS curriculum.
A new financial model has been developed in which the FFS group receives a grant which it then uses to purchase learning materials and to reimburse transport cost and lunch to the staff facilitator. Self-financing groups can obtain a loan from a revolving fund, which it must subsequently return at the end of the season through funds raised from the field plots and through an educational fee.
In the FFS study fields farmers carry out different trials which include testing of different crop varieties. This has led farmers to diversify the number of crops they grow which includes both indigenous and exotic ones. The promotion of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has enhanced the conservation of on-farm biodiversity and composting has enhanced soil life.
Benefits of the FFS approach for the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity include:
- Increased knowledge among farmers of farm ecology, decision-making, different varieties and different production systems,
- Better understanding of biological control measure, and increased use of non-chemical control measures
- Reduced level of pesticide usage and increased use of non chemical control measures,
- Increased use of manures and making of compost (40-80% farmers using manure).
- Between 20% and 100% increased yields on study plots and in farmers fields,
- Increased crop diversity,
- Enhanced group cohesiveness and better financial management and expenditure management within groups,
- Farmers empowered to seek solutions to their problems (e.g. farmers visiting ICRAF station to solicit technical advice).
- Farmers are recognised as leaders in the community,
- Farmer networks formed from the grassroots to district level, managed by farmers themselves leading to improved extension and farmer interactions and horizontal flow of information,
- Gender roles recognised and respected e.g. women allowed to freely air their views,
- The new ‘grant system’ and self-financing groups offers the potential for sustainability and expansion.
The project has however encountered some bottlenecks along the way:
- Large project area and few extension staff who are unable to meet the demand,
- Large number of local dialects, spoken by few extension workers,
- The transformation of extension staff from instructors to facilitators is not easy,
- The FFS approach (working together through a single growing season) does not translate easily to perennial crops
Lessons from this case study include:
- IPPM FFS are a useful method to promote agrobiodiversity conservation, and farmers who have been through a FFS can pass on their knowledge to others,
- The FFS approach helps build networks from village grassroots to district levels and between farmers’ and marketing organizations, opening up excellent avenues for information exchange between farmers and other stakeholders ranging from service providers to market access.
- FFS contribute to community development. FFS educated farmers are more confident in running their own and other community acticvities,
- The Self-Financing model, and farmer-facilitated FFS offer an excellent opportunity for scaling up
Martin Kimani & Abisai Mafa