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«Demystifying Farmer Field School Concepts Kevin D Gallagher 1, Arnoud R Braun 2 and Deborah Duveskog 3 This article responds to the recent paper on ...»

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Demystifying Farmer Field School Concepts

Kevin D Gallagher 1, Arnoud R Braun 2 and Deborah Duveskog 3

This article responds to the recent paper on farmer field schools (FFS) by Dr. Kristin Davis in

the Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education, Volume 13, Number 1,

page 91-97 which was subsequently noted in the ECAPAPA Newsletter Vol. 9 No. 06. The

paper raises some interesting issues in agricultural extension, but tends to confuse some

aspects of FFS such as notions of sustainability, lateral information flow (diffusion), evaluation and funding. Further, the conclusions and opinions are based on a review of a limited number of “peer-reviewed” articles rather than a full literature search. As such, some conclusions are not well justified and also not well reflected in the results of the main studies referred to. It is unfortunate that FFS practitioners were not given an opportunity to review the article – the acknowledgements only refer to researchers and World Bank staff. In this article we will not review the entire FFS movement and literature base, as such a review has recently been completed under contract for ILRI that will soon be published. We have prepared a short question and answer format of comments on issues raised in Davis’ paper.

This article is a constructive reflection of the views of a number of FFS practitioners.

What is the background of FFS? The FFS grew out of the T&V process in 1988 through improvements needed at the time to address the national threat of a rice insect outbreak in Indonesia that depended on local complex decision making by farmers in their fields. Under T&V, schooled extension staff were expected to be experts delivering messages from research to farmers, but many messages were inappropriate, too simple and the messengers not local experts. This “technology transfer” model was not functioning to manage large-scale outbreaks of the rice brown planthopper which threatened rice selfsufficiency in Indonesia, nor were the more than US$150 million in pesticide subsidies (FFS programmes costs are significantly less). In FFS, extension staff became “facilitators” who assisted men and women farmers to merge local indigenous knowledge with modern scientific rice ecological knowledge. The changed relationship honored local farmer expertise and allowed for better relationship with their external extension staff while encouraging new ecological science to be incorporated into decision making. In these traditional cultures, it was also culturally inappropriate for young extension staff to instruct older farmers but not culturally inappropriate for them to facilitate learning activities. Other FFS changes included promotion of farmer facilitators who were often considered better than external extension agents because they knew local terms and knew participants better. The hands-on nature of FFS experiential learning is merely a good educational practice of using more senses in a learning process. The FFS form and structure therefore grew from the practical need for field observation and decision making practice, use of a facilitative leader, or formation of a local group to self-organise the study field and participants. Weekly (most annual crops and livestock), bi-weekly (some long-term crops) or monthly (most perennial crops) regular schedules of meeting developed as a compromise between learning cycles based on crop management timing and farmer schedules. It should be noted that models such as functional literacy, children’s primary health care and other practical programmes were used during design processes under an adult education team leader.

Are FFS “new”? No and yes. Dutch, Swedish and Danish farmers have met regularly for self-study since WWII in various study circles. Australian rice farmers meet on Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), FAO, Vialle delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy, tel. +39 (06) 57056269, kevin.gallagher@fao.org Farmer Field School Foundation / Endelea, Rietveldlaan 3, 6708 SN Wageningen, The Netherlands, tel. +31 (317) 418549, arnoud.braun@farmerfieldschool.net, http://farmerfieldschool.net/ Regional FFS Advisor, FAO, Box 30470, 00100 Nairobi, Kenya, tel. +254 (722) 701527, deborah.duveskog@fao.org

Demystifying Farmer Field Schools Concepts

RiceCheck methods throughout a growing season. Women take children to primary health care facilities regularly based on need for learning. Functional literacy groups meet regularly.

Similar effective methods such as work done in Latin America with World Neighbors (Two Ears of Corn) and in community groups such as LandCare or Adopt-A-Stream would seem to testify to the suitability of the basic principles which FFS have in common with these other programmes. FFS adapted these models into the agricultural extension context moving from “technology transfer” to adult education. Tools widely used such as PRA exercises, transformative learning through drama and song and the action learning cycle were also modified to fit in an agricultural adult learning context through the FFS.

Are FFS designed to be sustained? No and Yes. FFS were designed to be time-bound with a built-in exit strategy: graduation. Originally the FFS itself is not meant to be sustained (notions of “institutional inertia” and “sustainability” are often confused).

However, the impact of FFS in terms of economic, social, environmental and political assets are hoped to be sustained. Therefore a livelihood analysis is perhaps more appropriate for sustainability assessments. FFS can be a “stepping stone” to self-sustained groups in some situations. The FFS format builds sustainable human and social capital needed for next step actions among farmers such as collective marketing of produce and lobbying through farmer networks, savings groups and other associations that are sustained as independent groups, no longer registered by projects as “outputs”. Recent emergence of FFS Networks and FFS Federations in East Africa that are farmer-owned independent associations with elected boards and member financing are examples. The Indonesian Ikatan Petani PHT is an association of IPM FFS graduates that continues more than 10 years after establishment outside IPM projects and still support member learning as well as advocacy for farmer rights.

The Sri Lankan case study showed that IPM FFS graduates continued to sustain impact even after five years without FFS structures. However, if “sustainable” means “affordable”, then new self-financed groups that pay for extension operational costs while demanding high quality services indicate that FFS may be the only extension methodology widely used that generate their own operational support costs on a very sustainable basis and are already an example of what the Neuchâtel group is hoping will be developed in demand-driven extension.

Are all FFS the same? No. FFS have different goals depending on the topic and setting. In the case of IPM or integrated production and pest management (IPPM), it is expected that farmers will improve production and pest management practices, which may or may not include reducing pesticide use, and may or may not include increased yields.

However, it should always improve productivity or profitability. A dairy FFS will focus on good dairy practices appropriate to the participants; soil and water management FFS on long term soil husbandry issues; Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools for HIV/AIDS orphans focus on life skills, peer support and income generation. Increasingly the FFS learning process is also being taken up for non-agricultural based learning such as the Farmer Life Schools in Cambodia and Reproductive Health Field Schools in Kenya. FFS are also “stepping stones” to build technical and social skills, and move to networks, federations and associations.

Does “one size fit all”? Yes and No. Anywhere in the world you may visit a building with a teacher and children learning on a daily basis. This is recognized as a primary school. The form and structure have been shown to be useful globally. However, the cultural relationships between teacher and learner, the content of the learning and the classroom processes will vary. This is also true for the FFS. The regular meetings based on the crop/livestock management schedule with hands-on structured learning in study fields with facilitators and learners seems to work globally. However, in some countries it is inappropriate to mix men and women; in some countries poetry and singing is very much a culturally enjoyable part of learning (and a good tool for remembering) while in other cultures

Demystifying Farmer Field Schools Concepts

it is not; content, schedules and costs will vary depending on the goals of the learners and the local circumstances (e.g. temperate vs tropical rice production).

Basic FFS implementation guidelines and schedules are perceived by some as too rigid – not allowing enough flexibility. It is important to understand that the core of FFS relates to broad underlying principles of participation and adult education. These principles can be applied in a variety of ways, and lots of innovative FFS applications are coming out of the work of skilled facilitators. However, in reality a majority of the extension staff and service providers are not skilled and innovative facilitators, but on the contrary find it very difficulty to shift from a top-down “technology transfer” mindset to becoming a facilitator in the real sense. In this context the FFS methodology with its step by step implementation guidelines (i.e. subgroups, AESA, special topic etc.) should not be underestimated in the way that it assists even the most top-down individuals to facilitate participatory and farmer-centered extension – meanwhile they undergo a process of personal development and change of attitude.

Are FFS specifically for “technology transfer”? No. The extension notion of “technology transfer” is limited when messages need to be adapted locally. Most sustainable agricultural practices are knowledge intensive (as compared to input intensive agriculture) and as such very few blanket recommendations exist and practices (especially among smallholders) need to be developed or adapted locally. The FFS took on an educational approach that emphasized analytical methods such as experiential learning, action research and critical thinking, to enable farmers to take the lead in local adaptation of practices. Many of the “technologies” transmitted in an FFS are from the members themselves, sharing information and developing new locally appropriate solutions to local problems by building on their learning. There are instances in which “technology transfer” is useful and for such issues, non-FFS methods, such as radio and community meetings are often more appropriate.

Are FFS the only method for extension? No. FFS are particularly good for intensive hands-on field management issues where there is significant new content for learners. A FFS on sorghum for example would not be appropriate because farmers in most cases are doing the best that is possible and there is not sufficient new information –action research on new varieties would likely be more appropriate and effective. A simple change in early pesticide application on rice does not require an FFS but may be better transmitted through radio combined with simple field testing. Use of posters, leaflets, radio messages, TV, internet, farmer-to-farmer, study circles and action research are all appropriate methods which have specific strengths and weaknesses.

Are FFS an extension system? No. FFS may be used by any government, NGO or private sector extension system, especially those that are dealing with improving both local technology and building human capital as opposed to external “technology transfer”. Unfortunately, extension systems are often stuck with “technology transfer” rather than client-oriented progammes. Imagine a community interested in developing a citrus industry... Client-oriented work would mean that in the first years, service providers will be working with clients (producers and buyers in the value chain) to establish desired varieties in nurseries, citrus production management skills and as time progressed move towards improved quality and marketing and finally towards added value on farm (sorting, coloring, etc). FFS in this system fit because they are flexible and build both technical and human capital appropriate to the client demand/orientation. FFS may not fit as well into “technology transfer” systems because the learners are advancing while the extension service is often stagnant and waiting for new messages from researchers.

FFS has been found to work best in the context of a progressive demand-driven extension policy process, in which accountability among extension staff is towards farmers rather than

Demystifying Farmer Field Schools Concepts

towards their superiors (often achieved by allowing farmers to decide about the allocations of extension funds) and when there is a policy environment that encourages organizational growth and favorable market conditions for smallholders. For example the complementarities between the NAADS system in Uganda and FFS have been found to cater for greater impact than each of the two systems could have achieved separately, in which FFS supports local learning and building a social capital base while NAADS provides the right institutional and policy framework for farmers to move a step further.

What about scaling-up? Two large-scale programmes in Vietnam and Indonesia are instructive. In both cases, the combination of FFS, policy changes and public information averted major pest outbreaks over large areas (millions of hectares) in relatively short time frames. A large programme in Kenya with 30,000 farmers is still small compared to the population of farmers and should not be expected to have national impact – although local impact is substantial. The inertia of T&V “technology transfer” in most countries has yet to subside so there are yet to be any adult education national efforts using FFS that might register national impact. Methods for up-scaling have been developed for certain mainstream agricultural development programmes, such as the Agricultural Services Support Programme in Tanzania. At any rate, FFS should be seen as one element of up-scaling an appropriate response within demand-driven systems – not up-scaling of FFS for their own sake!

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