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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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What are weaknesses of FFS? The first weakness is variation among extension staff. Most existing extension staff in many countries were hired and trained under T&V top down extension funding (NAEP). The staff must be retrained in facilitation skills that allow a melding of local knowledge and external science based knowledge with client service orientation. Variation in extension staff, just as in any teaching environment, result in variations of FFS quality. Well trained farmers are often better facilitators as they are more practical, have the respect of the community and know local conditions better. The second weakness is the investment cost (education is not for free) under structural adjustment and declining agricultural (national) budgets. This weakness is being addressed by farmers using the FFS for raising funds to finance the operational costs of the FFS (proceeds from field production are used to pay for facilitators and learning materials – a system developed by women’s groups in Kenya and now being institutionalized with IFAD support). Privatized FFS Networks will eventually fund the upfront investment. The third weakness, despite FFS attracting mostly women farmers, is participation of the most vulnerable – this is a general problem in development work and being addressed where available through “food for training” arrangements, which allow the poorest to join in development activities including FFS. Other methods of educational sharing such as radio and posters may help in some aspects although the poorest in many countries don’t have access to radios nor literacy education. Farmer to farmer methods seem most promising (think of peer led study circles for those not familiar with farmers).

What is the future of FFS? The FFS movement is strong and projects are increasingly moving out of the donor portfolio to government or farmer organization managed programmes. If we were to venture a prediction in trends, the growing interest in “Education for All” and continuing education will encourage FFS and similar programmes’ implementation within an adult education context while agricultural extension continues to decline due to limited success of “technology transfer” concepts (case of institutional inertia and failure to adapt). FFS are becoming cheaper with self-financing and are an effective widely appreciated format for a growing number of topics. External observers will also begin to appreciate its appropriate niche and may reduce their antagonism arising from their suspicion of anything that has high praises and local ownership by farmers. The current trend of FFS moving far outside the scope of agriculture is expected to continue and it is likely FFS (or adaptation of its principles) will be seen in future as a community educational approach independent on the topic.

Demystifying Farmer Field Schools Concepts

What about “peer reviewed journal” articles? Can one really imagine that these articles so coveted by the academic “lords of science” should be the only source of information to lead communities or donors in decision making? Not to mention the inaccessibility of the journals to field practitioners. While such articles are important for quality assurance among scientists, they are not without their problems. Limitations include lies (Dr Hwang in Korea on cloning to mention a recent one), corporate bias (e.g. tobacco industry sponsored research for years now replaced by GMO and pesticide industry), nonpublishing of negative results and the peer review process itself. For example, the much cited papers by Dr Feder et al on FFS that the World Bank has chosen to promote widely are peer reviewed for analytical process but the dataset used was not peer-reviewed. Publishers could not know that the dataset was flawed due to collection of data during the height of the economic crisis (1997) in Indonesia, the situation in the “control villages” and other variables resulting in [widely reported] flawed conclusions. Practitioners have reported these problems but the journal articles themselves continue to be cited without these critical reports. One should recall that the journal articles themselves are paid for by the authors or their institutions and thus the “peer reviewed journal” are not available to all persons wishing to publish.

Communities and donors, however, do use peer review methods of other types to maintain quality of field programmes. Independent external reviews such as midterm and final evaluations of project by leading experts, field visits, thesis studies and other methods do provide first hand reports and “grey literature” that is also peer review. The “rush of donors” to support FFS is based more on direct field observation 4, commissioned studies and other methods that do not find their results in pay-by-page peer reviewed journals. To suggest that donors and communities are following fads mindlessly or should only be consulting distant libraries for academic reviews of even more distant and uninformed reviewers seems to suggest that only the “lords of science” know what is having an impact. In the case of Dr Feder, one wonders if he knows the existence of self-sustained commercialized groups that grew out of Indonesian FFS human capital investments, or the national federation of IPM farmers – he has not prepared a peer reviewed article on these long-term impacts. Does that mean that they do not exist or that reported field observations by experts are not valid demonstrations of reality?

Are there other evaluations of FFS besides those listed in Davis’ paper? There are plenty. Based on the ILRI study, an FFS bibliography5 has been compiled, which is a knowledge building block for assessing the impact of FFS. Davis’ paper could have probably come to different conclusions with access to at least the following

papers (mainly not peer-reviewed) and reports:

• Bartlett, A., 2004. Entry points for empowerment. A report for CARE Bangladesh. 69 p.

• Van den Berg, H. and J. Jiggins, 2006 (forthcoming). World Development (Accepted 17 May 2006).

• Biekienga, I.M., B. Diarra, A. Gassama, A. van Paassen and H. van der Valk, 2005. Programme sous-régional de formation participative en gestion intégrée de la production et des déprédateurs à travers les champs-écoles des producteurs pour le Burkina Faso, le Mali et le Sénégal (GCP/INT/813/NET). Mission d’évaluation (29 juillet – 24 août 2004), Global IPM Facility.

• CIP-UPWARD, 2003. Farmer Field Schools: From IPM to Platforms for Learning and Empowerment. International Potato Center – Users’ Perspectives With Agricultural Research and Development, Los Banos, Laguna, Phillippines. 87 pp.

Several organisations in Kenya that have taken up FFS lately such as DANIDA, PLAN and CRS, mention that the starting point for them to take up the approach was the “word of mouth” going on at local level, i.e. farmers and field staff seeing FFS projects and putting pressure on their local coordinators to include FFS and then this demand transmitting to higher levels.

Those interested can obtain a copy from arnoud.braun@farmerfieldschool.net

Demystifying Farmer Field Schools Concepts

• FAO, 2005. Kenya Farmer Field School Networking and Coordination Workshop (2005). Blue Post Hotel, Thika, Kenya. 4-5 May 2005. FAO, Nairobi, Kenya. 23 p.

• FAO/SAFR, 2005. Inventory and evaluation of Farmer Field Schools in Zimbabwe. Working Document. FAO Sub-Regional Office for Southern and East Africa. Harare, Zimbabwe. 79 p.

• Friis-Hansen Esbern, 2005, Agricultural development among poor farmers in Soroti district, Uganda: Impact assessment of agricultural technology, farmer empowerment and changes in opportunity structures, DIIS, Denmark

• Khan, M.A., I. Ahmad and G. Walter-Echols, 2005. Impact of an FFS-based IPM approach on farmer capacity, production practices and income: evidence from Pakistan. In: P.A.C. Ooi, S.

Praneetvatakul, H. Waibel, & G. Walter-Echols (Eds.), The Impact of the FAO-EU IPM Programme for Cotton in Asia. Hanover, Germany: Pesticide Policy Project Publication Series, Special Issue No. 9. p. 45-60.

• Khisa, G. and E. Heineman, 2004. Farmer Empowerment through Farmer Field Schools: A Case Study of IFAD/FAO IPPM FFS Programme in Kenya. Paper presented at the Nepad-IGAD Conference on Agricultural Successes in the Greater Horn of Africa, Nairobi, Kenya, 22-25 November 2004. 13 pp.

• Longley, C., D. Spencer and S. Wiggins, 2006. Assessment of Farmer Field Schools in Sierra Leone, Operation Feed the Nation. ODI/DS&A, London/Freetown. 56 pp.

• Mancini, F., 2006. Impact of integrated pest management farmer field schools on health, farming systems, the environment, and livelihoods of cotton growers in Southern India. Published doctoral dissertation, Wageningen University, the Netherlands. 112 pp.

• Ortiz, R., 2004. Análisis comparativo de las modalidades de asistencia técnica del INTA:

Enfoques y modelos de extensión, estructuras de costos y beneficios generados. Informe final.

FAO-Nicaragua, Managua, Nicaragua. 95 pp.

• URT, 2004. Tanzania Agricultural Services Support Programme - Programme Document and IFAD Appraisal Report, Working Paper Supplement I: Farmer Empowerment. 82 pp.

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