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«Deborah Duveskog Faculty of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences Department of Urban and Rural Development Uppsala Doctoral Thesis Swedish ...»

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There are a number of key learning tools and exercises that are carried out in the FFS as a means of enhancing learning, and as an aid for the facilitators to ensure participation, dialogues etc. in the groups. These are described in more detail below.

The way that key features of the FFS approach are described and classified varies across sources though the main features remains the same. The features listed below are mainly based on the researchers observation of practice over time as well as the elaborated Non-negotiable principles by the global FFS conference held in 2003 in Indonesia (CIP-UPWARD 2003) where FFS actors across the globe came together to reflect on FFS experiences. It is also based on the National FFS stakeholder meeting in Kenya held in 2005 (FAO 2005) where about twenty different actors (government, NGOs, UN etc.) elaborated core indicators of quality FFS.

General learning principles Learning by doing: FFS recognizes that farmers do not change their behaviours and practices just because someone tells them what to do or how to change.

They learn better through experience than from passive listening at lectures or demonstrations. Therefore all learning in FFS is by doing, and testing out new ideas and practices in the field.

The field is the learning ground: The field, herd or the landscape is the main learning ground, around which all FFS activities are organised. Farmers learn directly from what they observe, collect and experience in their surrounding instead of through textbooks. Participants also produce their own learning materials (drawings, etc.) based on what they observe.

Competences, not information, is the goal: In FFS the focus is on developing skills and competences rather than assimilating information regarding new technology options. The focus is on understanding the basic science behind various aspects of the agro-ecosystem in order to enable farmers to carry out their own innovation process, i.e. understand the “why” behind the “how”. Technologies are not taught as blueprint solutions but as examples of how to support various agro-ecological processes.

Experiential learning: The basic assumption is that learning is always rooted in prior experience, which is unique to each person, and that any attempt to promote new learning must in some way take account of experience.

Therefore sharing and discussion among FFS members is a core element of FFS.

Discovery based learning: To as large extent as possible technical information is brought out through discovery-based exercises rather than in lecture style. These exercises are usually 1-3 hours long to fit into a regular FFS session, and addresses the learning topic of the day in a practical manner, for example constructing a insect zoo to observe behaviours and interaction of various insects, digging of soil pits for analysis of soil types and layers, breeding of ticks to understand lifecycles etc.

Figure 3. A typical FFS learning setting, under a tree in the field, Mwingi Kenya.

(Photo by D.

Duveskog) Discovery-based learning is an essential part of the FFS as it helps participants to develop a feeling of ownership and to gain the confidence that they are able to reproduce the activities and results on their own. Problems are presented as challenges, not constraints. Groups learn different analytical methods to help them gain the ability to identify and solve problems. These kinds of exercises are often based on PRA tools and problem based learning tools (Chambers 1994b). There is no ultimate definition as to what a discovery-based exercise is but certain principles form a framework (Callo et al. 2001);

1. The learning field provides the main learning materials and any exercise should have its roots in the farmers’ fields.

2. Activities are based on what is happening in farmers’ field at this time.

One cannot discover something if it happened in the past or will happen in the future.

3. Any activity should build on farmers’ experiences of the topic, i.e.

include discussion and sharing among participants in order to gain insights from local practices, as well as identify technical gaps.

4. The people who are discovering are primarily the farmers. The purpose is to help participants remember more of what they are learning, therefore exercises are designed for practical discovery rather than only by seeing or hearing something.

Farmer owned curriculum Farmers, not the facilitator, decide what topics are relevant to them and what they want the FFS to address in their learning curriculum. The facilitator simply guides them through their learning process by creating opportunities for participants to engage with new experiences. This ensures that the information is relevant and tailored to participants’ actual needs. Training activities must be based on existing gaps in the community’s knowledge and skills and should also take into consideration its level of understanding. Every group is different and has its own needs and realities. As participants develop their own content, each FFS is thus unique. Since agriculture usually is closely connected to other livelihood aspects the curriculum will also include non-farming issues defined by farmers such as human health, HIV, nutrition, environmental concerns etc.

These are included as special topics in the weekly meeting schedule.

Another feature of the FFS curriculum is that it follows the natural cycle of its subject i.e. from “seed to seed” or “egg to egg”. This so that farmers can discuss and observe aspects in the field in parallel with what is going on in their own fields, i.e. learning about weeding takes place when it is weeding time etc.

Group trials and experimentation Innovation and experimentation are vital components of the FFS process and offers opportunities for learning and for building capacity among farmers to continuously adapt to change and improve the way they manage their resources. The experimentation in FFS is similar to the process of Participatory Technology Development (Selener 1997) but has less emphasis on generation of research outcomes related to technologies and more emphasis on the process of experimentation and analysis. Group managed trials, whether crop or livestock based form the nucleus of the FFS learning since it is the site of the trials that usually becomes the meeting point and learning space for the group.

At the formation stage of the FFS an experimental theme is defined followed by decisions on the various technologies or practices to study and compare for addressing a given constraint. These may be research generated technologies or simply farmer innovations or local practices. Typical experiments in FFS may be testing and comparison of new crop varieties, options for improved soil management, poultry feed and housing and more.

In experimentation, a control treatment is usually included in the design, the purpose of which is to provide a standard against which various alternative (new) options can be compared. Various types of control treatments can be used, depending on the experimental objective and theme of study. Frequently he control treatment is the farmers’ common practice. This allows farmers to compare the new options directly with their own practice, for example in terms of required labour and inputs as well as performance. The process also demonstrates the link between farming practices and outputs, and demystifies for farmers the reasons for good yield or performance, an aspect especially important where farming is connected to superstitious believes (Sones and Duveskog 2003).

Figure 4. In FFS farmers conduct simple experiments that are monitored at every learning session.

(Photo by D. Duveskog) Facilitation, not teaching In FFS trained facilitators (usually government, NGO extension workers or community facilitators) guide the learning process, not by teaching but by mentoring and supporting the participants to take responsibility of their own learning. In the discussions the facilitator contributes and facilitates the group to reach consensus on what actions need to be taken. A facilitator is assigned to a FFS group for the full duration of the FFS learning cycle and will be present at the scheduled FFS meetings. They usually reside in the locality of the group and speak the local language. Researchers, subject matter specialists and external expertise are occasionally invited to provide technical support to FFS groups as needed.

During FFS sessions the facilitators is expected to take a backseat role and let the farmers lead the learning activities, with the facilitator present more as a mentor and to guide the process. FFS facilitators are encouraged not to answer a technical question directly but to try to probe and pose counter questions in order to stimulate reflection and learning. In discussions on technical issues the FFS facilitator tries to moderate a discussion where the bulk of information comes from the group members. In order to facilitate participation by all, small-group discussions are commonly used where the participants first discuss among themselves in groups of 3-4 persons before discussing the issue in plenary.

FFS Facilitators are trained through formal FFS Training of Facilitators (TOF) courses developed and run by experienced FFS Master Trainers. The FFS TOF trainings aim to build the capacity among facilitators on the FFS approach as well as facilitation skills in general. These courses vary in length depending on the target group and need for inclusion of technical topics. In the FFS intervention that form the empirical base for this research facilitators were trained through an initial two week course followed up by a number of shorter technical trainings.

Figure 5. The role of the facilitator is to probe for questions, stimulate discussion and guide the learning session.

(Photo by D. Duveskog) Systematic learning process All FFS follow the same systematic learning process where the cornerstone is to observe and analyse their field experimental activities. Farmers meet weekly (most annual crops and livestock), bi-weekly (some long-term crops) or monthly (most perennial crops) on regular schedules defined by the group members. Farming related topics are interwoven with group organisational aspects and group dynamics to form the learning sessions that usually are held on weekly basis and of a half-day duration.

Any laborious activities such as taking care of the field plots or animals, seeding, weeding, watering, feeding etc. take place either before or after the learning sessions or on especially scheduled working day sessions.

In-between FFS group formation and starting the regular learning cycles there is a period of group establishment usually referred to as ground working.

This period entails forming and organising the group, problem identification, selection of learning enterprise and setting up the farm experiments, a process that usually takes between one to three months.

Special Topics of the day: Technical information to compliment the ‘learning by doing’ and field experimentation in FFS is usually brought in as a special topic of the day. This provide an opportunity for the facilitator, researcher or specialist to give technical inputs needed for a general understanding of the subject and to level knowledge among the participants.

The topic of the day is normally a farming related topic but could be any subject of concern. Participants may have other problems and feel a need to discuss issues such as human nutrition, micro-finance, gender inequity etc. If the facilitator lacks the specific expertise, external specialists or other community members can be invited to lead the discussion. The role of the facilitator is to target a specific topic at the most relevant time for group participants.

A typical session with the above aspects included is outlined in Table 3.

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Agro-Eco System Analysis The cornerstone of the FFS approach is the Agro-Ecological System Analysis (AESA), which is a field-based analysis of the interactions observed between crop/livestock and other biotic and abiotic factors co-existing in the crop/livestock field. The purpose of AESA is for farmers to learn to make regular field observations, analyze problems and opportunities encountered in the field and to improve decision-making skills regarding farm management.

The analysis follows a cycle of observation, analysis and action. By carrying out AESA regularly in the FFS (usually weekly, fortnightly or monthly depending on study topic), farmers develop a mental checklist of indicators to be observed when monitoring their farm practices (Gallagher 2003).

The process is holistic and farmers work in sub-groups of four to five persons under the guidance of a trained facilitator as to enhance the participatory process. Usually this exercise takes about 2-3 hours and it is done throughout the season or learning cycle so that the problems and decisions being studied overlap with similar issues in participant’s own fields, thereby increasing the motivation for learning (Sones and Duveskog 2003).

The four major steps in the AESA exercise are explained in more detail below in figure 6.

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Figure 6. The steps of the AESA learning process, photos of Lubinu FFS, Kenya Group Organization FFS facilitates empowerment through collective action by ensuring wellorganised groups, where participants get opportunity to practice various management and leadership aspects.

To enforce discipline and structure, a detailed timetable is usually followed as well as learning norms and group rules. The groups develop their own vision statement and learning objectives.

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