The Farmer Field School Approach: History, global assessment and success stories (2009)

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The Farmer Field School (FFS) approach emerged out of a concrete, immediate problem. At the end of the eighties of the last century farmers in Indonesia were putting their crops, their health and their environment at severe risk through massive abuse of highly toxic pesticides promoted aggressively by the private industry and government. Pest species were becoming resistant and in some cases resurgent. What was called for was a large-scale decentralised programme of education for farmers wherein they become “experts” in managing the ecology of their fields – bringing better yields, fewer problems, increased profits and less risk to their health and environment. The Integrated Pest Management Farmer Field School (IPM-FFS) and a corresponding large-scale Indonesian programme were developed in response to these conditions. The genesis of integrated pest management (IPM) was a response to the emergence of problems associated with the reliance on chemical controls for insect pests by governments, extension systems and farmers. The search for solutions to these problems led to the development of a more holistic view of what constituted an agro-ecosystem and how human interventions could either enhance or disrupt one. FFS alumni are able to not only apply IPM principles in their fields, but also to master a process enabling them to help others learn and apply IPM principles, and organise collaborative activities in their communities to institutionalise IPM principles. A good farmer field school process ensures these outcomes. The educational concepts underpinning the FFS approach are drawn from adult non-formal education. These concepts have been found to be relevant across the many countries and cultures in which the FFS approach has been used, and have proven to be empowering for farmers. Central to the popularity of FFS programmes is an appropriate topic and methodological training of the people who organise and facilitate farmer field schools. To be a successful FFS trainer/facilitator, one must have skills in managing participatory, discovery-based learning as well as technical knowledge to guide the groups’ learning and action process. Without an adequate training of trainers (ToT) programme, the subsequent FFS programme will fall far of its potential. Season-long in-house (residential), and field-based, training-of-trainers courses in which all activities should follow an experiential learning approach have proven to be an effective model for building the required technical capacity of trainers and for changing their attutudes towards that of facilitators of bottom-up change, whereby previous extension methodologies and lecture-type approaches conflicting with the FFS approach had to be essentially ‘unlearned’. 

In general, farmer field schools consist of groups of people with a common interest, who get together on a regular basis to study the “how and why” of a particular topic. The farmer field school is particularly suited and specifically developed for field studies, where hands-on management skills and conceptual understanding (based on non-formal adult education principles) is required. So what are the essential and original elements of a farmer field school? Below is a list of elements that commonly appear in the generic FFS approach:
  • the group
  • the field
  • the facilitator
  • the curriculum
  • the programme leader
  • financing
The paper looks at the achievements and impacts of Farmer Field Schools in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Carribean, the Near East and north Africa, central and eastern Europe and in western Europe.  Case studies from sub-Saharan Africa (Mozambique and Kenya) and Pakistan are presented.
Language: English
Imprint: International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) (background paper for the IFAD Rural Poverty Report 2009) 2009
Series: Discussion paper,