Farmer Field Schools (FFS)
Thirty years ago, the farmer field school (FFS) approach was developed in Indonesia in an FAO project promoting integrated pest management (IPM) in rice. The FFS model enhances understanding of complex agro-ecosystems and was gradually adapted around other entry points, from IPM to sustainable production systems, agro pastoralism, value chains, nutrition and life skills. Communities are encouraged to change practices and take a lead role in defining the future: FFS embraces sustainable agriculture anchored in ecology and farmer empowerment. Today FFS are implemented in over 90 countries, empowering an estimated 400000 to 1 million farmers, pastoralists and fisher folks every year.
The FFS is a farmer education approach that promotes farm-based experimentation, group organization and local decision-making using discovery-based learning methods. As such, FFS develop the skills and knowledge of agricultural producers, allowing them to create more efficient and sustainable production systems and contribute to the achievement of the SDGs. The learning in the FFS goes beyond trying to change a simple behaviour as a result of a straightforward message. Instead, changes take place in four domains: human, social, natural, financial, with positive impacts including farmer empowerment, emancipation, food security and poverty reduction. Connecting ecological literacy with community empowerment, FFS promote integrated changes towards more sustainable practices and systems. Addressing community-level issues, FFS contribute to multiple SDG targets.
By its design, the FFS approach builds on four capitals of sustainable livelihoods: natural, human, social and financial. Since the development of the SDGs and 2030 agenda, a need has emerged to map and track the contribution of FFS to multiple SDG targets. Most documented impacts of FFS relate to natural capital. To better assess what investments to make in order to contribute to SDGs, work has gone into improving the monitoring, evaluation and documentation of FFS impacts related to the other capitals using both quantitative and qualitative methods.
Currently, programmes implementing Farmer Field Schools (FFS) run in over 90 countries. An FFS group comprises 20-30 farmers (or livestock or fish producers) from the same locality and interested in learning about how to solve specific agricultural issues or how to improve the sustainability of their farming system. Each FFS group is supported by a trained facilitator using non-formal education methods to support group learning. FFS members meets regularly during the growing season, often on a weekly basis. During the weekly sessions, the FFS group carries out experiments: farmers identify production problems, brainstorm potential solutions, then set up study plots to compare local practices and improved practices and then assess which solution works best in their specific context. By working in groups and working on locally adapted solutions, this process promotes empowerment beyond the field and fosters social capital building at community level. FFS groups are setup as part of national extension, UN, NGO or Farmer Organizations programmes. Key activities in FFS programmes include: training of FFS facilitators, development of locally adapted training curricula, setup and implementation of FFS groups, monitoring and evaluation of FFS and development of follow-up activities to amplify FFS impact. Running a FFS for a season costs between 800 and 1550 USD, i.e. 40- 80 dollars per FFS member. Resources are also needed for facilitators’ training and project coordination and technical support to groups. In 2018, the global Farmer Field School platform was setup by the FAO as a hub for all stakeholders involved in FFS implementation globally. It has become a reference hub to setup quality FFS which achieve interconnected and integrated impacts at community level and beyond.
A 2018 global synthesis of FFS evaluations shows that changes take place in four domains: human, social, natural, financial, with positive impacts including farmer empowerment, emancipation, food security and poverty reduction. Several studies show how FFS develop the skills and knowledge of producers, for them to create more efficient and sustainable production systems contributing to the achievement of all the SDGs. The benefits of FFS to help smallholders increase agricultural productivity and incomes (SDG 2.3) are amply documented. In Kenya, the value of crop productivity per acre for FFS members increased by 80% (and by 200% for female households). At the heart of FFS is the promotion of sustainable food production systems and resilient agriculture (SDG 2.4). Two million FFS farmers in Asia learned insect ecology and massively decreased pesticide use. FFS on soil, land and water helped farmers transition to agroecology in India, the Philippines, the Caribbean and across Africa.
FFS has a strong foundation on adult non-formal education. It is based on the definition of key principles that allow the approach to be adapted to different contexts while maintaining its focus on empowerment of farmers, learning by doing and participatory learning cycles. The model also heavily relies on partnerships established at multiple scales (community to global) to increase reach. Due to its success, many stakeholders now use FFS, sometimes resulting in weakened impact when key FFS principles are lost. As a result, FAO launched the global FFS platform multi-stakeholder partnership and is developing digital technologies for FFS M&E.
FFS can contribute to all SDGs. As long as key principles are followed rigorously, implementers can easily add new modules to adapt FFS to local needs. FAO has been central both in providing an institutional home for FFS and in being a hub of innovation for the myriads of FFS adaptations developed across projects. Sustainability relies on maintaining FFS quality and building partnerships. FAO developed guidance on how to foster FFS quality and engaged in creating partnerships with key FFS allies and strategic partners. Adult education is an investment, with its full impact visible on the medium to long term. Reaching out to people in person, developing their capacity to analyze, observe, discuss with others, and building their overall capacity to think for themselves requires upfront expenses and time. Many donors are essential in ensuring the sustainability of FFS. Today, we aim at embedding FFS principles in national advisory systems and Farmer Organizations.
Worldwide FFS programmes have been affected by COVID-19, especially in terms of organization of facilitator training events and of FFS group activities. FFS were affected differently depending on the measures taken by countries. The main mitigation measure taken by the FAO was the collaborative development of guidelines for the implementation of FFS in times of COVID-19. The guidelines provide key information based on WHO recommendations as well as suggestions on how to adapt FFS group activities based on country situation. The pandemic also pushed the FFS community to further explore and experiment with digital technologies to support farmer learning. As a response to changes in food flows, FFS groups were supported to become providers of healthy local food for local communities.
SDGS & Targets
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Deliverables & Timeline
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Currently over 90 countries use FFS approaches, in Asia, Africa, the Near East, Latin America and Europe. In each of those countries, Farmer Field Schools are implemented at sub-national level, with differing scales depending on the country.