Small scale farmers and land users are the world’s largest group of custodians of biodiversity and play a critical role in efficiently managing natural resources like water, soil and biodiversity.
In this way they ensure that future generations can also continue to use and benefit from these resources. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) draws this conclusion in its field guide for small scale farmers just released. Farmers’ Field School (FFS) is the product of 30 years of practical field experience in several countries across all continents, and the work of a large number of development actors and practitioners. FFS are mostly constructed by smallholder farmers or land users who are resource-poor and often have limited access to education, information, extension services, market access and financial capital.
Of the 570 million farms in the world, 72 percent are smaller than 1 hectare in size (FAO SOFA, 2014). Small scale farmers and land users often lack access to the agricultural services they require to enhance their knowledge and skills to manage increasingly complex agro-ecosystems. In addition, they are often not sufficiently integrated in markets. Improving skills and increasing leverage in markets are core priorities to enable the rural communities to increase production, productivity and income, and escape the poverty trap. Most of Namibia’s some 120 000 small scale farmers in the northern regions farm on very small plots and families and other rural land users manage increasingly fragile ecosystems while also subjected to changes driven by political or economic pressures outside their control.
FFS programmes have been implemented and developed with and by farmers with the support and contributions from local and national governments, farmers’ organisations, Nong-governmental Organisations (NGOs), scientists and with contributions from several development partners, These are Australia, the European Commission, the Global Environment Facility, (IFAD), the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, the World Bank and many others. Namibia’s small scale and communal farmers stand to benefit from such extensive information as the document will be of particular benefit to government authorities who will find it informative in understanding the potential contributions of FFS, and the educational value it adds to extension service delivery in their country, according to the prevailing context and needs. It may aid in deciding whether to use FFS or an alternative approach to enhance extension service delivery mechanisms.
The document therefore provides information on requirements for setting up and starting an FFS programme, its implementation, and necessary quality assurance mechanisms, along with relevant mainstream support structures and institutions.
Non-governmental/community-based organizations interested in the implementation of FFS will benefit from understanding the rationale for starting such a programme, as well as the required conditions for successful FFS implementation. The document details the necessary preparation in the form of staffing and budget, the appropriate implementation period, and quality assurance mechanisms at institutional level – including capacity development, monitoring and evaluation systems and technical support requirements, among others. FAO country and field offices will better understand the role of FAO, and the expertise required to support countries and other stakeholders to implement FFS programmes successfully. Specifically the document addresses the strategic level engagement with relevant actors and stakeholders at national level, including awareness-building of the approach, support for capacity development for FFS in the country, quality assurance mechanisms and guiding the institutionalisation process. This will also help regional offices to define support roles required for FFS programmes in the region.
The master trainers are the drivers behind quality implementation of FFS in the field. This document will guide them on: the basics and prerequisites for starting FFS, identifying capacity development needs, identifying relevant human resources for FFS implementation, the quality of training programmes, building quality assurance mechanisms in implementation, and support materials for running FFS successfully. Facilitators, as essential members of the FFS community, will also find this information useful in delivering their work in the field. Obviously, this document can only provide reminders and suggestions for FFS trainers, and will never replace practical training of master trainers and facilitators, and exposure to FFS in the field.
Academics, and especially students interested in researching or learning about FFS may benefit from an in-depth understanding of the rationale, implementation and attributes of FFS.
Over 90 countries currently use FFS and there is increasing demand from different stakeholders.