Empowering small farmers through farmers field schools
Farmers Field Schools (FFS) were first introduced in Zanzibar in 2007 as part of the Agricultural Services Support Programme (ASSP) supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The programme's overall objectives were to improve food security and rural income and reduce poverty, still prevalent on the island in spite of the development of tourism.
One of the main approaches promoted by the ASSP programme was the Farmers Field School methodology, successfully developed in Asia in the 1990s and which enables farmers to learn by doing. As part of the methodology, a communal plot is made available to teach farmers proven agricultural practices, by which they can increase their yield and production and protect their crops. Farmers adopt new techniques which they can apply on their own farm. Once the techniques are well mastered, they can also teach other farmers, thus multiplying the positive effects of the methodology.
"Overall the FFS methodology has been successful in Zanzibar," said Miriam O'Kongo, IFAD's Country Programme Manager for Tanzania, "farmers have been able to adopt better agricultural practices and recognised that the school was the main source of new knowledge."
So far, the ASSP programme has established a total of 1,200 FFS on the island which benefited a total of 22,124 households, among them 61 percent being women. In addition, another 12,954 households participated in the programme's activities informally (without joining a farmers' group) or learnt through interaction with other trained farmers. Although the average adoption rate of FFS practices is not as high as hoped at 64 percent, the members who applied what they learnt managed to increase production and productivity by two to five folds depending on the crop or livestock enterprises they chose. For instance, the approach has been particularly successful in improving rice productivity, with the rice production FFS becoming a showcase for the success of the programme.
In the Kisongoni FFS located in the Unguja North B District, farmers established the first FFS in 2009 to improve cultivation of mainly paddy. Four groups of 20 farmers were formed, one for rice, one for poultry, one for vegetable and one for banana, but it is the paddy group which became the most successful. On the school field, farmers were first taught better husbandry practices, seed selection, planting techniques, weeding and harvesting. During the second season, they reviewed what was previously learnt and covered cross-cutting issues such as HIV/AIDS, child labour and malnutrition. In the third season, they learnt about management issues such as record keeping.
As a result of the training in that particular school, productivity has increased from less than a ton per hectare to five tons. Furthermore, farmers have gone into seed production rather than rice production, after entering into a contract with the government. Under such contract, seeds are subsidised and sales guaranteed as part of a government policy to produce locally and reduce imports of rice seeds. Farmers qualified to produce quality seeds such as the TXD 88 grade and the Super India variety. "The government is responsible for buying the seeds, we were taught how to grow them. Only the farmers who got the training were allowed to sell seeds to the government," explained Yusuf Faki Yusuf, one of the most successful farmers of the group. "We have to sell the seeds, we cannot sell rice. We buy a cheaper local variety for our own consumption." After the first seeds harvest in 2010, he made a profit of 2.4 million shillings (US$ 1,500) which enables him to buy a milling machine. The following year, his profit amounted to 6 million shillings (US$3,750) with which he bought a pick up truck. In 2012, he earned 9 million shilling (US$5,600) thanks to an increase in the farmed land which he doens't own but is renting.
For now the rice seeds are still subsidised following a ratio of 50/50. According to the government scheme, the subsidies should then go down to 25% and once the farmers are successful enough they will be removed, but this is not planned in the near future. "The most positive impact we see of the farmers field schools is the empowerment of farmers," explained Mwatima Juma, Programme Officer for Tanzania, "before farmers were asking for cash, now they are asking for training and support to develop new activities, and of course they are also more food secure now."
This is particularly the case of the Dairy FFS in the Unguja West District where farmers were trained to produce milk. With the new technology taught, they increased production from 1-3 litres of milk per cow per day to an average of between 10 and 16 litres. However, the group reached a level where they started to produce more than they could sell and requested further training in milk processing to diversify production into milk products such as butter, yogurt and cheese. They are now able to transform the excess milk instead of wasting it and have even managed to sell some of their products to one of the tourist hotels. They still need support to improve the quality and packaging of their products.
However, not all of the 1,200 FFS formed on the island have been as successful. Some of them are still struggling with the lack of water and inadequate infrastructure for irrigation. As a result, they still have to depend on erratic rainfall to irrigate their crops. They are also hindered by a lack of access to credit facilities which would enable them to start making investments. Until these issues are addressed, it may be more difficult for farmers to upscale the new techniques to the whole of the island and to more farmers and crops.