The Farmer Field School was initiated to “pool together” the resources of the better farmers in a structured way to help address some of the concerns encountered by them in the industry. It was envisaged that this institution could be a very effective tool in bridging the yield gap, as it will bring together farmers from diverse backgrounds and who will be able to share their knowledge and experience for the benefit of each other. Ultimately, farmers with limited experience will be able to access other information and techniques in planting from the “better” farmers thereby allowing them to improve on what they are doing.
The FFS in all cases was operated under four (4) guiding principles of Integrated Pest Management (I.P.M) and these were: –
After the launching, field school sessions started in all the Regions under the guidance of Regional Extension Officers. Seven (7) of these schools were established with one in Region 2, two in Region 3, one in Region 4, one in Region 5, and two in Region 6.
The goal of the F.F.S was to ensure that farmers achieve maximum yield from their crop by using agro ecosystem analysis as a basis for action.
Characteristics Of Farmer Field School
The F.F.S was conducted through a farmer-to-farmer approach. In this technique, farmers met on a weekly basis and shared their knowledge and experiences with the aim of arriving at the most suitable practice that can be adopted in their own field.
This approach was unique in that it required little cost to establish and leaders could be selected for each group who were able to mobilise and manage each group session. It also gave extension officers and farmers an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the FFS concept since it was the first time it was implemented in the industry.
The following points describe in detail how the F.F.S was conducted during the season.
Duration of school.
The school lasted for the entire cropping season, i.e from the time the planting began in June until the time of harvesting in September. Some of the proceedings ended earlier as farmers needed time to make preparations for the harvesting period.
Frequency of meeting.
F.F.S participants met once per week culminating in thirteen (13) meetings for the season. The meetings were held at specific farmers’ field who is in the field school. Seen below are the days when meeting were held in each Region and the number of meeting that took place during the season.
The learning material of the field school was in the field and this was because the farmers were studying the plant and its interaction with the environment.
Venue of school
The field school meeting place was close to learning spots. e.g under a tree or some shaded area. These trees were normally found in areas surrounding rice fields. It was agreed that after collection of data from the field was completed, all activities following would be done under these trees. In cases where the farmer lived next to the plots then the meeting place was under his house.
Activity of FFS
Each F.F.S activity involved collection of data, agroecosystem analysis, special topic, and group dynamics activity.
Working in groups, participants enters the F.F.S plot to observe general field conditions, sample plants, collect insects making notes and gather live specimens. The group would then analyse their field samples by creating a visual analytical tool known as the agroecosystem drawing. This tool is made up of the key agroecosystem factors such as pest/predator densities, field conditions, weather and current management treatment. Following the analytical session one member of the group will present the group analysis. Problem posing question will be addressed during the discussion.
During the process, all agronomic practices carried out by farmers in the F.F.S for their plots were recorded and tabulated. This was done in folders provided by the facilitators. These agronomic practices were examined at a later stage to determine their impact on the crop.
Mid season Review of Farmers’ Field School
This was done to assess the work completed by each F.F.S and to plan the way forward. At these sessions, members of other F.F.S were invited to participate.
Training of Facilitators
Extension officers underwent intensive training to prepare themselves for organising and conducting Field School.
Final meeting and planning for follow-up activities.
This was in the form of a review, which involved all F.F.S facilitators, research and management personnel. The methodology, results, limitations etc. and the way forward were discussed at this session.
Preparation meeting for the future F.F.S.
After the activity as at (10) was completed, officers met with farmer groups in each region to discuss with them plans for the F.S in the coming season.
Upon examining the agronomic practices carried out by the farmers in the field school, it came to my realisation that it was very difficult to determine the effect of their practices on yields. This was so because there was no mechanism to compare their practices. In this regard I would suggest that a different approach be taken and that is to have plots where trials can be undertaken involving the farmer practice and the field school practice.
Insects. In addition to this, they were informed of the dangers associated with the indiscriminate use of pesticides and their effects on the environment. The most important gain by the farmers was the opportunity they had to work in groups and exchange ideas for their own benefits.
The conduct of the first farmer field school in this country, despite having its limitations can be considered a success. The exercise was a learning one for both farmers and facilitators. Extension officers have become more acquainted with the technology and are now in a better position to conduct future field schools. By the end of the session farmers had become more knowledgeable and better equipped to make decisions in relation to the management of their crop.