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Bring innovation to the field: linking Farmer Field Schools to technological innovation

Dr. Vincent Martin, FAO Representative in China (right), and Tian Yucheng, the chief engineer from China Internet Information Centre (left), inspected the local school before the seminar.

Kunming, Yunnan Province - A Seminar on Farm Field School by Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Poverty Reduction was held on December 13 in Kunming, the capital city of China’s southwest Yunnan Province. Experts in agricultural technology, e-commerce, charity work and communication discussed potential avenues for promoting agriculture development through ICTs that would allow bringing technology within farmers’ reach aimed at boost their income.

The seminar was hosted by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the National Agro-Technical Extension and Service Centre and Yunnan Plants Protection and Quarantine Station. It was held at Kunming Plants Protection and Quarantine Station.

Dr. Vincent Martin, FAO Representative in China and DPR Korea, said in his keynote address that FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture seek to combine ICTs with Farmer Field School (FFS) as a tool to accelerate growth in agricultural production and farm income. Mr. Martin also said, “Today, we are promoting a new wave of FFS enhanced by ICTs to tailor it to the needs of the poor. As pioneers in this journey, we hope that we could work closely together, and I am sure that our work will be of great value to agricultural extension and poverty reduction efforts elsewhere in the world.”

Yang Puyun, a researcher at the National Agro-Technical Extension and Service Centre, said that FAO’s project had introduced a new concept to Chinese farmers. A participatory training method has been developed based on experimentation and fine-tuning. Over the past decades, FAO has helped build more than 6,000 FFSs, and trained more than 2,400 instructors and 160,000 farmers. Yang expressed his desire to introduce ICTs to promote FFS via online and offline training.

Li Yongchuan, head of the Yunnan Plants Protection and Quarantine Station, said that Yunnan’s focus on developing its agriculture is based on making the best use of its geographical location and traditional culture. The commodities the province produces – melons, vegetables, fruits, herbal medicines, coffee and green tea are – are in great demand. The value of Yunnan’s annual exports has reached USD 4.7 billion, he said. The station has cooperated with FAO and the National Agro-Technical Extension and Service Centre to promote integrated pest management as a way of raising product quality to fetch premium prices for agricultural products in export markets.

He explained how the local school with more than 400 instructors over the years helped farmers better organize themselves and taught them safe use of pesticides to promote sustainability of farming. It is estimated that Yunnan Province has reduced overall use of chemical pesticides by around 30 percent per acre with a priority for deeper cut in the use of highly toxic pesticides, which was 60 percent.

Experts in the field of Internet applications shared their experience of combining ICTs with agriculture. Tian Yucheng, Chief Engineer of China Internet Information Centre, introduced an application called “cloud platform for targeted poverty alleviation”. Using information management and cloud computing technology, it enables users to track the process from production to consumption. It has additional functions in areas such as agricultural loans, remote payments and marketing.

Jan Willem, Chief Technical Advisor and Team Leader from FAO Regional Integrated Pest Management Programme in the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, emphasized that FFS is open to all farmers. It is important for farmers to participate and share experience. Until 2016, this project was directed at health, climate change, animal husbandry, and environmental protection in more than 90 counties. Ultimately, he hoped that China’s targeted poverty reduction strategy can better serve developing countries.

FFS is particularly suited for learning complex management skills like natural resource management, diversifying production, and accessing markets to increase rural incomes. It helps farmers to analyze, research and solve problems, and ultimately to improve their decision-making.