FOR ETTER FARMER LIVELIHOODS, FOOD SECURITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
* This country report has not been formally edited and the designations and terminology used are those of the author.
Department of Agricultural Extension, Paholyotin Rd, Jatujak,
To increase widespread adoption of Integrated Plant Nutrition System (IPNS) by the farmers as an integral part of their farming system, a number of researches has been done and transferred to a number of the stakeholders. Although there has been wide interest, the actual transfer and acceptance of information and technologies on plant nutrition is generally low and limited to few stakeholders. To overcome this, several collaborative and advocacy programmes were done including that of the IPNS operating in partnership with national research and extension systems. Building of links between national and international research and extension organizations in a manner that contributes to strengthening capacities is seen as a solution. The improved technoloy transfer mechanism for the better livelihood of farmers, coupled with their widespread adoption of Integrated Plant Nutrition System (IPNS), contributed to sustainable agricultural production and better household incomes. We have learned that the Participatory Extension Approach (PEA) to transfer the IPNS technology to the target farmers in widespread area is quite important, particularly its systematic process. It is necessary to establish the networking system for both officers and farmers to be more functionally active. The cross-visits and farmer-led trainings are quite effective to farmers’ empowerment. The research and extension linkage are very important for development and have to be improved. The extension programme should be integrated among agencies at the grassroots level. Some activities for research and extension linkage programme should be set up using participatory concept particularly for decision-making, regular meeting and monitoring programme. The key characteristics of the PEA are the empowerment of officer and farmers, the participatory manner concept, the networking system approach, and the monitoring and assessment of the programme.
In Thailand, agriculture is the foundation of the national economy. Approximately 60 percent of the total 60 million populations are engaged in this sector. Of the country’s total area of 128.4 million acres, about 46 percent (59.2 million acres) is cultivated with some 18 percent of this presently under irrigation. Some 5.2 million families are devoted to production of agricultural goods for domestic consumption and export. Rice is considered the most important among the large number of crops of economic significance. It is widely grown in all regions and covers about half of the country’s cultivated area. Other major field crops are cassava, corn, sugarcane and oil crops. Perennial trees like para rubber and fruit trees cover the rest of the area. To reach the final goal of increased crop production farm income and sustained productivity, several supporting factors are needed, exceptionally sustainable soil fertility and improvement. Consequently, soil and fertilizer extension services should emphasize more on various methods for improvement of soil fertility such as the integrated use of organic and mineral fertilizer in the recommendation packages given to farmers.
In fact, a challenging task is to promote and campaign measures to improve soil fertility, thus, modifying the traditional practices at the farm level for the adoption of the integrated plant nutrition system. The current pace of transition in technological development is definitely dictated by the capability of the agricultural extension service. The challenge to extension now is to push IPNS for adoption in the countryside. By improving farmers’ cultural practices it is envisioned that utilization of farm inputs will become more efficient. Extension as a conduit of information and technology will play a big role in the rapid adoption of sustainable crop management practices by small-scale farmers. To achieve these, the Participatory Extension Approach (PEA) must be promoted, thereby establishing partnerships and linkages in research and extension and building the capacity of research and extension team in undertaking participatory research and development and information dissemination. The key words to needed to be followed are empowerment, participatory networking system, monitoring and assessment.
2. Role of extension
Farmers in developing countries have been left behind by the rapid change in agricultural technology and information. For them to keep track of these rapid changes, extension will play a big role in terms of knowledge, attitude and practice (KAP) development. To strengthen the capacity of small-scale farmers, it is necessary to integrate the following factors: agricultural credit, production inputs and organized marketing strategies through a comprehensive agricultural extension programme.
The technology disseminated must meet the needs of farmers and has to be modified and adapted to the farmers’ condition in each locality to make it more appropriate and relevant. KAP development must build upon farmers as the learning base for enhanced capacity building. Farmers need to participate in the development of work plan to adopt a new innovation.
3. Participatory Extension Approach (PEA)
To facilitate farmers’ adoption, the participatory approach must be utilized wherein farmers become the center of the extension process. PEA is a way of improving the effectiveness of rural extension efforts by government agencies, NGOs and other organizations engaged in rural development. PEA can help to improve organizational performance at the interface between the service providers (the extensions) and the clients (the farmers).
3.1 Characteristics of PEA
4. Objectives of the study
The objective of this study is to review the Thailand experiences in Promoting Participatory Extension Approach (PEA) for the further widespread adoption of IPNS and improve the livelihoods/household incomes of the Thai farmers.
5. IPNS development and dissemination in Thailand
Several factors are needed to increase crop production. Soil nutrient management is one of these factors that affect the quantity and quality of te crops produced. To ensure widespread adoption of technologies on improved soil nutrient management, the extension strategy must involve several methods and multi-disciplinary.
The main task of the extension personnel is to adapt and transfer the technology to farmers from experiments of the institutions concerned. Likewise, the duty of the extension personnel is to continuously evaluate the technology generated through research for further fine-tuning.
Training is a major strategy in the extension of soil nutrient management technologies. A training curriculum is developed and focuses on technologies on soil and fertilizer management including the proper use of soil diagnostic tools.
One of the key mechanisms to extension technologies to the target farmers is the setting-up of a body of the villagers. The knowledge and methods gained from the training will be transferred to the Tambon (Village) via Technology Transfer and Service Center (TTC) in target areas. One of well trained volunteer farmer in the village will be Soil Doctor (Mor Din Arsa) and head of the committee of the TTC of each village.
The strategies to prioritize and select the innovations to be promoted have to be identified to fit into the farmers’ condition. The technology generated through research has to be modified and adapted to fit the existing conditions of farmers’ resources and the field. Information about the new technologies, as well as timely service to diagnose nutrient deficiency problems, are lacking at the countryside. The development of easy field soil test kit, fertilizer hand book, and a decision support system will facilitate the farmers’ adoption.
The concept of using a decision support system and easy test kit is an attractive approach to disseminate IPNS technology and create a positive change in the farmers’ attitude. The soil test kits coupled with a decision support system are innovations that can assist farmers to solve the soil nutrient management problems. The approach of extending the technology involves active participation of farmers and empowering them to decide what technology best fits their farming needs.
6.1 Site and farmers’ selection
6.1.1 Participatory site selection
Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) and rapid rural appraisal (RRA) were used to assess the household circumstances. Farmers acted as partners in the site selection process. The criteria for site selection were location in an area with physical problems, villagers’ awareness of the problems, and the willingness of local extension officers to cooperate. The extension workers acted as facilitators to aid farmers in identifying village problems and farmers’ needs and preferences, including finding potential solutions. Reports and proposals were prepared and presented by the farmer representatives in provincial meetings, which were attended by stakeholders, which include extension workers, farmer representatives from each village in target areas, subject matter specialists, researchers and provincial project coordinators. After the presentation and discussion, field visits were conducted and the potential villages were subsequently selected to be pilot IPNS farming villages.
The key step on the extension project is the site selection, having in mind the major objective of the programme which is for the technology to be widely accepted despite limited resources. The appropriate sites and clients of the target group are the key components for project’s success. In this case, the villages in target areas have been selected to be pilot IPNS farming villages for introducing IPNS technologies and management. The PRA and RRA were mainly ued as tools for site selection.
6.1.2 Participatory client selection
The farmer groups in the target villages were formed based on their interest, readiness, and willingness to volunteer. The volunteer farmers selected among themselves the lead farmers who will join the project’s activities.
6.2 Establishing core IPNS farming communities/villages
Selected villages in target areas are developed to be pilot IPNS farming villages for introducing improved soil fertility management technologies. The farmers in these villages are encouraged to test whether the recommendations are suitable for adoption or need revision. The on-farm farmer-managed testing and verification has been conducted by a group of trained farmers and farmer volunteers with technical advice and support from extension agents and collaborative agencies. The combination of indigenous knowledge and new ideas/practices are discussed with the farmers to identify alternative solutions to the problems encountered. The activities are based on the participatory approach and equivalent partnership.
The core IPNS villages are nuclei for learning and dissemination of IPNS management practices to neighbouring or surrounding villages for widespread adoption. The volunteer lead farmers were trained, and with a farmer-to-farmer extension approach, a number of farmers in the core villages have been carrying out IPNS practices in their individual farms.
6.3 Establishing satellite villages
Neighbouring villages were persuaded by lead farmers in the core villages to join the activities as satellite villages for the application of IPNS practices in their individual farms. The IPNS promotion activities have been started from core villages through the selected lead farmers.
6.4 Using the farmer-to-farmer extension approach
The farmer-to-farmer extension approach has been emphasized to encourage the involvement of farmers in conducting their own field studies, sharing knowledge and experiences, learning with each other and using the field as the primary learning base. The farmers “learn by doing” through comparing different soil fertility management practices. Consequently, they become experts on the particular practice they are investigating. Such farmers can therefore serve as farmer promoters, or farmer scientists. The extension workers act as facilitators to the learning process and provide assistance and support.
The volunteer farmers who attended the training programme jointly conducted on-farm farmer-managed trials in their villages when they return home. Farmers’ fields of about 0.8 ha in each village were offered by the owners for this collective activity. The farmers independently selected different recommendation of IPNS for their investigations. In addition to a joint on-farm farmer-managed trial, each farmer has also been testing IPNS practices of personal interest in his fields at a small-scale of about half a hectare. As a consequence, the farmers have learned together through a joint on-farm trial for investigating IPNS recommendation in comparison with the traditional practice. They observed changes in each plot and between plots from week to week and shared ideas mutually, and also with the extension worker, on what were occurring. The soil test, crop growth investigation and yield comparison showed the effect of various practices. The farmers also observed and learned about changes in their own fields and were aware of the effectiveness of IPNS recommendation. However, this is not the final solution. The farmers and extension workers have initiated discussion about how to improve soil fertility for improved agricultural production.
6.4.1 On-farm trial/demonsration as technology education sites
One important goal is to find out how to transfer the IPNS technology to the target farmers. In this regard, core and satellite villages were utilized as target sites and the on-farm trial/demonstrations served as tool-technology education sites. These on-farm trial/demonstrations were conducted using participatory approach. Lead farmers from each core village representing each target area personally identified their problems and the corresponding solutions. The process of farm trial design and selection of technologies were done under the supervision of research and extension agents. The management of on-farm trial/demonstrations in each village fell into the hands of the farmers who worked together as a group.
6.4.2 Farmer’s training programme by lead farmers
The farmer-to-farmer training programme was set up and the well-trained lead farmers underwent intensive training for the trainers’ programme which tackled the use of the extension material for the technology transfer, how to be a good trainer and proper management practices. In turn, the lead farmers, in consultation with the extension agents, planned for a one-day training programme for their farmers. This training programme consisted of the village’s problems on crop production, overview of the solutions, possible recommendations and on-farm trial/demonstration site visits.
6.4.3 Farmers’ networking
Apart from mutual learning in the village, farmers also benefited from cross-site visits to other villages. Farmers’ networking or linkages have been initiated and exchanges of knowledge and experiences including the sharing of planting materials for non-profit purposes became possible. Eventually, individual farmers and groups have been empowered and can further improve their agricultural production through self-help and mutual support.
The establishment of farmers’ networks was mainly to stimulate and encourage close cooperation between and among farmers within and among villages. Farmers have shared their experiences and even their local resources through this networking. The selected lead farmers were voted to be the members of the steering committee for the farmers’ networking activity.
6.5 Connecting the research-extension network
The research and extension network at local and national levels have been developed to strengthen the collaboration between partner agencies including non-government organizations (NGOs). The collaborative activities done were meetings, training, sharing resources and information, and field visits. This networking was established both at local level and the national level.
The network became active through the support of the farmers in the core villages with all stakeholders working closely with them.
6.6 Capacity building
The capacity building activities involved all the stakeholders through several integrated activities such as training workshops, meetings and discussions, and cross-site visits which were as follows:
The extension workers have obtained knowledge and skills on IPNS practices so they can facilitate farmers in applying introduced technologies to increase soil fertility on their farms. In addition to empowering them, the capacity building activities stimulated closer and better collaboration. Evidently, very good relationships have developed between and among researchers, extension workers, farmers, and local administration officials.
The farmers’ network was established for sharing experiences and resources between and among the farmers, and also for caring among themselves for mutual benefit. The committee was composed of Lead Farmers from villages participating in the project. A number of activities for farmers’ networking were done such as committee meeting and cross-site visit. The main objectives of the meeting are to review their activities, make plans and conduct cross-site visits.
Three to five volunteer farmers from each village were nominated to attend a five-day training workshop. This enabled a core group of farmers to jointly conduct on-farm farmer-managed trials in their villages. The extension workers in charge of the five target villages also joined this training workshop to learn and share knowledge and experiences with the farmers. Teaching and learning activities were lectures (as necessary) and discussion, class exercises, field exercises, study trips, and workshops.
There were a number of cross-site visiting for lead farmers who got a chance to visit, discuss and exchange their experiences. The cross-site visiting by lead farmers who were representatives from the villages proved an effective activity to empower and support the farmers’ networking activity.
7. Lessons learned
The participatory approach in transferring IPNS technologies to target farmers in remote areas is productive and efficient. The extension programme should be integrated among agencies both at the national and grass roots level. Activities for the research and extension linkage programme should be conducted in a participatory manner, involving regular meetings for decision-making, and a monitoring programme should be implemented. Collaboration between and among diversified groups of stakeholders needs to be strengthened to ensure that the activities suit the real circumstances and meet farmers’ needs, interests, values, and preferences.
Several activities have been implemented under the PEA, however a weakness is seen in the preparation of extension workers to collaborate with IPNS and improving agricultural production through the combination of indigenous knowledge and new management technologies. The extension workers, despite knowing about the farmer-to-farmer approach, never had previous direct experience in implementing it. As facilitators, they need to review their methods of interaction and to provide expert and concise feedback. The national policy level as a leader provided important advice and support to empower them.
To encourage widespread adoption of IPNS, several activities were tested and conducted. The outputs benefited poor farming families through participatory technology development and the dissemination of IPNS farming systems for productive and sustainable agriculture. Farmers who participated in the programme showed active interest in investigating and applying IPNS practices to increase soil fertility of their farms. Instead of being passive recipients who characterizes their involvement in similar past initiatives, they have become active partners.
The systematic way of PEA to transfer the IPNS management technology to target farmers in widespread area is significantly affect the outcome and consequently, the impact of the approach. To establish the networking system, both officers and farmers should be properly set-up and functionally active. The cross-visits and farmer-led trainings are quite effective towards farmers’ empowerment. The research and extension linkages are very important for development and have to be improved. The extension programme should be integrated among agencies at the grassroots level. The networking system for both officers and farmers are also essential for rural development. Some activities for research and extension linkage programme should be set up using the participatory concept which involves more decision-making, regular meeting and monitoring activity. The project implementation should include better planning of the integration among agencies at the grassroots level. Notably, the key concepts of Participatory Extension Approach are empowerment of officers and farmers, participatory manner, networking system, monitoring and assessment.
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