Farmer field schools
on land and water
Proceedings of an international workshop in Jinja, Uganda
24–29 April 2006
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FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS (FAO)
Throughout Africa, degrading land resources and poor water management are serious impediments to the development of agriculture. Inappropriate farming practices result in soil erosion, a loss of soil organic matter and declining fertility and capacity to retain water. Once-fertile soils become compacted and crusted, causing valuable rainwater to run off rather than seep into the ground and carrying with it precious topsoil and nutrients. The results are unhealthy crops due to water and nutrient deficits and the build-up of weeds and diseases, poor and unreliable yields, and chronic water shortages due to lack of recharge of ground water.
How to escape from this vicious cycle? FAO and other development organizations have been promoting farmer field schools – an innovative approach to adult education first developed in Southeast Asia for pest management – to improve land and water management in Africa. Unlike traditional approaches to agricultural extension, which rely on extension workers providing advice to farmers, farmer field schools enable groups of farmers to find out the answers for themselves. That means the farmers can develop solutions to their own problems. They are far more likely to put what they have learned into practice than if they had been presented with ready-made (but possibly inappropriate) solutions. The extension worker is a facilitator who guides the learning process, rather than a technical specialist who disseminates information.
As this book shows, farmer field schools have proven to be a very useful approach for helping African farmers to improve how they manage their land and water. Numerous projects throughout Africa have shown that they result in improved soils, better yields and higher incomes for farmers. The document summarizes some of these experiences, points out successes, and – equally important – shows constraints and gaps that need to be addressed. Particularly important is the list of policy recommendations: committed support and funding from governments is vital if this promising approach to agricultural development is to make the difficult jump from the donor-supported project into an accepted mainstream approach applied by research and extension agencies throughout the
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