In support of the larger goals of poverty alleviation, food security and environmental protection, the Soil Fertility Initiative (SFI) was launched in 1996 with support from the World Bank, FAO, the CGIAR, IFDC and other multi-and bi-lateral donors. The major objective of the SFI is to improve the productivity of cultivated land and the revenue of farmers in SSA through a combination of technology adaptation and policy reform. Current common understanding of the SFI Participants in the informal SFI Consultation (Rome, November 1998) agreed that the SFI activities should result in short-term economic benefits to farmers as well as in the longer-term restoration of the nutrient capital in the soil. Policy and institutional improvements are essential to the success of SFI.
The SFI must be country-driven and national ownership should be ensured from the onset. National institutions and farmers’ groups need to be the driving forces of the SFI in each country. All stakeholders should be involved in all phases of action. The formulation of National Action Plans and their implementation will need international facilitation and external expertise. Such Action Plans will serve as a basis for mobilizing necessary human, institutional and financial resources. A network consisting of a broad range of partners is needed for SFI to succeed. The SFI will increase the benefits from existing programmes.
Incremental funding, however, would not be excluded if governments commit themselves to the restoration and management of soil fertility, through the SFI action plan, as an element in an overall strategy for sustainable food security. In many African countries, national and international actors are working to enhance food security in the framework of the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS). The SFI should promote a focus on the actions to restore, maintain and increase soil fertility in ongoing and new programmes, supported by multilateral and bilateral donors, NGOs, national and international agricultural research centres. Close links and coordination with the ongoing SPFS should be established or reinforced.
National enabling policies and infrastructure are needed to remove market, economic, institutional and legal constraints, in order to provide the farmers with effective opportunities for responsible land management and input use. Supporting government action is thus essential for successful land productivity improvement. Where there is a consensus that land husbandry approaches to soil productivity enhancement are appropriate, adjustments are needed in the way in which research is organized, so as to bring specialists and stakeholders, working on the different aspects of soils and land management, together in interactive teams. It is also necessary to shift extension away from the prescription of uniform packages to farmers and promote extension methods that help farmers in making their own assessment of constraints and options for improving soil productivity within their particular farming situation, and that encourage farmer experimentation.
This has led to a particular interest in exploring how the farmer field school approach can be broadened to help farmers cope with the wide-ranging agronomic, technical and economic issues related to soil productivity. In each of the countries where the SFI process is operational, momentum has been gathering and a number of national experts have been involved in developing the concepts and are keen to pursue them. In most countries, even the modest step-by- step process of the SFI is confronted with funding constraints, although the main donors appear to be supportive in principle. Support at the political level varies among countries, and will probably not emerge strongly until concrete results are seen on the ground. The greatest danger facing the programme is that this momentum could be quickly lost because of a lack of funds to move forward. There is a need to review, country by country, opportunities to include SFI related activities into ongoing projects and programmes.
This review should take place once a consensus is reached on the overall strategy to restore soil fertility. Promoting integrated land management and soil productivity improvement through Farmer Field Schools Innovative participatory extension approaches such as farmer field schools can increase the capacity of farmers to respond adequately to changing farming situations. Farming circumstances are continually being transformed by periodic changes in technical, economic, social and environmental factors that force farmers to change their production and/or management practices. It is the farmer’s ability to take advantage of new opportunities and to cope adequately with new problems that will determine his success in improving and sustaining the productivity of his farm. To achieve this, farmers need to test and evaluate management options in line with their biophysical and socio-economic environment.
A farmer’s capacity to respond to changing circumstances becomes all the more important where farmers have no access to regular and reliable technical support from extension agencies. A second objective of the FFS approach is to increase farmer’s knowledge and skills in improved soil and nutrient management practices. Conducting a FFS for the purpose of enabling farmers to learn the principles and practices of integrated soil and nutrient management should be an essential part of a long-term and dynamic strategy for sustaining and enhancing agricultural productivity. The focus should not just be on diagnosing the nature and extent of the various land degradation and fertility decline processes locally at work and seeking ways to combat them.
The FFS should also focus on the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of the land and water resources, leading to enhanced, land productivity and improved living conditions at farm and community level.
More information: Guidelines and Reference Material on Integrated Soil and Nutrient Management and Conservation for Farmer Field Schools