©FAO/Andrea Thiodour

FAO’s farmer field schools improve animal husbandry practices for women

26/11/2021

Livestock keeping has become more challenging for vulnerable farmers in rural areas of Syria. Animal feed is difficult to source or expensive; treatments and vaccinations for animals are not available; markets for livestock products have been disrupted; and artificial insemination programmes are not operating at the capacity they once were prior to the crisis.  

FAO is helping farmers respond to these challenges by supporting them to adopt new practices to improve their livestock-based livelihoods. One way is through the establishment of a network of farmer field schools (FFS) that offers farmers a platform to exchange knowledge and conduct practical experiments, allowing them to develop their skills in animal husbandry. Fifty FFSs were set up in Aleppo, Al-Hassakeh, Deir Ez-Zor, Qameshli and Rural Damascus Governorates, which support more than 800 smallholder livestock keepers who each own one to four animals on average.

Women are deeply involved in livestock keeping in Syria: women care for their animals, milk cows and make dairy products for their family to eat. However, their knowledge on best practices is often limited and dramatic increases in input prices have threatened the viability of dairy production.

Within its Smallholder Support Programme, FAO’s FFS programme has introduced livestock keepers – especially women – to knowledge on good animal husbandry practices and fodder production to increase milk and meat production. The schools have also enabled livestock keepers to better manage their resources as a business, helping them become more self-reliant and resilient. The FFS have also helped women farmers find market outlets, some for the first time. “My cow used to produce milk that could barely meet our needs, but after learning how to make nutritional feed, my cow is now producing enough milk so that I can sell the surplus at the local market,” said Wardeh Al Omar, a woman farmer involved in the FFS in Abu Jrein, Aleppo.

Participants are now better aware of the factors that improve livestock production. They have learned how to produce and store fodder, estimate a cow’s body-weight, negotiate with traders, identify early signs of diseases and more. “I became more organized regarding when and how much to feed my cow, which helped me avoid wasting fodder and to save it for later,” said Hasna Jasem, a women livestock keeper who participates in the FFS in Aleppo. The women who have participated in FFSs have new-found confidence when interacting with buyers in the market. “I can tell now whether a buyer is cheating with a cow’s weight or not, because I know how to weigh my cow and set its price according to the market rate,” Hasna explained.  

The FFSs are an effective tool to innovate and exchange experiences. Some 15 to 18 farmers participate in each school, who are then divided into smaller groups to hold discussions and swap ideas about cultivation and animal husbandry in order to hone their skills and correct any misconceptions they mayhave.

Hala al Zaher, a facilitator at one of the schools in Rural Aleppo, pointed out that the school’s experience was very enriching, especially when two farmers stated different views, as this might generate a third new one. “FFSs change the farmers’ perspectives and improve their skills,” Hala said.

The schools have given Syrian women the opportunity to practice innovative farming methods, and they have demonstrated the extent to which they can contribute to their families and their villages. Women have become successful livestock keepers who help lead other farmers to a better future.