Global Farmer Field School Platform

Institutionalization, Policy and Farmer Field Schools

‘Institutionalization’ is the process by which new ideas and practices are adopted by individuals and organizations and become part of ‘the norm’ (Jonfa and Waters-Bayer, 2005).


  • Institutionalizing the FFS approach can increase the impact at scale and mobilize human and social capital through individual and group empowerment at the community level.
  • Providing funding, strengthening the capacities of individuals and organizations and creating an enabling environment are all prerequisites for the sustainability of transformative experiential learning processes such as FFS.
  • Strong policy support, which implies framing a clear strategy, making arrangements for implementation and allocating resources, are necessary to enable national and local stakeholders to adopt FFS-like approaches.
  • Potential benefits of institutionalization are balanced by risks and challenges that can jeopardize deeper values of the FFS approach such as focus on experiential learning in the field and farmer empowerment.
  • While institutionalization of the FFS approach contributes to sustainability, it does not guarantee it. Institutionalizing the FFS approach should however enhance the impact and sustainability of FFSs and maintain their flexibility and quality at scale.


Farmer Field Schools (FFS) have served as a “proof of concept” of how transformative learning can help governments, donors and development stakeholders achieve development objectives. The FFS approach, which has now been used in more than 90 countries by more than 12 million small farmers (FAO, 2016), not only creates a space in which the practical needs of smallholders to solve production-related issues can be addressed, but also fosters personal and community-level transformation through empowerment.
FFSs are inclusive platforms that bring together various stakeholders, including producers, who can engage in dialogue and collaborate on cross-sectoral processes. They thus open new roads not only to technological innovation but also to social change. While FFS themselves are a group-based activity, the FFS approach can function as a catalyst based on empowerment and experiential learning to enable rural people to innovate and make transformative change.
As such, the creation of an enabling environment for institutional support –that is, conducive to transformative and people-centered approaches – is essential for expanding the effort, improving quality and strengthening impact and continuity.

Institutionalization is not a linear process. It goes beyond incorporating FFS into public policies and agriculture extension systems. If the culture of learning and the changes that FFS can generate are to be made sustainable, all stakeholders, including public, private, producer and community organizations, must take ownership of the process and make a concerted effort to institutionalize FFS as experiential learning processes.


‘Institutionalization’ includes collaborative arrangements and innovative partnerships among different parts - key given the global trend towards pluralistic extension and advisory service provision involving producer organizations, NGOs, tertiary education, private actors, and public institutions.

The process of institutionalization takes place at different levels:

I. Appropriation at the local and community levels: by farmers taking ownership of their farming innovations and decisions who then engage in a wider range of activities and environments as a group.
II. Institutionalization at the local and national levels: when different actors in the agricultural sector attain common understanding of FFS and its principles, integrate it into agriculture policies and programmes, and build an environment in which FFS programmes and networks can succeed.
III. Harmonization at regional and global level done by regional and international organizations – as to promote synergies, shared learning and exchanges amongst FFS pracitioners; and to mainstream core FFS features and principles ensuring quality of FFS programmes.

Key characteristics of institutionalization of the FFS approach: 

  • Incorporated into policies and planning with clear strategies and incentives
  • Integrated into university and tertiary education curricula incl. refresh courses and on-the-job training for extension advisers
  • Allocated human and financial resources with clear roles and responsibilities
  • Established institutional arrangements for the systematic application of the approach
  • Committed Individuals, organizations and political actors
  • Self-sustained FFS groups in which the culture of learning becomes the “norm”
  • Functional FFS networks and platforms for sharing and learning
  • Developed FFS guidelines and standards with functional and iterative M&E processes
  • Optimized capacities of individuals, organizations and the enabling environment