Global Farmer Field School Platform

What are FFS?

Farmer Field School (FFS) is an approach based on people-centred learning. Participatory methods to create an environment conducive to learning: the participants can exchange knowledge and experience in a risk free setting. Practical field exercises using direct observation, discussion and decision making encourage learning-­by­-doing. The field is the space where local knowledge and outside scientific insights are tested, validated and integrated, in the context of local ecosystem and socio-economic settings. Community-based problem analysis is the entry point for a FFS group to develop a location specific curriculum. A growing range of technical topics are being addressed through FFS: soil, crop and water management, seeds multiplication and varietal testing, IPM, agropastoralism, aquaculture, agroforestry, nutrition, value chain, and link to markets, etc.

FAO and other development organizations have been promoting FFS to address a broad range of problems and technical domains in over 90 countries.

A Farmer Field School offers space for hands-on group learning, enhancing skills for critical analysis and improved decision making by local people. FFS activities are field based, include experimentation to solve problems, reflecting a specific local context. Participants learn how to improve skills through observing, analysing and trying out new ideas on their own fields, contributing to improved production and livelihoods.  The FFS process enhances individual, household and community empowerment and cohesion. 

A whole production cycle, related to the relevant biological cycle, sets the duration of an FFS learning programme. In a typical FFS, a group of farmers/herders/fishermen meet regularly in a local field setting, under the guidance of a trained facilitator. They make observations on the local production system, focussing on the topic of study and observe and compare the effects of two or more alternative practices aiming to address the problem, one following local practice, the other testing the proposed ‘best practice’. Participants discuss and take decision by conducting observations and analysis directly on the plots, through Agro Eco System Analysis (AESA).

At the end of the season, the FFS group holds a field day to share findings with local authorities, agriculture workers and other farmers. Exchange visits with other FFS are also encouraged. Post FFS activities enhance community development.

An essential element of good quality FFS programs is the training of facilitators who will support the process of FFS. ‘FFS Master Trainers’ prepare facilitators in season long field based programmes complementing practice with theory. Facilitators typically include NGO and extension workers, farmer organization’s staff and farmers. Some FFS programs focus on training local farmers as facilitators. This may lead to higher levels of success as farmers are motivated to return home with useful skills and knowledge to share. This strengthens community ownership and may be a source of sustainability. The high quality of training may be ensured with exchange of Master Trainers, at international and at regional level, from countries with good experience in FFS program development.

FFS national programmes are more than just a collection of FFS— they typically work at multiple levels to build social and human capital and broaden their collaboration with other participatory, community-based initiatives, such as the Community Listeners’ Clubs.  Over time, they have also included access to credit and resilience funds, linkages to value chains, nutritional education activities and policy support.

FFS have proved to strengthen not only technical skills and decision-making capacities of farmers, but also to significantly influence the community as well as intra-household dynamics. FFS strengthen community relations and the capacity of listening to others’ opinion, to formulate and express personal points of view and to find together a common solution through the process of communication and learning.