A hybrid system for monitoring and evaluation of Farmer Field Schools in Pakistan

By Rebekah Bell, FAO Representative in Pakistan (ad interim)

The e-FFS is an android mobile-based data collection and management system designed, developed and managed by the FAO Pakistan team. ©FAO


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) introduced the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach in 1989 to educate farmers on improved agricultural practices. The FFS approach has been used widely where a season-long school is established for farmers to engage in group learning and training activities. As the FFS approach was scaled up globally, the challenge of quality delivery and effective monitoring and evaluation of FFS became necessary, especially in remote areas.

Where we were

In traditional practice, the FFS facilitators would travel to rural settings and deliver a training session to the men and women farmers based in the area. The facilitators would keep a meta-data record of session activities manually and submit reports capturing the daily performance of participants. However, in many cases, it became nearly impossible to monitor and evaluate if the sessions were being conducted as per the agreed curriculum. The field facilitators were facing issues of ineffective data collection and management where they were handling paper-based reports, attendance and learning records, capturing pictures and documenting the proceedings of the FFS sessions.  This required the use of paper-based record books and cameras to capture session information which was then transferred to a report on computers, taking considerable off-field time with challenges of mismatched session details and pictorial records. This paper-based reporting mechanism often led to delayed data collection and faulty consolidation of facts on farmers’ learning.

E-FFS ensures seamless and near-real-time data collection of field interventions. ©FAO

Where we went

To address the challenge, FAO Pakistan introduced e-FFS in 2017, an android mobile-based data collection and management system, which is designed, developed and managed by the FAO Pakistan team to ensure seamless and near-real-time data collection and reporting of FFS performance. The idea came from two facts: i) Pakistan has the highest mobile penetration rate in South Asia; and ii) mobile-based data collection, management and dissemination systems are globally used by the United Nations, World Bank and others for improving health services in remote areas and the same approach was improvised in the context of agriculture. This practice emerged to cater to the remote monitoring needs in low-to-no internet areas where other traditional mechanisms of intervention monitoring and data collection were challenging to produce accurate results. Taking advantage of the high availability of android phones with the field teams and communities to record near-real-time information that was critical in ongoing progress monitoring and actions, led to the introduction of e-FFS.

E-FFS ensures seamless and near-real-time data collection of field interventions. The technical architecture of the system is based on the Open Data Kit (ODK) initiative. ODK is an open-source suite of tools initially developed at the University of Washington with financial assistance from Google. The system consists of two main components: i) a mobile-based component to work on any android device; and ii) a server-side component to receive, store and manage data of various types. The mobile-based component uses ODK collect application, which is installed on the android phones of FFS facilitators. The data collection reporting formats are added to the mobile devices in the form of JavaRosa-compliant XML format. On the other hand, the server side consists of ODK Aggregate which uses PostgreSQL as a backend database. Since the overall system is based on open source tools, and all development and configurations have been done with in-house technical capacities, there has been no cost incurred in terms of system development, team training and system maintenance. Initially, the system was hosted on a Google- provided app engine. However, later on it was shifted to a self-managed independent server.

Currently, 59 team members from 17 geographically distant parts of Pakistan are implementing the hybrid FFS approach to yield better farmer literacy. The initial results have demonstrated that data was received with 100 percent accuracy and consistency. Farmers gained access to improved technologies and practices, and evidence was captured for the delivery of interventions that are available online with controlled access to all relevant stakeholders. Understanding the actual spatial spread of interventions also helps in better seasonal planning. With the facility of geo-tagging, project management can see where sessions are being conducted and through systematic capturing of pictures, they can understand the process.

This practice addresses a real world problem that is being faced by monitoring and evaluation teams across FAO programmes in Pakistan and abroad, and has a high replication potential. ©FAO

A success story ready for replication

This practice addresses a real world problem that is being faced by monitoring and evaluation teams across FAO programmes in Pakistan and abroad, and has a high replication potential. Indeed, FAO Pakistan has already upscaled this practice at country level. A key underlying requirement is a high mobile penetration rate in the community, which is already increasing globally. The adaption to other areas would require capacity building of M&E staff and tailoring of the e-FFS monitoring dashboards to other country contexts. The already available knowledge module of e-FFS provides a template for any FFS-related data needs of other programmes offering an easy-to-adapt solution. This practice was shared with other countries at the workshop on “FFS and ICTs” organized by FAO’s Global FFS Platform

1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger