Farmer Field Schools for the agroecological transition
12 May 2022
Capacity development is a critical cross-cutting theme of all RFS projects, focusing on introducing, strengthening and maintaining the capabilities of people, institutions and local organisations to develop resilient food systems within their communities. Within the RFS programme, the development of rural extension services and capacities of agricultural extension officers is essential to this process.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 60 percent of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, yet the continent’s agricultural potential remains untapped. Over 60 percent of Africa’s population relies on agriculture for employment, most of which are smallholder farmers operating on less than 5 hectares of land. These smallholder farms are characterised by low levels of productivity, constrained by a lack of irrigation, quality inputs, access to credit, mechanisation, and storage facilities. Moreover, participation in farmer extension and capacity development programmes is low and declining, further restricting the capacity of smallholder farmers to adopt good agricultural practices.
Without access or exposure to information and skills for yield-enhancing techniques and technologies, smallholder farmers often resort to unsustainable agricultural practices, which further degrade available natural resources, leading to declining agricultural yields. This dynamic traps smallholder farmers in a cycle of low productivity and leads to a worsening of poverty and food security in rural communities.
Capacity development and rural extension activities introduce RFS farmers to new techniques and approaches for sustainable food production and sustainable land management. Sharing lessons on effective farming techniques, innovative agricultural methods, market needs, and sustainability issues, such as land degradation and deforestation, will help smallholder farmers identify areas that are constraining production and implement best practices to sustainably optimise use of the available natural resources.
RFS projects are also focusing on the training of agricultural extension officers in order to broaden the scope of extension service. Beyond new agricultural techniques and technologies, RFS adopts a more holistic approach to rural extension development, incorporating SLM and IWRM approaches, introducing off-farm incoming generation activities, enabling farmers to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and enhancing women and youth access to new skills and technologies.
RFS extension interventions aim to move away from a top-down approach to learning towards a new paradigm, one that promotes a two-way exchange between extension officers and farmers and between farmers themselves. The RFS programme works to document and scale this learning approach across all 12 RFS country projects.
Rural extension & Capacity Development is a cross-cutting theme that is central to all RFS country projects. Capacity development activities are implemented across multiple levels, from farmer beneficiaries to extension officers to government platforms and institutions. Activities are wide-ranging, including the establishment of knowledge exchange platforms, facilitation of practical field exercises and hands-on learning, establishment of demonstration plots and Farmer Field Days, and the organisation of exchange visits both locally and regionally between country projects.
In Burundi, FAO is working closely with Farmer Field Schools to train farmers in land and water conservation techniques through hands-on group learning, knowledge exchange, and field visits. The RFS Ghana project is holding a series of annual training sessions to improve the capacities of public extension service providers, as well as lead farmers who provide farmer-to-farmer extension services. In Nigeria, Farmer Field Days are used to showcase the viability and benefits of Good Agricultura Practices with a focus on Sustainable Land Management and Climate-Smart Agriculture.
Explore the RFS Country Projects to see more examples of how RFS countries are implementing Rural Extension & Capacity Development activities.
Stories from the Field
Explore our stories from the field to learn more about how RFS country project teams are implementing activities related to the programmatic theme of Rural Extension & Capacity Development.
We have a growing library of reports, briefs, case studies, media, tools and guidelines. Explore all resources related to Rural Extension & Capacity Development to get greater insight into our programme activities.
On 5th October 2021, the RFS Annual Workshop series held an interactive session to put the gender-responsive framework into practice through the examples of two country projects, Eswatini and Nigeria, which have made a difference for women through gender-responsive project implementation. This learning note presents key insights from the event and summarises the constraining factors influencing women and men’s participation in each project, the activities and approaches integrated into project implementation to address the identified constraints, the main challenges faced and the main outcomes for women.
To achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030, the government of Burkina Faso, with support from IFAD, has been applying top-down and bottom-up approaches simultaneously.
At the “top”, the national government has been working to integrate land degradation neutrality targets into planning frameworks, translating national-level targets into actionable plans at the local level. At the “bottom”, smallholder farmers play a central role through a community-led, locally-owned approach that focuses on capacity development and empowering farmers within their communities.
This brief, the latest product within the RFS Knowledge Management Series, highlights good practices that have emerged from the Burkina Faso project. It also outlines lessons learned that could be integrated into projects facing similar challenges related to land degradation, low agricultural productivity and food insecurity.
This study guide, published in 2003, is largely based on experiences from the Farm Level Applied Research Methods for Eastern and Southern Africa– (FARMESA–) funded farmer field schools in Mbeere, Kenya and was produced in partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. It is intended for small scale farmers and extension workers interested in improving their crop production by learning more about how to manage on-farm soil and water resources more efficiently.
The manual can either be used by farmer groups in a structured learning setting, such as farmer field schools, or by informal self-study groups.