27. Dissemination of agricultural and forest conservation practices through Farmer Field Schools (FFS) in areas of soil erosion and low agricultural productivity

1. Approach’s Outline and Features

The Farmer Field School (FFS) approach is a suitable extension methodology for promoting agroforestry and sustainable natural resource management, as farmers frequently apply the skills they learn in the process, such as soil conservation, agroforestry practices, fruit tree planting, vegetable farming, perennial fodder production and woodlot development. The following issues underpin this approach:

Tree intercropping: Although people used to protect trees on the farm, frequent cultivation and free grazing made them disappear. Tree intercropping is one way to rehabilitate such farmland.
  • Capacity-building and empowerment of farmers through participatory learning.
  • On-site tree seedling production by farmers themselves.
  • Monitoring of planted trees and crops through ongoing and long-term interaction with farmers.
  • Diversification of crops and income sources in combination with trees and permanent crops.

Farmer Field School, Soil Conservation, Capacity-building, Natural resource management, Agroforestry, Woodlot development

2. Description of the Project from which this Approach is derived

2-1. Introduction

Ethiopia is one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa most seriously affected by land degradation, which, in turn, is a key cause of the country’s low and declining agricultural productivity, persistent food insecurity and rural poverty.

The Oromia Region is among the most degraded lands nationwide, with large amounts of soil being washed away on scattered communal lands after being mismanaged. The use of wood and other biomass for fuel and the expansion of agriculture into forested areas foster a high rate of deforestation. Ultimately, this results in the land being stripped of vegetative biomass and exposed to high levels of soil erosion.

Accordingly, the region needs to manage natural resources sustainably to conserve the soil while also boosting agricultural productivity. In this context, the Project strengthened the capacity of the relevant stakeholders of East Shewa, West Hararge and West Arsi Zone within the semi-arid area of the Oromia Region and promoted sustainable natural resource management, including agroforestry and soil conservation measures, through FFS.

2-2. Details of the measures taken

  • Combating land degradation through sustainable natural resource-management learning activities to improve soil erosion and the recovery of natural resources, such as perennial fodder grass and trees, fruit tree planting, seedling production and small-scale afforestation, micro water catchment, or natural regeneration management.
  • The Farmer Field School (FFS) approach is an innovative, participatory and interactive learning approach that emphasizes problem-solving and discovery-based learning.
  • The FFS approach aims to build farmers’ capacity to analyze production systems, identify problems, test possible solutions and eventually encourage them to adopt the best practices for their farming systems.
A county livestock specialist lecturing on silage
Analyzing the crops and growing conditions suited to the land
                (Source: JICA)

(Perspectives on sustainability)

  • Supplementation by FFS to the government’s extension system and efforts to incorporate it into government activities were carried out to obtain budget allocation as a governmental activity.
  • A “Farmer Field School-based extension system plan for upscaling” was developed by the regional technical agency with the collaboration of the Project.
  • A number of master trainers have been trained, although it is thought that the number needs to be gradually increased to cope as the FFS approach is upscaled across the region.
  • Various manuals have been drafted as future reference for facilitators and other personnel concerned.

3. Analysis of the approach

3-1. Impact

The following effects of the Project have been observed, mainly in aspects of FFS participants and community members related to capacity development, such as rethinking their behavior and mindsets.

  • Increased awareness of FFS participants towards natural resource management as they started producing seedlings from tree seeds. (An end-line survey showed an 82% practice rate of new techniques among FFS farmer-participants having applied new techniques introduced by the FFS).
  • Increased communication and collaboration of males and females in farming activities and acknowledgement of the importance of equal rights.
  • Recognition of the importance of inclusive development in the community by some farmer facilitators.
  • Improved awareness of time management and the start of off-farm season livelihood activities.
  • Recognition of the importance of equal rights for women and men and time management by some farmers.
  • Diversification of nutritious food sources by introducing vegetables and fruit trees.
  • Increased earning opportunities by selling products from homesteads.
  • Discovering, experimenting with and disseminating indigenous knowledge to deal with plant diseases and pests.
FFS members growing (avocado) fruit trees on their farms after FFS graduation
FFS graduates working to rear tree seedlings in their group nursery.
                      (Source: JICA)             

As mentioned above, FFS promoted various positive effects and changed behaviors and mindsets for participants and their community members.

3-2. Lessons learned

  • Taking time to develop human resources
    The bottleneck for upscaling FFS over a wider area is the year or so required to develop FFS-related human resources such as master trainers, facilitators and others. It is also important to refrain from efforts to achieve numerical targets by short-term investment in funds and extension workers alone.

    As part of efforts to upscale the FFS project, the project execution body shall assign human resources with extensive FFS experience in implementation and operation from the planning stage and develop human resources as the FFS program is implemented alongside. It is also crucial to have a program that gradually increases the number of FFS implementations over several years.
  • Consideration of gender through FFS
    In the Project, FFS group members were selected to ensure an even gender balance of men and women. Configuring the groups to allow men and women to learn together increased women’s awareness and self-confidence and improved their presentation skills.
  • Adopting a phased and gradual approach to introduce a new method with a specific objective (FFS with natural resource management) to a government with an existing system and an institution.
    When establishing a cornerstone by implementing FFS on natural resource management, the extension departments at regional and zonal levels were not involved. Later, upscaling saw collaboration from regional and zonal extension departments. Such step-by-step efforts have been successful. It is also effective to reach out to upper government management when upscaling and organizing workshops and study tours.
  • Cooperation with relevant donors
    The FAO aims to institutionalize FFS and cooperation with FAO worked as a pipeline with central ministries and agencies (holding joint seminars, etc.), effectively promoting FFS.
  • Consideration of rights to use community land
    Difficulties arose in applying the FFS approach to communal land managed by groups like cooperatives, given the lack of explicitly guaranteed long-term rights to use such land and forest resources like planted trees as timber.

4. Relevant information

NbS Approach Category4-1. 27.
Title of the project from which the approach is derivedSustainable Natural Resource Management Project Through Farmer Field School (SNRMP) in the Rift Valley Area of Oromia Region
BiomeDesert/Semi-desert, Montane
Implementing termJune 1 2013 – March 31 2018
Implementing organizationOromia Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources (OBANR)
Supporting organizationJapan International Cooperation Agency (JICA),
IC Net Ltd.
Report/Tool/GuidelineProject Completion Report
FFS implementation guide
Project Brochure
[AI-CD Website]: Sustainable Natural Resource Management Project Through Farmer Field School (SNRMP) in the Rift Valley Area of Oromia Region
Contributors to this articleTEJIMA Shigeharu /Oriental Consultants Global Co., Ltd.