Farmer Field Schools in the Pacific and beyond

Danny Hunter has sent us this contribution. Until recently, Danny ran the TaroGen and DSAP projects at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in Fiji. Thanks, Danny.

An interesting article from SciDevNet about farmer empowerment through Farmer Field Schools (FFS) reminded me of a great little programme that we had running in Samoa in the late nineties.  Farmer Field Schools began as a training and extension approach for integrated pest management of rice, largely supported by FAO in Asia. Since then FFS have been used for a variety of agricultural crops, systems and problems, including livestock, and have spread to other regions of the world.

The article prompted me to reflect on earlier efforts that we made at the Alafua Campus of the University of the South Pacific in Samoa, using similar “field-based” approaches to help students and farmers (as well as researchers and extensionists!) learn about taro diversity and improvement. In 1993 Samoa was devastated by an outbreak of taro leaf blight. Initial responses using pesticides and cultural methods were futile and while introduced “resistant” varieties helped, the disease was still a major problem.

At Alafua Campus we started a University Breeders Club and a participatory farmers club known as the Taro Improvement Project (TIP) to address issues of taro genetic erosion and improvement. Don’t forget that the problem initially arose because the country was covered by a  massive monoculture of a marketable, but very susceptible, taro variety. The newly introduced disease spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, this is a situation which still exists today in some Pacific Island countries.

The Breeders Club1, which comprised mostly students, was an effective “hands-on” approach for teaching students the fundamentals of taro pathology and breeding for disease resistance, as well as the importance of maintaining on-farm taro diversity. At the same time, new taro lines were produced which could be quickly handed over to farmers from TIP for field evaluation.

It was an elegant approach that worked well, involved field-based teaching and workshops and a lot of learning for everyone involved. Within a matter of years, new taro lines with resistance to the disease were produced and in the hands of farmers. Farmers understood the pathology of leaf blight and had a greater appreciation of its management, including the importance of maintaining on-farm taro diversity.

At the time there were plans to put everything together as a FFS-type curriculum and training guide that could be used to train additional “FFS Trainers” so that the approach could be scaled up in other taro growing countries. Sadly this hasn’t happened. And nothing probably will until taro leaf blight turns up announced on the doorstep of another Pacific Island country. What was evident from the Samoan experience was how effective the FFS approach was as a training and extension methodology for farmers to learn about agricultural biodiversity. It would certainly be interesting is to know about other FFS that have been solely dedicated to agricultural biodiversity. What contexts or constraints were they addressing? What were the achievements, what were the problems? What types of training resources and curricula were developed?

  1. The idea of such clubs goes back to the work of Raul Robinson. []

6 Replies to “Farmer Field Schools in the Pacific and beyond”

  1. yes, thanks for the article, it is indeed an important practice in the Pacific. Farmer Field Schools has been an important integral in Samoa especuially when dealing with farmers perspective on many agricultural actvities. Until recently, FFS have been included for coconut as well as expanding to other key agricultural crops. An ACIAR funded project is now currently underway in Samoa for Brassicas in promoting Integrated Pest Management. There is a great potential of FFS in other crops such as cocoa and other cash crops or export potential crops. More news will be posted later on

    cheers

    Emmanuel A Ah Leong
    Senior Crops Advisory Officer/DSAP Samoa GREA
    MAF
    Samoa

  2. Thanks, Emmanuel. I don’t know very much about FFS, but do they tend to be very focused on a very specific subject or crop, or more general, covering the whole range of agricultural topics or problems?

  3. Thanks for all that, I have learnt alot and would like more if there are more to be shared with much bigger country in terms of geographic composition.

    Thanks

    Carolyn

  4. yes, you are quite right Luigi, FFS focusses on key specific iussues, like for coconuts, the main focus is on controlling the rhinoceros beetle damaging the coconut trees so special topics are selected in order to minimize and control the population of r.beetle breeding sites by applying correct control measures, heap traps and proper maintenance of the coconut plots. The whole idea is to try and maintain a healthy plot as well as trying to push local farmers to start the replanting program for coconuts since that many trees are quite old and the production is quite low.This approach is more likely to expand to cocoa and other cash crops in Samoa.

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