About half of the Farmers Field Schools members are either applying a large number of innovation or are motivated to apply these next season.
Farmers Field School (FFS) is an informal group of 30 farmers that regularly meet to learn from learning plots on the field of four lead farmers. It is a group extension method based on adult education principles and participatory techniques.
Currently, Horti-LIFE supports 68 Development Agents in 13 woredas (districts) in setting up and supporting 136 FFS. Each FFS has 30 members and four learning-plots. On these fields farmers learn about the improved technology shown on these plots including new varieties, quality seedlings, starter solution, proper spacing and a proper spray program. The project focuses on four vegetables: onion, tomato, pepper and cabbage. Each FFS chooses only two crops.
Horticultural Livelihoods, Innovation and Food safety in Ethiopia (Horti-LIFE) aims to improve the yields and income of horticultural smallholders, while reducing the use of pesticides supports the establishment of Farmer Field Schools. In these informal groups smallholder farmers learn Good Agricultural (GAP) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices in their production to increase the capacity of groups of farmers to learn from their own fields, in the form of small learning plots that are managed by lead farmers.
Horti-LIFE delivers different trainings on GAP for vegetable crops production, safe use of pesticide and integrated pest management, gender and leadership. The project provides all necessary inputs for the learning plots; the lead farmers manage the plots and remain the owner of the harvest. Every two weeks, all FFS members join in a meeting (1-2 hours) and share the experience of the lead farmers.
In the 2016-17 irrigation season Horti-LIFE created and supported 108 Farmers Field School in 11 woredas. In June 2017 a participatory review was organised in which FFS members discussed what they learned and made a Cost of Production analysis (CoP) to calculate the economic benefits of the innovations used in the learning-plots. In December 2017 a follow up survey was done to assess to which extent farmers actually applied 18 different innovative technologies (focusing on agronomic practices, fertiliser application, pest identification etc.) that were shown in the learning-plots. Both the Adoption Survey and the Participatory Review are part of the learning process of farmers, DAs and woreda coordinators. It helps them to reflect on the impact of their work and on possible ways to improve their work.
The survey covered ten districts. Data were collected in Focus Group Discussions with FFS members. A total of 2,086 farmers participated in the follow up adoption survey to learn on the rate of adoption of good agricultural practices and integrated pest management measures by farmers. The finding revealed that about half of the FFS members are convinced by what they have seen and discussed and are applying a large number of innovation or are motivated to apply these next season although the technologies introduced are new to most of the farmers. This means about 30% of the members still need support in new seeds utilisation and seen as too risky as they have limited knowledge on how to do it.
Regarding the integrated pest management measures although the rate various due to prior exposure to the knowledge the adoption is satisfactory. For example, in Tigray and Amhara between 70-85% of the farmers learned to identify and control one or more pests. In Oromia as the farmers already had more knowledge the percentage seems much lower. In SNNPR, we have to a long way to go to increase the chance of the farmers to learn more.
According to the adoption survey, members use nearly two new pesticides and nearly half of the farmers (43%) use less pesticides. The project team learnt that farmers have started to use spray service providers.
Gerrit Holtland, Team Leader, Horti-LIFE, said, “We need to focus on seeds and seedlings issues. These products should be available at acceptable prices on the right place”. He also added that the project has to involve all the farmers in the costs price calculations is crucial as only in that way farmers can see that the high costs are compensated by even higher incomes.
Horti-LIFE is a SNV program implemented with the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources (MoANR) funded for 3.5 years (2016 -2019) by the Dutch Embassy. The project works in Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR and Tigray.