Agroforestry farmers’ field schools spread the word effectively
A series of field schools in Sulawesi, Indonesia are helping share advanced knowledge about agroforestry throughout the island
By Enggar Paramita
After being implemented for two years in South and Southeast Sulawesi provinces in Indonesia, a series of agroforestry farmers’ field schools have successfully identified 35 expert farmers, most of whom have been acting as independent advisors in their communities. Lessons learned from the schools were presented at Inspirasi Bakti, a collaborative sharing session for development partners held on 21 August 2015 in Makassar, South Sulawesi.
The schools, initiated by the Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi (AgFor Sulawesi) project, have been developed as a way to improve farmers’ knowledge of agroforestry techniques suitable for the varying biophysical and socioeconomic conditions in Sulawesi. The project, which is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Canada and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, commenced in 2011 and immediately began looking for an innovative advisory approach that could not only improve knowledge and disseminate information but also produce expert farmers who could help to spread the information.
Experience has proven farmers’ field schools are an effective method for this. Furthermore, a communication and extension baseline survey conducted by AgFor Sulawesi of around 150 male and female farmers in several villages in South Sulawesi, in 2012, found that 60% of the respondents preferred to have a combination of face-to-face and practical sessions to receive new information. Having such information at hand, the project decided to roll out the schools in 2013.
The farmers’ field school concept was not new in Indonesia: it was introduced in the ’80s by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and implemented originally to improve knowledge on pest and disease management, specifically for paddy-rice farmers. Since then, the concept has been developed and widely adopted.
The schools targeted farmers in 27 villages in Bantaeng, Bulukumba, Konawe and Kolaka Timur districts in Sulawesi.
‘To identify the topics to be included in the curricula, we held discussions with community members’, explained Ms Endri Martini, AgFor Sulawesi Extension Specialist, to the 60 attendees who packed the venue for Inspirasi Bakti. ‘On top of that, we asked them about the species they prioritised in their area’.
The discussions suggested five commodities—cocoa, coffee, clove, pepper and durian—as topics for the schools, which were incorporated into a three-step scheme devised by Ms Martini. The first step, on knowledge strengthening, is conducted by inviting experts from national institutions to share information with farmers, which is then followed by farmer-to-farmer knowledge transfer. The second step focuses on cross-visits, so farmers can learn from other farmers’ successful gardens. The third step emphasizes the development of action plans and monitoring and evaluation through demonstration plots. The plot is seen as an experimental platform for farmers so they can implement the knowledge the gained from the school and observe development closely.
Ms Israk, an expert farmer turned independent extension agent, expressed her enthusiasm at being involved in a school.
‘Previously, I only planted corn, just like everyone else in Kayu Loe Village, but then I joined an agroforestry farmers’ field school and learned about other commodities, garden management, pruning and making organic fertilizer. I started to plant coffee, clove and cocoa in my garden. I even have developed a small nursery in my yard’, she said. Ms Israk has been helping the project to disseminate agroforestry information in neighbouring villages.
Three other expert farmers from Campaga Village, Bantaeng, who previously joined a school, are now assisting farmers in the recent addition to the project’s area: Gorontalo Province.
Ms Rita Pasha, the head of the Food Security and Extension Implementation Agency of Bantaeng appreciated the schools and the capacity building they performed. She also valued the expert farmers who had helped spread agricultural information to fellow farmers.
Within one year of implementation (April 2013–March 2014), the schools had reached 1733 individuals. Since November 2013, around 100 demonstration plots have been established and regularly monitored in South and Southeast Sulawesi provinces.
Evaluation by the project noted that the schools had benefited farmers by improving garden productivity through enhancement of farmers’ capacity and analytical skills. The schools also successfully developed communication links between farmers and experts. Additionally, the cross-visits had improved the adoption rate of agroforestry innovations.
However, Ms Martini said that since the schools mostly dealt with perennial tree crops, the schools should operate for minimum of one year, which is longer than the usual farmers’ field school that only takes three months. The longer period implies bigger costs. As an example, in the agroforestry farmers’ field schools the total budget per person was $17 and with 1733 individuals involved the total was $30 000. Accordingly, Ms Martini noted that the schools were flexible and could be run to fit the budget and resources available.
In order to ensure sustainability for expert farmers after the project ended, Ms Martini hoped that the government would be able to improve the rewards scheme for independent extension agents, especially considering that there is a shortage of extension agents who specialize in agroforestry.
This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry