FOROYAA Newspaper (Serrekunda)

Gambia: Farmers' Eye

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This column is devoted to monitor and report on issues that are impeding food security in the Gambia as well as the interventions of Government and Non-governmental Organizations. In our today's edition and subsequent editions, we shall bring to the attention of our readers the speeches made at the Stakeholders in the Groundnut value chain meeting in Jenoi held from the 19th to the 21st of November 2012.

Below is the speech of Ngaja Jawo of NAWFA published in verbatim.

Over the last three decades agriculture has undergone rapid changes as a result of changing policies, urbanization, population growth, and the opening of local, regional and international markets. The changes have brought with it the need for farming to be adaptable to changing market conditions and to do so profitably. Farming has become market oriented.

The groundnut industry in the Gambia requires a concerted effort to produce good quality products that can compete in the world market by meeting prescribed standards to fetch better prices in the market. This can only be achieved through creating strong linkages between research, extension and the private sector players.

The desire to increase groundnut farmer's income by taking advantage of market opportunities and to compete in this new environment requires groundnut farmers to become better decision makers. To be more competitive they need to have better marketing and farm management skills. While farm management as a discipline may not have been a consideration in dealing with traditional farmers, over the last two decades as farming has become more market and profit oriented, farm management has rapidly gain importance.

In response to these changes agricultural extension in the Gambia and elsewhere need to change its role not only to be concerned with technology transfer models for the promotion of groundnut production but an all inclusive approach that will focus on promoting farm commercialization, enterprise development and diversification so that groundnut as the major cash crop can regain its power in the competitive arena.

Public sector extension is not the only source of information and advice and increasingly the private sector and civil society are offering an alternative. The content of extent has also change in many instances and places becoming more market oriented.

This implies that farmers need to be more responsive to changing market conditions and the challenges and risk involved.

NAWFA-The Paradigms shifts:

Considering the Changing role of extension-From technology transfer to human resource development:

When extension disseminates recommended technologies to small scale or medium scale farmers; farmers mostly adopt these new recommendations from research such as new varieties, fertilizers pesticides etc. They rarely or merely acknowledge with importance of indigenous knowledge or allocate time to modify their existing farming systems or technologies.

The growing role played by private sector/companies in the provision of farm inputs, commercial farmers are increasingly obtaining inputs, technical and management information directly from these companies or may link directly with research work in their particular area of interest.

Commercial farmers may not want to give more attention to field extension workers unless they can gain access to new seed varieties or technologies that will further their business interest.

Transition towards a decentralized, farmer led and market driven extension:

M. Kalim Qamar (2011) in introducing the concept of demand-driven extension approach emphasized that farmers are served better by extension organizations if their needs and demands are taken into consideration during program planning exercise and this is inbuilt within the farmer Field school approach.

Justification for a change in extension approach by NAWFA

Over the years numerous changes have taken place in the agricultural extension system of the Gambia as a result of structural changes, rapid urbanization, and inadequate resources to provide services to farmers and reduction of NAWFA's extension service workers affecting their presence and effectiveness in the field. The collaboration of NAWFA and DOA at field level even though very effective has suffered serious setbacks during the DOA transition periods from the creation of NADA to date.

The extension worker -farmer ratio estimated at 1:3500 is very low to effectively serve all categories of farmers and associated and allied business ventures which is a clear manifestation of the need to rethink the way forward for NAWFA's extension delivery system.

From the results of an institutional assessment and SWOT analysis of NAWFA as a capacity building resource poor local organization prompted the shift from the top down- linier conventional methods of extension to a more inclusive and farmer friendly approach and i.e. the FFS/FBS approach.

Considering that the technical know-how is inadequate, weaknesses of the linkages between research, extension and the private sector in addition to the numerous problems associated with movement and access to extension services when and where needed, warrants the paradigm shift to a system that will not only link farmers to the market but take on board the value chain approach from input providers to producers to collectors to wholesalers right to the exporter as a final point in the value chain.

The desire to increase incomes must take advantage of changing situations and market opportunities that exist and these requires farmers to become better decision makers with minimum of outside help. In so doing, and if farmers are to be competitive calls for better farm management skills and farm management advisory services that will enable farmers to make right choices between different enterprises. To be able to differentiate between producing to the market and producing for the market calls for a demand driven approach from both the supply and consumer sides of the game.

In moving from a technology transfer oriented extension system that is designed to increase agricultural productivity to a new strategy that seeks to improve rural livelihoods by increasing farm income and rural employment, significant changes will be required in the focus, management structure and approach of planning and implementing extension programs.

Introduction and Background of (FFS)

Historical Background

The FFS approach; was developed by an FAO project in South East Asia as a way for small-scale rice farmers to investigate, and learn, for themselves the skills required for, and benefits to be obtained from, adopting on practices in their paddy fields. The term "Farmers' Field School" comes from the Indonesian Sekolah Lampangan meaning simply "field school". The first Field Schools were established in 1989 in Central Java during the pilot phase of the FAO-assisted National IPM Programme. This Programme was prompted by the devastating insecticide-induced outbreaks of brown plant hoppers (Nilaparvata lugens) that are estimated to have in 1986 destroyed 20,000 hectares of rice in Java alone.

African countries implementing the approach are among others Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia, Egypt, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique.

Contextual Analysis

In the Gambia extension services provision and delivery and information to crop and livestock producers has declined in the last decade. A number of programs and projects were in the past initiated for community participation through the state extension delivery services.

During that period various extension methods and strategies were employed aimed at enabling farmers adopt agricultural production practices that will increase production and productivity resulting to increased incomes leading to better livelihoods and living condition of farmers. Some of those initiatives included the Training and Visit System of extension, preceded by the convention linear approach that almost entirely depended on research recommendations for onward dissemination and diffusion to the target clientele.

Crop extension methods at the time laid much emphasis on approaches such as method and result demonstration and the use of the micro plot concept as an observation or study unit as well as working with and through contact farmers who were the main conduit for message delivery.

In the same vein, livestock extension used several other approaches such as the livestock Auxiliary concept and the epidemio-surveillance network strategy. The Auxiliary and surveillance network concepts were conceived to involve the farming community in the extension service delivery system considering the limited capacity in the formal extension system. These systems also have their limitations as they focus more on building individual capacities rather than the group.

In addition, it is now recognized that many conventional extension approaches which tend to be 'top down' do not always focus on farmers priorities, and sometimes make inappropriate recommendations which often are not successful or sustained. It has been realized in both extension and research that technology adoption problems are but mainly inadequate participation by the intended beneficiaries.

The farmer field school (FFS) concept hinges on experiential learning and learning by doing and it is believed to address the inadequacies in the extension delivery system and serves as a medium for technology transfer and information sharing amongst the farming community.

The concept of FFS is relatively new in the Gambia even though it has been tried in both the crop and animal sector and in both cases the schools did not continue for unidentified reasons, hence impacts were not realized. The understanding of the concept is however crucial and many a times this lack of understanding results to a break in the implementation process as sustainability becomes the limiting factor. There is very little doubt that the concept is not well understood by the extension circle in the Gambia.

There is therefore the need for the agricultural projects and programs to build the necessary capacity within the extension system to be able to uphold to the norms and values of the FFS concept in the context of Gambian farming systems.

FFS/FBS Concepts, Principles and Practices

What are Farmer Field/Business Schools (FFS/FBS)?

Farmer Field Schools (FFS) consist of groups of farmers who get together to study a particular topic.

• The topics covered vary from conservation agriculture, organic agriculture, animal husbandry, and soil husbandry, to income generating activities (IGAs) such as handicrafts.

• FFS provide opportunities for learning by doing. It teaches basic agricultural and management skills that make farmers experts in their own farms.

• FFS is a forum where farmers and trainers debate observations, experiences and present new information from outside the community.

In the same vein FBS aim at building farmers capacities in entrepreneurial and management skills. It does this through "learning by doing" approach. Th FBS concept operates at village level enabling farmers to learn and improve their knowledge, change attitudes and improve their knowledge and skills in farm commercialization.

FFS/FBS is described as a Platform and "School without walls" for improving decision making capacity of farming communities and stimulating local innovation for sustainable agriculture. It is a participatory approach to extension, whereby farmers are given opportunity to make a choice in the methods of production through discovery based approach.

A Field School is a Group Extension Method based on adult education methods. It is a "school without walls" that teaches basic agro-ecology and management skills that make farmers experts in their own farms. It is composed of groups of farmers who meet regularly during the course of the growing seasons to experiment as a group with new production options. Typically FFS groups have 25-30 farmers. After the training period, farmers continue to meet and share information, with less contact with extension.

FFS aims to increase the capacity of groups of farmers to test new technologies in their own fields, assess results and their relevance to their particular circumstances, and interact on a more demand driven basis with the researchers and extensionists looking to these for help where they are unable to solve a specific problem amongst themselves.

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