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Evolution of Farmer Field Schools in Ecuador
Historical evolution : Farmer Field Schools in Ecuador - based on Schut (2006)

Up to 25 million farm workers in the developing world suffer an incidence of pesticide poisoning each year (http://www.who.org). Over 30 years of research has shown that intensive, high external input farming has influenced and even determined rural life. In Andean countries like Ecuador , pesticide intoxications have caused health, environmental and social problems. Studies in northern Ecuador provinces have shown that in areas where a lot of highly toxic pesticides are applied, societies face reproductive and pregnancy problems, high percentages of suicides, and a more than average number of disabled children, cancers and even death.

Through the years both farmers and researchers acknowledged the relation between the use of highly toxic pesticides and economical, health and environmental problems in Ecuador. In 1999 FAO's Global IPM Facility (GIF) and the Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP) financed the introduction of Farmer Field Schools (FFS) in the region (Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia). Parallel the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (COSUDE) funded the FORTIPAPA-project, which implemented FFS in the Andean provinces of Ecuador (e.g. the most northern province of Ecuador; Carchi). Subsequently FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme funded CIP and INIAP (the national agricultural research centre) to implement a Training of Trainers (TOT) for FFS.

FFS are a high order participatory approach that employs well-established principals of adult education, in-depth knowledge of agro-ecology and social organisation. The FFS-methodology is based on discovery learning, farmer-to-farmer extension and a learning process that actually takes place in the farmer’s fields, guided by facilitators. The pilot results of FFS in Carchi were impressive. The training has led farmers to increase productivity up to 40%, while reducing pesticide use by 75% (BBC Worldservice, 2004), led up to the acceptance of FFS as ‘best practice’ in Ecuador. After the FFS-pilot, National Research Centers , NGOs, CBOs, GOs and even the pesticide industry took up the FFS-methodology. Side effect was that the utilisation of the FFS-concept became a grey area, which concerned national and international organisations.

Six years of reflective practice, studies (e.g. Paredes, 2001; Barrera et al., 2001; Barrera et al. 2004; Borja, 2004, Schut, 2006 and Tracy, 2007), and follow-up visits with FFS graduates, facilitators, and Master Trainers revealed the grey area in which FFS had disappeared. It turned out that the pesticide industry and INIAP used the FFS-concept to facilitate Safe and Correct Use of Pesticide training for women and primary school children. These contradictory events used FFS-elements in order to promote Correct Use of (highly toxic) Pesticides, which was proven to be not realistic and largely in-effective, particularly with smallholder farmers (Atkin and Leisinger, 2000). INIAP, who were closely involved in the implementation of FFS in Ecuador to challenge the pesticide-paradigm, was now co-facilitating a campaign that promoted use of highly toxic pesticides and reinforced the pesticide-campaign rather then challenging it.

Besides INIAP and the pesticide industry also GOs, NGOs and CBOs took up the FFS-methodology. Research (Schut, 2006) showed that they also transformed the FFS-methodology to fit their (and their donor’s) objectives. Participatory observations show that different organisations apply the FFS-concept differently. Some FFS only consist of doing the Agro-EcoSystem Analysis (AESA) and IPM-related activities, while other FFS also contain group dynamics activities and Specific Studies. Also the way how fundamental elements – such as the AESA – were executed differs between the FFS. In some FFS the participants did not actually enter the learning plots to observe and study the crop. Decisions on the crop’s management strategy were not based on negotiation and discussion, but on the facilitator’s recommendations. Some FFS were organised in line with the normative principles, while other FFS were executed more in line with traditional, instrumental extension methods like Training and Visit. In these situations FFSs hardly contribute to increased farmer-led innovation, decision-making capacity and reduced pesticide use. These FFSs were pulled back into the pesticide-paradigm they were once supposed to challenge.

Fortunately there is also very good news around FFS coming from Ecuador . Actors are becoming aware of the erosion of the FFS-methodology and form coalitions and networks to protect and discuss the quality of FFS. Especially the farmer-led FFSs organised by CBO in Ecuador are promising in terms of impact and sustainability. These FFSs show that when FFSs are organised and executed in line with their initial goals (capacity building, discovery-based development, to seek alternatives to high input farming), and pay respect to the knowledge, experiences and learning process of local farmers, FFSs can indeed be acknowledged as ‘best practice’ and promising novelty for transforming agricultural practice.

Page Last Updated : 2007-07-31 06:53:56 Hits : 6723
Site Last Updated : 2007-11-12 12:46:26 Owner : Marc Schut

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