Knowledge for farmers

Climate & Natural resources,Food Security01 Nov 2010Janice Jiggins

For the last fifty years the education of small farmers in their primary occupation – farming – has been neglected. Governments and aid agencies in the South instead have focused their resources on providing publicly funded services that ‘extended’ the findings of research to small farmers through agents employed by the government. Typically, only the ‘top third’ of farmers ever received direct assistance. In recent years most countries have dismantled or reduced even these services under budgetary pressures, with the as yet unfulfilled expectation that ‘the market’ would take care of farmers’ needs for information and service.

The conference therefore calls for the exchange of new ideas and experiences. Here are some worth considering:

Farmer education

Farmer Field Schools help educate farmers in their own fields. The schools were pioneered initially in Indonesia to assist farmers to learn by experimentation and observation how to manage a pest in rice (the Brown Plant Hopper) by means of ‘integrated’ management that reduces dependence on chemical treatments. The schools have since spread throughout the world, and taken on a wider range of educational themes, including marketing, animal disease management and monitoring of climate trends. ‘Graduate’ farmers are offering field schools to other farmers, and often have taken on broader leadership roles in villages and district development as well. The Indian government has enrolled a network of field school graduates to assist in the monitoring of new insect pests by providing them with personal digital recorders for registering and transmitting their field observations to the relevant authorities (

Advisory services

Local governments and non-government organizations, starting in Bolivia in Latin America, are creating a network of mobile advisory services for managing crop health. CABI, a not-for-profit, science-based development and information organization based in the United Kingdom, has helped to develop and spread the idea to other parts of the world. The idea is simple: a mobile van tours an area on a regular schedule, staffed by trained advisors and stocked with information materials; farmers bring specimens of diseased plants for identification and to request management advice. Anything that the staff cannot handle is forwarded to a laboratory in a research institute or university, and the staff send back the requested information and advice in time for the next round of visits. (


Some of the world’s leading food processors (e.g. Campbell Soup Company) and food retailers (e.g. the Co-op supermarket chain in the United Kingdom) are responding to consumer concerns by providing ‘best management’ advice to their suppliers in the small-scale farming community. The advice typically includes integrated pest management, sustainable water use, and integrated management of soil fertility and soil health. Resilience of supply in the face of climate change is very much their business! Privatized water agencies are working with small producers on landscape-scale management of the agro-ecology so as to conserve the quality and quantity of drinking water supplies. And farmers’ organizations supported by NGOs are working to develop stronger resilience to weather variability by combining local and scientific capacity (

See also ’Agricultures’; Global Report; Towards Food Sovereignty – a multi media publication.